Celebrities Whose Parents Were Murdered

The following article includes references to domestic abuse, suicide, sexual assault, and an alleged hate crime.

The rich and famous aren't immune to family tragedies, and unfortunately, some celebrities have endured the kind of traumatic loss that alters the course of one's life forever, regardless of one's success in music, movies, or sports. There is a long list of celebrities who died in 2022, and many family members of stars have also lost their lives.

From the murder of Michael Jordan's dad to the tragic death of Jennifer Hudson's family, the following stars have all suffered through the murder of a parent. Some of these famous figures suffered this painful loss as young children, while others were forced to grieve under the glare of the media spotlight. In either case, the experience impacted their lives in ways many of us could never imagine. The reasons might be different — a brutal robbery, a potential hate crime, jealous ex-lovers, and seemingly random acts of violence — but the result was the same. Let's take a closer look at the circumstances surrounding these terrible losses and explore the ways these beloved celebrities have coped with their pain and loss.

Dylan McDermott

Dylan McDermott is known for his role as Ben Harmon in the "American Horror Story" franchise, but in real life, the actor suffered true horror. In 1967, 5-year-old Dylan was standing outside his Waterbury, Connecticut home — his mother's boyfriend had kicked him out — as a horrible scene played out inside. According to the Republican-American (via Today), Dylan heard a gunshot. The next time he saw his mom, her body was being carried out on a gurney. Diane McDermott's boyfriend, John Sponza, had falsely claimed that she died by suicide, reported Today.

In 2011, Dylan contacted the Waterbury police asking questions. "[The actor] said, 'In order for me to survive and to get where I am today, I needed to bury that moment in my life deep within myself,'" Police Superintendent Michael Gugliotti told the Republican-American, per The Hollywood Reporter. "He said it wasn't until recently 'that I've come to the point in my life where I'm able to begin to process all of this." The case was reopened, and this time, a medical examiner determined a gun had been held to Diane's head, according to Today. There was enough new evidence against Sponza to finally hit him with the proper charges, however, he was killed in 1972. The Hollywood Reporter said the investigation also allegedly connected Sponza in other similar unsolved crimes.

Michael Jordan

With six NBA titles, Michael Jordan is arguably the greatest basketball player of all time, but he temporarily retired from the game in 1993, the year his father, James Jordan, was shot and killed. According to the Los Angeles Times, 57-year-old James had been missing for three weeks when his body was finally discovered in South Carolina. He was located in a creek. His vehicle, a red Lexus 400, was recovered by police two days later. The car had been destroyed; parts were missing, and it no longer had a license plate.

Daniel Andre Green and Larry Martin Demery, the two teenagers charged with the crime, reportedly shot James as he slept in his car and didn't realize who they'd killed until they rummaged through his belongings. According to Robeson County District Attorney Johnson Britt, per the Chicago Tribune, Green opened James' wallet, then turned to Demery and said, "I believe we killed Michael Jordan's dad."

Jordan talked a bit about his father's murder with Oprah Winfrey, telling her that he didn't want to know the killers' reasons for their actions. "It would probably hurt me even more just to know their reasons because if it is, it's gonna be totally meaningless," the basketball star said.

Jennifer Hudson

On October 24, 2008, Jennifer Hudson's sister, Julia Hudson, returned to the family's Chicago home and discovered that her mother, 57-year-old Darnell Donerson, and brother, 29-year-old Jason Hudson, had been shot and killed, and that her son, 7-year-old Julian King, was missing. Three days later, Julian was found in the back of an abandoned SUV. He had been shot in the head, reported the Chicago Tribune. In 2012, Julia's estranged husband, William Balfour was convicted of all three murders and sentenced to life in prison.

