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Although he was Eminem’s closest friend, we know very few things about Ronnie. Ronnie Dean Polkingharn was Betty Kresin’s (Eminem’s grandmother) sixth child. He was only two months older than Marshall. Both kids used to spend their whole free time together. Ronnie had a major influence on his nephew. He intoduced him into hip hop and break dance. It was his first album that inspired Eminem to become the gifted breakdancer he is now. Eminem remembers when his uncle Ronnie bought him the ‘Breakin’ album in 1981 :
When I was 9 years old, my uncle put me on to the Breakin’ soundtrack. The first rap song I ever heard was Ice-T, Reckless., I was fascinated.
Marshall and Ronnie used to record rap tapes together. Both kids were separated when Debbie went to Detroit, but each time he returned to St Joseph, Missouri, he spent his whole time with Ronnie.
About Ronnie, Marshall says:
He was just like my best friend. He was the only family that I had, that I was close to.
According to Betty Kresin, both kids couldn’t stand being separated for a long time and insisted to see each other after several months of separation.
In 1991, on December the 13th , a big tragedy happened in Marshall’s life . Debbie called her son that day to tell him the bad news :
She was crying she was just kept crying, and I was like, what’s the matter, what’s going on she was like, Ronnie is dead.
Eminem was so shocked that he couldn’t attend the funeral. He just isolated himself and kept listening to Ronnie’s tapes.
As you probably know, Eminem upset his grandmother when he wanted to use his dead uncle’s voice for a new release in 2001. She misinterpreted her grandson’s intentions and intented to sue him. She also pretended that her grandson changed for the worse. At this time, granny Betty and her grandson had a serious argument. Betty wanted Marshall to pay for her bills when he became famous.
The next time I saw him, he asked me how much my bill was. I told him, and he never did a thing for me. He has never offered anything to his mother. Her gutter is falling off her house, and she has only recently got a used washing machine.
She also wanted him to exhume her dead son’s corpse in order to investigate on his death.
“They were really good pals”, she stated.
And she told Marshall :
Now you’re famous, you’ve got money, and you say you love Ronnie so much with that tattoo on your arm. I want his body exhumed to find out the truth about what happened.
Suddenly, Betty changed her mind and decided that Marshall wasn’t the bad guy she was talking about and reconciled with her grandson. She completed her book ‘The Ties That Bind’. This book will certainly and help us to know more details about Ronnie and Marshall’s childhood.
Eminem’s intentions were clearly to honor his deceased uncle :
I loved Ronnie. I’ve got a Ronnie tattoo on my arm.I wanted to pay tribute to him. Nothing bad, I’ll sell records regardless
The dog tag he wears around his neck comes from him and his tatoo is on his upper left shoulder (“R.I.P Ronnie”) is dedicated to his uncle.
It took Eminem a long time to cope with his uncle’s death. He was obsessed with his suicide and also fantasized about killing himself in his lyrics. In an interview given to ‘Music 365’ on April the 28th 2000, Eminem was asked if he wanted to end his life for good after this dramatic event:
-Music 365 : “Your uncle Ronnie committed suicide. Have your ever felt so low that you wanted to end it all? ”
-Eminem: “That’s always been something that’s been in the back of my mind, but I don’t think I have the balls to do it. There was this one time when I really felt like I wanted to do something to change my life, whether it would be doing something I regretted, or with rap or whatever. “
Fortunately and thanks to the inner strength he has cultivated inside of him, Marshall’s will to rap was stronger than his suicidal tendencies.
There are many references to Ronnie in Eminem’s songs. In his song ‘Stan’, from the Marshall Mathers LP, Stan says :
I read about your Uncle Ronnie too I’m sorry
I had a friend kill himself over some bitch who didn’t want him…’
Those lines refer to the circumstances of Ronnie’s death. His suicidal girlfriend might be responsible of Ronnie’s death, but it will remain a supposition. Ronnie was known as a sensitive man. He has been kicked out of the US army because he couldn’t stand guns. His death by gunshot was ruled suicide.
Another reference to his uncle can be found in the ‘Cleaning Out My Closet’ song where Eminem screams his pain and anger at his mom :
Remember when Ronnie died and you said you wished it was me? Well, guess what, I am dead. Dead to you as can be.
His everlasting pain expressed about Ronnie’s disparition can also be found in ” My Dad’s Gone Crazy” :
More pain inside of my brain, in the eyes of a little girl inside of a plane
Aimed at the world trade, standin’ on Ronnie’s grave,
Screaming at the sky’
The D12 song ‘Shit can happen’ lets appear another reference to Ronnie.
One man army, guns can’t harm me
Young and army, worse than my Uncle Ronnie
Ever since I got my first gun pulled on me
I can’t stop carryin out my dirty laundry
Middle fingers flipped and censorship’
Marshall used to idealize Ronnie and he always considered him best rapper than him. He didn’t even dare rapping in front of him, because he thought his rap wasn’t good enough compared to Ronnie’s. Once Ronnie visited him in Detroit and Marshall told Ronnie about his dream to become a rap superstar and his determination to go to the end. But Ronnie had given up rap for good, because he was convinced he would never make it.
Marshall’s best tribute to his beloved uncle is his success as a talented rapper.
Copyright by Isabelle Esling
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