Stars Who Grew Up With Alcoholic Parents

It's easy to think of Hollywood stars as having it pretty good. For many of them, though, their childhoods were just like anyone else's — and sometimes they overcame tragedy and difficulty to make it to where they are now. Some have spoken out about having grown up under the wing of alcoholic parents, and for many, it's a disease that has left an eternal impact.


A biography released in 2012 told, in part, the story of Adele's tormented relationship with her father and the long-lasting impact it's had on her life. According to biographer Marc Shapiro (via In Touch), "Her relationship with her father is dead and gone."

Dad Mark Evans had spoken with The Sun a year earlier, and talked about how much he regretted the path his life had taken and how he wished that road hadn't led him away from his daughter. "I was a rotten father at a time when she really needed me," he told the paper. He went on say that for somewhere around three years, he was "putting away two liters of vodka and seven or eight pints of Stella every day." Unsure of how he had managed to even survive his alcohol addiction, he commented on his decision to leave, saying, "I was deeply ashamed of what I'd become and I knew the kindest thing I could do for Adele was to make sure she never saw me in that state."

His problem started in earnest after the death of his own father in 1999, and in hindsight, he knew it was blinding grief that drove him to drink. Later, he felt overwhelming guilt about not being able to see past what was consuming him to the grief that his daughter was feeling, as well. For a long time, he says he couldn't even watch or listen to his daughter's performances, as the entire thing brought a fresh wave of grief and sadness he just didn't know how to deal with. After he got cleaned up, he says, "[...] she forgave me. I was so grateful." Adele has said she hasn't seen her father in years, but according to him, that's just something she says to protect him.

Demi Lovato

Demi Lovato was raised by her mother and stepfather, but her biological father has remained an undeniable presence in her life — up to and after his death in 2013. On her 2011 album Unbroken, she featured a tribute song to him in "For the Love of a Daughter," and in 2015, she followed that up with a song simply titled "Father."

According to MTV, it was Patrick Lovato's battle with alcoholism that created the strained relationship between him and his daughter. In 2009, she admitted publicly that she had severed all contact with her father because he had hurt her too many times. She made her own journey through addiction and did her time in rehab, but the singer took her own life experiences and made them into something good. ET reported on the Lovato Treatment Scholarship Program she established in his honor to help pay for treatment for people who were dealing with addiction or mental health issues.

Even though their relationship was difficult, she knows it was more complicated than that. "I was very conflicted when he passed, because he was abusive," she told ET. "He was mean, but he wanted to be a good person. And he wanted to have his family, and when my mom married my stepdad, he still had this huge heart where he said, 'I'm so glad that [he's] taking care of you and doing the job that I wish I could do.'"

Tyler Perry

Tyler Perry is known for making people laugh, but according to People, it was after seeing Precious for the first time that he posted a letter on his website, giving fans a look into his heartbreaking childhood.

"[...] a large part of my childhood had just played out before my eyes," he wrote, also saying, "I always thought I would die before I grew up."

Perry's father, he says, was constantly drunk. More than that, though, Perry called him "mad at the world", and detailed a horrible laundry list of abuse he suffered first at the hands of his father, who he remembered coming home drunk and beating him with the cord off the vacuum. The abuse came from outside the family, too, and he recounted being molested by a friend's father, about the same time he found out his alcoholic father was doing precisely the same thing to another friend. His grandmother once gave him a bath in ammonia "to kill these germs on me once and for all," and his mother tried — and failed — to leave that dark, abusive situation.

According to StarPulse, Perry finally ran away from his childhood home in New Orleans, setting up in an Atlanta apartment and, after being inspired by Oprah, he started writing to get rid of the anger.


In 2014, rapper Eminem reportedly put an end to a long-standing estrangement between himself and his mother, Debbie Mathers. Celebuzz says the end of the feud came with the Mother's Day release of Headlights, a song that not only acknowledged his mother's alcoholism but forgave her for it.

It's as straightforward as it is heartwarming, perhaps, but the truth seems to be a little more elusive. Salon spoke with friends, family members, and former classmates about what a young Marshall Mathers was really like, and they tell a more convoluted story. According to their interview with Debbie Mathers, she fled an abusive and erratic man when little Eminem was only 2 years old. After they settled in Michigan, those that knew them said they were ridiculously close, and incredibly protective of each other. But, for every person that remembered her as a caring, loving mother that paid her son's bills until he was 25, there was another that called her "crazy".

