Kelly Clarkson: Her Tragic Real-Life Story

Note: This article includes mentions of suicide and mental health issues.

When fans first met Kelly Clarkson on "American Idol," she came across as a bright and cheery person with big dreams to fulfill. Clarkson's sweet persona stuck around after she won the reality competition series on Sept. 4, 2002, and she soon ascended to the top of the music industry's food chain with hits like "A Moment Like This," "Since U Been Gone," "Miss Independent," and many more. She then took her stature as a singer to television in a big way, as a coach on "The Voice," and then as host of her own daytime talk show, "The Kelly Clarkson Show," which kicked off its fifth season in the fall of 2023. Though Clarkson usually has an upbeat attitude, she's shown another side of herself with more poignant hits, such as "Because of You." Were the song's emotional lyrics hinting at the singer's sad past?

Of course, Clarkson is as layered as any other celebrity out there, though her background is sadder than some, given her numerous struggles throughout childhood and adulthood. Take Clarkson's fractured relationship with her biological father, for instance. The Grammy winner does not have a relationship with her dad, and their estrangement may have even once hampered her ability to form meaningful relationships. More recently, it's been her troubled marriage that's made headlines, in addition to various other personal travails that have been in direct contrast with her professional success.

Grab a box of tissues and let's dissect the tragic real-life story of Kelly Clarkson.

Childhood heartbreak after her dad left

Kelly Clarkson's 2005 hit "Because of You" is chock full of heartbreaking lyrics. "Because of you / I never stray too far from the sidewalk," she croons in one verse. "Because of you / I learned to play on the safe side so I don't get hurt."

Sadly, this painful ballad is about Kelly's biological father, Stephen Michael Clarkson, and her parents' messy divorce (per MTV News). Stephen failed to keep in touch after he split from Kelly's mom when she was six years old, a devastating blow for any child. Kelly tried to reach out to Stephen herself but was reportedly rejected multiple times in what she referred to as a "humiliating" effort. 

During a November 2017 interview with Skavlan, she referred to her relationship with her dad as "toxic," questioning whether he was even "capable [of love]." Kelly, however, had come to a pragmatic view of the lack of relationship with her father. "I think If you don't grow up with it, it's hard to miss something you never had," she said.

The lingering effects of her parents' divorce

Given Kelly Clarkson's non-existent relationship with her dad, it's no surprise that her parents' divorce left a lasting impact on her life. Making matters even more difficult? Clarkson's mother, Jeanne, split from her second husband when the singer was 19 years old.

Witnessing a string of failed relationships within her family led Clarkson to question whether lasting love is possible. "Divorce isn't fun," Clarkson told the Mirror in January 2012. "It affects relationships you get into when you are older. I think you have to work a little harder because you're constantly thinking it's probably not going to work out in the end."

Clarkson believed that she'd conquered that apparent curse when she married Brandon Blackstock in 2013. Initially, Clarkson declared that Blackstock had restored her faith in relationships — and in more ways than one. "This isn't a downer to anybody I dated before him, but I'm just going to be real: I never felt like, [honestly], sexually attracted to anybody before him," Clarkson revealed during a private show for SiriusXM listeners in November 2017, according to People. "There was something about him."

Homelessness and financial woes

Before Kelly Clarkson made it big, she was homeless for a short period. Pretty shocking, right? It's especially wild to think about when you consider that Clarkson's net worth was reportedly $50 million as of early 2024.

Her brief stint on the streets happened around the time she auditioned for "American Idol." Sharing that she'd lost her apartment to a fire, Clarkson told The Guardian in October 2011, "I had to move home, I had no money and I had to sleep in my car for three days. I just auditioned for this thing that said they'd pay you, and it happened to be 'American Idol.' I didn't go into it thinking this would happen; I went into it thinking it might pay my electric bill."

