Mama June's Tragic Real-Life Story

This article discusses child abuse, substance misuse, addiction, suicide, and domestic violence. 

June "Mama June" Shannon's life has been nothing short of tragic. From fat shaming and drug charges to a controversial childhood — the road to fame and fortune has been riddled with adversity for this reality TV star. Shannon and her pageant princess daughter, Alana "Honey Boo Boo" Thompson, first debuted on the TLC show "Toddlers and Tiaras." When producers realized this family was a reality show dream, the network gave Shannon and her brood their own show in 2012, dubbed "Here Comes Honey Boo." Think about it: How easy is it to find a family that mixes a tub of butter with ketchup, calls it "sketti" (aka spaghetti), and devours it like a Ruth Chris filet? 

"Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" was canceled in 2014, but that wasn't the end of the spotlight for this family. In 2017, the WEtv network decided to give Shannon another chance in the reality world with a spin-off show titled "Mama June: From Not to Hot." Season 1 focused on its star getting a "revenge" body after splitting from Alana's dad, Mike "Sugar Bear" Thompson. However, this mama's subsequent shot at stardom has been riddled with controversy, troubles, and heartbreak. Let's take a closer look at the tragic real-life story of Mama June.

Mama June lost her virginity at age 12

Mama June Shannon was born Aug. 10, 1979 in the small town of McIntyre, Ga. Her parents, Sandra and Melvin Shannon divorced when she was 2 years old. Just twelve years later, June reportedly got pregnant with her oldest child, Anna "Chickadee" Cardwell, dropped out of high school, and later earned her GED. Obviously, that's a lot for a person to take on so early in life.

In an interview with ET, Shannon revealed that she lost her virginity to a classmate when she was just 12 years. She was also romantically involved with significantly older men at a young age. "I was dating men who were in their 20s and 30s. My mom knew about it. I would kind of lie and say they were 21, 22," she said. "I was just honestly looking for the attention I wasn't getting at home." Little did June know that the attention she was seeking would arrive in spades when reality TV cameras came calling later in life.

All aboard the reality TV roller coaster

It's easy to understand why viewers tuned in to watch Mama June Shannon and her family on TV. Admit it — Mama June's extreme couponing, one-of-a-kind dinner concoctions, and "forklift foot" were hard to ignore. Forklift what? You read that correctly. Shannon's big toe was deformed after an accident with a forklift, so she kept it covered at all costs — even wearing a tube sock on that foot at a waterpark. Is a mangled toe tragic? Well, it's certainly not a lot of fun, particularly if you enjoy lazy rivers.  

Shannon's new-found fame took a bad turn when TLC canceled the show in 2014, but she managed to stay in the spotlight — though not necessarily for positive reasons. Vivid Entertainment offered Mama June $1 million for a video of her and Sugar Bear ... of the adult variety. Shannon reportedly nixed that notion. "I have more respect for myself and my kids and my family," she told TMZ. "It ain't happening, not even for a zillion dollars." We can't help but wonder if Vivid Entertainment asked for an up close of that toe before making that offer. Anyway, it was that type of tabloid fodder that led to more showbiz opportunities ... and more tragic consequences.

Mama June and Sugar Bear appeared on WEtv's "Marriage Boot Camp: Reality Stars" (via Page Six) in 2015, where he revealed that he'd cheated on her with women and men. It seemed a happy ending was just not in the cards.

Body-shaming has been a constant in Mama June's life

Mama June Shannon returned to the reality show circuit full force in 2017 with a series on WEtv dubbed "Mama June: From Not to Hot." As if the title isn't passive-aggressive enough, the premise of the show was to film Shannon's full-body makeover. The reality star transformed her appearance with around $75,000 worth of procedures, including gastric sleeve surgery, a tummy tuck, and a breast lift. She also reportedly removed some excess skin and changed her diet and workout routine. All that, and yet she still felt pressure from the public, with some critics accusing her of "cheating" her way to a size 4. "People think that I'm going to gain the weight back," she told InTouch, claiming she had slimmed down to about 165 pounds. "I don't ever want to go back," she said.

