It’s difficult to come back from a tragedy in your life under any circumstances, but trying to heal while you’re in the public eye must be one incredibly challenging task. We look at the celebrities in our society and see lots of money, lavish homes, millions of social media followers, and designer outfits, but there is pain hidden beneath the surface of all that, which most people don’t even know about. The following 15 celebrities have slipped into what some would consider the depths of hell in the past, having lost the people closest to them, and come close to facing death themselves. Despite the challenges they were faced with, many of them carried on, not only surviving life but absolutely winning at it! After the disasters they went through, a lot of these stars went on to turn their bad luck into motivation and pushed themselves right up to the stars.
15 Venus & Serena Williams: The Other Sister
Today we know the Williams sisters as tennis royalty, but most people don’t realize that they have lived through a nightmare. On September 14 2003, Venus and Serena’s older half-sister Yetunde Price, was in a car with her boyfriend in the girls’ hometown of Compton in California, when she was caught in a gang shootout. Police arrived to the scene, but by that time, Price had already been gunned down. She was brought to the hospital, and although every effort was made to resuscitate her, she was pronounced dead. In 2006, Robert Edward Maxfield, the man responsible for the shooting, was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in jail after claiming that he thought the car belonged to a rival gang. Yetunde was not only a sister to the Williams girls, but a stylist, personal assistant, and more than anything, a fan and huge supporter. Despite the tragedy, the sisters went on to go down in tennis history.
14 Joaquin Phoenix: A Brother Taken Too Soon
The disaster that happened to Joaquin Phoenix’s family took place very publicly on Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard, and the 911 call made by Phoenix was recorded and leaked to the press. When he was only 19, Phoenix accompanied his older brother, River, to The Viper Room. During the night, River suffered an overdose that ended up with him sprawled on the street outside the club. Phoenix rang for help, but it did not arrive in time, and he watched his cherished brother die before his eyes. Not only did he have to deal with losing one of the most important people in his life, but he faced negative media attention directly after, not to mention the traumatic experience of having his 911 call played to the whole world. He suffered from substance abuse as a result, but picked himself up and focused on his acting career, starring in Blockbuster hits like Gladiator and Walk the Line.
13 Liam Neeson: An Accident Changes A Life
Liam Neeson has one of the most recognizable faces and voices in the world, since he starred in Taken in 2008. However, the very next year, he suffered every spouse’s worst nightmare and lost his wife in a freak accident. Natasha Richardson, who was widely known for playing Elizabeth James in The Parent Trap, was skiing in Montreal when she suffered an accident and was immediately placed on life support. She was declared brain dead, but Neeson kept her alive long enough for family and friends to say their goodbyes. He opened up about the ordeal on 60 Minutes, saying, “It's like a wave. You just get this profound feeling of instability...the Earth isn't stable anymore and then it passes and it becomes more infrequent, but I still get it sometimes." Neeson authorized the donation of his wife’s heart, liver, and kidneys to those in need, bringing a small sense of hope to a horrific tragedy.
12 Marlon Brando: No Light at The End of the Tunnel
Hollywood remembers Marlon Brando as an acting legend, but his life had its share of heartache and misfortune. In May of 1990, Brando’s son, Christian, killed his half-sister’s boyfriend, Dag Drollet. Cheyenne Brando, the actor’s daughter from his third wife, was pregnant with Drollet’s child at the time. Christian pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to prison, where he stayed for five years. Cheyenne tried to take her own life twice during the trial. She ended up giving birth to a son, Tuki, but lost custody of him in 1995, when she was 25 years old. This final blow pushed Cheyenne too far, and she ended her life in April of that year. Cheyenne’s funeral was held in Tahiti, where her mother was born, and neither her father nor her half-brother were able to attend. Marlon Brando passed away nine years later in 2004, but not after watching his family suffer such a terrible string of events.
