The tragic real-life story of Tom Hanks

Tom Hanks has quickly become known as "America's Dad," thanks to his feel-good movie roles and the fact that he seems like a genuinely nice guy. As for why he rarely plays "the bad guy" in any of his movies, Hanks explained to The New York Times, "I recognized in myself a long time ago that I don't instill fear in anybody ... Now, that's different than being nice, you know? I think I have a cache of mystery. But it's not one of malevolence." However, Hanks' life hasn't all been smooth sailing, and even a beloved celebrity like the Cast Away star has faced some major hardships. 

Despite winning awards for some of his performances, Hanks has faced bitter disappointments when his projects have failed. Speaking to The Guardian in 2017, Hanks revealed, "Oh, I'd go through horrible doldrums. I've made an awful lot of movies that didn't make any sense, and didn't make any money, but that doesn't alter the work that goes into it, or even what your opinion of it is." 

From his early romantic relationships to his movie flops to his own upbringing, join us as we discover the tragic real-life story of Tom Hanks.

Tom Hanks had a difficult childhood

The Forrest Gump star was born on July 9, 1956, in Concord, Calif., as Thomas Jeffrey Hanks, per Biography. While his mother worked in a hospital, his father was an itinerant cook. However, Hanks has spoken about his upbringing on several occasions, noting that it wasn't picture perfect. According to The New York Times, "Hanks grew up in Northern California, in the era of the Zodiac Killer and Patty Hearst and the Black Panthers and the People's Park riots." The publication also noted that Hank's dad "worked long hours," often leaving the children to their own devices at home.

Hanks revealed to The New York Times that there were some things he wasn't taught to do as a child. He explained, "No one told me how to brush my teeth ... I never flossed until I was out of high school, because dental hygiene was handled by a filmstrip that we saw in second grade that said, really, try to eat an apple, and that cleans your teeth. So, hey, I had an apple last week, so my teeth are kind of clean." Despite missing out on some of the basics as a child, Hanks seems to have turned out okay.

His parents divorced when he was young

According to Closer, Tom Hanks' parents divorced when he was a child, with the actor explaining, "Our world did not reflect everybody else's or what we saw on TV ... My baby brother stayed with mom, and we went off with my dad." Tom has three siblings — brothers Jim and Larry, and sister Sandra. And according to the Express, both of the actor's parents remarried, his father on two occasions, so Tom is "known as Number Nine in a family of 16 siblings and step-siblings."

As the actor revealed to Closer, the fact that his father moved often meant that "by the time [he] was 10, [he] had lived in 10 different homes." The Oscar winner elaborated on his childhood during an appearance on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs, and said (via the Daily Mail), "We were confused because no one explained anything to us. No one said, 'Hey listen, you guys are great. You haven't done anything wrong – give us a couple of moments and we will figure out what we are going to do'. Nobody ever said that to us."

Tom Hanks' first marriage ended in divorce

Tom Hanks has been happily married to actress Rita Wilson since 1988, so a lot of fans might not realize that the Philadelphia star was married once before. Hanks got married to Samantha Lewes in 1978, and the couple had two children together — son Colin, who is also an actor, and daughter Elizabeth, bringing the total number of Hanks' kids to four. However, according to the New York Post, the couple separated in 1984 and later divorced in 1987, with Tom remarrying the following year.

According to People, Hanks told GQ that he very quickly developed feelings for his second wife, Wilson, on the set of 1985 movie Volunteers, having previously co-starred with her on the sitcom Bosom Buddies in 1981. The actor opened up about the failure of his first marriage during an interview with the Express and said, "I was looking for something I had not found as a kid. A broken marriage meant I was sentencing my own kids to the sort of feelings I had at their age. I was just too young and insecure for marriage. I was 23 and my son Colin was already two when I married for the first time. I was not really ready to take on those responsibilities." As Hanks went on, "My own life has not been as smooth as my career."

His first wife died of cancer

Tom Hanks' first wife, Samatha Lewes, was his college sweetheart. She was also an actress who had some small TV roles, and after the couple got divorced in 1987, they continued to co-parent their children, Colin and Elizabeth. In 2001, it was revealed that Lewes, who was born Susan Dillingham, was dying following a bone cancer diagnosis. 

According to the New York Post, a source told Britain's Daily Record, "Tom was absolutely devastated by the news. He and Susan separated a long time ago. They've had their ups and downs like any divorced couple but they have remained friends." She passed away on March 12, 2002, in Sacramento, California.

Tom and Samantha's son, Colin Hanks, opened up about his parents during an appearance on Dax Shepard's Armchair Expert podcast in August 2018. Colin noted that his mom "never remarried" after the divorce, and explained, "I don't know how much money that my mom was getting in alimony, but what I heard all the time was, 'We don't have the money. ... Your dad has that. We don't have that.'"

