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Marc Anthony: Speaking his mind

"I Need To Know" was a big hit for Marc Anthony way back in 1999. All these years later, he's still thrilling audiences ... and speaking his mind. Most recently, he's been speaking to our Tracy Smith FOR THE RECORD:

Off stage, he seems almost like the rest of us mortals -- more a compact bundle of nerves than an international superstar.

But when Marc Anthony stands in the spotlight and sings, the transformation happens: he becomes larger than life.

"Each song is like a short movie," he told Smith. "And each character is different."

Those hot and heart-melting characters have made Anthony the bestselling salsa artist in history.

With two Grammy Awards, five Latin Grammys, and so many other honors, you can't really fit them on just one wall. Referring to his collection, he said, "I look at it and it's like a snapshot of why I'm so damn tired all the time!"

When he's performing, it feels like he's baring his soul. But in real-life, Anthony is intensely private, and almost always shields his eyes in trademark dark glasses.

"I'm from the streets of New York," he said. "I have a tattoo in my handwriting that I say: Those who say, don't know. Those who know, don't say. Your power and influence is largely based on what a steel trap your mouth is."

Steel trap or no, Anthony's private life has gotten plenty of attention.

Especially his marriage to, and split from, Jennifer Lopez, with whom he has two kids.

To watch Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony perform "No Me Ames" click on the player below.

Smith said, "I have to say that every time I tell somebody that I'm interviewing Marc Anthony, first thing is: 'Love him!' And second thing is: 'Are you going to ask him about J-Lo?' Does that drive you crazy?"

"No," he replied. "I have a different perspective. I mean, we were married, what? Seven, eight years? She's the mother of my children. I'm proud of it. I'm proud to be in the same sentence as someone who's accomplished what she's accomplished and gave me a big part of her life. It's not a bad thing, right? Trust me, it could be worse!"

Marc Anthony on his ritual before going on stage 01:15

Anthony has since remarried, to Venezuelan model Shannon De Lima. And truth is, the tabloid stuff isn't nearly as interesting as what Anthony's been able to accomplish on his own.

Born in 1968 to Puerto Rican parents, Anthony grew up in New York's Spanish Harlem. His dad had hopes of being a musician, but paid the bills by working in a hospital lunchroom.

Anthony's dreams early on were "to get out of the neighborhood."

He figured out in order to change where he was, he needed to change WHO he was.

What kind of kid was he? "To my mom, I was a pain in the ass," he said. "To my dad, the light of his eyes. And to me, I was awkward. My dad always told me, and as God's-honest truth: 'Son, we're ugly. Work on your personality.' Swear!"

It was, Anthony claims, "The best thing he ever told me. What happened was I'd stutter. And I really couldn't put a sentence together. But when I sang, I didn't stutter. [So] that was my preferred way of communicating."

As a teenager he sang in commercials, and offered to work for free as a backup singer for groups like Menudo. "Before I had my first single I had worked on over 300 records," he said. "I had all the experience in the world."

That first Spanish-language album took off in 1993, and since then he's had hits in both Spanish and English, selling more than 12 million records worldwide.

He has a line of clothing at Kohl's, and owns a piece of the Miami Dolphins. And thanks to his business sense, he gets frequent calls from other artists asking him for advice.

"I was always a phone call away," he said.

"So you were kind of tutoring people?" Smith asked.

"Yeah, mentoring. And we're just beginning."

So in 2015 Anthony founded Magnus Media ("my baby!") to help fellow musicians and athletes target the $1.5 trillion that Latinos spend each year. "Magnus was born out of frustration," he said. "I saw an absolute need for quality representation. I was doing it anyway, I was advising them on a daily basis as to how to streamline their business."

The Miami offices are decorated with Anthony's rather eclectic collections of badges, hats, and military uniforms. "I'm sort of a history fanatic," he said. "It's very easy to imagine, you know, who wore that [hat]. Somebody had to have earned it."

"I have to say it: You're a man of many hats," Smith quipped.

One hat he wears proudly: philanthropist. He has built three orphanages so far -- in the Dominican Republic, Colombia and Mexico -- and three more are under construction, through his foundation, Maestro Cares.

It all started with a visit he made to a not-so-wonderful orphanage several years ago. "It was basically a three-bedroom house with 47 kids, I believe," he recalled. "Babies sleeping under the beds, on the floor. What really hit me was just the lack of dignity."

"As long as I have a voice, as long as I can do something, I'm gonna do it!" he said.

Anthony's determined to use his voice in other ways, too. At a recent concert in Madison Square Garden, he made a speech that started with being a proud Latino ("I'm a Latino in the United States of America!"), and ended with 'F*** Donald Trump."

Smith asked, "Why'd you feel like you needed to say something?"

"I wasn't speaking for myself; I was speaking for my people," Anthony replied. "There's so many 'dreamers' out there, and I represent them, being born American, but being identified as a Latino in my heart, my soul, upbringing, everything I am. You mess with a Latino, you're messing with me."

Still, while Anthony is proud of the power he's earned, he says it came at a price.

"The one regret would be that what I chose to do took so much of my time," he said. "What I would've done to have been a stay-at-home dad and just, you know, witnessed every second of everything."

"You sort of start to wonder, was it all worth it?"

"How do you answer that?"

"I don't think you do," he said.

Or maybe the answer's in Marc Anthony's music -- and all it's allowed him to become.

"I have nothing to complain about. As long as your energy goes towards making something better, it's worth the sacrifice."

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