16 Celebrities With Terribly Tragic Pasts
Everyone has suffered tragedies, but it’s inspiring to see celebrities rise above troubled and tragic histories. These 16 celebrities have undergone some particularly painful and crippling events, yet they still have managed to capture the hearts of millions.
1. Charlize Theron
This Oscar winning actress is such a charming person, so gracious and elegant that one might assume she comes from a wealthy and refined family, rich parents and that her childhood was something of a fairytale. Well, one couldn’t be more wrong.
Charlize actually grew up in a South African farming community and her childhood was so disastrous that she might as well sell her story as a scenario for some horror/thriller low budget movie.
Her father was no gentlemen. No sir. In fact, he was an abusive, aggressive, bipolar monster. He would often torture Charlize and her mother, both mentally and physically. But one day she saw the end of this torment, in a rather cruel and unspeakable way.
When Charlize was only 15 years old, she witnessed her mother shoot her father in self defense after he attacked them both and threatened to kill them right there on the spot.
A year after this tragic experience she moved to Milan to start her modeling career and two years after that, 18-year-old Charlize arrived in Hollywood with one suitcase, $400 cash and one bucket full of hopes and dreams.
She wanted to make it in the movie business. Ten years later, Charlize won an Oscar for Best Actress in the movie called “Monster”. In some strange and symbolically ironic way, justice has been served.
2. Jack Nicholson
On April 22, 1937 in Neptune, New Jersey, a woman called June Nicholson, an aspiring 19 year old actress, brought a young boy to this world and named him Jack.
Today we all know this baby as the famous Jack Nicholson. But what was so shocking and possibly tragic about Jack’s childhood?
Well, up until he was 37 years old, Jack was raised to think June was his sister.
Unmarried and unsure of who the father of her bundle of joy was, and since she wanted to make it in the movie business, June let her parents (Jack’s grandparents, obviously) take care of him and raise him like their own son.
June died of cancer in 1963, when Jack Nicholson was 26 years old and more than a decade after her death, back in 1974, the TIME magazine reporter, researching a cover story on the legendary actor, discovered this shocking information.
Nicholson, however, stated that, even though he found this news quite shocking, he wasn’t traumatized by this discovery. In fact, he felt relieved.
“I’d say it was a pretty dramatic event, but it wasn’t what I’d call traumatizing. After all, by the time I found out who my mother was, I was pretty well psychologically formed. As a matter of fact, it made quite a few things clearer to me. If anything, I felt grateful.”
3. Woody Harrelson
The actor has been building his reputation of an on-screen-bad-boy by playing numerous evil and deranged characters.
He has been particularly successful playing gruesome, shady and violently psychotic characters.
Remember Mickey in a classic called “Natural Born Killers”, also crazy Charlie in “Seven Psychopaths” or hypocritically religious and morally challenged investigator Marty in a recent hit series “True Detective”?
Is it possible that he nails these parts because he is simply gleaning the experience from his own past?
Namely, it turns out that Woody Harrelson’s father, Charles Voyde Harrelson, was in fact a contract killer. He was convicted of killing U.S. District Judge John H. Wood, and grain dealer Sam Degalia, Jr., for a sum of money – so, by definition Charles was a true hitman.
Charles served 15 years in prison for killing Sam Degalia in 1973, but was paroled and released from prison after only 5 years. One year later, he was arrested for allegedly killing Judge John Wood.
Charles denied having killed the Judge, claiming he was in Detroit at the time. However, a taped conversation between Joe Chagra and Jamiel Chagra revealed that Charles Harrelson had himself claimed to have killed the judge.
Woody reportedly didn’t have any contact with his father between 1968 and 1981, but after Charles got arrested and ended up in prison serving his sentence, Woody frequently visited him and even tried to get him a new trial, but failed to do so.
Charles Harrelson died of natural causes in his maximum security cell on March 15, 2007.
The R&B star’s full name is Robyn Rihanna Fenty and this exotically beautiful lady is not only a singer but a recording artist, actress, and fashion designer.
She was born in Barbados in 1988 and her career began when she met record producer Evan Rogers through mutual friends in late 2003 and recorded demo tapes under Rogers’s guidance.
Her tape was sent to several record labels, and she subsequently signed a contract with Def Jam Recordings after auditioning for its then-president, hip-hop producer and rapper Jay-Z. Pretty nice story, don’t you think? But let’s hear another one, a bit less known and available story about this rising star.
