Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, Ben Vereen believed his parents were Pauline and James Vereen. When he was 25, he learned the truth.
While applying for his passport to join Sammy Davis, Jr., on tour, the Roots star learned that the mom and dad who raised him where not his biological parents.
“They said we do not have a Benjamin Augustus being born to a Pauline Vereen on that day,” Ben says. “However, we do have a Benjamin Augustus Middleton born to a Essie Middleton.’”
He called his mom hoping she would set the record straight with the government. “I said, ‘Mom, I got to get a passport. Would you call these people and straighten them up because they’ve obviously got things wrong down there,’ and I told her what the letter said.”
There was silence on the other end of the line.
Finally, he heard her voice. “I was hoping you’d never know.”
That’s how Ben learned the truth. “It was like somebody pulled my life right out from under my feet. I didn’t show my mother my pain—Pauline—because she’d sacrificed so much for me, and I didn’t search for my family until after she was gone.”