Before becoming a box-office star, Theron’s upbringing in South Africa was anything but glamorous. The “Mad Max: Fury Road” actress grew up with an abusive, alcoholic father and witnessed her mother shooting and killing him in self-defense.
Before she became the multimedia powerhouse she is today, the philanthropist and talk show host endured a harrowing childhood in Mississippi. Raised by a teenage single mother, Winfrey was repeatedly molested by family members and raped at age 9; she became pregnant at 14, losing her son in infancy. Winfrey landed a job in radio when she was still in high school, which started her trajectory to her successful broadcast career.
The comedian’s early life wasn’t anything to laugh about. When Carrey was 12 years old his father lost his job, plunging the family into poverty and homelessness. The “Truman Show” actor, his parents and three siblings lived in a van for a while, all taking jobs as security guards and janitors to make ends meet. Carrey recalls working an eight-hour day in a factory after a full day of school.
The brash, outspoken rapper has always been open about her troubled childhood with a violently abusive, drug-addicted, alcoholic father. “All of my young and teenage early years we lived in fear that my mother would be killed by my father,” she said in an interview in 2011.
Breaking her silence six years ago, the singer opened up about her abusive childhood at the hands of her violent father, who once beat her because she was making too much noise when he was trying to nap. “I turned to singing as an outlet,” Aguilera said. “The pain at home is where my love for music came from.”
The “American Horror Story” actor had an early childhood where life imitated art. McDermott’s mother was only 15 when he was born, and was later shot and killed by John Sponza, her heroin-addicted boyfriend who had suspected ties to organized crime. Though it was deemed an accidental shooting at the time, McDermott had the case reopened in 2011 and in 2012 Sponza was convicted of murder.
The actor is frequently in the public eye these days because of the success of his TV series “Empire,” but few know of another event that brought him and his family into the spotlight years ago: the Santa Line Slaying in 1971. Two-year-old Howard was in line with his parents and two brothers to see Santa at a department store in Cleveland when the elder Howard got into an argument with another man in line and stabbed and killed him. Terrence only revealed in 2005 that his father was the man convicted of the killing.
Meester’s early childhood hardly resembles the privileged life of her character on “Gossip Girl.” The actress’ mother gave birth to her while serving time in a federal prison for her involvement in a drug ring that smuggled marijuana from Jamaica to the U.S. The two lived in a halfway house for three months, and then Meester’s mother returned to prison and left her daughter in the care of her grandmother.
The “Birdman” actress was born into a loving, creative family—her mother was a costume designer and her father was a sound engineer for Pink Floyd—but when Watts was only 8 her father died of an apparent heroin overdose. The family moved around frequently after that. “There was quite a lot of sadness in my childhood, but no lack of love,” she says. Perhaps a shared hardship is what led the actress to her partner, Liev Schreiber, who had an equally tumultuous childhood.
The singer has been open about her childhood in Barbados that was marred by her father’s addiction to crack cocaine and his abusive behavior toward her mother. After years of estrangement, the two eventually reconciled, with Rihanna saying, “As awful as he was to my mom at times, it didn’t compare to how great he was as a father.”
Missy Elliott’s story of enduring a childhood of poverty and sexual abuse makes her success even more admirable. Repeatedly raped by a 16-year-old cousin when she was only 8, Elliott was also living in a home where her father repeatedly abused her mother. When she was 14, Elliott witnessed her father threatening her mother with a gun, which she calls the “scariest time in my life.”
Perhaps the actor’s portrayals of psychopathic killers is coming from a deeper place: Harrelson’s father was a professional hitman who was suspected of kidnapping and murdering the brother of a prominent lawyer and was convicted of the for-hire assassination of a judge in the ’80s.
His “Madea” movies might make us all laugh, but the actor/writer/producer’s early days were decidedly dark. Perry says he was the victim of brutal beatings at the hands of his father, and he once attempted suicide in order to escape the abuse. To deal with his pain, Perry says as a child he often created a refuge in his mind. “I’m there in this park running and playing, and it was such a good day,” he revealed. “So, every time somebody was doing something to me that was horrible, that was awful, I could go to this park in my mind until it was over.”
Born Curtis Jackson, the rapper’s mother was murdered when he was only 8 years old in a particularly horrific manner: An unknown assailant drugged her drink, and then, after she had lost consciousness, the perpetrator turned on the gas and closed the windows of her apartment. Jackson was sent to live with his grandmother and eight aunts and uncles and was simply told, “Your mother’s not coming home. She’s not gonna come back to pick you up. You’re gonna stay with us now.”