Jennifer rarely discusses the heartbreaking tragedy, but in a 2015 interview with Glamour, the "American Idol" star opened up about her pain. "It's frustrating as hell to me to have somebody who ain't lost nothing try to talk to me about it," she said. "I want to say, 'Don't even bother, because you know nothing.' But you never know how much you can get through until you're going through it." She also admitted that giving birth to her son a year after the murders helped her cope. "I went from being an aunt, having a mom, and being a child to not having a mom, becoming a mom, and raising my own child," the Oscar winner explained. "I tell David all the time, 'You saved my life,'" she said of her son.

Dave Navarro

When guitarist Dave Navarro — who played in iconic '90s bands such as Jane's Addiction and the Red Hot Chili Peppers — was 15 years old, his mother, 41-year-old Constance 'Connie' Navarro, and her friend, Sue Jory, were reportedly shot and killed by Constance's ex-boyfriend, John Riccardi, after he broke into her Los Angeles apartment on March 3, 1983. Dave was visiting his father at the time of the murders, and he's shared that he's lucky to have not been in the apartment at the time. "So I really do believe that that's some sort of divine intervention that I can't explain," Dave said of having dodged his mother's killer, per the Daily Mail. According to the outlet, Riccardi was finally located after he appeared on "America's Most Wanted" in 1991.

Dave opened up about the ordeal via a 2015 documentary called "Mourning Sun." Directed by his close pal, Todd Newman, the film evaluates how the musician was impacted by the tragedy, reported HuffPost. "The truth is, there were times when I wasn't sure if I wanted to tell it. But I think on a therapeutic level, it was worth seeing through," Dave told the outlet. "It's almost been a rebirth of my relationship with her, in the light," he says in the film. Shaped by those brutal murders, Dave now lends his voice to raise awareness about domestic violence.

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

Sean Combs

Rapper and media mogul Sean "Diddy" Combs used the 2013 launch of his Revolt TV to publicly discuss his late father, Melvin Combs, for the first time. "My father was killed when I was 3 yrs old ... we didn't share a lot of moments but he's always lived in my spirit!!" Diddy wrote in a since-deleted tweet, with a link to a segment called "Confessions."

Melvin was shot and killed while sitting in his car at the age of 33. "My father was a hustler. He was a drug dealer and he was a hustler, so I learned early in life that there's only two ways out of that dead-end jail. It made me work even harder," Diddy said on Revolt TV's "Confessions: Diddy Opens Up About His Father, Melvin Combs." "Sometimes you can't just answer why things happen, but I definitely think the route that I went on — staying out of the streets and hitting my books and trying to be somebody — I think he played a role in that." The rapper went on to share that although he did not grow up with his father, they're similar in their level of drive and determination.

Sean Lennon

Musician and producer Sean Lennon, son of Beatles legend John Lennon, was born on October 9, 1975 — his famous father's 35th birthday. Sadly, father and son didn't have much time together. A man by the name of Mark David Chapman shot the former Beatle four times on December 8, 1980, outside the family's apartment building in Manhattan. According to CNN, Chapman idolized John but claimed he became angry when his hero infamously proclaimed to the Evening Standard that the Beatles were "more popular than Jesus" during an interview in 1966. "I stepped off the curb, walked, turned, I took the gun and just boom, boom, boom, boom, boom," Chapman said during an interview in prison three years after the murder (via CNN). He was denied parole for the 10th time in 2018.

In a 1998 interview with Rolling Stone, Sean reflected on life without his father. "People ask me, 'Do you feel like he's still around?' And he is, man," Sean said. "He's alive in his music, in my life. Sometimes I walk into a store and hear him singing — 'Instant Karma' is playing — and I feel like that's him talking to me."

Malcolm X

Malcolm X was a religious leader and fierce advocate for civil rights. Delve into his childhood, and it's easy to understand why. His father, Earl Little, was a preacher and civil rights activist who was the frequent target of white supremacists. "When my mother was pregnant with me, she told me later, 'a party of hooded Ku Klux Klan riders galloped up to our home,'" Malcolm X recalled in "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" by Alex Haley. "Brandishing their shotguns and rifles, they shouted for my father to come out."

