When the actors’ union went on strike last summer, many performers wondered how to fill their time. Not Ice-T. The Law & Order: Special Victims Unit star was able to return to the music that launched his career. “I’ve been in the studio with Treach, making new music. We started a little project called Black Cadillac,” Ice, 65, tells Closer. The Grammy winner is, of course, also looking forward to getting back on the Law & Order set to play Odafin “Fin” Tutuola very soon. Just don’t expect him to ever combine his two worlds and allow Fin to start rapping on the show. “I wouldn’t do that — that would be corny,” he vows. “I got to draw the line somewhere.”

You lost both your parents by the time you were 13. How did you survive so much loss so young?

“With all due respect, I think it’s better for me that it happened so early, because I was able to deal with it early. As a kid, a lot of times you don’t register things. You’re in pain, but you don’t even know how much pain you’re in because you don’t understand death. So I dealt with it. I got shipped out to L.A. to live with my aunt — some lady I’d never met. I’ve been on my own ever since I was 17 years old.”

How did that affect your view of life?

“It’s one of those things that I adjusted to. I don’t deal much with my past. I ripped the rearview mirror off of my life and I look forward. I’m more focused on what is in front of me. You know, I found out that a lot of very successful people — billionaires — are orphans, too.”

Do you consider music your big break?

“Yes, that’s why I’m still Ice-T. That’s why Queen Latifah is still Queen Latifah and LL Cool J is still LL. Without hip-hop, none of this would ever have happened. I can never turn my back on rap, because rap was the thing that got me through the first door that opened to many other doors. Music has really saved many kids’ lives — including mine.”

What was your first big acting project?

“That would be New Jack City. It was the first movie where I had lines. Who would ever think it would become a classic? That led me to do films with Keanu Reeves, Rutger Hauer, Denzel Washington. Then to end up on television working with Dick Wolf in New York Undercover. And now, I’m on the longest-running [primetime] TV show in history. You know, you can’t make this [stuff] up!”

You’ve been married to your wife, Coco, for over 20 years. What’s your secret?

“Communication. Being able to talk is essential. Basically, you guys are best friends. You’re going to spend more time with this person than anybody else in the world. You have to be able to communicate.”

You seem to have a great partnership.

“I really don’t know where I’m at most of the time — Coco does logistics, and I just get there. It was funny, I was on the red carpet the other day and they’re like, “What are you wearing?” And I’m like, “I don’t know! A cool jacket?”

Ice-T performs on stage in a leather shirt and black pants with a baseball cap
Scott Legato/Getty Images)

You’re also a grandfather. What do you like about it?

“Being a grandfather doesn’t really register to me. I’m more connected to my actual kids; their kids are their problem!”

You recently teamed up with the flu vaccine Sanofi to encourage people to get their flu shot this year. Why is that important?

“Last season, the U.S. experienced one of its worst flu seasons in recent years. Despite the threat, over half of the U.S. adult population does not get their flu vaccines each year. I want people to take their health seriously. I just turned 65 and I’ve been taking the flu shot for the last 20 to 25 years. I’ve never had a sick day since I’ve been on Law & Order.”

Wow, that’s impressive.

“We’re just trying to make people aware that there’s a high-dose vaccine available for people 65 and older, who may have underlying conditions. This has also been a chance for me to help promote male health awareness, because I feel men just don’t go to the doctor. You know, your wife goes to the doctor when she breaks a fingernail, but the guy almost has to be on his deathbed before he’ll go for a checkup.”

You seem like you’re in great shape. How do you stay fit and healthy?

“I do a low-stress diet. I learned early in my career, when I was first becoming Ice-T, that I had high blood pressure. I was able to lower my high blood pressure just by lowering stress. I also really got more healthy once Chanel was born. The moment she was born, the first thing that came to my mind was “Ice, you can’t die.” I started having less sugar. That’s my vice. I’m a Kool-Aid freak. Had to tone that down and drink a lot more water. I just have been more conscious.”

Do you have any desire to do another reality TV series?

“Well, word on the street is Coco is doing one with Chanel. Coco Loves Chanel is based around Coco, Chanel and all Coco’s girlfriends and their kids. It’s really positive and pro-mom. I’ll be in it, but I’ll be more background.”

You’re such a great example of someone who changed their life for the better in a dramatic way. Do you have any advice for people who are struggling?

“You’ve got to understand that you have the choice to change your life. I was in L.A., breaking the law and face down on Hollywood Boulevard. Now I just got a star on Hollywood Boulevard. So you do have a choice. It has a lot to do with the people you hang around with. Are they promoting you? Are they holding you back? And secondly, you just have to get confidence. Lack of confidence and self esteem to me is the biggest problem in the world. That’s what creates haters. That’s what creates all this envy. Build self esteem, put in the work necessary and don’t make excuses.”