Beloved Celebs Who Were Dealt An Unfair Hand In Life

Many believe that because celebrities have fame and money, their lives are easy and without problems. While celebrity status can undeniably act as a cushion to help with problems, it doesn't entirely exclude a person from reality and the issues that come with it.

The nature of celebrities is often skewed and twisted. Because their lives are so publicized, society tends to create the illusion that some of their lives are perfect, but below the surface, many stars experience tragedy and incredible hardships. Divorces, custody battles, abuse, drug and alcohol misuse, family drama, etc., are just some of the problems celebrities face both before and after their fame.

While some celebrities seem to be born lucky and might live easy lives, others have harrowing backstories that are a testament to overcoming obstacles and struggles. Here are some beloved celebs that were dealt an unfair hand in life and managed to rise above their tragedies.

Jennifer Hudson lost three family members to murder

Jennifer Hudson rose to fame after appearing on the competitive singing show "American Idol" in 2004. Though she did not win the competition, she became incredibly popular and went on to establish a career as both a singer and an actor. By 2008, Hudson was an Oscar and Grammy winner. She had it all, but a tragedy would change her life forever.

On October 24, 2008, Hudson's mother Darnell Donerson and her brother Jason Hudson were murdered inside their Chicago home, per ABC7 NY. Hudson's 7 year-old nephew, Julian King, was missing the day of the murders, but his body was found three days later on October 27, as reported by CNN. William Balfour, Julian's stepfather and the boyfriend of Hudson's sister, Julia, was detained that weekend concerning the murders, and would ultimately be found guilty in 2012 on seven counts, three for first-degree murder.

The tragic murders of three of Hudson's close family members left her shattered. In an interview with Oprah, she spoke about her journey with grief, saying in part, "It literally just takes a part of you, and because there were so many shocks involved in it. ... I find myself, one moment, of course I'm gonna think of my mother...Julian, and my brother... it's too much." "You don't know where to start," she added. Following this life-changing, horrific event, Jennifer Hudson and her family established The Hudson-King Foundation for Families of Slain Victims, per People.

Kelsey Grammer and his 'family curse'

From an early age, "Cheers" and "Frasier" actor Kelsey Grammer had a difficult life. At 2 years old, his parents divorced, so he and his sister lived with their mom and their grandfather, who died when Grammer was 11 (per Business Insider). Two years after his grandfather's death, Grammer's father, editor Frank Grammer, was shot and killed by Arthur B. Niles outside of his home in St. Thomas in 1968, according to UPI.

The tragedy of the Grammer family did not stop there. In 1975, Grammer's younger sister, Karen, was brutally kidnapped, raped, and murdered by Colorado killer Fred Glenn and accomplice Michael Corbett. The criminals were sentenced to death, but in 1979, the Supreme Court overturned all death sentences, so they received life "with the possibility of parole after 10 years" at the time, per Channel 9 News.

Grammer said in an interview with Oprah that his grandfather believed their family was cursed, to which he responded, "I don't really believe that, but there's something that happened, something that surrounds us, took this name somewhere, but, you know, my life has been a chance to change it." The murder of his sister Karen sent Grammer down a dark path that would lead to alcohol and cocaine misuse, and his tragedies continued (via Vanity Fair). In 1980, his half-brothers, Stephen and Billy, "died together in a freak scuba-diving accident... one was believed killed by sharks," according to People. Aside from the deaths of several loved ones, he would also experience several failed romantic relationships over the years.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

If you or anyone you know is struggling 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).

Keanu Reeves has grieved his loved ones

"John Wick" actor and notorious "good guy" Keanu Reeves has a career that spans four decades. He is most known for his extensive movie roles, with blockbuster films "Speed" and "The Matrix" among his works. Reeves has a reputation for being kind and positive to all he encounters, despite having a personal life ridden with tragic events.

Reeves and River Phoenix acted together in "My Own Private Idaho," and were best friends until Phoenix overdosed in 1993 at just 23 years old. On his death, Reeves said in a 2021 interview with Esquire, "He was a really special person, so original, unique, smart, talented, fiercely creative. Thoughtful. Brave. And funny. And dark. And light. It was great to have known him. To — yeah. Inspirational. Miss him."

Unfortunately, this would not be the only loss he would experience. In 1998, Reeves met Jennifer Syme and the two started dating shortly after. By 1999, Syme was pregnant, but their baby was stillborn that same year. The death of their child put strain on their relationship, and they split soon after (via The Sun). In April 2001, Syme herself tragically died in a car accident. Touching on his many losses, the actor told Parade in 2006, "All you can do is hope that grief will be transformed and, instead of feeling pain and confusion, you will be together again in memory, that there will be solace and pleasure there, not just loss" (via LiveJournal).

Judy Garland had a lifetime of suffering

Judy Garland will forever be remembered for her lasting influence on the world of film and Hollywood. The classic actor was once one of the biggest names in the industry, but she paid an incredible price for her fame. From a young age, Garland experienced fierce pressure from her overbearing, controlling mother. Biographers have learned that Garland's mother had her take amphetamines even before her studio career, as early as age four.

The actor started MGM "studio boot camp," and was frequently criticized for her image and body size while she worked for days on end. "They'd give us pills to keep us on our feet long after we were exhausted. Then they'd take us to the studio hospital and knock us out with sleeping pills," she reportedly recalled (via the Independent). Garland gained notoriety for her role as Dorothy in the 1939 film "The Wizard of Oz," but she suffered during the process. According to the Independent, MGM controlled nearly every aspect of her life, and Louis B. Mayer "insisted she live on just black coffee, chicken soup and lots of appetite-suppressing cigarettes — up to 80 a day, apparently."

Garland worked with MGM for 15 years, and it broke her down. At 18, she underwent psychiatric treatments, and she'd endured nervous breakdowns three times by 23 (per the Los Angeles Times). Garland's early use of drugs made her dependent on them throughout her adulthood, which affected her health and relationships. By the time of her death in 1969, she had been making $100 a night singing in bars, and she suffered from a number of health issues (via Star Tribune).

If you or anyone you know is struggling 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).

Tyler Perry experienced abuse at a young age

Tyler Perry is known for his ability to bring laughter and joy to audiences through his many works, including his acclaimed TV show "Tyler Perry's House of Payne" and the beloved "Madea" movies. Prior to his status as the comedic giant we know and love today, he experienced significant trauma at a very young age. When Perry was growing up, he was constantly exposed to abuse, both physical and sexual. According to People, the actor "was sexually molested by three different men and a woman by the time he was 10." This experience deeply impacted him and "left him confused and angry" throughout his teenage years and into his 20s, per Oprah.

As he grew into adulthood, Perry became inspired to channel his pain into something meaningful and started to write. Perry relentlessly worked throughout the 1990s to produce a play, but this was met with hardship and rejection, and he eventually became homeless. In an Instagram post, he said, "I had nothing. I was so broke and hungry I couldn't afford rent."

Though his play failed many times, Perry finally was able to achieve his dreams in 1998 when his restaged play "I Know I've Been Changed" received acclaim from audiences in Atlanta (via E! News). Through perseverance and dedication, the Tyler Perry Studios founder overcame his struggles and is now a billionaire. He also created The Perry Foundation to "transform tragedy into triumph," as his website notes.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Charlize Theron witnessed the killing of her father

A versatile actor with over two decades of work under her belt, Charlize Theron has garnered universal acclaim from both critics and audiences for her roles in "Monster" and "Bombshell," to name a few. Prior to her stardom, however, she experienced unimaginable trauma. Up until she was 11 years old, Theron did not have teeth. She suffered from jaundice as a child, and the excessive use of antibiotics caused her teeth to rot and be taken out of her mouth. On the experience, the actor told The Sun, "That was tough, you know, being in school having photos taken while I was pretending I had teeth. It was hideous."

When Theron was 15 years old, she survived an event that would affect the rest of her life. In June 1991, Theron's father, Charles, drunkenly threatened both her and her mother, Gerda, and told the two that he would kill them. He took his gun and fired into his daughter's bedroom, and her mother then fired her gun at him and killed him, Theron told Diane Sawyer for ABC News in 2006. Not wanting her daughter to be held behind by the tragedy, Gerda urged Charlize to live her life elsewhere, away from the place that traumatized her so much. Gerda would not be charged in the death of Charles Theron on grounds that she was acting in self-defense.

