Stars Whose Loved Ones Were Tragically Murdered

Celebrity media readership knows that tragic headlines garner more views than positive ones, and nothing is more heartbreaking than stories dealing with death. Though tragic, it's not necessarily difficult to wrap one's mind around a death related to illness — or even accidental death by way of car accident, overdose, or some other unexpected event. It's much harder to grasp purposeful, brutal acts of violence — something to which celebrities are certainly not immune — even though murder is an unfortunately common occurrence.

While some celebrities (for example, Phil Hartman) have been murdered by their loved ones, and others have themselves killed someone close to them — such as "Riverdale" actor Ryan Grantham, who was sentenced to life in prison in 2022 after fatally shooting his mom — far more common is a celebrity losing someone they love to third party. These situations are so common that it would be impossible to name them all here. There's no shortage of stars — from Dave Navarro to Michael Jordan to Diddy — who have lost a parent to homicide, let alone a sibling, child, spouse, cousin, or other relative. Some, like Omarosa, have even dealt with multiple slain family members. Read on to learn about some of the other stars who have experienced a loved one's tragic murder.

Dylan McDermott thought his mother died by accident for decades

Actor Dylan McDermott had been working in Hollywood for decades before the world discovered a shocking part of his past: his mother's murder. In fact, until the 2012 declaration that Diane McDermott's 1967 death was a homicide, even police believed her death to have been accidental. It's unclear what Dylan — who was only five when his mother was shot in her Waterbury, Connecticut apartment as he played outside — thought before that point, but he was the one who asked for the case to be reopened. "He 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 Gugliotti recounted. "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 and make it part of [my] life.'"

Upon reopening the case, officers quickly realized many oddities, including the absence of an official case file. The autopsy also did not support the version of events police originally accepted. At the time of the murder, Diane and Dylan were living with John Sponza, Diane's gangster boyfriend (who himself was murdered in 1972). The only witness, Sponza claimed Diane shot herself while cleaning his gun. Police took this to be true, despite many third-party accounts of violence in the home — and the fact that there was no gunpowder found on Diane's hands.

Kim Richards's fiancé was shot while they were on the phone

The only thing more traumatic than a loved one's murder is experiencing the murder first-hand. When this happens, it's because the witness is with the victim at the time of their death. In Kim Richards's case, it's because she was on the phone with her fiancé at the time he was shot. This means that, while she could not see what was happening, Richards was privy to the sound of the bullet and the resulting chaos, yet entirely powerless to do anything or witness necessary information from the scene. It also means that she was kept safe despite the paid hit on her lover, John Collett.

Collett and Richards met when they crossed paths as he was leaving an AA meeting, and she was heading to one. Collett expressed being a longtime fan, and before long, the pair were engaged. Richards was the one who had to identify the body after Collett's 1991 murder outside of a deli, for which the motive is still unknown. "It just tore her apart emotionally, and she was not in good shape for a long time," Collett's mother told People. "She really loved John. They were a good match." In 1993, a hitman named Marva DeCarlo Johnson was found guilty of the murder and sentenced to 30 years to life. Seven years later, Richards reignited her fame as one of the original cast members of "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills."

Mark Ruffalo still does not know who killed his brother

It's impossible to fully get over the brutal murder of a loved one, but some people can gain closure with time and support. Closure is never really an option, however, if the murder remains unsolved and the motive is never identified. That hellish space is where actor Mark Ruffalo and his family have lived ever since the tragic loss of Ruffalo's younger brother Scott in 2008. The killer has never been found, despite two persons of interest (one of whom has since died) early on. In 2010, Ruffalo told the New York Daily News that police had "barely budged on the investigation" and expressed his clear exasperation at the lack of movement. "I can't get any answer from them. It's been a very frustrating experience," he said.

At the time of his slaying, Scott was a very successful hairdresser working in Santa Monica and Beverly Hills. He was found in his own Beverly Hills condo with a bullet in his head, in what was reported as an "execution style" shooting. He died in the hospital a week after the incident, and no one has ever paid for the crime. "You never get over it; you just get used to it," Ruffalo said in an interview. "You get calloused, a little bit harder maybe, so be on guard for that. But take these tragic things and turn them into something meaningful and worthy of the loss. Make it count."

