Tragic Details About Molly Shannon

We may receive a commission on purchases made from links.

Molly Shannon is easily one of the funniest cast members to ever appear on "Saturday Night Live." Yet, believe it or not, the comedian had an incredibly dark upbringing, filled with tragedy and heartache. It's no wonder she sought out comedy to add some much-needed levity to her life.

The "White Lotus" star developed a deep inner strength throughout traumatic events. In an interview with "TODAY," Shannon spoke about how those tragedies affected her approach to the often-times brutal entertainment industry. She said, "I do think it gave me like a resilience in show business. When things got kind of tough, I was like, 'Well, nothing could be as bad as when I was little,' so it gave me a certain bounce-ability."

According to Vanity Fair, "Molly Shannon is having the time of her life." But it's safe to say that it took a lot of struggle for her to get to where she is today. Let's take a look at some of the most tragic details about Molly Shannon that made her into the brilliant actor we all know and love.

The car accident that killed her loved ones

Molly Shannon was in a tragic car accident during her formative years that killed her mother, baby sister, and cousin. Her father, who had been doing the driving and (Shannon believes) fell asleep at the wheel, had been drunk at the time of the accident. As Shannon reveals in her memoir, "Hello, Molly!", she and her family had just attended a relative's high school graduation party where lots of alcohol was being served.

Needless to say, the gut-wrenching incident stayed with her. "My life changed in a split second," she said of the tragic car crash while appearing on "The Drew Barrymore Show." "The rug was pulled from under me. Life as I knew it changed in one second, and it was really hard. ... Losing my mom at an early age had a profound effect on my life."

According to Shannon, she was able to gather her mother's heartbreaking last words right before she died. "The car was mangled badly on impact," she writes in her book, according to People. "A man passing the scene stopped. My mother was lying on the ground beside our car and she asked him, 'Where are my girls?' She wanted to gather her three little girls and she couldn't. Her heart must have broken in that moment. And those were her final words."

Her father was an alcoholic

Molly Shannon detailed in her memoir how difficult her relationship was with her father, Jim Shannon, while growing up. She recalled that her dad would get extremely jealous when she would hang out with her own friends. According to the "Superstar" actor, Jim was so possessive over his daughter that she would end up feeling guilty for having a life outside of her relationship with him. Later on, she discovered that he was using her as a "surrogate spouse" to cope with the loss of his wife's untimely death.

Jim Shannon would encourage Molly to cause mischief, too. "If you could break the rules and get away with it, that was just a good thing," she said in a 1997 interview on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien." Yet despite his unconventional approach to parenting, there were many endearing qualities about her father, as well. Shannon noted in her book how much she appreciated his eccentric outlook on life.

Despite their turbulent history, Molly Shannon and her father shared a strong bond as her career blossomed. She told USA Today, "He really was like my biggest supporter. He was like, 'Listen, you march into those offices of those agents and Hollywood managers and just say, 'Hey! Hold the phone! I got talent!' And then he was like, 'And use your singing voice.' That was his advice."

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).

She couldn't have romantic relationships at first

Molly Shannon says in her memoir "Hello, Molly!" that she couldn't have typical romantic relationships throughout her time in college at NYU, even though she had a handful of handsome and eligible suitors. This was mainly because her co-dependent relationship with her father stunted Shannon's ability to have a normal dating life. Her past relationship with her dad made Shannon feel like she had to be on her own for a while because she couldn't bear the idea of taking care of someone the way she had taken care of her father for all those years. As a result, it took the actor a long time before she felt comfortable enough to be romantically involved with anyone.

Fortunately, the "SNL" star has been happily married to Fritz Chesnut since 2004, and they have two children: a daughter named Stella, and a son named Nolan. In an interview with Page Six, Shannon said that the last thing on her mind while starring on "SNL" was starting a family, because work was such a high priority. But eventually, she left the show so she could find a husband to raise kids with. When she met her future husband Fritz, she was very direct about her plans. "I wanted to have kids," she revealed. "I was very clear about what I wanted."