On the event, Theron told Indie London, "It made me realize that life deals you some really nasty cards and you just have to play them."

If you or anyone you know is struggling 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).

Demi Moore had an unstable childhood and adult life

Actor Demi Moore has lived a life filled with ups and downs. She rose to fame in the 1990s for her work in such notable films as "Ghost" and "A Few Good Men." 

Moore grew up moving around frequently with her mother, Virginia King, throughout her childhood. She was traumatized by her mother's suicide attempts as a child, and during one occasion, she helped to revive her after she overdosed on pills. In an excerpt from her book "Inside Out," Moore recalled, "The next thing I remember is using my dig the pills my mother had tried to swallow out of her mouth while my father held it open and told me what to do" (via Harpers Bazaar). She continued to note that this event changed her and marked the end of her childhood. This was not the only way that King traumatized her young daughter.

When Moore was 15 years old, a man King brought home from a bar raped her and told her that her mother essentially arranged for it to happen (via Good Morning America). This experience further harmed Moore's already broken state. She moved out on her 16th birthday and married her first husband, musician Freddy Moore (whose name she still goes by) when she was 18, per The New York Times. She would marry two more times, to actor Bruce Willis and actor Ashton Kutcher, with both ending in divorce.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Oprah Winfrey overcame incredible obstacles 

Oprah Winfrey has established an incredible career for herself as a television host, producer, and actor. "The Oprah Winfrey Show" spanned 25 seasons and led her to become a billionaire. Though she is one of the most successful women of all time, she had to overcome obstacles in her early life to get to her current star status.

Winfrey grew up in rural Mississippi, to an impoverished family and a physically abusive household. She told viewers of her show that when she was nine, she was raped by her cousin, and other family members afterward. The abuse lasted until she was 14 and resulted in her getting pregnant at that age. Her baby was born early but did not survive, according to The Telegraph. On this experience, she said in her magazine, "I went back to school and told no one. My fear was that if I were found out, I would be expelled. So I carried the secret into my future, always afraid that if anyone discovered what had happened, they, too, would expel me from their lives."

This line of events did not stop Winfrey from achieving her dreams. When she was 17, she earned a scholarship at Tennessee State University, but dropped out after she was offered an anchor position at Nashville's WLAC-TV (via The Telegraph). Her work there would help to launch her career.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Britney Spears was a ticking time bomb 

From an early age, pop icon Britney Spears was prepped to be a star. At just three years old, her mother Lynne had her "enrolled in choir, dance and gymnastic lessons," and five years later, would have her audition for "The All New Mickey Mouse Club." Spears was thrust into the public eye as a young child, and also grew up with a father who dealt with alcohol misuse, according to Rolling Stone. Spears herself spoke of the unhealthy relationship between her parents, who divorced in 2002, saying to People, "My mom and dad, bottom line, do not get along. When I was a baby, they argued. I wanted [their split] to happen 10 years ago."

Lynne and Britney traveled to New York City in 1997, hoping to launch Britney to fame with record label auditions, as reported by Business Insider. After auditioning for Jive Records, she landed a deal, which led to the production and release of her debut album, "...Baby One More Time" in 1999. The album was a commercial success and immediately made Spears a teen celebrity. 

The image of Spears as a sex symbol affected how she viewed herself, and the pressure of stardom affected her mental health and relationships. Throughout her career, she dealt with drug misuse, failed relationships, custody battles, and a restrictive conservatorship, which prompted fans to start the #FreeBritney movement. The conservatorship was terminated in November 2021, per CNN.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Roy Orbison had a life filled with tragedy

Musician Roy Orbison became a household name in the 1960s with his hits like "Falling," "In Dreams," and "You Got It" reaching the top of the Billboard charts at the time. Orbison had a successful career as a singer throughout his early adulthood, but a number of tragedies would affect his career and life for good.