Surprisingly, that wasn't the first time Clarkson faced financial hardship. In a June 2015 interview with CBS Sunday Morning, Clarkson opened up about how her family once lived "pre-paycheck to pre-paycheck" growing up. Regarding her outlook on finances, she said, "I definitely had this whole mentality, I was like, 'Whatever I'm gonna do, I just don't want to have to worry that.'"

Fat-shaming throughout her career

It's no secret that Hollywood places an emphasis on looks. Someone who knows this all too well is Kelly Clarkson, who has been body-shamed throughout her career. The singer first experienced this sad reality during "American Idol." She told People, "Even on 'American Ido'l I was really thin, but I was bigger than the other girls on the show, so people would say things to me." Fortunately, Clarkson didn't pay her haters any attention. "But luckily I am super confident, so I've never had a problem with shutting people down and saying, 'Yeah, you know, that's just what I'm rocking. It's fine,'" she said.

Clarkson's confidence aside, it's still upsetting that she continues to face criticism post-"Idol." One example of this is when Fox News' Chris Wallace fat-shamed Clarkson during an interview on "The Mike Gallagher Show." "She could stay off the deep-dish pizza for a little while," Wallace told Gallagher (via The Hollywood Reporter). Sheesh.

Clarkson also experienced hate on social media. One time, a Twitter user called Clarkson "fat" after she shared a 2017 Fourth of July message, as reported by Rolling Stone. Clarkson smoothly responded in a tweet, "....and still f***ing awesome." Get 'em, girl.

Dealing with suicidal thoughts

Some of Kelly Clarkson's most dedicated supporters might be heartbroken to learn that the singer contemplated suicide during a particularly "dark" period in her life. Although Clarkson didn't reveal exactly when this happened, she admitted that she was "really skinny" at the time. "When I was really skinny, I wanted to kill myself. I was miserable, like inside and out, for four years of my life," she explained to Attitude (via NME). "But no one cared, because aesthetically you make sense."

To deal with the stress, Clarkson sought refuge in physical fitness. "It was a very dark time for me," Clarkson elaborated. "I thought the only way out was quitting. I like wrecked my knees and my feet because all I would do is put in headphones and run. I was at the gym all the time."

While many people assumed that Clarkson became suicidal due to body image issues, this wasn't the case. "Just to clear something up. I wasn't ever miserable because I had to be thin," she explained in a tweet. "I said I was miserable & as a result I became thin." She further explained that she'd never thought to take her own life because of her size, noting, "I said people had no idea I was unhappy oddly enough because I appeared healthy."

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)​.

Cheating rumors began dogging her marriage

Imagine you and your partner are expecting your first child together, only to have your happiness dampened by cheating rumors. This is exactly what happened to Kelly Clarkson in December 2013, when multiple women accused her husband, Brandon Blackstock, of being unfaithful.

"We met at a golf club in [Tennessee] and have exchanged multiple texts and hung out a few times over the last little while," one woman claimed to The Dirty (via the Daily Mail). "We haven't slept together but we've been intimate in other ways." Another woman told the outlet, "I have been involved with him as well — quite a bit more seriously than the other woman." That accuser also threw shade on Blackstock. "It amazes me how manipulative this guy can be," she said. "One minute he's professing his undying love for his wife [Kelly Clarkson] and the next minute he's stepping out on her when she's not looking."

Poor Clarkson. We can't even begin to imagine how these rumors affected Clarkson's stress levels. But the singer was able to quickly debunk the gossip when she tweeted, "Keep hearing random rumors of me & Brandon splitting or that's he's cheating on me. Stop with all the lying please #aintnobodygottimeforthat."

Bullying in the music industry

Although Kelly Clarkson's successful career might appear effortless on the surface, she has endured some tough moments in the music industry. Case in point: She butted heads with legendary record producer Clive Davis during her time at RCA Records, a label owned by Sony Music. Davis took over RCA in 2004, before the release of Clarkson's album "Breakaway."

