When we hear stories about someone successfully overcoming some horrible event from their youth, we feel like they deserve their success all the more. Why do we do this? In a way it’s a bit of pity with a dash of admiration and a maybe a sprinkle of respect. For whatever reason, we often expect actors to have had easy lives filled with love and opportunity, so when we learn otherwise, it changes our feelings instantly. This list might just do that for you and the actors who make up each entry, though that’s not the intention. We just want to tell the stories that you may not have heard before. These are the horror stories that happened to well-known actors in their personal lives, and, whether they like to admit to it or not, these events have surely left an impact on them. After all, how could they not?
Crazy and horrible things happen all around the world, but it always seems so much worse when you know the person who it happened to. Sure, we don’t really know these celebrities, but we like to pretend that we do. But maybe it’s more than just pretending. There is a certain kinship that comes with being a fan. Actors put a lot of work into their craft and the people that love and appreciate their work are connected to them. They may not know us, but we know them.
For most of these stars, these horrific events happened to them before they became an actor, changing who they were before we knew them, while others were changed during the course of their careers. We’re not bothering with rankings or anything like that because of how untasteful that would come across. Here are 15 stars who had horrific things happen to them in real life.
15. Kelly Preston – Shot In The Arm By Sheen
Remember when Charlie Sheen shot his then-fiancé Kelly Preston in the arm? Yep, the year was 1990, Charlie and Kelly were engaged, and Sheen was even kind of normal, not normal enough to avoid controversies like shooting your fiancé in the arm, but normal compared to tiger’s blood and “winning” Charlie Sheen. Well, there’s always been a question about what exactly went on in those moments, until the details came to light in more recent years. Sheen explained that it was all an accident and Preston actually shot herself. Even though Preston half-heartedly confirmed this account, it does seem strange that she let him take the fall for it for over 20 years. The story goes that one morning, Preston was getting ready in the bathroom when a pistol fell out of Charlie’s pants and went off when it hit the ground. Sheen also claims that what hit Preston was toilet shrapnel and not a bullet. It may pale in comparison to many of the events on this list, but that’s a terrible way to wake up.
14. Mariska Hargitay – Mother Killed In Car Crash
Though she was only three-years old at the time, Mariska Hargitay (Olivia Benson on Law & Order SVU) was involved in one of the most famous car accidents in history. It took place on June 29th, 1967, and it claimed the life of her incredibly famous mother, Jayne Mansfield. Hargitay was sleeping in the back with two of her siblings, when the car they were all riding in crashed into the back of a semi truck that was hidden by an anti-mosquito spray fog. The car rode in under the truck and instantly killed the three adults in the front. The children escaped with minor injuries. Hargitay, who tends to shy away from discussing the incident, said, “Losing my mother at such an early age is the scar of my soul… But I feel like it ultimately made me into the person I am today. I understand the journey of life. I had to go through what I did to be here.”
13. Tommy Flanagan – Glasgow Smile
Back in 1995, most people first saw Tommy Flanagan in Braveheart, as Morrison, and many were instantly drawn to his very distinctive facial scars. Most recently, Flanagan has become known for playing Filip “Chibs” Telford on Sons of Anarchy. Though Flanagan doesn’t talk a whole lot about the scars or the incident, we do know that he acquired them outside of a bar in Scotland when he was young. Apparently, he was working as a DJ, when he left the bar at the end of the night. A group of young men tried to mug Flanagan, who tried to fight off his attackers. The men beat him and gave him what is called a “Glasgow Smile,” done by cutting outwards from the corners of your mouth. Flanagan could have had the scars surgically fixed but he left them as a reminder.
12. Gary Busey – Motorcycle Accident
Gary Busey is the butt of a lot of jokes and criticism about being wild and crazy, but he’s actually quite an intelligent man. Many know of his near-fatal motorcycle accident on December 4, 1988, which left him with some permanent brain damage and other psychological issues. On that day in 1988, Busey, who was one of the more vocal anti-helmet enthusiasts, was not wearing a helmet and hit his head on a curb, fracturing his skull and causing severe brain bleeding. Busey was in a coma for 33 days and had post traumatic amnesia, losing six to seven weeks of memory after the accident. Busey is still against wearing helmets. Though he suggests that people under the age of 21 should have to wear them, Busey thinks adults can make up their own mind.
