WASHINGTON -- In November of 1976, Donna Summer's professional life was peaking.
Her single "Love To Love You Baby," followed by a slew of other hits, made her a fixture atop the music charts. But her personal life was falling apart -- to the point that she tried to jump out the 11th-floor window of a New York hotel room.
The suicide attempt -- one of the few things in life that she failed to accomplish -- is described in Summer's upcoming autobiography, "Ordinary Girl: The Journey" (Villard Books). It's being released along with a greatest hits CD that contains three new songs.
"The book is like holding up a mirror to people and letting them see things that happened in my life that represent things that happen in their own lives," Summer told AP Radio in a telephone interview from her home in Nashville, Tenn. "Struggles of different sorts that I've been through that other people go through."
Despite the title of her book, Summer's experiences have been anything but ordinary. In addition to the depression that led to her suicide attempt, she writes about bouts of bed wetting, witnessing a murder on the streets of Boston as a young girl -- and moving to Germany to perform in the musical "Hair" in part to escape from those she helped put in prison for the crime.
While overseas, she performed in European versions of "Godspell," "The Me Nobody Knows" and "Porgy and Bess." After settling in Germany, she teamed up with producer Giorgio Moroder in 1975 on "Love To Love You Baby" (which has now come full circle, with Beyonce lifting the classic chorus for "Naughty Girl," off her latest album).
In the book, Summer says the song's famous moans and groans were added after Moroder decided to expand the song from three and a half to 17 minutes -- without adding any lyrics. The song reached No. 2 on the Billboard charts and earned her a reputation as a disco-era sex goddess -- a far cry from her churchgoing upbringing in Boston.
Today, Summer has no problems with the "disco diva" label. "They can call me anything they want, as long as they buy my records," she said. "I'll be laughing all the way to the bank."
Going to the memory vault for recollections about her life may have been hard, but Summer had no problem putting it on paper.
Like the suicide attempt.
Upon returning to the States after being in Germany for more than seven years, Summer was having trouble readjusting to life in America as a disco star. "I didn't even realize that I was depressed," she said. "I just felt that I couldn't live like I was living another minute. And I just went to the window and I stuck my foot out the window. "
But in front of the window was a radiator covered by a long curtain. When Summer tried to get her left foot out to the ledge, she says, it got tangled in the fabric. At that moment, a housekeeper opened the door to her room, and Summer came back inside.
After that, Summer got help with her depression.
While many still associate her with "Love To Love You Baby," Summer feels the song is atypical of her career -- and her talent.
Take her voice. Trained in the theater, she has a strong voice, in contrast to the pillow-talk- whisper she used on her biggest hit. And while people think of songs like "Bad Girls" and "She Works Hard For the Money" as odes to those who sell sex on the streets, Summer feels these songs honor such women.
"We have a lot of unsung heroes in life. And sometimes the very person we that look down on is the person that's struggling the most," she said. "We point our fingers many times in judgment of people suffering with different circumstances, and think that's where they want to be, but they don't and so I think it's important to sing about those things."
One highlight of Summer's career was her duet with Barbra Streisand on 1979's "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)," which ended up as her final number one hit.
She had just finished a tour and celebrated by partying hard all night, unaware she had to record with Streisand the following day. Worn out from lots of celebrating and little sleep, Summer fainted while trying to hit a high note and fell off her stool.
Streisand pressed on, holding her note to the end. Only after she finished did she lean over and ask her fallen comrade: "Donna, are you OK?"
Though the hits are less frequent now, Summer is still having fun. She still cranks out music, not that you'd hear it "On The Radio."
Does that bother her? Nope.
"I love music and I love what I do, but it isn't the end-all and the be-all of everything. There are people dying...in this war and other things going on that probably should take precedence over a song, so I don't dwell on it."
Nor is she interested in stoking the publicity machine any more than she has to.
"Once your name is established, you are who you are. It's not something you have to keep working at. I don't need to be in the press 24-7 to validate myself for myself."
Speaking of validating herself -- what about THE rumor?
You know the one. About her being a man.
A relative first told her about it, and she realized it had grown legs while doing an interview in South America. She noticed the interviewer "started looking at me kind of strange." So she asked: "Why are you looking at me like that?
The reporter said: "You don't look like a man." He grabbed her hand: "You don't FEEL like a man."
In fact, she's an Ordinary Girl.