Alas, Season 2 of "From Not to Hot" depicted its star struggling to stay off the unhealthy food train. "I'm beating myself up ... I've gained, like, seven pounds," she told Us Weekly in January 2018. "It won't come off." By that June, she'd reportedly regained 25 pounds. "I can lose the weight, I know that," she told People. "And I know I don't want to go back over 200 lbs. I'm paying attention to it more."

Mama June is losing her vision

Mama June Shannon says part of the reason she has struggled to maintain her weight loss is because she's increasingly experiencing vision problems. Per People, Mama June was already blind in her right eye and has undergone multiple surgeries to try to save the vision in her left eye. The problem in her right eye was caused by childhood cataracts that didn't receive adequate treatment and the issue in the left eye was due to retinal detachment, an eye disorder in which the retina separates from the layer underneath.

"It's been physically and emotionally draining," Mama June said. "... Having to rely on other people for everything has been crazy." Her eye problems were documented on "Mama June: From Not to Hot" (via People). In one episode, prior to receiving emergency eye surgery on her "good eye," Shannon admitted, "I am totally scared about losing my vision. I feel like I'm going to lose my independence and it's really starting to weigh on me."

June's family attempted an intervention

In 2019, the Season 3 finale of "Mama June: From Not to Hot" featured an incredibly intense intervention from loved ones who believed June Shannon required help with her substance misuse issues. "If this intervention doesn't work, she's either gonna wind up in jail or she's going to die," daughter Lauryn "Pumpkin" Efrid said on the show (via ET). Daughter Alana "Honey Boo Boo" Thompson was also upset, saying, "Do you not understand that I am staying with my sister ... And that's not by choice?" she wailed, begging her mother to get help. "I'm not going to lie to you, I'm scared to stay at your house." Pumpkin also appeared to acknowledge the family drama on social media, tweeting, "A child's shoulders were not built to bear the weight of their parent's choices."

At the end of the episode, viewers watched as Thompson thanked her big sister for giving her a place to live and asked Efrid if she thinks their mother will ever get herself together. "I hope so," Pumpkin replied. "You know she is a grown woman. If she wants to get herself together, she'll get it together. If not, then I guess she'll never learn." The finale arguably reached a new apex of emotion when Mama June declared, "I f***ing hate myself. I want to f***ing kill the person I am now." She agreed to go to rehab, but checked herself out just 12 hours later, per the Daily Mail. It all went downhill from there.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

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)​.

Mama June left rehab and headed to jail

Mama June Shannon's then-boyfriend, Eugene "Geno" Doak, reportedly picked her up from rehab, and just two days later, they were both arrested on drug charges at an Alabama gas station. According to a police report obtained by TMZ, the couple was on their way home from the Victory Land casino when someone called the police to report a domestic dispute. According to the report, Doak told officers at the scene not to reach inside his pocket, saying, "I don't want you to get sticked or nothing." Police reportedly found a needle on Doak. On Shannon, they found "a glass pipe with white residue inside." Cops also reportedly found another needle and "a green pill bottle containing a white-controlled substance" in Shannon's vehicle, which she allegedly confirmed was crack cocaine.

According to the Macon County Sheriff's Office, Mama June was charged with felony possession of a controlled substance and drug paraphernalia while Doak was charged with domestic violence, harassment, and possession of a controlled substance and drug paraphernalia. The March 2019 arrest clearly marked a new and tragic low for Shannon, but Doak reportedly had a sizable rap sheet prior to his legal woes with Mama June, having been arrested for burglary, theft, and damage to property, per TMZ. He'd also served time in jail. 

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

Mama June's family blamed Geno

Mama June Shannon's family was said to have believed that Geno Doak was not good for her. Sources claimed to TMZ that her loved ones were concerned that the relationship was encouraging her to engage in risky behavior — and that wouldn't change unless her boyfriend was out of her life. The outlet also cited legal docs alleging that Doak had threatened to kill Shannon during their domestic dispute. 

