Glitz, glamour and gobs of adoring fans — that’s probably what you think of first when you imagine even the private lives of Hollywood celebrities.
But for some, the road to stardom has been pretty bumpy indeed.
In fact, some of the most renowned actors and actresses in the industry have bravely shared their shudder-inducing stories of succumbing abuse, tragic loss and more in the hopes of reaching fans who may be suffering the same strife they once were.
Many of these jaw-dropping stories prove that truth really can be crazier than fiction.
The concept of discipline took on a sinister meaning in DMX aka Earl Simmons’ household. The rapper-slash-actor revealed, in a devastating moment during Couple’s Therapy, that his mother used to punish him by braiding together three extension cords and waiting until he fell asleep before beating him “’til she was tired.”
“I think that’s why it’s hard for me to sleep sometimes.”
DMX even remembered a time when he was seven and his mother had beaten him so badly with a broom that he lost two teeth. “We had a rule. Whatever’s going on in the house, you keep in the house. She would always threaten us with ’white people are going to come take you away, you want that?'”
Her abuse, coupled with instances of abandonment as well as verbal, emotional and psychological torment by his mother, led DMX to conclude that she didn’t care about him. “It hurt,” he admitted in a tearful revelation.
Mary J. Blige was only five years old when she was sexually abused, and the trauma of that experience continues to haunt her.
Mary explained the horrifying incident during her Behind the Music feature, saying that she remembered “feeling, literally right before it happened, I just could not believe that this person was going to do this” to her.
“That thing followed me all my life. The shame of thinking my molestation was my fault. It led me to believe I wasn’t worth anything,” she explained. She later struggled with alcoholism but became sober with the help of her husband Kendu Isaacs.
Melissa “Missy Misdemeanor” Elliott was only eight years old when she first began suffering the sexual abuse of her then-16-year-old cousin.
During her feature on Behind the Music the rapper-singer, she revealed that she was lured to his home and molested over the course of a year and that she didn’t understand what was happening at the time.
“I had no clue what that was, but I knew something was wrong,” said Missy. “Being molested – it don’t disappear,” she added. “You remember it as if it was yesterday.”
She would later experience extreme poverty and bear witness to her father physically abusing her mother, including an incredibly terrifying incident in which he pulled a gun on her and threatened her life. “He pulled the gun out in front of me. I was screaming, ‘Daddy, please don’t kill my mother!'” she remembered. Her uncle, who lived next-door to her family at the time, stepped in and ended the attack before it could become fatal.
Before she proved that starships are meant to fly, Nicki Minaj (formerly, Onika Minaj) had to find her own set of wings within a broken nest. The singer-turned-actress revealed in 2010 that her father was a violent drug addict who subjected herself and her mother to neglect, theft and even arson.
“I thought we would just be happy, but with a drug-addicted parent there is no such thing as being happy,” she told Vibe Magazine. “When you have a father who is stealing your furniture and selling it so that he can buy crack, you suffer. You come home from school and your couch is gone. You’re like, ‘What happened?’”
Minaj, who was born in Trinidad but moved to New York at age five, reported being in constant fear that her father would end the life of her mother.
There’s almost no one who can claim the level of success and influence that Oprah Winfrey has had over the course of her illustrious career, but she had anything but an ideal upbringing. The twice Oscar-nominated actress-slash-TV-mogul was just nine years old when she began suffering sexual abused by her then-19-year-old cousin.
She was also severely beaten and molested by other relatives and turned to substances in order to cope with her covert struggles. At 14, she was sent to live with her father and discovered she was pregnant. Sadly, the baby – a boy – was born two months premature and passed away at just two weeks old.
Much later in life, Oprah named him at the suggestion of a reporter and chose the name Canaan because, as she told Australian press, it “means new land, new life.”
Tyler Perry may be best known for his hilariously sharp-tongued alter ego Madea, but buried beneath all the laughter is a lot of long-lasting pain. In 2009, inspired by the true story-based film “Precious,” the actor-director-producer opened up about his tragic youth, detailing the sexual and physical abuse he experienced from his family and a neighbor.
In one particularly harrowing account, he revealed that while his mother was out, his father came home “drunk” and “mad at the world” and “got the vacuum cleaner extension cord and trapped me in a room and beat me until the skin was coming off my back.”
“To this day, I don’t know what would make a person do something like that to a child,” he wrote. “But thank God that in my mind, I left. I didn’t feel it anymore, just like in ’Precious.’ How this girl would leave in her mind. I learned to use my gift, as it was my imagination that let me escape.”
For Eminem aka Marshall Mathers, art quite astutely reflected reality when he made the pseudobiographical 2002 film “8 Mile,” in which his character Jimmy “B-Rabbit Smith Jr.” fights to forge a rap career while living with his troubled mother in low-income housing and enduring bullying from other school kids.
In a one-on-one interview with 60 Minutes Em explained that he “never knew” his father, who’d left them when he was just six months old, and that he didn’t have any interest in meeting him because he thinks there were “no excuses” why he would abandon his children.