11. Terrence Howard – Christmas Slaying
On December 21, 1971, a young Terrence Howard and his family were in line waiting to see Santa in an Ohio department store, not the real Santa. Howard was only two-years old at the time, and he would witness his father kill another man. The stories differ depending on who’s telling it, but most of the accounts agree that the Howards were accused of cutting in line. After that, some things were said between Howard’s father Tyrone and Jack Fitzpatrick, the victim. The argument became physical and Fitzpatrick began to knee Tyrone Howard in the groin, re-aggravating a previous injury and causing some bleeding down there. Howard then began to stab Fitzpatrick with an unknown object in the neck and thighs. Fitzpatrick was rushed to a nearby hospital where he would die.
10. Oprah Winfrey – Sexually Assaulted
Oprah Winfrey is one of the most recognizable celebrities in the world. She has a big voice and a lot of people listen to her every word. That’s why it was so huge, especially for victims like herself, when the media mogul revealed that she was r*ped by her cousin when she was only 9 years old. Winfrey said that after the attack, “He took me to an ice cream shop — blood still running down my leg — and bought me ice cream.” The sexual assault didn’t stop there for Winfrey. After a story leaked about her past, Winfrey decided it was time to tell her own story: “I was sexually abused, from age 10 to 14, my resulting promiscuity as a teenager, and finally, at 14, my becoming pregnant.” Though she would lose the child a few weeks after it was born, it would help shape the person and the success story that Oprah would become.
9. Dylan McDermott – Heard His Mother Get Murdered
Actor Dylan McDermott (American Horror Story) has a really tragic past involving the murder of his mother, a crime that was only recently solved. In 1967, McDermott’s mother was dating the known gangster John Sponza. On a cold February morning, Sponza told McDermott to go outside and play. A few minutes after leaving the house, McDermott heard shouting and a gunshot. The gunshot victim was his mother. She had been shot in the head and the police ruled it as accidental. Dylan was a key witness of the crime and reported times when Sponza would point guns directly at him as a child. Though McDermott (five at the time) was convinced it was Sponza, he was told there was not enough evidence to convict. It didn’t help that Sponza was himself found dead in 1972. Then in 2011, McDermott asked that the cold case be reopened and properly investigated. It was then that police learned Sponza’s father was a police jailer and Sponza was a police informant. It appeared that the murder had been covered up. Even though he was long dead, Sponza was convicted.
8. Gabrielle Union – Sexually Assaulted At Gunpoint
Best known for her work in Bring it On and Bad Boys II, actress Gabrielle Union has a massive dark mark on her past. One night when she was 19-years old, Union was working at a Payless shoe store, a summer job she had just recently taken on. She was closing up shop when a man burst in carrying a gun. The man took Union into a backroom where he proceeded to r*pe her at gunpoint. It was learned that this man was a former employee of the shoe store and had r*ped another employee at another branch. Union had the man convicted and sentenced to 33 years in prison and she also took Payless to court for negligence, winning that lawsuit as well. Now, Union uses this tragic experience to help others that find themselves in similar situations.
7. Charlize Theron – Mother Shot Her Father
Charlize Theron may be the most beautiful creature to ever bless the face of the earth, but she has had her share of intense difficulties, especially as a young girl growing up in an abusive household. Her father, Charles, whom she is named after, was an alcoholic and would verbally abuse her mother Gerda. Theron’s father came home drunk one night and shot at the locked gate and then through the kitchen door. Theron even remembers him saying, “Tonight I’m going to kill you both with the shotgun,” referring to her and her mother. After that, Gerda took her own gun and shot Theron’s father, killing him. The attorney general ruled that the murder was in self-defence and Gerda was not charged.
