Tragic Details About Dr. Phil

This article contains references to substance abuse and domestic violence.

Some of his detractors would argue that the controversial clinical psychologist Dr. Phil has made a career out of exploiting other people's tragedies. Who can forget the time he ambushed Britney Spears at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in 2008 when the troubled singer was at her lowest ebb? Or when he interviewed a clearly distressed Shelley Duvall eight years later in the name of apparent entertainment? The celebrity psychologist has been sued by countless guests who've found out the hard way that airing your problems on national television isn't the most conducive way to solve them.

But the TV personality, who rose to fame after helping Oprah Winfrey win in the Amarillo Texas beef trial, has faced plenty of hardships throughout his own eventful life, too. From difficult upbringings and thwarted careers to damaging allegations and health worries, here's a look at 9 that would have made for interesting subject matter on Dr. Phil's eponymous show.

Dr. Phil's sister-in-law suffered a life-threatening acid attack

In 2001, Dr. Phil's sister-in-law was left fighting for her life when she was randomly targeted in an acid attack. Cindi Broaddus, a sibling of the star's wife, Robin McGraw, was in the driver's seat when a vat of sulfuric acid was thrown from an overpass, crashing into her car's windshield as a result.

"The acid burned my face, my lips, my cheeks, my chin, my arms. I inhaled acid. It also burned the inside of my mouth, my tongue, and my throat," Broaddus later revealed during an emotional appearance on "Dr. Phil" (via CBS News). "I remember having my hands in my face thinking I was bleeding, and realizing that was skin in my hands."

Thankfully, Broaddus managed to survive the ordeal, and within weeks, she had returned to her job. "From the moment of the attack I decided it was up to me and I was going to live," she told the host. Six years later she recounted her experiences with the book, "A Random Act: An Inspiring True Story of Fighting to Survive and Choosing to Forgive." Sadly, in 2018, Broaddus died at the age of 68.

Dr. Phil experienced homelessness as a child

Dr. Phil may now have an incredible net worth of $460 million. But the TV personality has also experienced life on the other end of the financial spectrum. In fact, when he was 12 years old, he and his father briefly ended up homeless.

In a 2020 interview on the "Always Evolving with Coach Mike Bayer" podcast, Dr. Phil revealed that his family was so poor that when his dad, Joseph J. McGraw Jr., landed a psychology internship in Kansas City, they simply didn't have the funds to move his mother and three sisters, too. "There was no money for anything, and when I say anything, I mean, anything."

And that included a place to live in the Paris of the Plains. Dr. Phil and his dad ended up living in a car for an entire summer before finally managing to get their hands on a one-bedroom apartment. And even this was free of any home comforts: "We didn't have electricity, we didn't have heat, we didn't have anything. We moved in September, we didn't have utilities until January."

Dr. Phil grew up with an alcoholic father

Alcoholism is an issue that was regularly approached on Dr. Phil's eponymous TV show. And the clinical psychologist had plenty of experience with the condition, having grown up with a father who had a severe drinking problem.

During a 2016 episode, a candid Dr. Phil discussed how he can relate to his guests with alcoholic parents: "I know when your dad is subject to being drunk, I know what that's like. I know you don't bring your friends home. You don't bring your friends home because you don't know what you're going to find when you open the door."

In another episode in which the family of Richie Lewis confronted the ex-baseball player about his alcohol consumption, Dr. Phil offered a specific example of how his own dad had left him emotionally scarred as a child: the time he returned to the family home with several pals only to find his pop "asleep on the driveway, in his underwear, with his pillow, and it was 24 degrees out." Ultimately, incidents like this deterred the star from embracing a similar lifestyle. Indeed, in 2014, the clinical psychologist remarked that he hadn't had a drink in 45 years!

Dr. Phil lost a nephew to cancer

Dr. Phil suffered another family tragedy in 2020 when his nephew died from cancer at the age of just 47. According to an online obituary published on Times Record News, William Scott Madsen, Jr., who was better known by his nickname of Scooter, had been battling the unspecified condition for several years.

Scooter was a colleague of Dr. Phil's, too. After graduating from Texas A&M University with a clinical psychology degree and the University of Mississippi with a Ph.D. in the same subject, he was appointed the Director of Research for his uncle's eponymous TV show and its spin-off, "The Doctors." "He loved his career and the beautiful Southern California life," his family wrote.

Heartbreakingly, Scooter had been planning to pop the question to his girlfriend Melissa Landrum the following Fourth of July weekend. "Those who knew Scooter have lost a bright shining light in their lives," read the eulogy. "He was known as the kindest hearted, most loving, happy, intelligent, and fun loved one and friend."

Dr. Phil and his sisters were practically strangers

With his family constantly moving around from Tulsa and Denver to Oklahoma City and Kansas during his childhood, a young Dr. Phil found it difficult to make friends. And he couldn't rely on his sisters for company, either.

When asked whether he was close at all with his three siblings during a 2020 chat on the podcast "Always Evolving with Coach Mike Bayer," the TV personality answered, "Not at all ... I was the only boy, I guess, and we were all four years apart. So, that's a pretty big gap." The fact that his two older sisters, Deana and Donna, both got married at a young age meant that they drifted even further apart.