MTV took a look at the book Mathers released in 2008, and she said her image as a "pill-popping alcoholic who lives on welfare" was nothing less than heartbreaking for her. "The lies started coming thick and fast — and not just from Marshall," she said. She even said she regretted the path their lives have taken, blaming his career for their estrangement.

Nicki Minaj

The truth is a little vague when it comes to Nicki Minaj, and her stories about her alcoholic father haven't gone uncontested. MTV quoted Minaj as saying, "All of my young and teenage early years we lived in fear that my mother would be killed by my father. [...] It was very tough emotionally for me to have a parent who was an alcoholic and a drug addict."

She says seeing her mother unable to cut off communication with an abusive man has taught her a valuable life lesson, one that's allowed her to make the tough decisions about cutting people out of her own life. In 2014, Radar Online reported on turmoil that happened in late 2013, including a restraining order Minaj's mother, Carol, took out against her father after his convictions for drunk driving. Six weeks after the initial conviction, he was arrested again for the same thing, and friends and family said as long as he was drinking, he was a continued risk.

But they also quoted an interview with Minaj that claimed he had gotten cleaned up, given up the substances that made him dangerous, and even started going to church leaving the truth a little blurry.

Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez

Everyone's heard all the sordid details of Charlie Sheen's very public downward spiral, and when RadioTimes spoke with his father in 2015, they — and the elder Sheen — drew parallels between Charlie's addictions and his father's.

"I wouldn't be human if I didn't have a very, very deep feeling for him," Martin Sheen said. "And there's something that I understand about that, something the program [Alcoholics Anonymous] has taught me that's vital in trying to help someone — you can assure them you're there and you love them, but you cannot effect change. That's your ego, for the most part. You pray for a moment of clarity, you trust in a higher power and you never, ever give up hope."

Today, Martin Sheen and his sons can look back on a relationship that was nothing short of stormy. Famously drunk enough to hurt himself on the set of Apocalypse Now, less famous is the fact that the family was there to see him. In their joint memoir, Along the Way, Martin and Emilio Estevez tell the story of filming on a set that was no place for the 14-year-old Estevez. "I hated him when he got drunk, because he'd get violent," Estevez told The Telegraph. "Some of it he may remember, some of it he may not. But yea, it was horrible. And because I was the oldest, it was always directed at me. But I think the Philippines was the last physical fight we had. The older I got, I started lifting weights and getting stronger, so I was like, 'Come on, let's go.'"

Marlon Brando broke up that fight (via The Australian), and Martin had his last drink in 1989. In spite of a rocky road, the family stuck together, and at the same time Estevez remembered his father as a mean drunk, he also said, "I always knew how important the family was to you, and that was never in danger."

Brooke Shields

Brooke Shields lost her mother in 2012, and when she published her memoir in 2014, she included a letter she had written to Teri when she was 9 years old. "Dear Mom, I just want to say thank you for being so very good about drinking. I love you for that (and not only that). I also feel that we are much happier together when you are not drinking. We don't fight as much, we laugh more, and have much more fun."

Shields spoke to The Telegraph about the book, There Was A Little Girl, and stressed that her motivation "[...] was to have my say, after decades of sticking up for my mother." Teri pushed her daughter into modeling at 11 months old, and by the time she was 3, she was on the catwalk. By 12, she was playing a prostitute on the big screen, and she says that now, at least, she can understand why her mother pushed her like she did.

When she spoke to the NY Post, she said the idea for the book came once the obituary she wrote for her mother was rewritten to be an accusation rather than a tribute, and she wanted people to know the truth. By the time she was 13, she was staging interventions for her mother. While it never worked, she also remembers a loving mother who only wanted the best for her daughter, and admits that from the outside, it's hard to fathom. "I think the hardest part was reliving the happy memories," she says. "That's when you think the ending could be different, that there was hope — and then you're struck with reality and think, 'What a shame.'" When The Telegraph asked her what she wanted to say to her mother, she responded, "I go over that in my head all the time when I'm feeling down. I said 'I love you' a lot, but I don't know if mum felt worthy of love, so I would have liked her to have been able to look at me and say: 'I know you do — and I'm OK.'"

Marlon Brando

Equal parts famous and infamous, Marlon Brando is both one of the greatest actors of his day, and the most bizarre. When Stevan Riley set out to make a documentary about his extraordinary life, he found a treasure trove of information that went a long, long way in shining a spotlight on the elusive, eccentric Brando.