As we now begin to realize, like most celebrities we hear about every day, Rihanna also has had a huge family secret. Apparently, she had secret relatives she didn’t know about popping up all over the place. Ok, in her case, at least they started coming forth before she was famous so they didn’t have a hidden agenda called money.
It would appear that her father, Ronald was quite the ladies’ man and went around the block a few times before he met Rihanna’s mother Monica. Rihanna was only 15 when first relative she didn’t have a clue about knocked on her door. 32-year old Kandy popped up on the doorstep explaining to the shocked family who she was and why she was there.
The second surprise came later in form of another sister called Samantha, 30, and the third one in the form of a brother Jamie, 27, who have also come forward to claim their long lost male parent. Ronald and Monica have two other boys as well, Rorrey, 21, and Rajad, 15.
Interesting and shocking story indeed, but we are sure Rihanna is happy with her in-a-strange-way-widened family and that they all enjoy their sister being a worldwide star.
5. Kevin Spacey
Like in the case with Woody Harelson, Kevin also has the knack for brilliantly portraying mentally deranged psychopath.
His role of an insanely weird and creepy serial killer in a classic called “Se7en” got him an MTV Movie Award for Best Villain and his awesome portrayal of (spoiler ahead) mysterious mafia boss Keyser Söze in “The Usual Suspects” got him an Oscar for Best Actor In Supporting Role, but maybe these parts come naturally for Kevin for a reason.
The actor and his older brother Randall Fowler have long kept a dim secret about their family, but Randall has spilled the beans once and revealed this dark and hidden past about their father. According to Kevin’s brother, their father was an ultra-conservative sadist, a child molester and a Nazi enthusiast.
Randall reportedly says his father even groomed his hair and moustache so he would look like Adolph Hitler, and he was a member of the American Nazi Party. Fowler also revealed that he was a frequent victim of his father’s abuses, physical, mental, but also sexual.
He stated that the only thing that kept him going and kept him from committing suicide was preventing his brother from having the same fate. Spacey, however claims the stories are not true.
6. Oprah Winfrey
As host her top-rated and award-winning “The Oprah Winfrey Show”, she has been entertaining, enlightening and uplifting millions of viewers for decades now.
Her accomplishments as a global media leader and philanthropist have established her as one of the most respected and admired public figures today.
Using the ever-growing power of media, Oprah Winfrey has been creating unparalleled connections with people around the world and has set her life goal to be helping others. But is this need to make other people happy coming from her own difficult and tragic childhood?
It is no small thing for a woman of African-American descent, and the story becomes even more remarkable when you learn the whole story of Oprah’s life. She was born into a broken family in Kosciusko, Mississippi, in 1954.
Her life was seriously deprived of life opportunities in general, given the geographic location and time she was born in. Her mother was a single-teenage-mom and that didn’t help their situation. People weren’t that open minded back then as they are now.
After Winfrey’s birth, her mother traveled north and little Oprah spent her first six years living in rural poverty with her maternal grandmother, Hattie Mae, who was so poor that Winfrey often wore dresses made of potato sacks, for which the local children made fun of her.
She spent much of her childhood living in the ghetto outside Milwaukee with her mother and half-siblings. However, Oprah says her success is simply a result of the non-stop work ethic impressed on her by her father later.
7. Liv Tyler
Ok, Liv’s childhood wasn’t actually tragic, but it was indeed shocking and so interesting that we can admire her on becoming a super-sweet and talented actress and not some morally questionable tart. Let me clarify.
Her mother Bebe Buell, was a Playboy playmate back in 1973, and had this interesting habit of hanging out with and entertaining many famous musicians and eccentric artists.
It is known that she have had relationships with the likes of Rod Stewart, Steven Tyler, and Todd Rundgren.
In fact, she was living with Todd at the time Liv was born and obviously he was assumed to be Liv’s father. The couple named the girl Liv Rundgren. Bebe didn’t have a problem with raising her daughter amongst all that jazz.
Liv actually witnessed a lot of things a child shouldn’t be witnessing and she went back and forth between joining her mother in this wild lifestyle, and the calmer environment of her grandparents home until her early teens.
She met her real father, an Aerosmith rocker, Steven Tyler when she was 9 years old. When they first met, Tyler saw the resemblance between him and his daughter and that’s when he first suspected he may really be Liv’s father.