The clinical psychologist did, however, reveal that he at least formed some kind of bond with his youngest sister, Brenda: "... I was pretty protective of her. I always said they had us kids in pairs, like the two older ones were kind of nutty, and then the two younger ones were pretty normal. So, we were kind of separated into pairs."

Dr. Phil was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes

Dr. Phil had to see a very different kind of doctor in the early 1990s when he started running out of energy on a regular basis. After a thorough medical examination, the TV personality was told that he had type 2 diabetes.

"I was relieved to know what I was dealing with and needed to manage," the clinical psychologist revealed in an interview with Future of Personal Health. "I had to change my lifestyle significantly, and it started with building a treatment 'team' centered on my doctor and including myself and my family, and changing both what and how I ate. I've been successfully managing my condition. It is not always easy but it is always doable."

When asked about how diabetes impacts him on a daily basis, Dr. Phil answered, "My personal challenge is that I sometimes find myself on camera for long periods of time, making it difficult to stay with small meals spread throughout the day. As a result, I 'stretch' my intervals beyond the ideal." Drawing upon his own experiences, the star has helped to launch several initiatives designed to both combat and raise awareness of the condition, including the online educational program On It.

Dr. Phil was wrongly accused of spousal abuse

It's fair to say that the National Enquirer has never been Dr. Phil's biggest fan. The tabloid publication has printed all sorts of salacious stories about the clinical psychologist over the years. But in 2016, the star decided to fight back after being pushed just a little too far.

Indeed, Dr. Phil filed a lawsuit against the supermarket favorite after it claimed that he'd been both verbally and physically abusive to his wife, Robin McGraw. The offending article also alleged that the pair were on the verge of a divorce and that the TV personality had once assaulted a man with a beer mug during his college years back in the early 1970s, accusations which were all spuriously denied.

In an official statement (via CBS News), the couple's attorney Lin Wood said, "Dr. and Mrs. McGraw, after enduring years of the National Enquirer, Star, and other American Media Inc. publications knowingly and recklessly printing outrageous lies about them, their marriage, their integrity, and their character, have finally concluded that enough is enough and too much is too much." Without going into any great detail, a spokesperson for the National Enquirer's publishers American Media Inc. later confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the "lawsuit has been resolved to the mutual satisfaction of all the parties."

Dr. Phil witnessed domestic abuse as a child

Domestic abuse is an issue close to Dr. Phil and his wife Robin McGraw's hearts. The latter founded When Georgia Smiled, an organization designed to help victims recover from their ordeals. During his interview with "Always Evolving with Coach Mike Bayer" in 2020, the former revealed that he'd witnessed it first-hand while growing up.

In the candid chat, the clinical psychologist described his upbringing with his father, Joseph, and his mother, Anne, as total chaos. And when pressed about what exactly this meant, he clarified, "Well, yelling, screaming, violence. You know, domestic violence. Fights. Stuff torn up, stuff ripped off the walls."

As a result, a young Dr. Phil would take an unusual route into the family home on returning from junior high: "... I had a real small room in our house and I came and went through the bedroom window, I didn't go through the house. So when I would come home, I didn't come in the front door and go down the hall to my room, I went in the bedroom window. When I left to go to school in the morning, I went out the bedroom window."

An eye injury derailed Dr. Phil's sporting ambitions

Before following in his father's psychologist footsteps, Dr. Phil had ambitions of becoming a footballer. While attending Shawnee Mission North High School in Kansas, he became the star linebacker, and he went on to land a scholarship with the University of Tulsa, playing under former Brooklyn Dodger Glenn Dobbs.

Unfortunately, Dr. Phil's hopes of making it as a professional were dealt a cruel blow when he suffered an injury that briefly left him blinded in one eye. Determined to keep his dream alive, however, the TV personality did his research on the subject of optic nerves and started sporting a patch over his unaffected eye to help the vision in his damaged one.

Speaking to Newsweek, older sister Deana McGraw said, "Being blind was just an inconvenience to him. That's kind of the way Phil looks at stuff. You can stand around and bellyache, or you can get it done and move on." Dr. Phil's approach sadly didn't pay off, but football's loss proved to be television's gain as the disappointment spurred him on to pursue a career in psychology instead.

Dr. Phil was affected by the 2013 Oklahoma tornado

In 2013, a tornado caused mass devastation across the Oklahoma city of Moore, killing 24 people, injuring 377, and leaving hundreds instantly homeless. In a YouTube video designed to raise relief funds through his eponymous foundation, Dr. Phil revealed that he had loves ones impacted by the natural disaster.

"Oklahoma is a place that is very dear to my heart, and this tragedy has affected me personally as well," the TV personality said (via the Daily Mail). "I have family there whose entire house was wiped off this land. I spent many wonderful years living there. I went to middle school and junior high there. I attended college in Oklahoma!"

Dr. Phil, who was born in the city of Vinta, went on to deliver a message of hope to the survivors: "Those fortunate enough to survive this natural disaster now have to face rebuilding and healing after losing everything. I know the wonderful people of Moore, Oklahoma and I know they have a strong survivor spirit that will help carry them through this tragedy."

If you or anyone you know needs help with substance abuse or domestic abuse, contact the relevant resources below: