10 Celebrities Who Survived Incredibly Tragic Pasts

10 Celebrities Who Survived Incredibly Tragic Pasts

What makes a person more resilient than others is his/her ability to overcome the difficult times and to turn the event into something positive. Those with the ability to recognize that the struggle is a stepping stone towards success are the only ones who are able to bounce back from the bad. They might have fame, money, and all the luxuries available in this world, but just like us, celebrities are also human beings, who go through tragic events in their lives. Through this list, we are highlighting some of your favorite celebrities, who managed to turn their bad luck into motivation and pushed themselves right up to the stars. They not only survived the bad times in their lives, but some are working to ensure that no one else suffers the same fate as their loved ones.




1. Keanu Reeves

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Image: Marybel Le Pape

Keanu Reeves overcame a series of tragic events in his life, before and after becoming a wealthy movie star. Today, he has a net worth of $360 million, but despite his fame and fortune, Keanu Reeves has been secretly donating to cancer foundations and charities for decades. Reeves was born in Beirut, Lebanon to a British mother and a Chinese-Hawaiian father in 1964. When Reeves was five, his father left him and his mother. Keanu and his sister, Kim, are both dyslexic but they still managed to do well in school. River Phoenix was Reeve’s best friend, who sadly passed away in 1993 at a young age of 23.

In 1999, the love of his life, Jennifer Syme, became pregnant with their daughter but she was stillborn; which eventually cost them their relationship. 18 months after they parted ways, Jennifer was involved in a car accident that ultimately claimed her life. Around 1991, Keanu’s sister, Kim Reeves, was diagnosed with leukemia and she battled the disease for nearly a decade. By 1999, she was in remission but by 2015, it was reported that the cancer had returned. Keanu has also been donating to private cancer research as well as children’s hospitals and is known to be a generous donor. (source)

2. Jennifer Hudson

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In 2008, Jennifer Hudson lost her mother, her brother and her nephew in a span of three days. Despite her unfathomable pain, she managed to overcome and turn her life around. “I went from being an aunt, having a mom, and being a child to not having a mom, becoming a mom, and raising my own child. It’s frustrating to me to have somebody who ain’t lost nothing try to talk to me about it,” she said, “I want to say, ‘Don’t even bother, because you know nothing.’ But you never know how much you can get through until you’re going through it”.

Hudson not only learned to forgive, but also created the Julian D. King Gift Foundation in honor of her nephew’s memory. The foundation aims to “provide stability, support and positive experiences for young adults of all backgrounds and to also help them become productive and confident in life. For her incredible work, Hudson was honored at the Do Something Awards in 2013. (source)




3. Jack Nicholson

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He’s known as one of cinema’s truly iconic actors to exemplify the counterculture. Nicholson was born in Neptune, New Jersey, on April 22, 1937, and grew up in Manasquan, New Jersey. Since growing up, Nicholson was told that his parents were John and Ethel May Nicholson and his older sister was June Nicholson. Nicholson grew up believing the story and in 1963, June passed away due to cancer. More than a decade later, a TIME magazine reporter was researching a cover story on Nicholson when he discovered that the iconic actors life has been a lie. The reporter discovered that June was in fact his mother and John and Ethel May were his maternal grandparents.

Despite the truth being brought to light, his grandparents did not offer the truth until their last breath. Nicholson however, at the age of 37, learned the truth from June’s sister, Lorraine. According to the Glasgow Herald, Nicholson’s reaction was as follows: “It was in 1975, soon after June passed away. I was making The Fortune for Mike Nichols and someone called me on the phone and told me. Ultimately I got official verification from June’s sister, Lorraine. I was stunned”. (source)

4. Liam Neeson

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The Irish actor worked as a teacher before finding fame. In 1994, he married the love of his life, Natasha Richardson, and the two were inseparable until a skiing accident claimed her life in 2009. Even though doctors declared that her chances of survival was zero, Liam Neeson kept her on life support long enough for other family members to say their goodbyes. He also allowed the doctors to donate three of her major organs – her heart, her kidneys and her liver – which is helping others live their best lives. In an interview with 60 Minutes, he explained how he struggled for more than fives years after his wife’s loss: “It hits you. It’s like a wave. You just get this profound feeling of instability…the Earth isn’t stable anymore and then it passes and it becomes more infrequent, but I still get it sometimes”. (source)

5. Oprah Winfrey

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Oprah Winfrey is undeniably one of the most successful women in the world today. Her success, fame and a net worth of 2.6 billion did not come free. In fact, her struggles started at an early age. According to HuffPost, when Oprah was 10, several of her family members mistreated her, causing her to become a mother at 14. Although she lost the baby, she kept the painful secret to herself and worked hard to achieve her dreams. Oprah kept the secret well hidden for years until 1990, when one of her relatives shared her story with the press.