11 Anna Nicole Smith: Joy Becomes Despair
While many of the stars on this list have overcome heartache, Anna Nicole Smith is one star who was tragically defeated by what she endured in her life. The model and TV producer was widowed at the age of 27 in 1995, when her husband, J. Howard Marshall II, passed away. That must have been a horrible situation to be in at such a young age, but things got even worse for Smith in 2006 when her 20-year-old son, Daniel Smith, lost his life to an overdose. Losing a child is said to be one of the most difficult things that a person can go through, and Smith was never able to fully reclaim her life after the experience. Less than a year later, on February 8 2007, she followed in her son’s footsteps and passed away from an overdose. The story of Anna Nicole Smith remains one of Hollywood’s saddest tragedies.
10 Sofia Vergara: A Family Nightmare
Sofia Vergara spends a good portion of her time nowadays making us all laugh, and you’d never know from looking at her that she’s been through some unthinkable hardships. In 1998, Vergara’s brother, Rafael's life was taken by a shooting in Bogota. She took her younger brother, Julio, out of Colombia after that, but he soon became addicted to illegal substances in his new home of Miami. Two years after Rafael’s death, Vergara was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. She underwent grueling radiation therapy, but luckily, ended up making a full recovery. Her troubles weren’t completely over, though, as in 2011, Julio ended up being deported back to where he started, in Colombia, thanks to his long-term addiction and trouble with U.S. police. Though she’s had to suffer through quite a lot in her life, Vergara is today an extremely successful actress, worth millions, who brings happiness to people all over the world. So inspiring!
9 Oprah Winfrey: Endless Struggle
Oprah Winfrey is now one of the most successful women in the world. She had to deal with some horrific experiences well before she even set foot in the spotlight, but that doesn’t mean the wounds ever fully healed. She was only ten when she began being abused by members of her own family. Not only did this affect her emotionally, but she fell pregnant at the age of 14. That all would have been traumatic enough on its own, but Winfrey actually gave birth to the child, and then lost it. This event alone would have been enough to destroy many women in their 20s and 30s, so we can’t even imagine what it must have been like for her. Though the scars ran deep, we all know how that story ended: Winfrey was an honor student, earned a full college scholarship, and is today a woman worth billions and responsible for inspiring women around the globe!
8 Charlize Theron: Forced to Grow Up
Before she became one of the most successful actresses in Hollywood, Charlize Theron dealt with a traumatizing family disaster back at home in South Africa. Her father was an alcoholic, and would constantly verbally harm and intimidate her mother. One night, he came home drunk and shot through the locked gate and kitchen door, before saying, “Tonight, I’m going to kill you both with the shotgun.” To protect herself and her daughter, Theron’s mother took her own gun and shot him, killing him on the spot. She wasn’t charged with murder, since it was ruled to be in self-defense. Though she has come a very long way since then, the actress still remembers the event. "It's a part of me, but it doesn't rule my life," she said. Maybe she was able to channel that pain into some of her stellar performances, particularly when she played abused murderess Aileen Wuornos in Monster.
7 Gabrielle Union: Turning Tragedy into Triumph
Actress Gabrielle Union is known for playing strong characters, including the cheerleader Isis in Bring it On. She’s definitely a strong woman in real life, having experienced something that many women fear. When she was only 19, Union was working at a Payless shoe store, and was closing up late one night. A man stormed in with a gun, dragged her to the backroom, and assaulted her at gunpoint. Later, police learned that this man was actually a former employee, and had assaulted another shop assistant at a different store. Thankfully, he didn’t get away with it, and was sentenced to 33 years in prison. Union also won a lawsuit against Payless for the incident, claiming it partly occurred due to negligence on their part. Her attitude to the experience has been inspiring to say the least, and she’s refused to take on as a victim mentality. Instead, she’s spoken out about physical violence against women, helping others in similar situations.
6 Dylan McDermott: Scars from Childhood
Known for his work in American Horror Story, actor Dylan McDermott was forced to face a dark, ugly side to life when he was still a child. Back in 1967, McDermott’s mother was in a relationship with a man called John Sponza, who was a gangster involved in organized crime. One morning, he told the five-year-old McDermott to leave the house and play outside, which he did. But while he was out there, he heard screaming and a gunshot. As it turns out, he was actually hearing his mother being attacked by Sponza. The worst part is the police ruled the death as accidental, even though McDermott was sure it had been a true crime; not only had he heard the incident, but he recalled the gangster pointing guns at him earlier. It wasn’t until 2011 that the case was reopened, and police found that Sponza was guilty. It was covered up due to his being a police informant.