According to WALB News, Shannon wrote a letter to the court following the couple's headline-making arrest in March 2019, claiming the "situation at the gas station got heated and out of hand, but never was I in fear for my safety or did I want the police involved." A judge reportedly ordered Doak to stay away from Shannon, but the couple was spotted together at a casino just days later. 

Maybe they were trying to win money for legal fees, or perhaps they were videotaped at the joint because they were allegedly also living there. A source had told – you guessed it — TMZ, "Mama told a fellow gambler she lives at the [Wind Creek] casino [in Montgomery, Alabama] and has been staying on the property for the past few months." Doak was also spotted at the casino with his lucky lady. In May 2019, the couple's lawyer successfully requested to be taken off their case after they failed to respond to his attempts at correspondence, per TMZ.

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

She lost custody of her youngest daughter

As Mama June Shannon's experiences with addiction continue to spiral, Alana "Honey Boo Boo" Thompson turned to big sister Lauryn "Pumpkin" Efird for support. It was April 2019 when Alana first moved in with her new guardian, a 19-year-old Efird whom she called her BFF. While sources initially told Hollywood Life that Alana's dad, Mike "Sugar Bear" Thompson, wanted to petition for full custody, that never happened. Instead, it was Efird who was granted full parental rights in April 2022. Alaba was just 16 at the time and, according to court documents seen by The U.S. Sun, a judge concluded that "it is in the best interest of the child that the plaintiff is awarded sole custody." As for Mama June, she was ordered to pay $800 a month in child support until Alana's 18th birthday.

Speaking with ET in 2020, Efird shared how Mama June's addiction impacted Alana the most. As she told the outlet, she and her two other sisters were old enough to take care of themselves, but Alana wasn't. "She is younger and she needs her mom," she said. "It's been very hard for both me and her to adjust to me being her 'sister mom.'" The situation was made worse by the fact that Alana and Mama June had been inseparable for so long. "For Mama to just kind of fall off the face of the Earth from us, that does a lot of damage to a kid — she shut down," she added.

Mama June Shannon's tragic Facebook garage sale

As if Mama June Shannon's tragic real-life story wasn't sad enough, it looked like the reality star had hit a new low when she sold her family's belongings in a bizarre series of Facebook posts on Aug. 1, 2019. It didn't take long for followers to speculate on the motive behind the virtual garage sale. Point in case: On a post selling hangers for $15, a Facebook user cruelly asked, "How much crack does $15 buy?" June didn't reply but did tell another customer she would message them about shoes and tools for sale.

June also posted several baby items including a floor mat and baby memory book — which another follower called her out on. "I know it seems impossible to you, but you can beat this horrible disease called drug addiction and get your life back before it's too late. Step back and look at your home! You've almost sold everything you have, including the last bed in the house?" the woman commented. 

Sadly enough, Honey Boo Boo's former house did look pretty bare. In a TMZ video, June and her then-boyfriend Geno Doak were seen among the disheveled mess, trying pretty hard to sell a woman a massage chair. If these details aren't sad enough, patrons who shopped in the family home claimed to have witnessed, "What looked like needles or syringes among the items strewn around one of the bedrooms." 

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

She was left with $1.75 in her bank account

Following her 2019 arrest on drug possession charges, Mama June Shannon resisted getting help for her addiction. Despite nearly losing everything, she and her ex Geno Doak continued to use crack cocaine in unimaginable quantities. "In a year we probably spent over a million dollars, because our habit was $3,500 to $4,000 a day," she told Andy Cohen during an episode of "For Real: The Story of Reality TV" (via E! News). However, she was adamant that Doak wasn't to blame, saying, "It's not his fault that I had my addiction."

Eventually, her addiction led to her having to sell her Georgia home, jewelry, and other possessions, but that didn't stop her. Neither did a major health scare. "I started snorting [cocaine], lost my vision, and then I quit and then I went into ... just smoking crack," she revealed, per ET. In the end, Shannon and Doak were living in their car and that's when he suggested they seek help. "I know at that point I was tired," she told Us Weekly.

