Celebrities Who Grew Up In Foster Care

It's easy to assume the rich and famous are living on easy street, but some celebrities have endured childhoods marked by trauma and neglect. Superstar singer Seal slept in a subway to escape an abusive father. Football star Jimmy Graham once measured his worth at a mere $98, and comedian Tiffany Haddish experienced a difficult upbringing that was no laughing matter. 

For myriad reasons, these celebs became wards of the state and were placed into foster care. Their time spent in the system varies, but many have since spoken out about their complicated upbringings and the ways those challenges still affect them to this day. Let's take a closer look at the grim beginnings, challenging foster care experiences, and hard-fought success stories of these celebrated figures in music, film, TV, and sports. Find out how some of these famous faces are giving back to help make a difference in other kids' lives.

Tiffany Haddish turned a negative into a positive

Tiffany Haddish's father left their family early on, and the actress and comedienne told People that at the age of 9, her mom suffered brain damage during a car accident, leaving her and her siblings to fend for themselves. "I was basically a 10-year-old mom," she said. Two years after her mom's accident, the Night School star and her siblings were split up and placed into different foster homes. "I remember being in the system until I wasn't worth anything (in state funding)," she told the Tampa Bay Times.

Haddish said it was her humor that helped her cope with bouncing around to different families and trying to fit in with classmates at a new school. Thankfully, at the age of 15, Haddish and her siblings were reunited when they were placed in her grandmother's care. Still, life wasn't particularly rosy. "My grandmother used to tell me: 'The state of California is paying me a lot of money to make sure you don't die,'" she told the Tampa Bay Times. "I could've taken that in a negative way but I took it positively: Yeah, I'm valuable. There must be something great I'm supposed to do here."

Simone Biles gives back to other foster families

Simone Biles is known for being an athletic powerhouse and an Olympic gold medalist. What many don't realize is that the cards were stacked against this gymnast her birth. She was born to a "mother addicted to drugs and alcohol," reported People, and at the age of 3, she and her younger sister, Adria Biles, were placed into foster care. "I was so young, I didn't quite understand what was going on," she told the magazine.

Thankfully, the gymnast's grandparents, Nellie and Ron, decided to take the girls in and adopt them, reported Glamour. Biles refers to her grandparents as mom and dad and credits them for her tremendous success. "From a very young age, they always believed in us and told us to believe in ourselves," she said.

Biles experience in foster care has compelled her to make a difference for other children in the system. After noticing that many of the kids in foster care were coming into a new home with "only the clothes on their back and a backpack," Biles partnered with Mattress Firm Foster Kids — a program that has donated "more than 610,000" clothing items and school supplies to foster children and their families, according to People.

Victoria Rowell honors her foster mom and mentors

Victoria Rowell brought the drama as Drucilla Winters on The Young and the Restless, but her real-life story is far more climactic. In her memoir, The Women Who Raised Me (via NPR), the soap opera star opens up about being a ward of the state and spending her entire childhood in foster care.

At the age of 7, she briefly met her birth mother, Dorothy Mabel Collins, who suffered from schizophrenia, when Collins visited the farm where Rowell was being raised by her foster mom, Agatha Armstead. Rowell and her birth mother would meet again "no more than three times," prior to Collins dying from lung cancer in 1983. Rowell learned that she was the youngest of six children Collins had given birth to. In her book, Rowell said her siblings all had different fathers, but were "all given the last name of Dorothy's first and only husband, Norman Rowell Sr."

Looking back on her life, Rowell is grateful her foster mom allowed her to study classical ballet in Massachusetts and New York City, and she appreciates the "tremendous mentors" who helped raise her. To honor them, she created the Rowell Foster Children's Positive Plan, telling NPR that her organization provides "fine arts scholarships to foster and adopted youth to study piano, dance, drama, reunification camps with siblings, and tuition for higher education."

Jimmy Wayne's home was full of 'chaos, filth, hunger'

Country singer Jimmy Wayne had his first experience with the foster system at the age of 9. With an absentee father and a mom who "had been committed to a psychiatric facility because she had severe bipolar disorder," Wayne and his older sister "were sent to a receiving home — a house for children awaiting placement with a foster family — in nearby Dallas, North Carolina," he told Good Housekeeping. The "Paper Angels" artist called it a "lonely" time. He and his sister were later sent "to live with a foster couple who had one daughter," he said. It was there that he witnessed "what a healthy family looked like." 

Six months later, his mom was released from the psychiatric facility, and Wayne and his sister returned to her care. "I loved Mom, but I knew what was waiting for us at home: chaos, filth, hunger and worse," he said. "Mom didn't work, and she welcomed random stragglers into our home, so there was never enough food."

The children bounced between the foster system and periodic stays with their mother for years until, at age 16, Wayne said his mother threw him out because he objected "to the people she live in the house." By that age, he was considered "legally independent in North Carolina." Thus, he was pushed into adulthood and began working odd jobs to provide for himself. 

Sylvester Stallone was 'farmed out to foster homes'

One of the entertainment industry's most celebrated actors had a difficult upbringing. According to The New York Times, Sylvester Stallone was "born to a bickering Italian couple in Hell's Kitchen" and "farmed out to foster homes while [his] parents worked. He was "a juvenile delinquent who attended 12 schools by the time he was 15, and was kicked out of most of them."

Interestingly, the actor's brother, Frank Stallone, painted a rosier picture in an interview with Closer Weekly. "I had a very normal childhood," he said. Of course, "normal" is a subjective term, so did Rocky Balboa's struggles inspired by the superstar's real-life battles? Yes and no. 

”There are certain parallels,” Sylvester told the Times. "...The fact that we both went the distance when we were finally given the opportunity, that's the main parallel."

Jimmy Graham's adoptive mom ends his 'bad dream'

When Jimmy Graham was drafted by the New Orleans Saints in 2010, many were unaware of the struggles he faced to get to that point. The North Carolina native's life turn a painful turn when he was 9-years-old. According to Nola, his mother refused to give Graham's step-father a $98 child support check she'd received from Graham's biological father, so his step-dad reportedly dropped Graham off at the doorstep of social services. "When I was a kid, I used to think about what my worth was. Ninety-eight dollars, I guess, was what I was worth when I was 9," the star athlete told ESPN.

Graham's mom eventually retrieved him, but at the age of 11, the boy found himself living in "a state-run group home for orphans and juvenile delinquents," ESPN reported. He called it a "bad dream" and remembers "crying myself to sleep every night." It would take another three years for Graham to have a chance meeting with a woman named Becky Vinson at a church function. The then-college student was so moved by Graham's story, she adopted him and raised him as her own.

For Graham, the nightmare is over. He told ESPN in 2014 that he is "going to cherish every moment of it and do everything in my power to never go back." 

Seal ran away from home to escape abuse

Henry Olusegun Adeola Samuel — better known as Seal — was born in London and "immediately placed with foster parents in Essex," The Guardian reports. His biological mother reclaimed him at age 4, according to Hello! magazine, but Seal was later placed under the care of his father, who reportedly beat him. The pain forced the little boy to make the difficult decision to strike out on his own. "If I didn't want any more abuse that was the only option — so I ran away from home," he said (via The Daily Telegraph). "First I slept at a friend of mine's house on the [floor] until his mum wouldn't put up with it any more and then I went to homeless shelters for as long as I could and when that came to an end I used to sleep in the subway."

Despite his traumatic childhood, this international superstar has embraced his life story. "I don't regret anything that happened in my childhood," he said (via Hello!). "It was all integral to making me what I am today."