Clarkson, who was excited to work with Davis, was disappointed when he allegedly bashed one of the singles on "Breakaway," "Because of You." The performer claimed that Davis cruelly ripped the track apart, to her face, during a meeting. "I was told that was a sh***y song because it didn't rhyme," she recalled in a profile for Variety. "A group of men thought it was okay to sit around a young woman and bully her. I was told I should shut up and sing." Funnily enough, Davis suggested a song he wanted on the album instead — "Behind These Hazel Eyes," which Clarkson also wrote, proving she did know how to craft a song.

Clarkson, however, has been able to find the silver lining in her feud with Davis. "The only victory I see from the last 15 years is honestly just the fact that, even in such an incredibly not-healthy environment, we were very successful," she stated.

A terrifying invasion of privacy

In a terrifying turn of events, the Los Angeles-area home that Kelly Clarkson shared with husband Brandon Blackstock and their two children was burglarized in December 2017. Clarkson opened up about the scary news at the 2017 Billboard Women in Music Awards. Interviewed by Extra's Renee Bargh ahead of the ceremony, Clarkson revealed, "We got robbed last night. Yeah, it was crazy. We got here and our whole house was, like, bashed in."

Although the thief only got away with "materialistic things" that she and Blackstock "didn't care" about, the whole situation was still upsetting because the perp was in their children's bedroom at one point. "The guy was in our kids' room ... so it was a little weird," she said, emphasizing that her children were unharmed.

While Clarkson is lucky that no one got hurt, it's never a good feeling when a person's privacy is invaded in such a manner — especially when kids are involved.

She was hospitalized during her difficult first pregnancy

Kelly Clarkson was undoubtedly overjoyed when she learned she was pregnant with her first daughter, River Rose. "I'm pregnant!!! Brandon and I are so excited! Best early Christmas present ever," Clarkson tweeted in November 2013. Sadly, Clarkson's mood soon took a downward turn due to severe nausea. "I had to kind of take longer off because I had such a horrible pregnancy — like, I was like hospitalized," she told BBC Radio (via ABC News), revealing that she would sometimes throw up 25 times a day. "It was just a bad pregnancy so I had to take off way more time than normal." Poor mama.

But wait — that's not all. Before giving birth to River, Clarkson didn't know that she has a serious health issue that prevents her from delivering vaginally. "It turns out I can't ever have a natural birth, [there's a problem with] my pelvic inlet or something," she told Ellen DeGeneres in 2015 (via Closer Online). If Clarkson hadn't requested a c-section before going into labor, she potentially could have died while giving birth.

Clarkson's second pregnancy, with son Remington, was equally difficult. Interviewed by Gayle King for "CBS This Morning," Clarkson revealed her symptoms went far beyond morning sickness. "I'm familiar with all-day sickness," Clarkson said, as reported by Us Weekly. "I have to get IVs and fluids because I get so dehydrated. It's really bad."

Being diagnosed with a thyroid condition led to some big life changes

During a 2018 appearance on NBC's "Today," Kelly Clarkson was noticeably slimmer than she had been in recent years. As she explained to host Hoda Kotb, she revealed that she had been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and an issue with her thyroid. Then, she came across Dr. Steven Gundry's book, "The Plant Paradox," which advises readers to steer clear of fruits and vegetables containing lectin, which he claims can cause inflammation, and weight gain, and can even damage intestines.

"I read this book called 'The Plant Paradox,' and it might not work for everyone; it worked for me," Clarkson said, attributing her 37-lb weight loss to following the book's guidelines. "That's not even the best part: I mean, I know the industry loves the weight gone ... but for me, I am not on my medicine anymore," she added, revealing she was no longer taking medication to regulate her thyroid. "I haven't been on my medicine since February."

Clarkson also praised the book during an interview with Extra, insisting that losing weight had come without having to do any additional exercise. "I literally read this book, and I did it for this autoimmune disease that I had and I had a thyroid issue, and now all my levels are back up," she said. "I'm not on medicine anymore because of this book."

