By 1997 Brandon MacDonald’s mother, Karen Lakey, had been battling cancer for years. And unfortunately it looked like she would lose the war. Doctors had even informed the patient that she was not going to make it, and the 45-year-old mom knew she had to put her house in order. So as she lay on what she thought was her deathbed, Karen gave her son a startling piece of information: the identity of his biological father.
The story went that back in the summer of 1979 an unhappily married Karen had been working for the Canadian arm of a record company. She’d then had a brief affair with a visiting U.S. heart-throb who’d been promoting his latest release. Soon after, Karen realized that they had produced a hit of their own: she was pregnant. Brandon was born the following year, but his mother admitted to People magazine in March 1998 that he didn’t have “much of a father figure in his life.”
Yes, throughout Brandon’s childhood, he had been unaware of who his biological father was. But as Karen battled cancer while she raised her son, she had come to a heartbreaking realization. So in 1997, desperately ill and in hospital, Karen knew that it was time to tell 16-year-old Brandon the truth.
Brandon spoke about the situation when he appeared on the reality update TV show Oprah: Where Are They Now? in August 2014. “She’d been battling cancer for many years and her condition got so bad, the doctor said she wasn’t going to make it,” Brandon recalled. “That’s when she told me that my real dad was Rex Smith.”
At first, the son was shellshocked by the news and thought the revelation may have been induced by the heavy meds his mom was being given. “She was on morphine,” Brandon later explained in the People magazine piece. “And she said, ‘Remember that TV show Street Hawk? That’s your dad.’” Although he didn’t believe her initially, the announcement was still somewhat spooky.
Street Hawk was a superhero show that ran for one season in the middle of the 1980s. It was a relative flop, but nevertheless it had one super fan: Brandon. In fact, the star of the vehicle – Rex Smith – was one of the boy’s childhood idols. “I was five,” he said. “I never missed a show.” With that in mind, and with his mother mercifully and miraculously recovered, the Canadian then made a massive decision. He recalled, “I said, ‘I gotta try and do this – go meet him.’”
In 1979 Florida-born Rex Smith found himself an overnight sensation following the release of his soft-rock ballad You Take My Breath Away. The single even became a top-ten smash that year. And although he struggled to reach those heights again, the now 62-year-old actor-singer has still carved out a solid career for himself. He enjoyed early success on Broadway, for instance, and soon transitioned to work in TV, small films and regional theater.
At the beginning, though, Rex’s career kicked into high gear after producers spotted him supporting heavy rocker Ted Nugent at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Rex’s star then swiftly skyrocketed after they cast him as the lead in the 1979 TV movie Sooner or Later. The film featured his single You Take My Breath Away, transforming him into a heart-throb. “Suddenly, I wake up and I’m a teen idol,” Rex told People.
Then, while his tour stopped off in Calgary in June 1979, Rex engaged in a weekend romance with a female representative from a record company. About a couple of weeks later, the star called the woman back, only to be met with some shattering news. The record company rep in question was, of course, Karen Lakey, and she informed Rex that she was with child – and that it was his baby.
“He had no idea it was his,” Karen told People. And as a married woman, she was also having problems reconciling the fact. She added, “The God’s honest truth was that I was in denial until the DNA test.” After that, Rex heard nothing more on the matter and continued his career on the stage and screen. However, his life was forever changed some years later while performing in the city of Vancouver.
Rex, who was 42 at the time, was appearing in a stage production of Sunset Boulevard. During an afternoon performance in February 1997, Rex caught someone’s eye in the front row. It was a teenage boy, intently watching the actor’s every move from the middle of the line of seats. Unsurprisingly, the unnerved lead picked up on the presence as the musical went on.
Rex was sharing the stage with his glamorous co-star Diahann Carroll. Nevertheless, the teenage theater-goer only had eyes for him. “It’s a Wednesday matinee,” Rex told Oprah: Where Are They Now? “There’s a 16-year-old boy sitting there, in the dead center [of the row]. Wherever I go, he’s following me. His eyes are burning through me.”
At the end of the matinee performance, Rex walked out into the theater lobby to sign some autographs for fans. It was then that the star spotted the intense youngster waiting in line at the meet and greet. So as the teenage stranger approached Rex, the latter decided to break the tension with some small talk.
“He comes up, I take a picture with him… I say, ‘What’s your name?’” Rex recalled on Oprah: Where Are They Now? “He says, ‘Brandon.’ I say, ‘You seem like a very intense young man. Are you interested in the arts?’” At that point, however, the intensity increased when Rex realized exactly who it was he was talking with.
Frozen in the moment, the actor locked eyes with the teenager. “I knew I was looking into the eyes of my firstborn son,” Rex continued. “I almost fainted.” The likeness between the two strangers was uncanny. “It is a startling resemblance – he’s got my father’s nose but exactly my mouth,” Rex told People magazine.
The star felt so moved that he had to comment on the fact. “I said, ‘If this was a John Wayne movie, I’d say, “Ma, set another place,”’” Rex added. Just two days after this emotional first meeting, the pair underwent a DNA test to confirm their kinship. Sure enough, the results came back as a father-and-son match.
Rex then invited Brandon to his Californian home for Christmas. Initially, Rex claimed that the visiting teenager was a friend’s son, so as not to shock his two young daughters. But it wasn’t long before ten-year-old Megan and her eight-year-old sister, Madison, were in on the secret. Appropriately enough, the beans were spilled over the dinner table. Megan was quoted in the People article as saying, “We were having turkey, and it was, ‘Guess what – he’s your brother!’”
Over the holiday, Megan and Madison formed an almost immediate bond with Brandon, much to their father’s great pleasure and relief. Rex later spoke about his happiness at the siblings’ strong and fast connection. “There’s a great many things in my life that have been a hot fudge sundae with a cherry on top,” he told People. “This has been like that.”
In the years since, Brandon has become a father himself, making Rex a proud grandparent. “Brandon told me… ‘Dad, you never could ride me on your shoulders, but you can ride your grandson,’” the star told Oprah: Where Are They Now? “I think [that] as a husband, I was a work in progress. As a dad, I was good out of the box – no batteries required.”
More than 20 years ago, Brandon MacDonald faced a heartbreaking situation as his tormented mother lay in a hospital room, thinking she was dying from cancer. From what everyone thought was her deathbed, though, Karen Lakey was able to give her son and an unsuspecting Rex Smith a whole new lease of life.