Kelsey Grammer lost his father and sister to two different killers

No rule says that a family only experiences tragedy once, and Kelsey Grammer's horrific story is proof that victimization is not equally distributed. Grammer lived through two brutal family murders — his father and sister — at separate times and by two different people. He also lost two half-brothers in a suspected shark attack, only five years after that second murder. Gruesome death has been a staple in Grammer's life, and it all began with the murder of his father in 1968. Grammer was 13 when his father was shot by a man trespassing on his St. Thomas property. Grammer was born in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but was living stateside when his dad was killed. He had already lost his grandfather — whom he, his sister, and his mother lived with — two years prior.

Seven years after his father's murder, Grammer's younger sister Karen was brutally victimized. Karen was only 18 when a group of men kidnapped her from a Colorado Springs Red Lobster, where she was waiting for her boyfriend to finish work. They repeatedly raped her before one of them stabbed her to death, which is something her brother has, understandably, never been able to get over. He has also fought against her killer's release. "I miss her in my bones," Grammer wrote to a parole board in 2009. "I was her big brother. I was supposed to protect her — I could not ... It very nearly destroyed me."

A conviction helped Drew Carey move on from devastating tragedy

Sometimes, a person can take a devastating personal tragedy and turn it into motivation to seek justice for others. That's what Nancy Grace did after the 1979 murder of her fiancé, which led her to a career in law and broadcast journalism, focusing on legal issues. But most of the time, when a person loses a loved one in such a horrifying way, their main concern with the legal system is ensuring that the murderer pays for their crimes. Take Drew Carey, who admitted that he only felt he could "finally move on" from his ex-fiancée's murder after her killer was sentenced to life in prison.

Carey met Amie Harwick at a Hollywood party in 2017, and the pair became engaged the following year. Though they called things off before walking down the aisle, the comedian was still shattered when Harwick was found dead in 2020, at age 38. The marriage and family therapist was killed by blunt force trauma at the hands of an ex-boyfriend, who waited outside her home to attack her upon arrival. For Carey, the murderer's September 2023 sentencing closed a very sad chapter. "Ever since the final sentencing, it feels like we've all let out a breath," he told People. "The whole process is over now, and there's nothing else to be done and nothing else to worry about ... Just speaking just for myself, it's been quite a load off."

Sofia Vergara's brother was murdered during an attempted kidnapping

In "Modern Family," Sofia Vergara's character Gloria was constantly referencing the criminality and dangerous conditions in her home country of Colombia. And while that is an unfair overgeneralization of an entire nation, Vergara's life story certainly makes it clear why she would identify with her character. Vergara actually left Colombia in the late 1990s due to crime — and very soon after, her brother Rafael was murdered. "We come from a successful family, and he knew he was a target for kidnapping," Vergara explained. "He always had bodyguards. Then one day he went out alone and was shot dead [in a kidnapping attempt]. I was devastated."

Kidnapping has for a long time been a way for drug cartels to make money, blackmailing wealthier families for the safe return of their loved ones. According to Vergara — who plays a drug lord in Netflix's hit miniseries "Griselda" — Rafael emerged in the country's drug trade before he was kidnapped on the streets of Bogota. "Everything was touched by it. My brother was a nice guy — a good guy. But he took a wrong decision and unfortunately, he paid for it. We all paid for it," she told The Daily Mail. "When there's a death of someone super special and a good father and a good brother, it destroys the family. My mother and father were never the same." Vergara said that she drew on her real-life experience to play the notorious Griselda Blanco.

Ice Cube's sister was killed by her own husband

Rapper Ice Cube grew up in Crenshaw, at a time when the Los Angeles neighborhood was dealing with a major drug epidemic and a worsening problem with gang violence. As such, he was no stranger to death — something that became clear when he rose to fame as part of the group N.W.A. (and later on his own as a solo artist). Even though his music focused on issues such as gang violence and police brutality, it was a family tragedy that taught Ice Cube about the instability of life. "It robs you a little of your childhood. You know it took away a little of what it is to be a kid," he told the Atlanta Black Star of his early experience with murder.

The star was only 12 years old when his half-sister Beverly Jean Brown — herself only 22 — was shot and killed by her husband in what was supposed to be a murder-suicide. The rapper once told The Huffington Post he often thinks about that time, because it forever altered his outlook on life. "It made me realize how cruel the world could be. It made me realize that something as precious as your life can be taken away by somebody you know," he told the Atlanta Black Star. "It just made me realize life is not a joke, you know it's precious, and you know it just made me a more serious person."