By the time she was 11, this was confirmed.
8. Tobey Maguire
Before Tobey became our favorite Spider-man, he was caught in some other kind of web – a web of serious family problems.
Maguire was born in Santa Monica, California, to Wendy Brown, a secretary, and Vincent Maguire, a construction worker and cook.
His parents were only 18 and 20 years old at the time, unmarried and unprepared. The two married, but subsequently divorced when Tobey was only two.
Maguire spent most of his childhood moving from one place to another, but also living with each parent and other family members.
During his childhood, he wanted to become a chef like his father, but his mother offered him $100 to take a drama class instead, and Tobey luckily agreed.
But the biggest problem was in fact his dad. Vincent lost his sister to cancer and he himself feared the similar demise awaits him as well. He had to take the additional responsibility of caring for her two children (in addition to Tobey), and with his ridiculously low salary as a cook, one day he got the idea to rob the bank.
Vincent was so worn out that he hadn’t quite thought the idea through, so he decided to rob the bank across the street from his house, on foot, in the middle of the day, without a mask.
He of course was apprehended immediately, but since he was unarmed, and it was his first offense, he only served two years in prison.
9. Kelsey Grammer
Allen Kelsey Grammer is an American actor, voice actor, comedian, producer, director, writer and singer.
He is best known for his portrayal of psychiatrist Dr. Frasier Crane on the NBC sitcoms “Cheers” and “Frasier” for more than 20 years now.
He has won five Emmy Awards and three Golden Globes, and has also worked as a television producer, director, writer, and as a voice artist on “The Simpsons” as the notorious Sideshow Bob.
Maybe his brilliant performance of this famous Simpsons villain has something to do with his tragic life that was full of loss and grief.
It all began with the death of his grandfather, one of his primary caretakers. He was only 11 at the time. Shortly after he had to face another tragedy that shook his family. Little Kelsey had to cope with the brutal murder of his father. Namely, someone set fire to his vehicle and Kelsey’s father died in a horrible agony.
However, death in his family continued and after his childhood. He eventually lost his sister who was also murdered. Subsequently, his two half brothers died in a scuba diving accident.
10. Shania Twain
This Canadian country music singer-songwriter is referred to as “The Queen of Country Pop,” and is one of the most commercially successful artists of all time, having sold over 85 million albums.
Twain has received 5 Grammy Awards, 27 BMI Songwriter awards, stars on Canada’s Walk of Fame and the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and an induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
She is the first and currently the only female artist in history to have 3 consecutive albums certified Diamond by the RIAA. With over 40 million copies sold worldwide, “Come On Over” is the best-selling album by a female artist and the top-selling country album of all time.
However, Shania had to work hard for it and had to face some serious tragedies and extensive hardship during her rise in the music business. This Canadian singer had a difficult childhood but managed to rise to the occasion and overcome all the obstacles life has thrown in front of her.
She grew up extremely poor. Often there were shortages of food in her household. She eventually lost her hardworking mother and stepfather in car accident when she was 21. This gruesome turn in her life forced her to take responsibility for the well being of her and her three younger siblings until they were adults.
Shania, however, found a way to use her tragic life creatively.
“I loved the feeling of being stranded. I’m not afraid of being in my own environment, being physical, working hard. I was very strong, I walked miles and miles every day and carried heavy loads of trees. You can’t shampoo, use soap or deodorant, or makeup, nothing with any scent; you have to bathe and rinse your clothes in the lake. It was a very rugged existence, but I was very creative and I would sit alone in the forest with my dog and a guitar and would just write songs,” the singer said on one occasion.
11. Demi Moore
Demi is an American actress, film producer, film director, former songwriter, and model.
She dropped out of high school at age 16 so she would pursue an acting career, and posed nude for “Oui” magazine in 1980 and her luscious body soon got her into movie business.
After making her film debut in 1981, she appeared on the soap opera “General Hospital” and later gained recognition for her roles in “Blame It on Rio” (1984) and “St. Elmo’s Fire” (1985).
Her first film to become both a critical and commercial hit was “About Last Night…” (1986). This movie established her as a Hollywood star we know today.
However, it wasn’t all roses for the famous actress. She was born to a single teenaged alcoholic and bipolar mother. She did have a stepfather though, but her lame excuse for a father figure struggled with jobs due to his addictions. This resulted in the family moving over 15 times during her childhood.