Tom Hanks' directorial debut bombed

Having directed a handful of TV episodes, Tom Hanks made the jump to movie writer and director for 1996's That Thing You Do!. While Hanks had a small part in the movie, it focused on a band in the '60s and what happened after they made a one-hit-wonder. Despite featuring Liv Tyler and Charlize Theron, the flick was somewhat of a box office disappointment. Box Office Mojo reported that the movie made around $34.5 million after being made on a $26 million budget. Clearly, that's not the best return, especially for a film with Hanks attached.

Even though the movie wasn't a huge financial success, Hanks' directorial debut seems to have accrued more fans since it was first released. In 2020, the actors responsible for playing the movie's band, The Wonders, reunited for a That Thing You Do! watch party in aid of the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund. The stars of the film have only positive things to say about the experience, too. Actor Steve Zahn told Entertainment Weekly, "I mean, technically it was his first time directing, but when you've done it that long, you kind of get it on so many different levels ... I've worked with a lot of first-time directors. A lot. And Tom was a veteran."

Tom Hanks refunded disappointed fans

While many of Tom Hanks' movies have been tremendous success stories, he's still had a few duds throughout his career — according to some fans anyway. Hanks became a film director with 1996's That Thing You Do!, and followed it up with the 2011 movie Larry Crowne, which he also co-wrote and starred in. While Larry Crowne had all of the makings of a hit romantic comedy, with Hanks and Julia Roberts in the lead roles, some viewers were allegedly underwhelmed. While it was probably disappointing to have the project met with mixed reviews, Hanks was apparently nothing but a gentleman about it. 

According to The Guardian, The National Enquirer reported that two fans approached Hanks while he was at a gas station in Los Angeles. The couple had reportedly just seen Larry Crowne, so Hanks asked for their opinions on it, although he probably regretted doing so as he was told, "it wasn't that good." Rather than get disheartened, per The Guardian, "Hanks is then reported to have apologized and offered to refund their ticket money. He then reached into his pocket and pulled out $25, which the couple eventually accepted." Basically, even when receiving criticism, Hanks is allegedly nothing but polite, which only makes us love him more.

His wife, Rita Wilson, was diagnosed with cancer

Fans were shocked when Tom Hanks' wife, Rita Wilson, revealed in April 2015 that she'd been diagnosed with breast cancer. In a statement to People, Wilson announced she'd undergone a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction following the "diagnosis of invasive lobular carcinoma." The actress credited getting a second opinion and catching the condition early for her recovery, after "a friend who had had breast cancer suggested [she] get a second opinion on [her] pathology and [her] gut told me that was the thing to do."

According to Stylist, Wilson gave an interview to Sunday People singing her husband's praises for supporting her throughout her cancer diagnosis. She said, "When I was going through my diagnoses and surgery, the one thing I really­ wanted to tell people­ is that there are still times when you have love and you smile and you laugh. ... [Tom and I] watched movies­, we watched great documentaries­, we ate good food and we did our best to maintain­ our spirit and be thankful." 

As of 2020, Wilson has been cancer-free for five years.

Tom Hanks' diabetes diagnosis

During an appearance on Late Show with David Letterman in 2013, Tom Hanks revealed that he'd been diagnosed with diabetes. When the host complimented his trimmer figure, Hanks replied, "I went to the doctor, and he said, 'You know those high blood sugar numbers you've been dealing with since you were 36? Well, you've graduated. You've got type 2 diabetes, young man.'" He reassured the surprised audience and said, "It's controllable."

During a 2016 interview with Radio Times, Hanks appeared to blame himself and suggested that a poor diet led to the diagnosis. The Captain Phillips star said, "I'm part of the lazy American generation that has blindly kept dancing through the party and now finds ourselves with a malady ... I was heavy. You've seen me in movies, you know what I looked like. I was a total idiot." 

During an interview at the BFI London Film Festival in 2013, Hanks shed a bit more insight, explaining, "I think I was genetically inclined to get it," and referenced the unhealthy eating he did as a child. Luckily, it seems that the actor has gotten his condition under control since then.

The coronavirus battle

Most people are well aware that Tom Hanks was one of the first celebrities to reveal that they'd tested positive for coronavirus. Hanks made the announcement in an Instagram post on March 12, 2020, and wrote, "[Rita Wilson] and I are down here in Australia. We felt a bit tired, like we had colds, and some body aches. Rita had some chills that came and went. Slight fevers too. To play things right, as is needed in the world right now, we were tested for the Coronavirus, and were found to be positive." At the time, Hanks was in Australia to shoot Baz Luhrmann's Elvis Presley biopic.

Both Hanks and Wilson made full recoveries, and on March 23, the Toy Story star wrote on Twitter, "Two weeks after our first symptoms and we feel better." On March 27, it was reported that the famous couple had flown back to the United States after being given the all-clear. Since then, the award-winning performer has revealed that he is helping coronavirus research by donating blood and plasma. During an interview on NPR's Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me!, Hanks joked, "We have not only been approached; we have said, do you want our blood? Can we give plasma? And, in fact, we will be giving it now to the places that hope to work on what I would like to call the Hank-ccine." We have our fingers crossed.