Celebrities are just like any human being—for the most part! They’ve faced traumas and tragedies, and in fact, some celeb stories are so wild and unbelievable, it befits their larger-than-life status. Still, knowing what these celebrities have lived through before they’ve achieved their fame makes them that much more human, and far more relatable. Here are the wildest celebrity backstories.
1. Leighton Meester Was Born Under A Bad Sign
Leighton Meester’s mother was a smuggler, and she gave birth to Meester in a halfway house before continuing to serve her sentence. But that’s not all. Bad behavior ran deep throughout the whole family, with Meester’s dad, her grandfather, and her aunt also got involved in the same activities, with similar results. Meester’s aunt was even on the US Marshals “15 Most Wanted” list.
2. Kelsey Grammer’s Life Is More Tragic Than You Know
Kelsey Grammer’s family history is permeated with tragedies. His father was murdered during a home robbery when Grammer was just 13 years old. Later, the single worst tragedy of his life would take place. His sister Karen was kidnapped and killed. As a cruel twist of fate, Grammer didn’t learn about his sister’s end until the week following her passing.
3. Drew Barrymore Was A True Wild Child
Drew Barrymore’s celebrity upbringing was in stark contrast with the adorable Gertie character she portrayed in ET The Extra Terrestrial. She comes from an acting dynasty, but many of her relatives battled addictions. Her mother started to take Barrymore partying at age nine to Studio 54, where Barrymore got heavily into adult activities.
4. 50 Cent Nearly Met A Violent End
Curtis Jackson, AKA 50 Cent, grew up in New York and fell into dealing substances from a young age. Although he stopped once he got into music, his songs were soon causing controversy. In 2000, Jackson’s song “Ghetto Qu’ran” came out, and its revealing lyrics about a local dealer nearly cost Jackson his life. The same year, Jackson was shot nine times throughout his body.
5. Tiffany Haddish Was In A Dark Place
Tiffany Haddish is an amazing funny woman, but she has a sad past. When she was only 17 years old, a cadet forced himself on her on the night of her homecoming dance. Haddish went through a lot of therapy to get through that moment in her life, and we’re so glad she did.
6. Lady Gaga Was A “Loser”
Pop star Lady Gaga started taking piano lessons when she was four years old, and by the age of 14, she was doing open mics around New York City. But, behind the talent was a tragic tale. Despite her early acclaim, people tormented her at school, including a group of boys who once threw her into a New York City trashcan.
7. Jennifer Hudson Lived Through A Nightmare
Jennifer Hudson never won American Idol, but she’s arguably the most talented performer to appear on that show. Yet Hudson has suffered nightmares, including the premature passing of her mother, brother, and young nephew after Hudson’s ex brother-in-law violently attacked them.
8. Oprah Winfrey Revealed Her Most Painful Secret
Oprah Winfrey‘s family mistreated her when she was a young child. To run away from this pain, Winfrey became promiscuous as a teen, and got pregnant at 14 years old. Sadly, though, her baby passed soon after birth. Winfrey kept all of this a secret until a relative outed her in a 1990 interview. Instead of reacting with anger, Winfrey realized it was liberating to no longer keep her pain, and shame, hidden from the world.
9. Joaquin Phoenix Made A Frantic 9-1-1 Call
Joaquin Phoenix was once the lesser-known celebrity in his family. His older brother, River Phoenix, was a stunningly gorgeous young man and equally talented actor. Then tragedy struck. The Phoenix brothers were out together on the night of October 31, 1993 when River suffered a fatal, drug-induced seizure outside The Viper Room nightclub in downtown LA.
Joaquin’s emotionally distraught 9-1-1 call is still online, but his frantic attempt to save his brother was unsuccessful.
10. Charlize Theron Lost Her Father In A Horrific Way
Charlize Theron was just 15 years old when she saw her mother shoot and kill her alcoholic father in self defense. Now an Oscar-winning actress, Theron has confessed to interviewers that the incident is a part of her—like a tattoo on her heart—but she hasn’t let it define her life in a negative way. Theron even said she gained strength and confidence from her mother’s protective example.
