Inside Rosie O'Donnell's Tragic Real Life Story

Although she is known for making millions of people laugh, Rosie O'Donnell has experienced more tragedy than most. Here is a look back at some of her deepest and most upsetting tragedies, beginning with one that happened when she was just a little girl.

Rosie O'Donnell's mom died of cancer when she was 10

Tragedy struck Rosie O'Donnell early in life. At age 10, she lost her mother, Roseann O'Donnell, to breast cancer, leaving Rosie and her four siblings in the care of their father, Edward Joseph O'Donnell. Rosie described him as a deeply troubled man.

"He had his own issues and demons, he had a very tough childhood, he had an alcoholic, abusive father and never really got the help that I think every person needs when they have lived through that as a child," the talk show host revealed on Piers Morgan Tonight in 2012. "I think that he had a lot of problems to deal with in his own life, never mind being faced with raising these five small children."

It took her years to forgive her father

Rosie O'Donnell struggled to maintain a relationship with her father in the decades after her mother's death. She said some of his actions remained "unforgivable," yet she has forced herself to come to terms with her past. "As a child, the statute of limitations, I think, has to wear off," the actress said on Piers Morgan Tonight in 2012. "You get to be 50 years old [and] you can't still be angry at what your father did in 1970. You have to work it out yourself and then find a place for it in your own life and not rehash it forever." O'Donnell added, "No matter what, at the end of the day, every child loves their dad."

Edward died of cancer in August 2015. He was 81.

Rosie O'Donnell's ex-wife died of an apparent suicide

In September 2017, TMZ reported that Rosie O'Donnell's ex-wife, Michelle Rounds, had died of an apparent suicide. "I am saddened to hear about this terrible tragedy," O'Donnell said in a statement. "Mental illness is a very serious issue affecting many families. My thoughts and prayers go out to Michelle's family, her wife and their child."

O'Donnell's relationship with Rounds had been fraught for many years. The television personality had filed for divorce from Rounds in February 2015, sparking a nasty custody battle over their adopted daughter, Dakota, that was not settled until March 2016. During the custody battle, in September 2015, Rounds reportedly attempted to take her own life by overdosing on pills. Paramedics were able to reach her in time with the help of O'Donnell, who reportedly kept Rounds on the phone while EMT services were en route, according to TMZ.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

She was estranged from her daughter

Rosie O'Donnell has struggled to maintain a relationship with her adopted daughter, Chelsea. Drama erupted in August 2015 when O'Donnell revealed on Twitter that Chelsea had been missing for days. Hours later, Chelsea was found safe in New York, though it was later reported that she had been hanging out with a heroin dealer she had met on Tinder.

Although mother and daughter briefly reconciled in 2016, in multiple interviews since 2015, Chelsea has accused her mom of everything from smoking weed to threatening to hit her with a wine bottle. Chelsea told the Daily Mail that she secretly married boyfriend Nick Alliegro in 2015 after discovering she was pregnant. When the couple suffered a miscarriage, Alliegro claimed Rosie "never seemed to care or even asked any questions, like it didn't matter to her."

In 2017, a 20-year-old Chelsea told the Daily Mail that she was pregnant again. "It's very exciting and I'm looking forward to it. But Rosie will not be in my child's life — and no, I do not feel sad about that to be honest," she said. However, things had changed by September 2018, when O'Donnell opened up to People about the "really public troubled times" she had experienced with her daughter, saying that "she's doing better" and explaining that they were "both communicating with each other." That's perhaps why, when Chelsea welcomed a baby girl into the world that December, "Nana" was there to meet the little one.

Rosie O'Donnell unknowingly had a heart attack

In 2012, Rosie O'Donnell revealed on her blog that she'd suffered from a heart attack the week prior, but didn't realize it until she went to the doctor the next day. The drama, she wrote, began after she had helped an "enormous woman" get out of her car. "A few hours later my body hurt," O'Donnell wrote. "I had an ache in my chest. Both my arms were sore. Everything felt bruised ... I became nauseous. My skin was clammy. I was very very hot. I threw up."

O'Donnell explained she took an aspirin instead of calling 911. "The next day, I went to a cardiologist. The [doctor] did an EKG and sent me to the hospital where a stent was put in," the actress wrote. "My LAD was 99% blocked. They call this type of heart attack the widow maker. I am lucky to be here."

Speaking to People magazine months later, O'Donnell revealed her heart attack made her reflect on her mother's death at a young age: "I thought about what my mother must have felt, because she knew she was dying and leaving five children under 12 ... I was 10 when my mother died and I hardly remember her. I remember thinking, 'This is too soon to be done.'" O'Donnell added that her health scare also forced her to finally start leading a healthier lifestyle, saying, "It took a heart attack for me to learn to take care of myself."

She has experienced depression

Rosie O'Donnell has been open about her battle with depression for many years. "I am one of the haunted," she wrote in her magazine, Rosie, in 2001 (via People).