Little reportedly moved the family from Omaha to Wisconsin to Michigan in hopes of keeping them safe, but tragedy found them, per Biography. In 1931, Little's body was found on streetcar tracks. His loved ones believed he was murdered by white supremacists, but the police reportedly ruled the death an accident. The family likely faced financial struggles because Little's life insurance policy was no longer valid given his death was considered an accident, according to Biography. Malcolm's mother was committed to a mental institute after her husband's death. As a result, Malcolm and his siblings were separated and placed in foster care.

Malcolm X's life was also cut short. He was assassinated in front of his pregnant wife and children on February 21, 1965, before a speaking engagement in New York. According to The Washington Post, "Days before his death, Malcolm X assured reporters: 'I live like a man who is dead already. I have no fear whatsoever of anybody or anything."

If you or a loved one has experienced a hate crime, contact the VictimConnect Hotline by phone at 1-855-4-VICTIM or by chat for more information or assistance in locating services to help. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

Patrick Duffy

"Dallas" star Patrick Duffy was at the height of his fame when his parents, Terrence and Marie Duffy, were brutally gunned down in 1986 during a robbery in the Montana bar they owned. The perpetrators, Sean Wentz and Kenneth Miller, were sentenced to 75 years in prison, per Express, but Miller was granted parole in 2007, after Wentz reportedly confessed that he was the gunman during the slaying.

Although Patrick supported his sister's petition to keep their parents' killers behind bars, the "Step by Step" actor credited his Buddhist faith with his ability to cope with Miller's freedom. "My point of view is that he's already been punished. You know, whether he's in prison or out of prison," he told OK! magazine (via Express). "I was stunned that my reaction included compassion for them. I am not a cold and uncaring person. So why am I not emotionally devastated by this? I realize that by now, in all probability, even if they had not been killed, they would be dead. All parents die."

Chuck Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk, best known for his award-winning novel "Fight Club," started writing his 2003 novel "Lullaby" shortly after his father's murder in 1999. According to the Independent, Fred Palahniuk and his girlfriend died after Dale Shackleford, the girlfriend's ex-husband, shot them and burned their bodies. Shackleford was convicted and initially sentenced to death. "The sentence was overturned from death to a life sentence on a technicality," Chuck revealed while speaking to the Independent. "The sentence should have been passed by a jury but the judge passed the death penalty sentence."

In a 2005 interview with Rolling Stone, the writer recalled a haunting story from his father's childhood: Three-year-old Fred hiding under a bed while his father shoots and kills his mother then himself. "My father's first memories were of hiding under that bed, " Chuck told the magazine. "... After that, he was always this man still looking for his mother. Then, eventually, he found this woman, and once again a man with a gun comes back into the picture. And kills her. And then kills him." Chuck added, "In a way, I can't help but admire the shape of this perfect completion of a thing that started so long ago. I find comfort in that. That things happen for a reason and according to a pattern."

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Kelsey Grammer

Actor Kelsey Grammer, who first rose to fame on the classic sitcom "Cheers," has endured a number of heartbreaking tragedies throughout his life. According to the Mirror, Kelsey's father, Frank Allen Grammer, was fatally shot in 1968. At the time, the future star was just 13. In 1975, the Grammer family faced another tragedy when Kelsey's sister, Karen Grammer, was sexually assaulted and murdered. 

According to Vanity Fair, the actor fought for justice for his sister after her killer, Freddie Glenn, was up for parole decades later. In a letter to the parole board that was persuasive enough to keep Glenn behind bars, Kelsey wrote, "I miss her in my bones. I was her big brother. I was supposed to protect her — I could not. ... It very nearly destroyed me." The actor went on to explain to Vanity Fair that he wishes he could have saved his sister from the horrific tragedy that took her life. "It's hard to explain," Kelsey said of his feelings of guilt. "It's not rational. But it happens anyway. I know a lot of people who've lost their siblings and blame themselves." 