5 Eric Clapton: Every Parent's Nightmare
Being one of the most successful musicians in the world can’t protect you from tragedy, and singer Eric Clapton learned that first-hand in 1991, when he experienced every parent’s very worst nightmare. He arrived back to his New York City apartment on March 20 of that year, to find a crowd gathered at the base of the building. Not thinking much of it, he went up to his 53rd-floor apartment, where he discovered that his four-year-old son, Conor, had fallen from the opened bedroom window. The death of his little boy led Clapton to write “Tears in Heaven”, which was released in 1992 and became one of the most successful songs of the year. Something beautiful to come out of the song is the way other celebrities have used it to help those in need: the Osbournes had various stars cover the song to raise money for tsunami survivors in 2005.
4 Mariska Hargitay: Growing from Pain
Law & Order: SVU actress Mariska Hargitay learned the meaning of tragedy at the tender age of three, long before anyone should have to face such things. On June 29 1967, Hargitay was in the back of a car with two of her siblings, being driven by their famous mother, Jayne Mansfield. The car collided into the back of a semi-trailer which was hidden by anti-mosquito spray fog. In what has become one of the most notorious car wrecks in history, the car slammed under the truck, killing all three adults in front, including Hargitay’s beloved mother. Luckily, Mariska herself and her two siblings escaped with only minor injuries. She has since spoken about the incident, acknowledging the strength she gained from such a hard loss. “Losing my mother at such an early age is the scar of my soul…I understand the journey of life. I had to go through what I did to be here.”
3 Keanu Reeves: Secret Heartbreak
The Matrix trilogy was one of the most famous film franchises of the early 2000s, however, leading star Keanu Reeves was actually dealing with his own problems at the time of filming. In January of 2000, Reeves and his then-girlfriend, Jennifer Syme, tragically lost their unborn child at eight months of pregnancy. It’s devastating enough to lose a baby at any time, but particularly brutal after you’ve spent eight months growing to love it and being excited for its arrival. This ultimately destroyed their relationship. Not long after they split up, Syme was killed in a car accident. We can’t imagine the sense of guilt that would accompany losing somebody you’d just broken up with. The most heartbreaking factor of this story lies in the fact that in two months, Reeves went from a place of total joy in just beginning a family, to misery from losing them before they’d really even existed.
2 Kelsey Grammer: Disaster After Disaster
Kelsey Grammer made many of us laugh on Cheers and Fraiser, but his life has been much darker than we could imagine. The first devastating event in Grammer’s life took place when he was just 13 in 1968. One night, his father, Frank, was taken by gunshot outside of his home. A few years later in 1975, Grammer’s sister, Karen, who was just 18 at the time, was kidnapped, assaulted, and murdered by Freddie Glenn. The killer received the death penalty, which was then reduced to a life sentence. In 1980, five years later, Grammer’s twin half-brothers, Billy and Stephen, died off the coast of St. Thomas in a scuba-diving accident. When one failed to resurface, the other went down for him, and upon incorrectly resurfacing, suffered an aneurism. And in 2001, Grammer lost his good friend David Angell, who was a passenger aboard one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center.
1 Jennifer Hudson: A Life Changed Forever
The tragedy which plagued actress and singer Jennifer Hudson’s family was all over the media in 2008, and chills us to this day. In a fit of rage, William Balfour, who was Hudson’s sister’s estranged husband, shot and killed her mother, Darnell Donnerson and her brother, Jason. Hudson’s nephew, Julian, went missing, but three days later, he was found dead from gunshot wounds. Though the amount of pain she must have gone through is unthinkable, Hudson summoned the courage and strength to forgive Balfour for her own mental health, and set up a charity, the Julian D. King Gift Foundation. The foundation offers support to children from various socioeconomic and racial backgrounds so that they can grow up to become happy and confident adults, and break free of unhealthy cycles. Since then, Hudson has continued building her career like a true superstar, and has been honored for her spectacular efforts with her charity.
Sources: www.ranker.com, www.huffingtonpost.com.au, www.thestar.com.my