Her parents were both suffering from alcohol abuse, but have also physically abused each other and little Demi had to witness all the violence in her home. In 1980, her stepfather committed suicide.
12. Ashley Judd
Ashley Judd was at one time one of Hollywood’s highest paid actresses and had numerous amazing on-screen performances.
What the public didn’t know is the fact that she had been hiding her deep childhood secrets that had left her with severe psychological scars.
She decided to reveal them all in her book called “All that is Bitter and Sweet” back in 2011.
One might assume that growing up with your mother and your sister being famous singers and celebrities would have its advantages, but Ashley’s story begs to differ. In her memoirs she admits that she attended 13 different schools from age 5 to 18, and was a victim of both neglect and abuse.
She says she was only 7 years old when she first started feeling alone and depressed. Little Ashley apparently felt like she was forgotten and had no one to turn to. She was also exposed to inappropriate family fights and she witnessed rampant drug and alcohol abuse.
To top all this, Ashley also had to deal with and fend off various sexual predators while she was a teenager.
Determined to put her tragic childhood to good use, she started using her experiences to help other young women who are facing similar abuses through Southeast Asia.
13. Rose McGowan
The actress has become famous worldwide by playing Paige Matthews in The WB Television Network supernatural drama series “Charmed”, and Ann-Margret in the CBS miniseries “Elvis”, but her childhood was a bit strange, to say the least.
The actress has revealed back in 2011 that she was a member of the controversial cult called “Children of God”, a group which blended free love attitudes with preparing for the second coming of Jesus.
Even at an early age, Rose noticed something suspicious in the cult’s practices when she saw that women were treated as sex slaves for the men of group, and knew she did not want the same fate for herself. Her father managed to pull her out of this notorious organization when the group began considering allowing sex between children and adults.
“At a very early age, I thought ‘These beliefs are absurd,” said Rose on one occasion. “Like in most cults, you were cut off from your [outside] family. There were no newspapers, no television. You were kept in the dark so you would obey. It was not a wealthy existence.”
“I remember watching how the cult’s men were with the women, and at a very early age I decided I did not want to be like those women. They were basically there to serve the men sexually. The women would go to bars as lures (to pick up recruits) – they called it flirty fishing.”
14. Keanu Reeves
Keanu is certainly one extremely successful actor, but his life is no fairytale.
His mother was a showgirl and his father abandoned him while he barely knew how to walk.
This provided quite an unstable environment for young Keanu and he changed five different high schools in just four years, which resulted in him never finishing high school and attaining a degree.
However, life didn’t treat him well even after he became a success. Back in 1993, he lost his best friend River Phoenix to a drug overdose. Keanu had to face another loss in January 2000, when he and his girlfriend at the time, Jennifer Syme, had a stillborn daughter, Ava. Merely one year has passed when Jennifer lost control of her car, crashed and died instantly in a devastating automobile accident.
“Grief changes shape, but it never ends,” Reeves told Parade once. “People have a misconception that you can deal with it and say, ‘It’s gone, and I’m better.’ They’re wrong.”
“When the people you love are gone, you’re alone, I miss being a part of their lives and them being part of mine. I wonder what the present would be like if they were here – what we might have done together. I miss all the great things that will never be.”
15. 50 Cent
Curtis Jackson is known as the rapper 50 Cent. He started out in the underground, but most of the world didn’t know he existed until his first single “Wanksta” released on Eminem’s 8 Mile. As a young child, he was raised by his grandmother who took care of 9 other children. He began spending a lot of time on the streets, and by the age of 12, he was already a drug dealer. At the age of 15, he was one of the biggest drug dealers in the area and dropped out of high school, but that all ended when he was sent to correctional boot camp after being arrested. Jackson has said that this inspired him to change and build his music career rather than sell drugs. Later, he would go through feuds and even survive a shooting in 2001 before finally catching his big break.
16. Liam Neeson
The Irish-born actor has been in several movies based on tragedy such as Schindler’s List and The Grey, but Neeson has suffered greatly in his personal life. In 2000, he suffered a near fatal motorcycle accident and spent weeks in recovery, but that doesn’t compare to losing his wife and noted actress Natasha Richardson in 2009 after a minor ski accident. Richardson had suffered a head injury at the time of the accident, but she declined medical attention. She later complained of a headache and died the next day from head trauma.