The "Frasier" star later reflected on all of the losses he's dealt with in his life. When asked what he's learned from these tragedies, Kelsey responded, "That every one of us is going to experience some terrible loss. I just got a big dose. ... I think you come to look at it as part of life."

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Jake Zyrus

Former "Glee" star Jake Zyrus, who has been open about his journey to coming out as a transgender man, lost his father, Ricky Pempengco, in 2011. AP News reported that Pempengco was stabbed to death by Angel Capili Jr. after an alteration outside of a store in the Philippines. Capili later turned himself in and alleged that he killed Ricky in self-defense, according to Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo. "He was claiming that he was already backing away but then [the victim] continued to attack him so he got a screwdriver and he stabbed Mr. Pempengco," Robredo said of Capili while speaking to ABS-CBN television (via AP News). "We will compare the account of witnesses with the account of the suspect."

Zyrus took to Twitter to address the devastating murder of his father. "I loved him, and I will still love him," the actor penned in part (via People). "He's still my dad after all." Pempengco and Zryus seemed to have a rather complicated relationship. An earlier interview on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" revealed that the singer and his mother fled from Pempengco due to a violent attack. "My dad was about to shoot my mom, and I couldn't do anything," Zyrus said of the incident. "We left my dad, and after that, I never saw him and I don't want to see him," he continued. "I'm just singing now for my mom. I didn't help her before. That's why I want to help her now."

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

The Allman Brothers

When future Allman Brothers Band musicians Duane and Gregg Allman were just toddlers, they endured a family tragedy: In 1949, their father, Willis Turner Allman, was murdered. Willis was an Army lieutenant at the time. Per The Virginian-Pilot, he was fatally shot after he and another officer picked up a hitchhiker in Norfolk, Virginia. The hitchhiker first robbed both men before killing Willis in an open field where he had requested to be dropped off. 

Sadly, the Allman Brothers Band went on to become even more familiar with the immense grief felt after losing a loved one due to the untimely deaths of both lead guitarist Duane and singer-songwriter and keyboardist Gregg. Back in 1971, Duane died in a motorcycle accident at only 24 years old. Meanwhile, younger brother Gregg died of liver cancer at age 69 in 2017. The musician had been diagnosed with hepatitis C in 1999 and received a liver transplant in 2010. 

Gregg's manager and friend, Michael Lehman, shared a heartfelt statement about the legendary musician following his death. "I have lost a dear friend and the world has lost a brilliant pioneer in music," Lehman said, according to Gregg's website. "He was a kind and gentle soul with the best laugh I ever heard. His love for his family and bandmates was passionate as was the love he had for his extraordinary fans. Gregg was an incredible partner and an even better friend. We will all miss him."

Omarosa Newman

Omarosa Newman, who is most well-known for her appearances on the reality TV show "The Apprentice" and her brief role as director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison under the Trump administration, lost her father, Jack Thomas Manigault, Sr., as a child in 1981. Newman opened up about her father's murder during an appearance on the "HU Movemakers Podcast" in 2020. "My father was murdered when I was seven, and my mother had to go work three jobs just to kind of make it happen for her four children," the former TV personality revealed.

Newman went on to share how she was impacted by losing a loved one she was so close with. "At seven, I was daddy's little girl, you know, and I absolutely loved my father," she said. "He was smart and brilliant and charismatic. And so the loss of his life was so profound on who I was as an individual." Newman explained that she ultimately grew from the hardship. 

But unfortunately, she faced another tragedy when her brother, Jack Manigault Jr., was also murdered in 2011. He was shot and killed by his ex-girlfriend's boyfriend after he broke into his home. The following year, Newman sadly lost a loved one once again when her former partner, actor Michael Clarke Duncan, died just two months after he survived a heart attack.