How Queen Latifah and Her Mom Rita Owens Helped Shine a Light on Heart Disease
By Liz Calvario
Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images
Queen Latifah and her late mother, Rita Owens, were great advocates in raising awareness for heart disease over the years.
Owens, a New Jersey resident and teacher, was diagnosed with heart disease in 2004. Things worsened when she collapsed while working one day, and from then on, she had to change her lifestyle. Unfortunately on Wednesday, the Girls Trip star broke the sad news that her mother had passed away after struggling with the heart condition for more than a decade.
"It is with a heavy heart that I share the news my mother, Rita Owens, passed away today," Latfiah said in a statement. "Anyone that has ever met her knows what a bright light she was on this earth. She was gentle, but strong, sweet, but sassy, worldly but pragmatic, a woman of great faith and certainly the love of my life."
The mother-daughter's efforts in raising awareness about heart disease are significant. Back in 2015, ET's Cameron Mathison sat down with Latifah and her mother to discuss Owen's condition and their involvement with the American Heart Association.
'Miracles From Heaven' Star Queen Latifah Opens Up About Her Brother's Death: I Lost My Strength
"As you know, it affects your life personally, it affects my life personally, and it will affect one in five Americans, and that number is way too high," Latifah said. "So when the American Heart Association came to me with this idea of the Rise Above Heart Failure movement, to turn this into an actual movement, to make people aware of it, why would I not want to get involved in it? But first, I spoke to my mother about it, and it was really about whether she wanted to be involved. And if she wanted to be involved, I would be with it."
"She's always been about empowering people by sharing her story," the singer and actress added. "If her story could help someone else, or sharing information to help someone else, that's why it was really important for us to do it."
As far as that scary moment when she collapsed at work, Owens joked at the time that she "trained [her] students well" to help her.
"They did all the right things. They got help to me very quickly," Owens explained. "Emergency room doctors -- and thank god for doctors -- I found out at the hospital that I had congestive heart failure. Never entered my mind."
For Latifah, it was something she wasn’t expecting to hear.
"Obviously it's a terrifying thing to hear your mom took a dive in class. She just passed out," she said. "Well, what's going on is my first [thought], just get to the hospital, and find out what's going on. But she was awake and aware and they started doing all these tests. I was not expecting to hear that diagnosis, but at the same time, I could tell something was different. Something was a little off with my mom. She didn't have the same amount of energy and sort of zeal and zest for what she normally does."
FLASHBACK: Queen Latifah Balances Rapping and Acting Career in 1996
"So getting this diagnosis and understanding some of the symptoms of it, it all started to make sense," Latifah continued. "And really, just us talking to the doctors and figuring out what it was and kinda going back in time, we were able to put together that this was something that had been affecting her for a while. We just didn't realize."
Additionally, after hearing about her mother's heath struggles, the Star actress flew her across the country to be closer.
"It's important. I am a part of her life in that sense and make sure she's OK. At the time, [I was] planning to do a talk show [and] there's no way I could be in New Jersey and be in L.A. at the same time," she explained. "And I was really concerned. We moved the whole family out, my cousin was there and this is something she was agreeable to."
"I almost feel guilty," laughed Owens. "I'm supposed to be the mommy. And somehow, she's the mommy now."
Meanwhile in 2016, the two also partnered up for a special American Heart Association Mother's Day message.
"I can't imagine my life without my mom," Latifah says in the clip. "My mom is the strongest person I know, and she's committed to rising about heart failure."
The two continued to raise awareness anytime they could. In 2017, Latifah was honored with American Heart Association Woman of Distinction Award for outstanding dedication to heart failure awareness.
“My mom means everything to me, and I am excited to dedicate this award to her,” Latifah said at the time. “For my entire life, she has been my rock. When she was diagnosed with heart failure, I didn’t think twice before stepping up as her caregiver. It wasn’t an easy process, but I hope that our experiences can empower and inspire others who are also living with heart failure.”
For more on Queen Latifah and her mother, watch below.