To the ordinary person, celebrities seem to have the ultimate charmed life: they’re rich, they make their living by doing what seems like a relatively easy job which they love, they’re surrounded by beautiful people, and they essentially have the whole world in the palm of their hand. However, fame is fickle; the pressure of staying golden in the judging eyes of the world must be great, and it is a fear that all celebrities deal with on a daily basis. This alone would be enough to put significant strain on a person’s mental health, and that’s not even considering potentially traumatic childhoods or difficult experiences outside of the Hollywood game.
It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that so many celebrities turn to drinking and drugs to escape the pressure for a while, particularly as young adults. Many celebrities who succumb to these temptations never really recover, and nor do their careers. However, a select few manage heroically to push through their difficulties, and go on to establish themselves in adulthood as well-respected and much-loved stars. This list compiles five cases of celebrities who overcame adversity and their turbulent pasts and became some of the biggest stars around.
5. Angelina Jolie
World-renowned actress, activist, and one-half of the power couple that is Brangelina, Angelina Jolie is at number five. A regular feature in articles on The Richest, Jolie’s personal history is a self-admitted “dark and dangerous” one. Now a noted philanthropist, with causes such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and her own effort the Jolie-Pitt Foundation under her belt, Jolie once struggled to see the light in any part of the world’s difficulties, particularly her own. She had a rocky start to life, her mother and father having split up by the time she was two years old, and she grew up with her mother and her brother in a relatively poor environment. By the time she was eleven she had enrolled in drama lessons, but struggled at school, frequently being bullied for her glasses, braces and weight. This sparked long-term difficulties with her self-esteem, and at the age of fourteen she dropped out of high school.
She moved in with her boyfriend of the time, and embarked on a seriously destructive relationship, struggling with self-harm both in and out of the relationship. She has gone through several divorces and had difficulties with drug abuse, as has been recently brought to light again in the form of a video shot in 1999 allegedly filmed by her drug dealer of the time, in which she appears emaciated and exhausted. However, with her first Hollywood blockbuster role as Lara Croft in Tomb Raider, the actress’s life began to turn around, and only improved after meeting and beginning a relationship with Brad Pitt. Jolie has come through her disturbed and dangerous early days, and gone on to be one of the best-known darlings of Hollywood today.
4. Drew Barrymore
The star of E.T., and more rom-coms co-starring Adam Sandler than seems fathomable, is at number four. Drew Barrymore and her notorious childhood and adolescence demand a place on this list. Barrymore’s struggle with drinking and drugs began at an astonishingly early age, following her success as Gertie in E.T. Thereafter she was incredibly in demand for similar roles in other films; she was Hollywood’s cutest commodity, and was billed “the modern day Shirley Temple”. Perhaps it shouldn’t be shocking that she buckled under the pressure of having to behave as an adult woman while still maintaining the adorable little girl aesthetic, turning to substance abuse as a means of escape. Barrymore’s first vice was smoking, which she took up at the age of nine and a half. This led to her thinking that if she could smoke, she could drink, and she accordingly became a heavy drinker from the age of ten, often (bizarrely) spending nights club-hopping with friends. Again, this led to her trying pot as the next logical move, which the adults around her allowed it because they deemed it cute that a little girl should want to get high. Sadly, Barrymore admits in an interview that “eventually that got boring, and my addict mind told me, “Well, if smoking pot is cute, it’ll also be cute to get the heavier stuff like cocaine.”
After a complete meltdown while drunk in front of her mother, Barrymore was forced into hospital, and stayed there attending therapy for twelve days before leaving in order to film Far From Home. Understandably, Barrymore ended up relapsing, but ultimately went back into hospital and addressed her issues. As an adult she has proved a truly successful film star, featuring in films such as The Wedding Singer, Charlie’s Angels and Fifty First Dates, and is currently married to Will Kopelman, with whom she has two children.
3. Oprah Winfrey
Famous chat show host Oprah Winfrey is at number three. Having now made her mark on the world by talking to other celebrities about difficulties they themselves have experienced throughout their lives, Winfrey had her own rocky start. She moved around a lot as a toddler and young child, and while very intelligent did not at first make the most of her education, as her family had very little money. Aged nine, when things were finally settling down in terms of her home life, Winfrey was raped by a cousin who was babysitting her. After this, she struggled to cope and began acting out in order to channel her feelings. She would skip school, stole money from her mother, and frequently ran away. Her mother eventually, in despair, sent her to live with her father in Nashville. Aged fourteen Winfrey discovered she was pregnant, and the day she got up the courage to tell her father went into premature labour, giving birth to a baby boy who died within two weeks. After these harrowing early years, however, Winfrey went on to excel in the field of journalism, and attended university on a scholarship. She has since become one of the most celebrated media hosts the U.S. has ever seen.
2. Demi Moore
At number two is a perhaps lesser-known former off the rails celeb, Demi Moore. She travelled around a lot as a child thanks to her stepfather’s job, having moved house thirty times before she became a teenager. Her stepfather’s relationship with her mother was tumultuous and volatile, and ended with his suicide when Moore was fifteen. By the time Moore took one of the starring roles in eighties’ film St. Elmo’s Fire her life had taken a downwards spiral; she was doing drugs on a regular basis, and almost got fired from the film for turning up to work high. She went into rehab in the 1980s and for a time seemed to stabilise her life, landing starring roles in classic movies such as Ghost. However, her life since her divorce from Ashton Kutcher seems once more to have hit a downward trend, with some speculation suggesting that drugs may have had a part to play in their splitting up.
1. Robert Downey Jr.
Everyone’s favourite reformed celebrity, Robert Downey Jr., is at number one. In the acting game from a very young age, Downey was in the same boat as Moore in terms of being a young, attractive, in demand and drug addicted star in the 1980s. He had been introduced to drugs at the age of eight by his father, and by the time he was in his twenties he was entirely dependent on substance abuse. His character in the 1987 movie Less Than Zero, a rich, drug addicted young man, closely mirrored his actual state at the time of filming. This proved something of a wake up call for Downey, and he entered rehab shortly after filming ended. He has since entirely turned his life around and is now a firm Hollywood favourite, and has starred in numerous family-friendly films such as Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.