The South African actress may now live the charmed A-list life of beauty and acclaim, but when she was young she suffered the unthinkable. At just 15 years old, her alcoholic father attempted to fatally attack herself and her mother by firing his gun at them in their home, verbally affirming his intention to kill them both. Her mother was also armed, however, and eventually fired back at him, killing him on the scene and saving herself and Charlize in the process.
Although Theron had kept the story private for years, she finally spoke out about her grim experience for a PSA about the rape crisis in her home country, saying, “I know what happened. And I know that if my daughter was in the same situation, I would do the same thing.”
Charlize’s mother was never charged in the incident as it was considered an act of self-defense.
Christina Aguilera was teaching the whole world about “What a Girl Wants” at an early age, but when she was a girl herself, all she wanted was to feel safe from her own father.
In a candid discussion with E! News, Aguilera revealed that when she was a child she felt completely “powerless” against her violent father and “turned to singing as an outlet.” Her mother Shelly remembered a horrifying moment when she found Christina, then just four years old, with her face bloodied up because “’Daddy wanted to take a nap and I made too much noise.’”
Her mother eventually left her father and took herself and her sisters to live with their grandmother. “The pain at home is where my love for music came from,” said Aguilera.
Before he was a rap icon, Curtis Jackson aka 50 Cent grew up in a turbulently broken home. His father abandoned the family at birth, and his mother was a cocaine dealer who was killed when Jackson was only eight years old.
He was sent to live with his grandmother Beulah, but he still found himself following in his mother’s footsteps by turning to drug dealing. Fifty was arrested as a teen for gun possession at his high school, and after a stint in a military-style boot camp, he discovered his love of rapping and created his stage name 50 Cent as a nod to his intention to change.
His first album, Power of the Dollar would mark the start of his rise to hip-hop fame, but his adolescent choices did come back to haunt him when former affiliate from the drug ring he was involved in shot him nine times at close range. Jackson survived the incident and fully recovered after several months.
“My priorities changed,” he told People Magazine in 2005. “My son is the reason I stopped doing the things my mother was doing.”
Ashley Judd’s on-screen portrayals of women who refuse to surrender to abuse has an unfortunate root in reality.
In her 2011 memoir “All That Is Bitter And Sweet,” Ashley Judd revealed the shocking details of her youth as a victim of incest, sexual abuse, neglect and exposure to drug use during her mother’s rise to fame as a country super star. Her many traumatic experiences even caused Judd to contemplate suicide on multiple occasions.
She wrote, “I took to playing with mom’s gun, trying to decide if it would be worth it to shoot myself. There were many days after school I would expertly check the chamber, load bullets, give it a spin and with a jerk of my wrist click the chamber into place, cock the trigger and then hold then gun to my right temple. To me, the way my family lived was already killing me.”
“The shame and the keeping ourselves sick through secretiveness is one of the things we all need to have the courage to undo,” she said of her decision to share her troubling history with the world.
Mo’Nique’s Oscar-winning role as the relentlessly abusive mother in Precious opened a very difficult door for the actress, through which she revealed that she was first sexually abused by her then-13-year-old brother when she was seven years old and that there were several incidents over the course of the next four years before she finally went to her parents for help.
To Essence, she explained that the response her parents gave her was very upsetting.
“I’m not blaming my parents because me and my brother were both their children, and I just don’t know the kind of position they felt they were in,” she said. “My father was very upset, but it never got mentioned again. I’ll never forget my mother saying, ’If it’s true, it will surface again,’ and I remember thinking, Why would I lie? Why is there even an ’if’ in this?'”
Her brother later appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show and admitted to the incidents and offered an apology to his sister for these terrible violations that occurred during their youths.
At just five years old, Dylan McDermott lost his 20-year-old mother after she was shot in the head in a grizzly scene which would remain an unsolved mystery (labeled accidental death at the time) for the next four decades of his life.
McDermott and his then-infant sister — whose father was serving time in jail when their mother was killed — were sent to live with their grandmother before being adopted by their stepmother. “It shapes you forever,” he told Esquire about the death of his mother, “and you don’t get over it.”
Though he did not visually witness his mother’s death, he did hear the shots fired and in an instance of life imitating art, Dylan took matters into his own hands in 2011 to get the case reopened for investigation and confirm that it was her violent and substance-abusive boyfriend who’d committed the act. (The suspect predeceased being officially accused of the crime.)
There’s a reason Woody Harrelson was such a, well, natural in Natural Born Killers: His father was a convicted contract killer in real life.
“I was 11 or 12 when I heard his name mentioned on a car radio,” he told The Guardian of his first encounter with the truth of his parentage. “I was listening to the radio and it was talking about Charles V Harrelson and his trial for murder … and I’m sitting there thinking there can’t be another Charles V Harrelson. I mean, that’s my dad! It was a wild realization.”
