Aside from the glitz and glam, the money and the worship, being a celebrity has more than its fair share of negatives. We know everything about celebrities, whether they want us to or not. For many of them, nothing is personal, not even their own tragedy and grief. Yet, while many try to maintain their privacy and deal with their personal traumas on their own, as is their right, others choose to speak out, sharing their experiences with the world. While it is easy to villainize the media and suggest it is only through prying and unwilling cooperation that stars share stories of their personal tragedies, many celebs use their elevated status to speak out to others in their positions, shed light on how they dealt with whatever it was they were forced to deal with, or to simply keep their fans informed.
Like a car crash on the highway, humans are interested in trauma and tragedy. We are especially interested in that which involves people we know, even if we only know those people from a distance like celebrities. Knowing someone’s past, informs us about who they are, letting us know them a little more intimately. Some people confuse this as schadenfreude, taking pleasure from another’s pain, but we’ll argue that most people are empathetic toward a celeb’s pain. To us, it makes these people more human. So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at some stars talking about their life’s most difficult moments. Here are 15 celebs who relive the most traumatic events in their lives.
15. Kelsey Grammer
If you’ve not heard Kelsey Grammer‘s story of tragedy, it’s one that might make you think differently of the man. In horrible ways, he lost his father and two brothers, but perhaps most tragically, Grammer’s 18-year-old sister, Karen, was kidnapped and killed by killer Freddie Glenn and two accomplices in 1975. Grammer, who was 20 at the time of Karen’s death, wrote to the parole board in 2009 when Glenn was up for release, “I miss her in my bones… I was her big brother. I was supposed to protect her—I could not…. It very nearly destroyed me.” Then, about a year after that, Glenn was up for parole once again. This time, Grammer spoke to Glenn through video, once again opposing the murderer’s release, “I accept that you actually live with remorse every day of your life, but I live with tragedy every day of mine,” Grammer told him. “I accept your apology. I forgive you. However, I cannot give your release my endorsement. To give that a blessing would be a betrayal of my sister’s life.” Later and without needing to, Grammer explained his reasons for denying Glenn, “I believe the gift of life and freedom he took from my sister precludes him from ever being allowed to enjoy that gift for himself. He took her future from her with no regard for her whatsoever. He assumed he had a right to do so. He assumed she was his property, and that the precious gift God gave her was his to take.”
14. Liam Neeson
In 2009, Liam Neeson lost his wife of 15 years, actress Natasha Richardson, when she hit her head while skiing and suffered brain damage. Neeson refused to speak about the event until about five years after it happened. Neeson dealt with the questions from Anderson Cooper in his interview with grace, but it was clear just how deep his grief ran. He remembered back to the day he saw her in a hospital bed on life support, “I went in to her and told her I loved her. Said, ‘Sweetie, you’re not coming back from this. You’ve banged your head. It’s – I don’t know if you can hear me, but that’s – this is what’s gone down. And we’re bringing you back to New York. All your family and friends will come.” Afterward, Neeson reflected on grief and the how nothing seemed real to him for a while, “It still kind of isn’t,” he said. “There’s periods now in our New York residence when I hear the door opening, especially the first couple of years… anytime I hear that door opening, I still think I’m going to hear her… 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.”
13. Sarah Parish and James Murray
Actors and married couple, Sarah Parish and James Murray went through a hell of time when their daughter was born with a rare genetic condition that left her on the brink of death from the moment she was born. “Those first few weeks you never feel so alone,” Parish says. “I kept saying, ‘This can’t be… this isn’t my life.’” Her husband, James, spoke about the eight months that they spent trying to keep their daughter alive. “We were in a state of shock from the moment she was born to the moment she died,” he said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen from one hour to the next. Every morning we’d go in, and it is exhausting staring at your child who’s very sick… At the end of the day we’d be advised to go but then we’d be halfway home and we’d get a call saying, ‘You’d better come back.’” After eight long months, their child lost its battle and passed away while sleeping.
12. Oprah Winfrey
During an event in Australia called “An Evening with Oprah,” famed talk-show host Oprah Winfrey opened up about her tragic and formative childhood. The TV legend, discussed how she was r*ped and had a child who passed away soon after, all before she was 15-years old. “I was r*ped at 9 years old by a cousin, then again by another family member, and another family member,” she told the audience. “I took to my bed and cried for three days. I felt devastated. Wounded. Betrayed. How could this person do this to me? I imagined that every person on the street was going to point their finger at me and scream, ‘Pregnant at 14, you wicked girl … expelled!’ And I soon realized that having the secret out was liberating. What I learned for sure was that holding the shame was the greatest burden of all.”
11. Julianne Hough
The multi-talented Julianne Hough is a dancer, a singer and an actress, but she is also a survivor of abuse from a young age. When she was only 10 years old, Hough moved from Utah to London to pursue a dancing career. It was there that Hough experienced problems. “While I was in London, I was abused, mentally, physically, everything,” she said. Things got even worse, Hough said, “when I started hitting puberty, when I started becoming a woman and stopped being a little girl… I was told if I ever went back to the United States, three things were going to happen. One: I was going to amount to nothing. Two: I was going to work at Whataburger. And three: I was going to end up a slut. So, it was like, I can’t go back. I have to be this person.”
10. Cheryl Burke
Like Julianne Hough, Cheryl Burke is probably best known for being one of the main dancers from Dancing with the Stars. She’s also been quite vocal about the sexual abuse she suffered as a child and uses her own experiences to try and help others. Her story starts when she was very young, a child in kindergarten. A neighbor of hers offered to babysit her while her mother was out, all the while molesting the young Burke while her mother was away. “He would cuddle me, he would make me watch pornographic videos,” she said. “He was kind of like that fatherly figure – I think he knew my weakness, that I was very insecure. He knew that no one was ever around… He would have me come sit next to him and make him feel comfortable because sometimes he would feel lonely.” She went on to say that she “couldn’t speak up for myself… It was hard for me to say no. In a weird way it was like I didn’t want to hurt him.”
After Mo’Nique blew up into a star actor with her performance in Precious, she opened up about her inspiration for the role of an abusive mother, her very own brother. “I know Mary Jones,” Mo’Nique said. “I know that monster… That character for me, in my life, was my older brother.” Mo’Nique revealed how she was molested multiple times at the age of 7. “I didn’t tell my parents until I was 15-years-old. [Unlike Precious] I had my family, but when you go through that as a child, you really don’t know which way to turn,” she said. When reflecting on how she feels about it at this point in her life, more than 35 years later, Mo’Nique said, “I’m angry. I’m mad. I’m hurt. I’m crying, but doing this movie made me say, ‘You know what? I forgive.’ I forgive and I wish he would get the help that he needs, so no one else will go through it… Understanding Mary Jones in her sickness really made me understand my brother in his sickness. Not all molesters are bad people. We want to make them these monsters. It’s a sickness and if we address it as a sickness and try to get help, so many of us wouldn’t have a story to tell.”
8. Debbie Morgan
Actress Debbie Morgan is best known for her roles on All My Children and Eve’s Bayou, but she gained some attention for her terrible stories of a childhood filled with domestic violence. She recalls one night in particular, saying, “My father came home that night, he gave the door one kick, the whole thing just came apart.” She explained how her father had dislodged a pole and used it to choke her mother. “I can remember so vivid,” she said. “My mother, it was like she was trying to scream but it was like she could hardly get anything out. And he had the pole up against her neck and was choking her. You know, as a little girl, to see that was just so terrifying.”
7. Gabriel Byrne
Actor Gabriel Byrne has had plenty of personal struggles in his adult life, but he believes that much of it likely stems from the abuse he received at the hands of priests in the seminary he attended as a boy. “Unfortunately, I experienced some sexual abuse,” he said. “It was a known and admitted fact of life amongst us that there was this particular man, and you didn’t want to be left in the dressing room with him… It took many years to come to terms with it and to forgive those incidents that I felt had deeply hurt me.” Later in life, Byrne struggled with alcoholism and depression, which he attributes to the injuries he received as a boy.
6. Charlize Theron
Charlize Theron may look like the planet’s most perfect human being, but her childhood was anything but. Though she doesn’t talk about it often, Theron has discussed the horrific tragedy that she witnessed as a young girl in South Africa. Theron spoke about how when she was 15, her father and brother came home drunk and angry one night. “My dad was a big guy, tall, skinny legs, big belly,” she said. “[He] could be very serious but loved to laugh as well, and enjoyed life. He also had a disease. He was an alcoholic.” That night, he began by shooting through the locked gate in the front of their home and then through the kitchen door. After that, Theron recalls him banging on her bedroom door, yelling, “Tonight I’m going to kill you both with the shotgun,” speaking about Charlize and her mother. With that, Theron’s mother grabbed a handgun and went out to meet the father and brother. When she returned, Theron asked, “What happened?” To which her mother said, “Charlize, I shot them … I shot them.” Theron’s father was killed in the altercation and her brother was wounded.