Her messy divorce from Brandon Blackstock

When people were encouraged to quarantine in their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020, Kelly Clarkson and her husband Brandon Blackstock holed up in their Montana ranch with their two kids. On June 4, Clarkson filed for divorce. A few months later, in November 2020, Clarkson was awarded primary custody of their children.

Blackstock requested a staggering $436,000 per month in spousal support from Clarkson; a judge ultimately granted him less than half that, the still-substantial sum of $195,601 a month. Clarkson clearly wanted to get the whole thing over with; in July 2021, she requested that she and Blackstock be legally divorced. The following month, her request was granted, and Clarkson was declared officially single. Then, in March 2022, the divorce was finalized; in the settlement, Clarkson agreed to pay her ex a hefty one-time sum of more than $1.3 million, in addition to $45,601 in child support each month. 

"I've always known that love is hard," Clarkson admitted in an interview with People. "For me, love has always come with this elephant in the room of sadness. I've known love is not forever. I don't mean that to sound depressing, but I think we put a lot of pressure on that word. Sometimes love is looking at someone and going, 'This is not good for you. This is not good for me.' That's a hard thing to face. But when you do, I think you grow."

The sad reason she decided to change her name

Amid Kelly Clarkson's divorce drama, a surprising tidbit of information surfaced when Us Weekly reported that Kelly Clarkson had filed a request to legally change her name. In her filing, Clarkson asked that her name be changed to Kelly Brianne. She was eager to make the change, she noted in her filing, because "my new name more fully reflects who I am." 

The reason for her name change, she told People, had to do with her recent divorce from Brandon Blackstock. "I just got divorced, so I had to drop my married last name," she said, explaining that the new name represented a fresh start and a clean break now that she was newly single. However, she was also quick to point out that the change wouldn't be reflected in her professional persona. "I just kept my middle name for my personal life. I'm still Kelly Clarkson," she said, before joking, "I don't think I can change Clarkson at this point. I'm 20 years in!"

In addition, the name change may also have reflected her strained relationship with her estranged father, from whom she received the Clarkson name. "He walked out & didn't have s*** to do with her," one fan tweeted about her name change. "I would have dropped it long before I had gotten as far as she has. He doesn't deserve it."

She struggled with depression after her divorce

After her marriage crumbled, Kelly Clarkson took solace in music. The result was "Chemistry," her raw post-divorce album. Speaking with People, Clarkson expressed gratitude for being able to work through all those myriad emotions through music, providing her with much-needed catharsis. "Because the level of depression and things that come with divorce or grieving is extraordinarily hard," Clarkson explained. "You feel alone, and it's just a blessing to be able to have that outlet for those emotions that are overwhelming."

When she was ready to release her music to the world, she said, it felt "like, 'I'm taking my power back.' That sounds very therapy, but that's because I love therapy."

Another way that Clarkson coped with depression after her divorce was through medication. In an interview with the "Las Culturistas" podcast (via People), Clarkson recalled feeling particularly low during a therapy session. "I looked at my therapist and I just couldn't stop sobbing, and I was like, 'I actually had to cancel some of the other day because I couldn't stop crying. I cannot do this,'" she said. That was when she was prescribed Lexapro, an antidepressant, which proved to be a game-changer for her. "My thing was, I just can't smile anymore for America right now. I'm not happy and I need help ... and it was honest to God, the greatest decision ever," she declared. 

She responded to allegations of a toxic atmosphere on the set of her talk show

Daytime television proved to be an ideal fit for Kelly Clarkson, borne out by the ongoing success of "The Kelly Clarkson Show." While a feel-good atmosphere permeated the show itself, that wasn't the case behind the scenes — allegedly, at least. That became clear in a scorched-earth Rolling Stone exposé in which several current and former staffers on the show claimed to be overworked, poorly paid, and routinely verbally abused by Alex Duda, the show's executive producer. 