“I soon realized that having the secret out was liberating,” she wrote, according to the New York Post. “What I learned for sure was that holding the shame was the greatest burden of all.”

She was an honors student in high school, earned a full scholarship for college, and started her talk show on September 8, 1986. Since then, she has been one of the most admired women that millions look up to. Apart from that, Oprah is also known for her generosity. She is known to be a regular donor for 29 charities as well as 27 causes. (source)




6. Marilyn Monroe

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Image: Wikimedia

Born Norma Jeane Mortenson on June 1, 1926, in Los Angeles, California, Marilyn Monroe is known for her beauty throughout the world. Marilyn did not always have fame and wealth though, and according to her biography, she had a difficult childhood. The identity of her real father is still unknown since her mother Gladys broke up with her husband Martin Mortensen before she became pregnant with Marilyn. Growing up, Marilyn’s mother started showing symptoms of a psychological disorder, eventually being diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. During this time period, Marilyn went through a series of foster homes, spending time with different families.

Finally, at the age of 16, she married James Daugherty, so that she did not have to go through more foster homes and could start a new life for herself. Two years later, she started modeling for a modeling agency called Blue Book in Los Angeles; which eventually made her famous. Despite fame finding her at a young age, Marilyn went through three divorces. Although famous, she suffered from sleep disorders and was once admitted to a psychiatric facility in New York. When she passed away in 1962, it is estimated that she had a net worth of $20 million. (source)

7. Jim Carrey

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Image: Flickr

The Canadian-American actor is well known for his humor and comedic roles, which ultimately made him one of the most well-paid actors in the US. Growing up was not easy for Jim, though. As he was going through his school years, his family struggled financially, especially when his father left his job. When his father started working again at a new factory, the entire family had to work there to keep the family afloat. Jim and his brother and sisters cleaned the floors and bathrooms. At one point in their lives, the family was so desperate that they had to live in a van. Despite all of this, his father supported him and his comedy, often driving him to comedy clubs in Toronto, but the family’s financial trouble limited his chances.

In 1985, Jim finally made a decision that he would pursue his dreams of becoming a successful comedian within the next 10 years. So, he wrote himself a check for $10 million and kept it in his wallet. Coincidence or not, in November 1995, ten years after he wrote himself the check, Carrey found out he was cast in the movie “Dumb and Dumber”, for $10 million. Today, Jim is estimated to be worth $150 million, putting him on the list of the richest comedians in the world. (source)




8. Woody Harrelson

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Harrelson’s big break came in 1985, when he was cast as Woody Boyd on the wildly popular sitcom Cheers. Woody immediately became a sensation among viewers, which earned him five Emmy nominations, including a 1989 Emmy win for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. Today, he is worth an estimated $65 million but Woody was in fact born in a poor family. His mother worked as a secretary, which was the only source of income for the family. When Woody was 3, his parents got divorced and a few years later, his father was sentenced to prison for a heinous crime.

When Woody was 18, his father, Charles, got out of prison, and was sentenced to life in prison once again. Despite the fact that he never had a chance to know his father, Woody visited him while he was in jail. (source)

9. Mariska Hargitay

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Image: Shannon

On June 29 1967, Mariska Hargitay, at the age of 3, was in the back of a car with two of her siblings. The car was driven by their famous mother, Jayne Mansfield, which collided into the back of a semi-trailer. The accident was considered to be one of the most notorious car wrecks in history, which claimed the lives of all three adults sitting in the front. Luckily, Mariska herself and her two siblings escaped with just minor injuries. She explains the pain of losing her beloved mother as, “Losing my mother at such an early age is the scar of my soul…I understand the journey of life. I had to go through what I did to be here”. (source)

10. Charlize Theron

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Image: Gage Skidmore

Before becoming one of the most successful actresses in Hollywood, Charlize Theron dealt with many traumatizing events back at home in South Africa. Her father was an alcoholic, who made life miserable for her and her mother. At the age of 15, Theron’s father pushed her mother to the limits until she decided to defend herself, which eventually resulted in her father losing his life. Despite witnessing the traumatizing event, she worked hard to build an amazing sense of confidence of her own. In an ABC News interview with Diane Sawyer, Theron said she views that experience as a tattoo on her heart. “It’s a part of me, but it doesn’t rule my life,” she said. (source)




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