Shannon checked into rehab in January 2020. As she told Us Weekly in March 2021, she was 14 months sober but she was still working through the long-lasting effects. "I'm trying to rebuild myself financially," she shared. "I went to rehab with a $1.75 to my name." These days, she makes enough to pay rent and utilities but she's rebuilding with help from her new partner, Justin Stroud. The pair secretly married in March 2022 after less than a year together and he has seemingly been her rock ever since.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Is her relationship with Honey Boo Boo beyond repair?

Alana "Honey Boo Boo" Thompson and Mama June Shannon used to be best friends, but that all changed when Thompson hit her teens. In April 2021, fans of "Mama June: Road to Redemption" (via E! News) watched the pair reunite for the first time in over a year and learned just how badly their relationship had been damaged. "You wasn't there for my first day of high school and I think that's a pretty big thing," Thompson told her mom, before revealing that she used to cry herself to sleep praying her mom wouldn't overdose. Mama June admitted she had been selfish but added, "I'm willing to do whatever it takes to get you all back in my life." That November, Shannon told ET, "We're definitely working on us and trying to fix the relationship."

Unfortunately, it soon fell apart again. In a June 2022 episode of the show (via ET), Thompson said she was over the drama. "It's never nothing different with her," she slammed. "... Mama's going to do what Mama's going to do whether we tell her not to or not." Then, in October, she seemingly shaded her mom on TikTok in a big way. In the video, Thompson performed a dance with the caption, "Sister who needed a momma" before Lauryn "Pumpkin" Efird appeared with a caption stating, "The sister that came in clutch and raised her." 

She's had numerous health emergencies

In addition to losing her eyesight, struggling with weight, and experiencing drug addiction, Mama June Shannon has continued to face numerous health emergencies. In a March 2021 episode of "Mama June: From Not to Hot" (via InTouch) she revealed she had been diagnosed with stage 3 lymphedema after going in for a plastic surgery consultation for her chin. Explaining the condition, she told viewers, "It's where fat kinda makes some nodules up underneath your skin and your lymphatic system doesn't work right." Severe cases of lymphedema can lead to reduced movement and skin infections, among other things.

Following the diagnosis, Shannon began using a walker and later wrote on Twitter, "A lot of women that [are] obese have this." She encouraged folks to get checked for it and get a second opinion if necessary. "A lot of women are misdiagnosed with having cellulitis," she tweeted. "That's what I was told for years." She also revealed she had been diagnosed with hyperlipidemia, more commonly known as high cholesterol.

Jump to September 2022 and TMZ reported that Shannon had suddenly been hospitalized for a mystery illness. Apparently, the reality star went in for a regular checkup but was taken in for additional testing and monitoring after admitting she had been experiencing severe headaches and dizziness.

A health scare brought June and Chickadee back together

Mama June Shannon has struggled to rebuild relationships with her daughters. But when Anna "Chickadee" Cardwell was diagnosed with stage 4 adrenal carcinoma in January 2023, she really stepped up. Sources told TMZ that the pair had actually started mending bridges a year earlier, with Mama June apparently refusing to leave her daughter's side after cancer was discovered in Cardwell's liver, kidney, and lungs. In addition to watching Cardwell's kids, sources claimed that she had begun to supportively accompany her daughter to doctors' appointments.

The two fell out back in 2014 when Mama June reportedly got back together with her ex, Mark McDaniel after he spent 10 years in prison for molesting an eight-year-old girl. Cardwell told TMZ that she was the girl who had been abused by him and that her relationship with her mom was done. Mama June denied dating McDaniel, but TLC was still quick to cancel "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo." 

In the years that followed, they would see each other occasionally, but their bond was far from fixed. In 2021, Cardwell told The Sun she hadn't really talked to her mom since 2014. "I've never had a conversation with her where she was like, 'Oh I'm sorry for what happened or, I'm sorry for this,'" she shared. "It's like she is always brushing everything off and acting like everything is fine and nothing happened." In 2015, Cardwell attempted to sue Mama June for not paying her what she was owed for her time on the show, per ET.

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.