Jennifer Hudson's heartbreaking family tragedy was front-page news

Jennifer Hudson is many things — singer, actor, producer, talk show host, EGOT winner, mother — and on top of everything, a survivor. Hudson lived through something so horrific that it's almost unimaginable, and somehow, she came out of the ordeal in one piece, embodying a fighter's spirit. In 2008, Hudson's estranged brother-in-law William Balfour became enraged when he stopped by the Hudson family home and saw a birthday gift left for his wife, Julia, from her new boyfriend. When Julia left for work, Balfour entered the home and killed her mother and brother. He then kidnapped and later killed Julia's young son, leaving both Julia and her sister Jennifer reeling from the triple loss.

The story immediately became front-page news due to who it involved, as well as the level of brutality. Hudson found the strength to be at the trial every day — even when photos of her relatives' bodies were shown, and even though she said it made her "skin crawl" to see Balfour in court. She also took the stand herself, which helped secure the guilty verdict. Perhaps even more extraordinarily, Hudson had been able to find forgiveness for the man who killed three of her beloved family members, demonstrating a strength of spirit that few possess. "I feel like, for the most part, it's not his fault," she told Oprah Winfrey in 2012. "It's what he was taught, how he was brought up ... he never had a chance."

Niecy Nash's brother was killed in a high school shooting

It was national news when Tamera Mowry-Housley lost her niece in a devastating school shooting in Thousand Oaks, California. Mowry-Housley discussed the shooting on her show, "The Real," and penned a thoughtful Instagram tribute to her teenage relative. But decades before that, another famous star lost a sibling in a similar fashion. Actor Niecy Nash discussed her loss in a 2023 TikTok video, spurred on by a school shooting in Nashville. "It's 2023, and there [are] babies who will never make it home to see their parents," she said. "And those parents will forever be in a space where they're like, 'What was the last thing I said? What was the last lunch I made? What was their last thought [or] experience? Did they call out for me?'"

Indeed, school shootings are a problem America has been dealing with for quite some time, but things have only gotten worse in recent years. Per U.S. News & World Report, there were 1200 school shootings in the United States between 2018 and 2023, with 346 such incidents in 2023 alone. For Nash, the lack of progress and increase in school murders must be an incredibly difficult thing to stomach, considering her 17-year-old brother was shot at his high school in 1993. "School is the one place where children should be safe. Now, they'll be safe getting on an airplane. But school? That's another thing. And it shouldn't be," she said.

Both of Patrick Duffy's parents were killed when their bar was robbed

It does not matter if you're a very young child when your parent is murdered — like Diddy, who was three when his father was gunned down — or a grown adult; it's the kind of catastrophic life event that no one ever gets over. But whereas Diddy likely has little memory from that terrible time, actor Patrick Duffy knows exactly where he was and how he felt upon learning that both of his parents had been slain in a robbery gone wrong. The 1986 double murder occurred when Duffy was on the hit show "Dallas." The show's production company quickly flew him back to his small hometown in Montana.

Police received a tipoff shortly after a group of customers entered the tavern Duffy's parents had owned for more than three decades, where they found both owners dead on the floor. This led to a high-speed chase, which then led to the arrest of two 19-year-old men. They had intended to rob the tavern when they returned shortly after being kicked out, but ended up fatally shooting both of Duffy's parents in the chest when they refused to cooperate. Luckily, the actor was able to lean on his strong Buddhist faith to cope with the fatal shooting. "There was something about the eternity of life that had set deep inside me," Duffy told People in 2020. "As horrific as that was, I didn't feel disconnected from them."

The murder of Tamron Hall's stepsister remains unsolved

For a long while, journalist and host Tamron Hall held guilt about cutting off close contact with her stepsister, Renate, who was murdered in 2004. Hall had previously pulled back from her sister when it became too difficult to watch her enter relationships where she was victimized and taken advantage of, but it took her years to stop feeling bad about that. "I carried much guilt for many years believing I had abandoned my sister and that I was more worried about career than family," Hall confessed on her talk show.

Renate was found bludgeoned to death in the backyard pool of her Houston, Texas, home, and the killer remains unknown. Due to Renate's tendency to date abusive men, Hall has since become involved with various domestic violence organizations, in hopes that her family's story could help somebody else's family. "No one deserves what happened to my sister," Hall told People. "For a long time, I was hesitant about sharing our story. I didn't want to be another well-known person saying, 'Look what happened to me and my family.' But then I said, screw that. I can save a life."