Famous people who gave kids up for adoption

According to The Adoption Network, "135,000 children are adopted in the United States each year," and each circumstance is likely rife with challenges, heartache, and difficult decisions. Financial hardships, relationship dynamics, age — every story is different, and even some of the most rich and famous stars in the entertainment industry have made a choice to place a biological child with an adoption agency or adoptive parent(s). 

Choosing adoption influenced the famed songwriting of music legends Patti Smith, Joni Mitchell, and David Crosby. Adoption prompted Old Hollywood starlet Loretta Young to devise a complex reunification plan, and the quest to reconnect motivated comedian Roseanne Barr, soap opera star Jack Wagner, and actress Kate Mulgrew of Orange Is the New Black. In some cases, a celebrity's high profile helped facilitate reunions. Others are still a work in progress or will never occur. Let's take a closer look at some famous people who placed their biological kids with adoption agencies or adoptive families.

Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell was a 21-year-old art school student in Canada when she decided adoption was the best choice for her daughter in the mid-'60s. According to Marie Claire, the future musical icon was unmarried and had "no job, no money and no roof over her head." The child's father, an artist like Mitchell, allegedly fled to California upon hearing the news, and Mitchell reportedly ran away to Toronto, afraid her parents would find out. "I was the only virgin in art school," she said (via Marie Claire). "I was holding on to this precious thing and stupidly let it go. I got caught out immediately. I was a criminal, a fallen woman."

Mitchell's pain from giving up her baby fueled her music career. "The songwriting was almost like something I did while I was waiting for my daughter to come back," she said (via Marie Claire). Mitchell started playing in coffee shops and eventually moved to New York, where she was discovered by music mogul David Geffen. She finally reconnected with her daughter in 1997, after receiving a letter from a Canadian woman named Kilauren Gibb who believed the songwriter was her birth mother. Gibb recalled the first time they hugged (via Marie Claire): "It felt like I'd gone away on a trip for a couple of months and I was coming home."

Patti Smith

Like Joni Mitchell, legendary songwriter Patti Smith also chose adoption after becoming pregnant as a college student. According to NPR, a 20-year-old Smith was studying to be a teacher at Glassboro State College in 1966 when she conceived a child with a 17-year-old boy. "I was a lower middle-class kid. My family had no money. There was no room in our small house where there were already four kids, including myself, living. I would have had to get a job in a factory, ask my mother to help me and she was already overworked," Mitchell told NPR. "…It would have been difficult for everyone I think. And the child would have had no father. I felt like I wasn't ready as a human being."

NPR reported that the pregnancy "was a turning point" in Smith's life. According to Marie Claire, she moved to New York "three months after the birth" with little more than some clothes, pencils, and a poetry book. It was there that Smith evolved from poet to songwriter. In 1975, Mitchell, as a member of the Patti Smith Group, released the iconic record Horses.

Rod Stewart

Rod Stewart became a father for the eighth time in 2011, yet he still carries "lots of guilt" over his first child. According to the Daily Mail, the singer was 17 years old when his "art student girlfriend" gave birth to a daughter. The pair split, and she struggled to raise the child by herself before putting her up for adoption. About 50 years later, Stewart finally reconciled with that child, Sarah Streeter, and supported her through her battle with drug addiction after her adoptive parents passed away.

"The relationship broke down somewhat because she was a bit awkward and had a big chip on her shoulder which I can't blame her [for]," Stewart told Piers Morgan in a CNN interview (via the Daily Mail). "But in the last couple of years we've become somewhat close." 

Streeter didn't find out about her famous father until she was 18 years old, but she reportedly went down a dark path before fully reconciling with him. According to the Daily Record, she "got hooked on alcohol, cocaine and crack," but Stewart helped get her dig out of her drug-related debt. She told the Daily Record that she now just thinks of him as "dad."

Ted Nugent

Singer and political pundit Ted Nugent may have an estimated $20 million net worth, but at one point, he was a struggling teen grappling with the idea of becoming a father. While he might not have adopted his 17-year-old girlfriend like the tabloids claimed, he did give up at least two children for adoption. The Washington Post reports that he has "several offspring" from his "randy heydays who have tracked him down in recent years." 

According to The New Yorkerwhen he was a teenager living in New York with his girlfriend, she got pregnant and gave up their son, Ted Mann, to Catholic Charities. "We were very young and we were in love/lust," Nugent said (via The New Yorker). Mann reportedly "felt loved" by his adoptive family "and saw no need to seek out his parents." However, another sibling tracked him down. 

Nugent's daughter, Louisa Savarese, was reportedly put up for adoption by Nugent's girlfriend without his knowledge in the 1970s. Savarese hired a genealogist to find her biological dad, confronting him in 2007 and reaching out to Mann as well. Savarese, Mann, and Nugent have all since reunited with the biological branches of this sprawling family tree — Nugent has fathered at least nine children. "It's been awesome," Savarese told The Washington Post, describing time spent with her dad. "He's such a sweet man. He is not what people think he is … when he's not screaming about politics."

Roseanne Barr

Before Roseanne Barr starred in her own sitcom, she was a struggling teenage mom-to-be. According to People, the comedian initially "wanted to keep the baby," but living life as a pregnant teen without a supportive family was difficult. "I got on welfare and rented a room for 50 bucks a month. I turned on the water, and cockroaches came out of the spigot. Outside, there were drunks. I just couldn't go on there, so I went away to Denver and moved into a Salvation Army home for unwed mothers," she said. 

Nine days after her baby girl was born, Barr placed her child with the Jewish Family & Children's Service, who reportedly had a couple "that had waited seven years for a Jewish baby." Barr recalled that difficult day. "[The] day they came to take my baby away, I whispered to her, 'You remember this, I'll see you when you're 18.' I always knew that. I always knew we would get back," she said. 

Barr eventually did reconnect with her daughter, named Brandi Brown (pictured right). "We just held on to each other, looking into each other's eyes and crying as I told Brandi how much I had missed her for so long," she said (via People).

David Crosby

David Crosby might be best known for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, but the iconic musician found a lifelong collaborator in the son he gave up for adoption. According to Rolling Stone, Crosby parted ways with James Raymond immediately after his birth in 1962. They weren't reunited until decades later when Crosby, who was preparing for a life-saving liver transplant, discovered that Raymond was searching for him. The Baltimore Sun reported that Raymond had grown up to be a musician just like his biological dad. The two were reunited, became collaborators, and formed the band CPR with guitarist Jeff Pavar.

Raymond was also instrumental in making Crosby's 2014 album Croz. He served as co-producer alongside Dan Garcia, while Crosby's younger son, Django, did the album's photography. "We had no money, but my son James had a studio at his place," Crosby told Rolling Stone. "I slept on the couch and we'd get up and work … For more than two years we did this off and on, until we had made this record."

Andy Kaufman

Andy Kaufman's passing has been subject to a number of persistent conspiracy theories — mainly that the comedian faked his own death. According to The Comic's Comic (via Gawker), the comedian's brother claimed he was still alive in 2013 and had a daughter (who may or may not have been a theater student). Two years later, The New Yorker posed the question: "Is Andy Kaufman still alive?" At this point, the rumors are almost as large as his legacy, and if they were true, perhaps Kaufman would get a chance to meet the child he parted ways with in 1969.

According to Yahoo, Kaufman had a daughter, Maria Bellu-Colonna, with his high school girlfriend. She was adopted and reportedly didn't discover that her birth father was the famed comedian until eight years after he died of a rare form of lung cancer. 

As for that conspiracy theory? Kaufman's last girlfriend, Lynne Margulies, insists the Taxi star is no longer with us. "I was in the hospital room. I was there. They would have had to switch bodies," she told TMZ.

Flavio Briatore

It's rarer to hear stories about a famous person choosing to relinquish parental rights once they're already famous. Money kind of makes taking care of a kid just a little bit easier, but there may be other factors at work when deciding if adoption is the right choice. Italian businessman Flavio Briatore had to make a difficult decision when model Heidi Klum gave birth to their daughter in 2004. According to the Daily Mail, Klum was pregnant with Helene "Leni" Samuel when Briatore was "spotted kissing another woman." The pair split, and Leni was born shortly after, then adopted by Klum's now-estranged husband, musician Seal, in 2009. 

"Leni is my natural daughter, but the three of us happily agreed that it made more sense if Seal adopted her, because a child needs to grow up in a family," he told Italy's Il Corriere della Sera (via the Daily Mail). "It was about Leni," Seal told The Mirror (via People). "I don't want her to feel different because I know what that's like, being a kind of stepson. And I don't want that dynamic for my little girl." According to TMZ, Leni reunited with her biological father in 2018 after years of him having "no involvement" in her life.

Jack Wagner

Most of us don't expect a one night stand to result in a life-changing experience, but that's exactly what Jack Wagner got. In 1988, the General Hospital actor got a call from a former hookup saying she'd given birth to their child and put her up for adoption. "She was in a position where she felt she wasn't able to raise Kerry, so she, I'm sure, made a difficult choice," Wagner said on Oprah: Where Are They Now? (via The Huffington Post). "[She] called me that day and said, 'Listen, I just had a baby. You're the father, and I'm not going be able to take care of her. I'm putting her up for adoption.'"

Wanger hired a lawyer and "did the best" he could, but the whole situation was reportedly out of his control. More than two decades later, the actor finally met his daughter in real life when she showed up backstage at one of his performances. He invited her on a cruise, where he was performing the following day, and the pair reportedly spent the next five days together catching up on lost time.

Loretta Young and Clark Gable

The story of Clark Gable's love child is bizarre and threaded with patriarchal shame forced on a young film actress. According to Loretta Young's authorized biography Forever Young: The Life, Loves, and Enduring Faith of a Hollywood Legend (via ABC News), the starlet was 23 years old and unmarried when she and the very married Gable "had a tryst on a train ride following the filming of the 1935 film Call of the Wild. Young got pregnant, but according to the New York Daily News, she hid her pregnancy for fear that it would ruin her career. She gave birth to her daughter, Judy, completely in secret. It was so under wraps that the doctors allegedly dosed the actress with chloroform "so no one outside would hear her cries in labor," the Daily News reported. 

Young reportedly attempted to keep her child while making it look like she never had a baby at all. A "false name" was allegedly listed as the mother on Judy's birth certificate, and the girl was given to an orphanage. When she was 19 months old, Young adopted Judy.

In 2000, Young finally admitted that she had an affair with Gable via posthumous memoirs, reported BuzzFeed News, likening the encounter to "date rape."

Mercedes Ruehl

Mercedes Ruehl won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for her role in The Fisher King, but she also got a whole lot more than something nice for her trophy case. The film helped reunite the star with the son she gave up for adoption in her mid-twenties.

According to The Associated Press (via The Spokesman-Review), Ruehl chose adoption because she didn't have "the emotional development or the economic capability" to be a mother. When her son, Chris, discovered his biological mom was an actress in the acclaimed 1991 film, he rented the movie to get a glimpse. Unfortunately, he wasn't sure which character she played. "Can you imagine that? I mean, we laugh about it now," Ruehl said (via Spokesman). "He must have just been biting his nails — 'Which of these nuts is my mother?'"

Since then, the pair has formed a strong bond. According to Desert News, Ruehl located her son after he turned 21 years old. They met after she passed on a letter to his adoptive parents. The actress also adopted a son, Jake, and made her biological son the godfather.

Kate Mulgrew

Kate Mulgrew plays a strong, family-oriented woman in Orange Is the New Black, but she might be even stronger in real life. According to an interview in AARP, Mulgrew was 18 years old when she found out she was pregnant and made the difficult decision to terminate her parental rights. The teen had recently left Iowa for New York, where she landed a starring role in Ryan's Hope. "I was single, alone and flooded with terror," she told AARP. "But I knew I would have that baby. The father of the baby suggested I have an abortion. My mother was neither physically nor mentally able to help me. So I decided to give my baby up for adoption. It was a choice, the only one I could make."

Keep in mind: It was taboo in 1977 to be a single, pregnant woman on television. Even so, Mulgrew's pregnancy was written into the show. Just days after giving birth and saying goodbye to her baby, she filmed a gut-wrenching scene where her character takes her newborn home for the first time. 

Mulgrew began searching for her daughter not long after the adoption, and in 1998, she finally got her hands on the necessary paperwork and learned that her daughter, Danielle Gaudette, was looking for her, too. "Today, I see Danielle as often as I see my sons, and we have grown very close," the actress said. "…There is not enough time to make up for it, only enough time to love."