Six years later, she revealed on The View (via The Associated Press) that she began taking medication to combat her depression following the tragic attack on Columbine High School in 1999. "I couldn't stop crying," O'Donnell said. "I stayed in my room. The lights were off. I couldn't get out of bed, and that's when I started taking medication." The talk show host has also treated her depression with yoga and inversion therapy, but credited the anti-depressants with saving her life.

O'Donnell has continued to allude to her struggles with mental illness in recent years. "I know about mental illness — I have my own," she said during a 2015 stand-up gig while discussing the relationship with her then-estranged daughter, Chelsea (via People). The comedian also wrote on her blog in October 2016 that the presidential campaign had done a number on her state of mind.

Rosie O'Donnell thought she was going to die after a brutal injury

In August 2000, Rosie O'Donnell accidentally sliced a tendon in her hand while removing the price tag from a fishing pole. While discussing the injury on The View (via the New York Post), she revealed that she had to endure multiple operations to repair the damage. During the third one, she got a staph infection, which resulted in a scary situation for the star: O'Donnell was informed that if the doctors couldn't deal with the problem, then they would "have to take it off wherever the infection was" — meaning amputation.

"At this point, I was in pretty bad shape so I was very scared," O'Donnell admitted. "Also my mother died at 30 and I had just turned 39 so in my mind I was a little bit, you know, creating my own [funeral] service." Despite the actress' fear, she was determined to pull through. "I said I don't care what you have to do — I have four kids [and] I don't want to die," she explained. "So do whatever you have to do."

While things ultimately worked out for O'Donnell and she was able to heal and also keep her hand, the celeb went on to emphasize the potential seriousness of the situation, as well as her feelings of good fortune: "I think you can die from a staph infection, but ... I was very lucky. They could have removed the extremity."

She had to hire a bodyguard to protect her family

Rosie O'Donnell isn't known for keeping her strong opinions under wraps — and that includes her thoughts on gun control. In May 1999 — shortly after the tragic Columbine High School shooting — she and actor Tom Selleck got into a heated debate on the issue during his appearance on The Rosie O'Donnell Show. According to NewNowNext, Selleck had previously participated in a promotional campaign for the NRA, and things between the host and her guest quickly went south during the discussion. O'Donnell was accused of ambushing Selleck, and while he held no ill will toward her, she expressed regret over the matter years later.

Still, some people were so enraged over O'Donnell's views that, by the following year, she felt the need to protect her family with an (occasionally) armed guard. According to The Stamford Advocate, the talk show host revealed in a phone interview that "she and her family need protection because of threats made against her, arising from her tough pro-gun control stands." But when the television personality's bodyguard applied for a concealed weapon permit, it sparked a rumor that this would allow the guard to carry a gun while accompanying the star's son, who was four years old at the time, to public school. 

While the latter detail was apparently unfounded, the fact that O'Donnell felt that she needed to protect her family was very real.

Rosie O'Donnell's feud with Barbara Walters hurt her career

Rosie O'Donnell may have joined Barbara Walters and the other ladies on The View from 2006 to 2007, but the two women famously butted heads during their time co-hosting the popular daytime show. According to Ramin Setoodeh's book, Ladies Who Punch: The Explosive Inside Story of The View, O'Donnell apparently "lost it" during an argument with Walters in January 2007, when the former felt like her co-host wasn't supporting her amid her feud with Donald Trump.

"I definitely yelled," O'Donnell reportedly admitted. "I said how disappointed I was and how shocked and hurt I was that she wouldn't stand up for me. I felt very betrayed about her going behind my back and speaking to Donald Trump in Trumpian language. I said something about her daughter, which I should not have said. But I did." Things were so bad between O'Donnell and Walters, as well as the show's former executive producer Bill Geddie, that Walters allegedly refused to return to her hosting duties if O'Donnell was allowed to continue on with the show. "If you re-sign Rosie to this show, Bill and I are going to quit," Walters reportedly told ABC Daytime President Brian Frons later that year.

While that may sound harsh, Setoodeh explained that the behind-the-scenes move was "an act of self-preservation" and, in the end, O'Donnell was let go. Although she was given another brief shot at co-hosting The View in 2014, she only lasted until 2015.

The timing of The Rosie Show's cancellation

Rosie O'Donnell was given the chance to host an evening television talk show on Oprah Winfrey's OWN network in 2011, aptly named The Rosie Show. However, it only lasted for five months before being canceled. To make the situation even sadder, they wrapped up filming the day before the talk show host's 50th birthday. 

"I loved working with Oprah in the amazing city of Chicago," O'Donnell said in a statement to Deadline. "I was welcomed with open arms and will never forget the kindness of all I encountered. It was a great year for me — I wish the show was able to attract more viewers, but it did not." Winfrey also commented on the cancellation, stating, "I thank Rosie from the bottom of my heart for joining me on this journey. She has been an incredible partner, working to deliver the best possible show every single day." She continued, "I'm grateful to Rosie and the dedicated Rosie Show team for giving it their all." 

In this case, "their all" unfortunately just wasn't enough, but O'Donnell went into her 50th year with optimism: "So I am headed back to my home in New York — with gratitude. On we go!"