Molly Shannon experienced neglect throughout her youth

In her book, "Hello, Molly!", we learn that Molly Shannon frequently had a "very dirty neck" in her youth because she was never properly bathed. As reported in The New York Times, her father was severely crippled due to the car accident, so he couldn't wash his kids. (He had leg braces, as Shannon notes in her memoir, and had to re-learn how to walk following the accident.) Because Shannon's father was also struggling with an addiction to drugs and alcohol, he wasn't an attentive and responsible dad. Since her mother had died, it was terrifying for Shannon that her only living parent could barely take care of himself, let alone his two children. It eventually got to the point where she had to raise herself.

"I never knew which dad I would get. The one who met my needs, or the one who couldn't," she wrote in her memoir. Shannon elaborated on her feelings from growing up: "We were completely reliant on him to be taken care of. To be fed. Our survival depended on him, so it would be completely terrifying when he'd fly into his rages or even worse, descend into silence, ignoring us."

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).

Molly became a troubled kid in school

Molly Shannon said she became one of the biggest troublemakers at school because of all the anger and sadness she was holding on to due to the accident that killed her family members. Unfortunately, her school never knew how to deal with Shannon's acting out, so they would just continue to punish her without any suggestion of counseling. She explained in her book that she fell in with the "bad crowd" and would spend much of her school hours in "time out."

Yet sometimes, her daredevil antics would lead to some of the most hilarious adventure stories. While discussing her new book on "The Howard Stern Show," the host brought up the time during Shannon's childhood when she tricked a stewardess into letting her hop on a plane that was flying to New York. As Stern told his listeners, Shannon's antics worked, and she ended up spending the day in Manhattan with her childhood friend. "We were bad, wild little girls," said Shannon while telling the story on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien." "We got there and we didn't have much money so we just dined and dashed." 

(Moral of the story: Don't mess with Molly Shannon.)

She was addicted to shoplifting in her teen years

During her childhood, Molly Shannon's father taught her that it was okay to steal and cheat your way through life, so long as you didn't get caught. When Shannon had entered her teen years, she began shoplifting with her sister on a regular basis. As she has written in her memoir "Hello, Molly!", she even developed a code name for shoplifting, instead calling it "swimming." "Do you want to go swimming?" she'd ask her sister. When they finally got busted by police officers for stealing, they were forced to attend "shoplifting anonymous" meetings. Although she and her sister tried to play it off as a big joke, she knows now that her behavior wasn't funny. 

"I just wanted to be bad. My friend and I used to shoplift," she told Conan O'Brien in a 1997 interview. "We were like little criminals." In Shannon's memoir, she hilariously stated that she really wanted to go to juvenile detention so she could gain some "street cred." "The thought of juvenile detention truly excited me," she wrote. "I thought 'yeah, I wanna be with them bad girls. This is so fun!' ... The whole thing was very exciting."

She was sexually harassed by Gary Coleman

During the beginning of her career, Molly Shannon's agent also represented the late "Diff'rent Strokes" actor Gary Coleman. One day, her agent offered Shannon a chance to meet Coleman, of whom she was a massive fan. As she shared on "Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen," Shannon initially thought he was "so sweet." But everything took a dark turn when Coleman invited Shannon up to his hotel room. It wasn't until they got up to his suite that she realized the sitcom star's intentions. Their agent left them alone, and all at once, Coleman attacked her in his hotel room.

She also discussed the incident on "The Howard Stern Show." "He was relentless," Shannon said. "Then, he was like trying to kiss me and get on top and I was like, 'Gary, stop.' So, I push him off. Then, I would get off the bed. Then, he would bounce on the bed...and wrap himself around me. Then, I would fling him off. And then he got on top of me. ... I guess because of his size I didn't feel physically threatened." However, Shannon had to continue the cycle of throwing the star off her body until she could eventually escape.

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).

Hidden family secrets

Molly Shannon explained in her book how her father was never able to be his true self throughout his life. As she discovered well into her adulthood, her dad was either gay or bi-sexual, and he felt the need to bottle these closeted orientations with drugs and alcohol. She felt awful that her father was never able to live authentically, and it took decades for him to finally admit the truth to his daughter.