While all the staffers who spoke out in the article conceded that Clarkson herself was absolutely not implicated in the allegedly abusive behavior, the behind-the-scenes atmosphere on the set was said to be toxic. "NBC is protecting the show because it's their new moneymaker," one former employee told the magazine. "But Kelly has no clue how unhappy her staff is." A spokesperson for the show issued a statement to Entertainment Weekly, which read, "We are committed to a safe and respectful work environment and take workplace complaints very seriously, and to insinuate otherwise is untrue."

Clarkson herself eventually responded to the accusations, posting a statement on Instagram. "I love my team at 'The Kelly Clarkson Show,' and to find out that anyone is feeling unheard and or disrespected on this show is unacceptable," she wrote, announcing that the show's senior staff — including her — would undergo leadership training, "to ensure that any notion of toxicity is eradicated."

Her father died before she was able to connect with him

Even though Kelly Clarkson's biological father, Stephen Michael Clarkson, rebuffed her efforts to connect with him, she continued trying. 

During a 2018 with Forbes, she revealed that he'd passed away just a few months earlier, eradicating any chance of forming some kind of relationship with him. According to Clarkson, her song "Piece by Piece" was a particularly emotional number to perform, given that she'd written it about her father. "So like from the moment I wrote it, just being pregnant with my little girl and then you know all the moments that I really did try and make it work with my father and life and just get completely let down to where ... You know he passed away months ago," she said. 

Ruminating on what could have been between her and her father, Clarkson admitted that the song represented "loss on a lot of different levels." Having become a parent herself, Clarkson admitted she found the idea of abandoning her own children to be unthinkable. "It's just the sense of loss that I just don't know if I'll ever not feel just because ... I'm a mom of two kids that aren't even from my womb that I still couldn't imagine treating the way that I was," she said.

She bared her soul with a post-divorce lyric change to Piece by Piece

Kelly Clarkson's emotional single "Piece by Piece" recounts her fraught relationship with her father, comparing his dismal performance as a parent to that of her then-husband, Brandon Blackstock. During a 2023 performance, however, she altered the song's lyrics to reflect on her divorce. As fans will recall, the song's original chorus praised her then-husband. "He never walks away / He never asks for money / He takes care of me / He loves me / Piece by piece, he restored my faith / That a man can be kind and a father could stay," the lyrics went.

While performing the song during her 2023 Las Vegas residency, she shifted things around. "This song I initially wrote, just, super hopeful, right? And well, sometimes hopeful turns into hopeless," she told the audience before introducing the song. In her rewritten lyrics, instead of lauding Blackstock, Clarkson celebrated herself. "I just walk away / when they ask for money / I take care of me / 'cause I love me / Piece by piece, I restored my faith / That a heart can still beat, even when it breaks."

Judging by the thunderous applause, the crowd wholeheartedly approved of Clarkson's rewritten lyrics indicating she'd moved on and was focused on healing herself.

Her pre-diabetes diagnosis spurred her to lose weight

While Kelly Clarkson claimed that she'd been able to manage her thyroid and autoimmune issues through the diet laid out in "The Plant Paradox," she subsequently received another diagnosis.

During a discussion with guest Kevin James during a 2024 episode of "The Kelly Clarkson Show," Clarkson recounted what her doctors had revealed. "Well, I was told I was pre-diabetic ... and well, I wasn't shocked. I was a tiny bit overweight," she said. "They were like, 'You're pre-diabetic. You're right on the borderline. I was like, 'But I'm not there yet.' And then I waited two years and then I was like okay, I'll do something about it."

As she told People, she wound up shedding those excess pounds once she began following her doctor's advice. "I dropped weight because I've been listening to my doctor — a couple years I didn't," she said. "And 90 percent of the time I'm really good at it because a protein diet is good for me anyway. I'm a Texas girl, so I like meat — sorry, vegetarians in the world!" Another factor in her weight loss was her move from Los Angeles to New York, which resulted in Clarkson doing a lot more walking than she had previously. "Walking in the city is quite the workout," she declared.