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Meg TillyFame & Fortune: Actress Meg Tilly
Tragic childhood teaches her: Live within your means

At 25, Meg Tilly had the world on a string.

Her 1983 breakout role as the disaffected Chloe in "The Big Chill," followed by a Golden Globe two years later for her Oscar-nominated performance as a disturbed nun in "Agnes of God," signaled the arrival of an A-list talent in the making.

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But inside, Tilly was unraveling from the strain of an abusive childhood that few would have suspected.

Although she caught Hollywood's eye in her teens -- first as a dancer in the hit movie "Fame" and then as the female lead opposite Matt Dillon in the teen drama "Tex" -- Tilly's life prior to departing Victoria, British Columbia, for New York at age 18 was anything but lucky.

Tilly grew up poor in California and rural British Columbia, where her teacher-mother tried to provide for as many as 10 children, including Meg's older sister and fellow actor Jennifer. Meg recalls a childhood of physical, sexual and emotional abuse at the hands of several male relatives and acquaintances, including her stepfather and her mother's boyfriend. Years later -- and despite her fame -- the scars have not completely healed.

Tilly married producer Tim Zinnemann and had two children before they divorced in 1989. She walked away from Hollywood in the early 1990s and published her first novel, "Singing Songs," a thinly veiled fictional account of a horrific youth that nobody thought was hers. Her subsequent five-year relationship with actor Colin Firth produced her youngest son, Will. Her marriage to Sony studio head John Calley lasted from 1995 to 2002.

At 46, Tilly speaks openly about her childhood as she prepares to hit the book circuit to promote her second novel, "Gemma," a not-for-the-squeamish immersion into pedophilia told from the alternating viewpoints of the victim and the abuser.

Now happily married, Tilly lives with her husband of four years, Don -- his last name is kept secret for privacy's sake -- and 16-year-old Will in Vancouver, where Bankrate chatted with her about fame, fortune and survival.

Bankrate: You moved constantly as a kid, much like the abused protagonist in your first novel.

Meg Tilly: We did. My first novel, "Singing Songs," was definitely based on my early life. We changed birth order and physicality and locations to protect the privacy of family members, and myself at that time, whereas now I don't care. If it helps other people who may be in a hard situation to say, "Look, she was in a hard situation and she's ended up having a really lucky life," then I think it's worth it to be truthful about it.

 
 
Next: "... having to work so hard as a child gave me strength."
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