Recently, Kathy Ireland, former supermodel and entrepreneur mogul extraordinaire, spoke publicly of the sexual abuse she and others suffered as young models at the hands of “unscrupulous child molesters” in the high fashion industry. She spoke candidly of a photographer she “decked” because he was trying to force her to pose for him topless. Not long before Ireland’s revelations, Pamela Anderson gave a speech at the Cannes Film Festival setting out the sexual abuse she suffered as a child.
These revelations are reminders that celebrities don’t have it all. We sometimes assume that the lives of famous people are happy, secure places, but that’s certainly not always the case. Abuse has in fact been a tragic part of some high-profile celebrities’ lives. Sometimes there is a history of abuse by parents, or friends or even spouses. It may have come when they were children or in adulthood, but the results are typically the same. They feel guilt and feelings of worthlessness and sometimes try to escape using drugs, sex or alcohol. The ability of someone who has been abused to form healthy adult relationships can be impaired. It’s an unhappy phenomenon that dates back as far as the notion of celebrity itself; Marilyn Monroe suffered abuse at the hands of some of her many foster parents and was later sexually abused on the proverbial casting couch by studio moguls, while bombshell 40s actress Rita Hayworth admitted her father sexually abused her.
Whether at the hands of a boyfriend, parent, family friend or husband, some form of abuse has scarred the lives of these 10 celebrities. All have opened up in hopes that bringing their demons out in the open will help to encourage other victims to speak out.
Rihanna told Diane Sawyer that she vowed she would never date anyone like her dad, who had repeatedly assaulted and abused her mother. But on one fateful night in 2009, sitting in a Lamborghini, she and Chris Brown got into a terrible fight. He received a text from a girl he used to date, which Rihanna claimed he lied about. She cornered him, caught him in the lie and the words escalated into violence and Brown hit and even bit her repeatedly. The singer said that she did not even recognize him and that it was as if he had nothing to lose. Pictures of her battered and bruised body were leaked by the L.A. Police Department. She reunited with him, briefly, but ultimately knew it had to end. For both their sakes.
9. Charlize Theron
Charlize was born into a South African farming community. Her father, Charles, was an alcoholic who was violent and abusive to both Charlize and her mother. One day, the young Charlize heard her father shouting and swearing at her mother. Then there were gunshots and Charles lay dead, shot by her mother Gerda. Gerda claimed self defense, that Charles had threatened to kill both her and Charlize with a shotgun. Charlize found her shaking and in tears in the bedroom she had shared with Charles. No charges were ever filed against Gerda, although Charles’ family dispute her claims that Charles was drunk and abusive at the time she shot him. It is perhaps ironic that Charlize is in a relationship with Sean Penn, the man accused of beating Madonna.
8. Christina Aguilera
Aguilera’s father Fausto was a violent military man who beat her. She has said, “Growing up, I did not feel safe. Feeling powerless is the worst feeling in the world.” Her salvation? Singing. “I turned to singing as an outlet. The pain at home is where my love for music came from.” Her mother Shelly tells of finding Christina, aged 4, with blood pouring from her face. Her father had wanted to take a nap and the young girl was making too much noise. Shelly eventually left her violent and abusive husband. Although her father begged for forgiveness, Christina decided she wanted nothing to do with him, that he was not necessary for her life.
In 1986, Madonna and husband Sean Penn were partying at Pyramid, a New York night club. The marriage was tempestuous, and the two reportedly fought pretty much nonstop. Penn’s drinking did not help, nor did the arsenal of guns that he insisted on keeping. But that night, things escalated and Penn violently shoved Madonna up against a wall and then continued the fight out on the streets. They fought because she resented his violence and his guns. Allegedly, he was jealous and possessive, to the point where a gun toting Penn stalked one of Madonna’s former lovers. He reportedly tacked up photos of her former lovers, including John F. Kennedy Jr., and used them for target practice- then, one Christmas day, at their Malibu Beach house, a drunk and jealous Penn beat Madonna and bound and tied her to a chair. Shaken, she filed for a divorce a week later.
6. Tyler Perry
Tyler Perry is worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Famous for his fierce portrayal of Medea, the singer, actor, director grew up with violence and abuse. As a young boy growing up in Louisiana, he was violently beaten by his father and sexually abused by adults from the tender age of 5. Opening up to Oprah, he describes his early years as a “living hell”. Once his father beat him with a vacuum cord, leaving exposed bone. A male neighbor, a male nurse and a friend from church molested him. He was raped by a friend’s mother when he was 10 years old. It was so unbearable that he attempted suicide, slitting his wrists. He told Oprah that the physical and sexual abuse has scarred his life and impacted his relationships with women.
5. Queen Latifah
The talented actress, singer and former rapper was born in New Jersey to a school teacher mom and a policeman dad. She found the name “Latifah” (meaning “very kind”) in a book of Arabic names and adopted it. After the death of her beloved brother when she was 22, she came clean about the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of a male babysitter. Until then, she had kept the terrible secret. “He violated me. I never told anybody,” she has said. The abuse and the death of her brother took their toll and for years she had trouble forming relationships and for a time abused both drugs and alcohol in an attempt to escape from reality.
4. Christina Applegate
The Married with Children star talks movingly about an abusive boyfriend. At first she thought him “dynamic, sexy and wonderful”. But that changed, and “for three years, I lived in fear for my life from the time that I woke up to the time I went to sleep.” He would beat her in ways that left no signs of the abuse. He “brainwashed” her and she felt powerless. So depressed, she mutilated herself. Finally, after three years, she left, but the experience has scarred her life.
3. Mary J. Blige
“That thing followed me all my life . . . The shame of thinking my molestation was my fault – it led me to believe I wasn’t worth anything.“ The abuser was a family friend. She was only 5 years old when it happened. As a young adult Mary J. Blige turned to sex, alcohol and drugs, anything to make her feel better, to help her forget. She credits her husband Kendu and her mentor Diddy with helping to sober her up and getting her career on track. It was love and willpower that did the trick.
2. Pam Anderson
Pam Anderson’s May 2014 revelation in a speech at the Cannes Film Festival sent shock waves all the way back to Canada, where she was brought up. “Despite loving parents, I was molested from age 6 to 10 by a female baby sitter,” she said in the speech. When she was 12, a 25 year old man sexually assaulted her and in high school she was sexually attacked by a gang, comprised of a boyfriend and his six friends. The actress has announced the formation of the Pamela Anderson Foundation to help victims of abuse. Her mother was stunned, but has confirmed that Pam is considering criminal prosecution of her abusers, thirty years after the event.
1. Oprah Winfrey
In an edition of her famous talk show in 1986, Oprah famously admitted that she was sexually abused by a family friend when she was only 9 years old. She ran away from home when she was 13 and became pregnant and bore a son when she was only 14. He died two weeks later. Her shocking revelations began a three decade long crusade to help the victims of abuse. Many abused celebrities, including Tyler Perry, have disclosed their own abuse on Oprah’s show.