"I just one day asked him by the pool, 'Have you ever thought you might be gay?'" she recalled on "The Howard Stern Show." "And he just said, 'Most definitely.'" She also tragically revealed that his sexuality was brushed under the rug by his wife when she was still alive. "I think he had tried to tell my mom before that," Shannon told Stern. "He said, 'I saw this psychiatrist, and the psychiatrist told me I'm a latent homosexual,' and she said, 'Oh, that psychiatrist never should've told you that.'"

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).

She thought about quitting show business due to hurtful words

Although acting was always Molly Shannon's greatest passion in life, she almost quit Hollywood because of the pressure she experienced for not looking like a typical Hollywood starlet. The "SNL" star told The Hollywood Reporter (via Yahoo! Entertainment), "I bumped into a girl before the audition, and she was like, 'Oh my God. It's so nice to see you! Have you gained, like, 100 pounds?'" And I was like, okay, that is so mean." As she admitted, she nearly gave up her career altogether because of the experience. Shannon also wrote in "Hello, Molly!" that she was asked by a photographer, "Why are you so ugly?" in the midst of a headshot photoshoot. (We think she's gorgeous!)

Shannon has managed to shrug off all the nasty comments she has received by her peers in the entertainment industry. Clearly, she is killing it, because the actor has been starring in movies and TV shows from left to right for decades. She has taken on major roles in shows including "The Other Two" and "The White Lotus." Seems like nothing can stop her now!

Her father's death

Despite all the pain and heartache her father put her through, Molly Shannon had an extremely close relationship with him. Over time, he began to show signs of illness. It wasn't until he told her that he had prostate cancer that everything began to add up. Of course, the actor was devastated. Since Shannon had recently quit "SNL" to invest in her personal life, she was able to spend more time with her father during his final days.

"My dad did not fear dying," she said in "Hello, Molly!", her memoir. "He was ready to die. So when cancer took him, he didn't mind. 'I don't want to live to be really old and dependent,' he said. He'd smoke cigarettes because he didn't want to be too old. 'I'm so ready, I've lived such a good, full life,' he said. He was 72. He had done as much as he wanted to do. He had said everything he needed to say."

Hollywood was tough for Molly Shannon

Molly Shannon has been very open about how much she struggled to make it in Hollywood, claiming in her memoir that people "didn't know what to do" with her. Although she desperately wanted to make it in the business, no one would budge. Shannon wasn't your typical Hollywood starlet, and as a result, she got "dumped" by her agent (as she revealed to Emma Stone in Variety's "Actors on Actors" series.) 

Her struggles with not being able to find acting gigs convinced the "White Lotus" star to create her own shows. She said in the interview with Variety, "I really struggled. ... I eventually did my own show, because I thought, 'They're not really getting what I do and this isn't really happening.'" It took Shannon writing her own content to finally get her foot in the door. Eventually, she was gaining momentum, to the point where she was accepted as a cast member on "SNL." Her career changed completely after that. But unfortunately, the fame that came with the comedy program wasn't all sunshine and rainbows. 

Fame made Molly Shannon 'depressed'

In Molly Shannon's book, "Hello, Molly!", she opens up about her struggles with anxiety and depression. Shannon explained to USA Today, "I had been driven to achieve, achieve, achieve, and I was running and working so hard at my show and trying to make it..." Once she did excel and find fame, fans would shout out to her. She shared, "They know my name, and they're coming up to me on the streets. I fell into a depression for a few months because I was like, 'The one person I really want to tell me that I'm good and say she's proud of me is my mom, and this is not bringing her back." Sadly for Shannon, her stardom on "SNL" did nothing to ease her pain.

The star told Howard Stern, "I would have this anxious feeling when people came up to me." Although she was incredibly grateful for the praise she'd receive, it couldn't replace her sadness. "I'd get a gnawing, anxious, sad feeling," she explained, adding, "I was like, 'Oh. Fame doesn't fix any of this. I still have a f***ing hole in my heart.'"

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.