What’s even wilder is that Woody went onto spend “millions” in legal fees to get his father a new trial before he died in prison in 2007. The elder Harrelson, who left his family to work as a hired hitman, had been implicated in at least three homicide cases – including the death of a federal judge – and is even among the armchair investigation subjects of the JFK assassination.
The notoriously private entertainer came forward with her account of being sexually abused as a teenager, remembering “He violated me. I never told anybody; I just buried it as deeply as I could.”
The scarring experience has affected Queen Latifah (whose given name is Dana Elaine Owens)’s ability to form close relationships throughout her life.
She revealed to Essence that as a result, she has “kept people at an arm’s distance” and “never really let a person get too close to” her.
The laughter slowed quite a bit when Jim Carrey was 12 years old and his father lost his job, leaving the impoverished family to “live in a van for a while” and “work together as security guards and janitors.”
For Jim, who was a straight-A student before the sudden shift, that meant working eight hour shifts after a full day of school, he explained on Inside the Actor’s Studio.
Eventually, his knack for knee-knocking hilarity came in handy and Carrey began to earn extra money for his family with local comedy club gigs.
Kelsey Grammer’s long-time TV persona Frasier Crane would have had a field day parsing through the layers of trauma he endured in his early years.
When he was 13, Grammer’s father was senselessly murdered in his own front yard by a cab driver who had no connection to him whatsoever and lured him outside by lighting the family car on fire.
This was but the start of a life-long history of grievous losses. His sister was violently raped and murdered when he was 20, the guilt and tragedy of which “very nearly destroyed” him. A few years later, his two half-brothers died in a scuba-diving accident involving a potential shark attack, and later in life one of his closest friends was killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks and another was murdered by his wife.
Drew Barrymore grew up in the limelight thanks to the fame of her parents and her own acclaim as a child movie star, but that attention (or lack thereof) certainly had its consequences. At just 14 years old, she entered a rehabilitation facility for drug use and was emancipated from her parents. “I didn’t really have parents, you know?” she told More last year.
“I don’t know how to feel differently about it because I don’t know what another life would be like, so it’s hard to pretend or imagine or wish that it was different because it isn’t. Even if I was a bad girl at moments here and there, I was never a bad person,” she said of her youth.
Angelina Jolie may be one of Tinseltown’s biggest stars, but growing up in Los Angeles was harmful to her health (and it had nothing to do with smog).
Angie suffered from depression at a young age because, she revealed to The Wall Street Journal, she couldn’t “appreciate or understand” her life at the time and led a “destructive and miserable” existence. (Her childhood caregiver once recalled having to take Jolie to the hospital due to her struggles with anorexia.)
“I was raised in a place where if you have fame and money and you’re decent-looking and have the ability to work in this industry, you have everything in the world. Then you attain those things and realize you still couldn’t be more empty. I didn’t know where to put myself,” she said.
Of course, Jolie-Pitt would later devote her time away from the cameras to global humanitarian relief efforts and her six children with Brad Pitt and find the fulfillment she’d been searching for.
Before he became the “bad guy” to head up an Empire, Terrence Howard went through some real-life distress. He revealed to Rolling Stone that at the tender age of two as he witnessed his father stab a man to death in a department store Santa line.
His father, who spent 11 months in jail for the incident, imbued his temper unto his children, saying “’Never take the vertebrae out of your back or the bass out of your throat. I ain’t raisin’ sheep. I raised men. Stay a man.'” Howard has since exhibited his own violent behavior, having been charged in (and admitting to) several accounts of domestic violence.
R. Kelly’s adulthood and career has been marred by scandal — he was charged and acquitted of child pornography in 2008 — but there was a time in his life when it was him who was victimized.
He still has a bullet lodged in his shoulder from when he was shot at the age of 11 by a stray bullet. The South Side Chicago native was no stranger to gunfire in his neighborhood, but, as he revealed in his memoir Soulacoaster: The Diary of Me, this shot sounded (and felt) quite different than the others he’d witnessed in his youth. “This POW! rang in my ear … It was like I was leaving my body,” he wrote.
And that wasn’t the only wound he received in his youth, either. He grew up with several women in his home, one of whom sexually abused him for several years and others who would perform sex acts in front of him, when his mother wasn’t around. He hadn’t told his mother of the incidents because, he wrote, “I was too afraid and too ashamed.”
Shania Twain earned her status as a country music legend by shelling out one female empowerment anthem after another, but there was a time in her life where she existed under the thumb of her abusive father.
The man, whom she described as having a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality shift, repeatedly abused her mother, to the point that there was even one incident when Shania believed she had just watched him kill her.
“[It was] overwhelming for any child to never know what to expect from one day to the next,” Twain told ABC News. “It could happen anytime. But also you don’t know if they’re going to survive it.”
Twain, whose family was often left hungry as a result of their financial strains, would later become responsible for raising her two younger siblings at 22 years old, after her parents were both killed in a car accident.