When Orbison was 30 years old, in 1966, he lost his wife Claudette in a tragic accident; it happened while she was riding her motorcycle behind her husband, and she died instantly. According to Rolling Stone, this event had an impact on Orbison's music, and the singer "found it difficult to write any more songs, but he kept touring." Two years after the death of his wife, Orbison faced another life-changing tragedy. While touring in England, he lost his home in Tennessee to a fire, along with two of his children, as reported by the Los Angeles Times.

Despite these events, Orbison continued with his career. By 1988, he had recorded his album "Mystery Girl," which included the hit "California Blue." Unfortunately, Orbison would not live to see the success of the album, as he had a heart attack and died on December 6, 1988, at 52 years old. "Mystery Girl" was released posthumously and reached No. 6 in national sales, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Shania Twain grew up fast

With an estimated net worth of $400 million, it would be difficult to believe that the "Queen of Country Pop" Shania Twain once grew up poor, in an abusive household, with little food to eat.

Twain grew up in Canada with four siblings, her stepfather Terry, and mother Sharon. Terry was both verbally and physically abusive to her and her mother, and Twain was raised in a violent household. The singer opened up about her stepfather to ABC News, saying, "It was the Jekyll and Hyde in him that was the greatest torture. I loved him and I respected so much what he did for us, being the hard worker, he set a great example. So I'm still left confused."

On top of the abuse, Twain also grew up with financial troubles, eating sandwiches with condiments as fillers and rationing apples for later meals. According to Rolling Stone, "She lived in fear that her teachers would find out that her folks couldn't afford to feed her and she'd be taken away." Her difficulties did not stop at her childhood. Both of her parents died in a car accident in 1987, which postponed her growing music career and made her young siblings her priority. In an interview on "60 Minutes Australia," she said, "At that point in my life, I would have rather gone with them." From that point on, she worked hard to support her siblings and soon became a musical success.

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.

Mariska Hargitay lost her mother

Mariska Hargitay is known for her role in the popular crime drama series "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit." Acting runs in her blood, as she is the daughter of 1950s Hollywood actor Jayne Mansfield. Through the decades, Hargitay has garnered critical acclaim for her acting, but before her fame, she experienced the weight of loss.

In 1967, when Hargitay was just three years old, she was in a car accident with her mother and her two siblings, Mickey and Zoltan. Hargitay's mother, along with her mother's boyfriend Samuel S. Brody and driver Ronald B. Harrison, were all killed in the accident, according to History. She emerged from the accident with minor physical injuries, but the emotional trauma of the event would stick with her for years. In an interview with Glamour, she said, "I think I learned about crisis very young, and I learned very young that s**t happens and there's no guarantees, and we keep going. And then we transform it."

Despite her tragedy, Hargitay was able to live a normal life due to the support of her father, Miklós Hargitay, who she said taught her meaningful lessons about life, including, "life is hard, but you just don't quit" (as she told Good Housekeeping).

Leighton Meester had a difficult childhood

Actor Leighton Meester gained notoriety for her role as Blair Waldorf in the teen drama series "Gossip Girl." Though she lives a successful life as an actor today, she experienced a difficult childhood before her fame.

Meester was born in 1986 to Constance "Connie" Meester and Doug Meester, who just three years prior were arrested for smuggling marijuana, and a lot of it (1,200 pounds at a time), according to Us Weekly (via Intelligencer). As Connie Meester was to serve her prison sentence for drug trafficking, she had Leighton. The star "was delivered in a hospital, then transferred to a halfway house for three months, after which she was sent to live with her grandmother until Constance's release," per Marie Claire. On top of having to deal with the fallout of her parents, Meester grew up poor and often worried about having necessities to live, like gas and food, telling the outlet, "Those were my concerns." She worked in commercials, took acting classes, and modeled during her teenage years, which helped to land her the bigger roles that would launch her career. 

As Meester made more money, she never forgot about her family, but this turned out to be difficult for the actor. According to TMZ, Meester sued her mother in 2011 for alleged misuse of a monthly $7,500 she sent to help take care of her younger brother. Meester won the lawsuit against her in 2012, per ABC News.