5. Amber Tamblyn
In the aftermath of Donald Trump‘s controversial comments about grabbing a woman in her private area, actress Amber Tamblyn revealed a personal story and trauma that she experienced. “A very long time ago I ended a long emotionally and physically abusive relationship with a man I had been with for some time,” she said. “One night I was at a show with a couple girlfriends in Hollywood, listening to a DJ we all loved. I knew there was a chance my ex could show up, but I felt protected with my girls around me. Without going into all of the details, I will tell you that my ex did show up, and came up to me in the crowd. He’s a big guy, taller than me. The minute he saw me, he picked me up with one hand by my hair and with his other hand, he grabbed me under my skirt by my vagina— my p**sy?— and lifted me up off the floor, literally, and carried me, like something he owned, like a piece of trash, out of the club. His fingers were practically inside of me, his other hand wrapped tightly around my hair. I screamed and kicked and cried. He carried me this way, suspended by his hands, all the way across the room, pushing past people until he got to the front door.”
4. Ashley Judd
Actress Ashley Judd grew up in a world of fame with her mother and half sister being the country music legends, Naomi and Wynonna Judd, but it was also a very dysfunctional world, one full of sex and violence. Judd recalls being exposed to sex and put in extremely inappropriate situations from a very young age. She also says that she is a three-time r*pe survivor, as well as a victim of numerous other abuses. “An old man everyone knew beckoned me into a dark, empty corner of the business and offered me a quarter for the pinball machine at the pizza place if I’d sit on his lap,” Judd wrote in her personal memoir. “He opened his arms, I climbed up, and I was shocked when he suddenly cinched his arms around me, squeezing me and smothering my mouth with his, jabbing his tongue deep into my mouth.” In another account, Judd tells of when “An adult male model who lived above me … attempted to force me to perform oral sex on him, and I was able to persuade him to stop…”
3. Keanu Reeves
Between 1999 and 2001, Keanu Reeves suffered through multiple losses after his girlfriend, Jennifer Syme, gave birth to a stillborn baby and then Syme was later killed not long after in a car accident. Though they had been separated at the time, Reeves was deeply affected by these losses occurring in such a short period of time. Since then, he’s spoken about his feelings. “Grief changes shape, but it never ends,” he said. “People have a misconception that you can deal with it and say, ‘It’s gone, and I’m better’. They’re wrong. When the people you love are gone, you’re alone. I miss being a part of their lives and them being part of mine. I wonder what the present would be like if they were here – what we might have done together. I miss all the great things that will never be.”
2. Patrick Stewart
For many film and television fans, Patrick Stewart is the model of a gentleman, some leftover from an age of manners and aristocracy, but his own personal history is much more damaged than one might suppose. Stewart has spoken at length about his childhood, specifically about the domestic abuse his family was enveloped with. “As a child, I witnessed his repeated violence against my mother,” he said, speaking of his father. “The terror and misery he caused was such that, if I felt I could have succeeded, I would have killed him. If my mother had attempted it, I would have held him down. For those who struggle to comprehend these feelings in a child, imagine living in an environment of emotional unpredictability, danger and humiliation week after week, year after year, from the age of seven. My childish instinct was to protect my mother, but the man hurting her was my father, whom I respected, admired and feared.”
1. Travis Barker
The famed drummer and member of blink-182, Travis Barker, made headlines around the world for all the worst reasons in 2008, when the plane he was in crashed before takeoff and caught fire. Barker and DJ AM were the only two to survive the crash that killed four others, including the pilots and Barkers friends and assistants. “I opened a door, and my hands caught ﬁre,” Barker remembered. “I ran to get out of the plane, but I fell through a wing. I immediately soaked up with jet fuel and caught ﬁre. And then I was on ﬁre, running like hell. I was running for my family: I didn’t care about anything except being with my dad, my sister, Shanna, my three kids. I’m completely naked, holding my genitals – everything else is on ﬁre — and I’m running, trying to put myself out.” After being 65% burned, more than 11 weeks in hospitals and 16 surgeries, Barker returned to his music.