11. Stephen Colbert Had A Private Family Tragedy
Stephen Colbert is renowned for his comic satire, but he should also be awarded tremendous respect for how he overcame a family tragedy that happened when he was only 10 years old. The year was 1974, and a plane crash claimed the lives of Colbert’s father and his two brothers. The devastating event “personally shattered” Colbert, and it took him until early adulthood to truly find healing.
12. Madonna Started From The Bottom
Madonna’s thick-skinned vibe can be difficult to sympathize with, but her ever-changing personas mask a personal tragedy. Her mother passed from breast cancer when Madonna was just five years old, and Madonna developed a drive very early. She eventually moved to New York City, hoping to become a professional dancer, but she faced more roadblocks and traumas on her way to the top. She was robbed at gunpoint and even though she was penniless, people broke into her apartment…three times.
13. Elton John Faced Hell On Earth
Singer Elton John used substances early on as a performer to battle his shyness and the shame he felt hiding his sexual identity. His habits became so addictive that his life turned into a vicious cycle of intense partying and vicious crashes. John suffered from bulimia and an overdose before he finally sobered up in 1990.
14. Pom Klementieff Lost Her Second Father
Famous for playing Mantis in Guardians of the Galaxy, Pom Klementieff lost her father when she was just five years old. Her mother struggled with schizophrenia, so Klementieff’s aunt and uncle raised her. She grew close to them, calling her uncle her “second father.” But the worst was yet to come. Unfortunately, her uncle passed the day she turned 18.
15. Sofia Vergara Kept Her Cancer Secret
Looking at gorgeous, voluptuous Sofia Vergara, the last thing most people would conjure up is a woman on the brink of life. Years before she became famous on Modern Family, Vergara had thyroid cancer. The disease is aggressive, and can be fatal, but Vergara beat it with immediate surgery and rounds of exhausting medical treatment. Vergara kept silent on her illness for years, finally disclosing her cancer battle in 2011.
16. Cardi B’s Name Has A Secret
People have wondered how the superstar Cardi B got her rap name. She’s confessed that the moniker stems directly from her younger sister’s real name, Hennessy. Apparently, their dad had been drinking Hennessy on the day the girl was born. Growing up, Cardi B took her own play on the drink brand Bacardi to come up with her own signature handle.
17. Pink’s Name Is Actually Scandalous
Alecia Beth Moore is more famous as superstar singer-songwriter Pink. She’s raunchy, real, and brash…but her confession about her alias is downright shocking. Apparently, as a young girl, Pink had a male acquaintance who questioned the color of a white girl’s genitals. She gave him a peek, and he exclaimed, “They’re pink!” Friends quickly picked it up, transforming it into “Mr. Pink” from the film Reservoir Dogs.
18. Glenn Close Was In A Cult
Glenn Close was seven years old when her father moved her whole family to Switzerland to join a thinly veiled cult called The Moral Re-Armament. Close was finally able to break away from the cult at 22 years old when she left to study acting. However, living in that toxic environment devastated her, and it took years for Close to understand how vulnerable her parents were, and why her father put their family in that situation.
19. Levar Burton Gave Up Everything
Levar Burton was such a reassuring presence on Reading Rainbow, it isn’t a stretch to imagine him as a kindly and fatherly priest. Burton even studied in a religious seminary with the intention of becoming a Catholic priest. He eventually decided that organized religion wasn’t for him, but he did develop a passion for acting through the seminary’s theater program.
20. Idris Elba Was Dave Chappelle’s Dealer
Idris Elba has reached “sexiest man alive” status, but his pinnacle of American success didn’t come without some trying times. At one point, he was a dealer so he could make ends meet. While working as a bouncer at Carolines, a New York City comedy club, Elba even sold about “ten bags of weed” to visiting comedian Dave Chappelle.
21. Missy Elliott Flunked School On Purpose
Missy Elliott is the queen of OG rappers, with a creativity and lyricism that is mind-blowing. Elliott’s IQ charted so high as a kid, the school officials bumped her ahead two full grades. This backfired. Elliott missed being around kids closer to her age, so she failed all her subjects, just to get put back where she felt she belonged.
22. Angelina Jolie Wanted To Be A Funeral Director
When Angelina Jolie’s grandfather passed, she became very upset at how his funeral went down. Jolie wanted to make sure others didn’t experience her pain, so she started studying funerary services. Jolie once admitted that she still would have pursued that occupation if acting didn’t work out.