6. Pamela Anderson – Sexually Assaulted
Pamela Anderson was one of the biggest sex symbols and one of the most in-demand celebrities on the face of the earth for a long time. When she came out with major revelations about the horrible things that were done to her as a young girl, the world was shocked. “I did not have an easy childhood. Despite loving parents, I was molested from age 6 to 10 by my female babysitter,” Anderson said. “I went to a friend’s boyfriend’s house and when she was busy the boyfriend’s older brother decided he would teach me backgammon which led in to a back massage, which led in to r*pe. My first heterosexual experience. He was 25 years old, I was 12.” Anderson would also say that her first boyfriend was behind further sexual abuse when she was a teenager: “My first boyfriend in grade nine decided it would be funny to gang r*pe me (with six of his friends),” she said. “Needless to say I had a hard time trusting humans — I just wanted off this earth.”
5. Keanu Reeves – Lost Child And Ex-Girlfriend
Back when Keanu Reeves was filming The Matrix trilogy, tragedy hit him pretty hard in a short period of time. It started in January, 2000, when Reeves and his then-girlfriend, Jennifer Syme, lost the child they were expecting at 8 months of pregnancy. Syme and Reeves were destroyed by the news and it hurt their relationship, splitting about a month later. Then, two months after their split (though they remained close friends), Syme was involved in a fatal car crash. It should also be noted that Reeves and River Phoenix were best friends when Phoenix died in 1993.
4. Joaquin Phoenix – Watched His Brother Die
Many people have heard the story of actor River Phoenix’s overdose and death outside of Johnny Depp‘s nightclub The Viper Room, but the details are often forgotten. Perhaps the most harrowing news is that Joaquin Phoenix, River’s younger brother, was there to witness the event. In fact, the night out was to celebrate Joaquin’s 19th birthday and he was the one who called 911. After River complained of not feeling so well, he collapsed in the club and was brought outside where he began to have seizures. Joaquin made the call and reported, “It’s my brother! He’s having seizures at Sunset and Larrabee. Please come here!” While Depp still played on with his band inside, Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea and River’s sister Liberty, attended to the seizing Phoenix as Joaquin was on the phone. River was declared dead at the hospital.
3. Tracy Morgan – Severe Car Accident
On June 7th, 2014, comedian Tracy Morgan was involved in a horrifying car crash that involved six cars and led to the death of Morgan’s friend, James McNair. The accident was the result of a Walmart truck smashing into the back of Morgan’s limousine and setting off a chain reaction crash. Morgan suffered severe injuries, including a broken femur and leg, nose, several ribs and a traumatic brain injury. The accident impaired Morgan’s speech and cognitive abilities. Tracy Morgan had to learn how to walk again and still suffers from debilitating headaches.
2. Fran Drescher – Robbed And Sexually Assaulted
In 1985, the year after she filmed the movie This is Spinal Tap, Fran Drescher was at home with her friend and her then-husband Peter Jacobson, when two armed robbers broke in and tied them up. After they had gone through their belongings and robbed them, the two assailants then r*ped Drescher and her female friend at gunpoint, forcing Jacobson to watch the entire thing after he had been beaten. This event caused Drescher to take a hiatus from film and she wouldn’t speak about the event for a very long time.
1. Kelsey Grammer – Multiple Family Tragedies
Kelsey Grammer has one of the most tragic family histories you could ever hear. It started with his father, Frank, who owned a coffee shop and a grill. One night, when Grammer was 13, an insane man named Arthur B. Niles set fire to Frank’s car randomly. Frank went out to investigate when he was shot and killed by the man. Seven years later, in 1975, Kelsey’s little sister, 18-year old Karen Grammer, was kidnapped by four men after they had tried to rob the Red Lobster she worked at. The men thought she might be able to identify them, so they took her back to their apartment and r*ped her. After that they promised to bring her home. They put a cloth over and left her in a car in a trailer park. However, just before they left, one of the men, Freddie Glenn, stabbed her in the throat. After they left, Karen attempted to ring a nearby doorbell, but she died before she could reach it. Five years after that, Kelsey’s two half-brothers were scuba diving when one failed to resurface. The other brother went down to try and save him, but when he resurfaced incorrectly, he died from a fatal embolism.