Celebrities usually live a life of glitz and glamour, but just because they’re famous doesn’t mean they had an easy road getting there.
Some of our favorite stars have experienced some very heartbreaking childhoods filled with violence, domestic abuse and even murder.
Here are 10 celebrities whose childhoods were void of rainbows and butterflies:
1. Charlize Theron
The South African-born actress grew up in a household where her alcoholic father abused her mother. One night when Theron was 15, her alcoholic father came home after a night of heavy drinking and threatened to kill her mother with a gun. In an act of self-defense, Theron’s mother took the gun and shot back, killing him.
“I survived that, and I’m proud of that,” Theron said in an interview with New York Times. “I’ve worked hard for that, too. And I am not scared of that. I am not fearful of the darkness. If anything, I am intrigued by it, because I think it explains human nature and people better.”
2. Dylan McDermott
Dylan McDermott, whose real name is Mark Anthony, was just 5-years-old when his 20-year-old mother, Diane, was fatally shot in the head in 1967. For over 40 years, the mystery surrounding her death remained unsolved. Dylan did not visually see the shooting, but he heard the shouting and gun shots.
In 2011, McDermott, best known for his role in The Practice, got his mother’s cold case reopened and investigators eventually deemed his mother’s abusive boyfriend, John Sponza, as the killer. Sponza, however, was found dead in the trunk of car in a grocery store parking lot back in 1972.
“It shapes you forever,” he told Esquire. “And you don’t get over it.”
3. Woody Harrelson
Harrelson’s dad, Charles V Harrelson, left his family when the actor was just a few years old. It wasn’t until he was about 11 of 12-years-old that he found out about his father’s dark secret life.
“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,” he told The Guardian. “I mean, that’s my dad! It was a wild realization.”
Harrelson found out that his father was a hitman and he was behind at least 3 homicides. He was also a suspect in the JFK assassination.
4. Leighton Meester
The Gossip Girl star had it rough from the start. Meester was born behind bars while her mom, Constance, was serving a sentence in a federal prison for smuggling 1,200 pounds of marijuana from Jamaica in 1983. Leighton’s aunt, who was in cahoots with her mom, broke out of prison and became the first woman in the United States to get on the U.S Marshals 15 Most Wanted List.
Thankfully, her parents cleaned up their act after being released and helped Leighton become the successful actress and singer she is today.
“It makes me very nonjudgmental and open-minded,” Leighton told Us Weekly.
5. Gerald Ford
Ford wouldn’t have become the 38th President of the United States had his biological father, Leslie King, had his way. King was an alcoholic and became abusive towards Ford’s mother, Dorothy. With the support of King’s parents, a pregnant Dorothy decided to leave her violent husband. She gave birth to the future president at his paternal grandfather’s mansion, but a few days later King learned of her whereabouts and came into her room with a knife, threatening to kill her and the newborn.
Luckily, police got there on time and arrested King. They later divorced and King refused to pay child support. It wasn’t long after that Dorothy met Gerald “Jerry” R. Ford Sr., who President Ford believed was his true father.
7. Nicki Minaj
The Trinidad and Tobago-born rapper had a tough childhood in Queens, New York, where she moved with her family when she was just 5-years-old. Her father was a drug addict and he was verbally and physically abusive.
“All of my young and teenage years we lived in fear that my mother would be killed by my father. It was ridiculous. My father was violent- physically and verbally.”
One night, while Nicki and her brother were having a sleepover at a friend’s house, their father set their home on fire. The property was destroyed, but thankfully, Nicki’s mom made it out alive.
8. Shania Twain
Growing up in Timmins, Ontario, Canada wasn’t easy for the award-winning country singer. The man who legally adopted her, Jerry Twain, was abusive to both her and her mother.
“[It was] overwhelming for any child to never know what to expect from one day to the next,” Twain said. “It could happen anytime. But also you don’t know if they’re going to survive it.”
He almost killed Twain’s mom during one his episodes when he dunked her head into the toilet to drown her.
“I thought he’d killed her,” Twain said. “I really thought she was drowned, or dead, or that he had just smashed her head in and she was never going to wake up. … She looked dead. She was unconscious, she was limp, hanging from his, you know, her, he had her hair in his hands.
9. Terrence Howard
Howard was just two-years-old when he witnessed his father murder a man in cold blood in what was dubbed the Santa Line Slaying. They were waiting in line to take photos with Santa Claus in Cleveland, Ohio when a fight broke out between his father and the victim, In an act of self-defense, Howard’s father used a sharp object to stab the man in the thighs and neck. Since he had no prior criminal record, he was charged with manslaughter and pardoned after 11-months for good behavior.
10. Kelsey Grammer
The Fraser star’s life has been filled with lots of ups and downs that “nearly destroyed” him. He experienced his first major loss when he was 13 after his father was randomly shot and killed in front of his family home by a cab driver who had no connection to him.
A few years later, his sister was one of the victims of a serial killer and rapist, a senseless tragedy that still haunts him today.