Most of the stories that he initially uncovered were deliberate lies Brando wove to hide reality, and when Riley was given access to his estate and could go through personal belongings and recordings, he found the truth, starting with one tape Brando recorded for himself, talking about escaping the painful memories of his childhood. He talked about his parents, too, both alcoholics. His mother's abuse manifested in neglect, and his father's in physical and emotional abuse. At one point on the tapes, Brando says, "I'd have been better off in an orphanage."

Acting was an escape and observation was a survival skill, and the performance that skyrocketed him to fame — in A Streetcar Named Desire — was a reenactment of his abusive childhood and led to the beginning of his emotional unraveling. His later problems in life, in Hollywood, and in relationships were rooted in his childhood, Riley writes for The Telegraph, saying at his core, his parents had taught him he couldn't trust anyone.

Charlize Theron

For a long time, Charlize Theron said her father had died in a car accident (via Huffington Post). It wasn't until 2004 that she spoke with Diane Sawyer to tell the truth about what had really happened.

"My dad was a big guy, tall, skinny legs, big belly," she said (via ABC News). "[He] could be very serious but loved to laugh as well, and enjoyed life. He also had a disease. He was an alcoholic." According to her, most of the abuse she suffered was verbal, but things came to a head on June 21, 1991. "Nature gives you instinct," she said. "And I knew something bad was going to happen."

When he returned home from the bar, he was angry and armed, yelling that he was going to kill both her and her mother. He fired — into her room — when her mother grabbed a gun and killed her father and wounded her uncle, who had been drinking with him. In the end, it was ruled self defense, and in 2015, her role in Dark Places allowed her to speak more about just how the event had shaped her. In the film, Theron plays a woman who witnessed the murder of her mother and sisters as a child, and she told Hello!, "There's definitely an acknowledgement on my part that I had an experience of a very traumatic experience, an event in my life and somehow it's formed me."

Tatum O'Neal

In 1974, Tatum O'Neal became the youngest Oscar-winner in history. Only 8 years old when she started shooting Paper Moon with her father, Ryan O'Neal, her interview with The Hollywood Reporter helps us remember how young she really was. At the time, she was concerned her father was mad at her, not even entirely understanding he was playing a part.

In 2004, she released a memoir called A Paper Life, where she talked about her famous parents and the problems they had — and still have (via NBC News). Her mother, Andy Griffith Show actress Joanna Moore, was addicted to both amphetamines and alcohol. By the time she was 5 years old, her parents had split and Moore moved both Tatum and her younger brother to a ranch on the outskirts of Los Angeles. That's where the abuse started in earnest, coming mostly from the strange men she and her brother were abandoned to. "It was terrible," she says. "My mother stayed drunk for years and years and years. It just went on and on and on." After three years, it had become so bad that she was sent first to boarding school, then into her father's care. At the time, Ryan O'Neal was one of Hollywood's most famous leading men, and when she upstaged him in Paper Moon, their relationship truly went south.

Later, she would later try to reconcile with her father, and face her own battle with addiction. According to her interview with ABC News, "I think of having a normal life, which I've never had, sounds pretty nice."

Macaulay Culkin

Macauley Culkin is often cited as the poster child for child stars unable to deal with the fame and pressures of Hollywood, and in 1995, People took a look at the incredibly tragic, real-life nightmare he and his siblings were caught in the middle of. Father Kit Culkin was always at his famous son's side, guiding his career and, according to court documents, ruling with an iron fist.

Then 15 years old, Macauley did most of the talking when sheriff's deputies were called to the site of the latest family feud. There were a lot of them, since mother Patricia Brentrup had gone to court to try to win custody of her children.

At the time, Macauley Culkin was earning millions for each of his films, but according to the custody proceedings and court documents, there were accusations of infidelity along with claims of alcoholism that led to physical abuse. With mother Patricia claiming Kit Culkin had threatened to kill her, court papers are telling. "[Kit Culkin] and I have been separated in the past due to his excessive drinking, physical abuse, and unfaithful behavior," says Brentrup. "I sacrificed my own happiness and safety [for] the good of the family." Even more heartbreaking are the comments about the impact the dispute had on the children, particularly Macauley. People quoted one friend as saying, "Mac has been spending a lot of time cleaning his room."