“Who would play you in the movie of your life?”
We often consider who would play us if our lives were ever turned into movies, our decisions may be based on an actor with the closest physical similarities or maybe you are just fully aware that Meryl Streep would be fantastic playing just about anyone. But if you are already an actor, and a film is being made about your real life– your real tragedy-and-heartbreak-included life, then would you play yourself? Or do established actors also have someone in mind to portray them when they ponder the same question?
Actors onscreen can portray anything from happy to heartbroken, and their outside lives can oftentimes reflect the same. With pressures of image and the media constantly on their minds, some revel in the spotlight while others stay away from it. But there are some whose tragic stories cannot be left untold. From murders to drug overdoses, to cults and accidents, here are 15 stories from the tragic lives of some of Hollywood’s infamous. These tales are not only haunting, but would also make fitting blockbuster hits.
Some of these stories are genuinely shocking, so brace yourselves for these dramatic tales!
15 River Phoenix
Actor River Phoenix is probably best known for his outstanding roles in both Stand By Me and My Private Idaho. River and his siblings were raised by ‘hippie-ish’ parents who moved the whole family to Venezuela to join the ever-controversial ‘Children of God’ cult. River and his siblings have rarely been quoted talking about the events that went on within the cult, but there are rumours that River lost his virginity as early as age four (there's another term for that, but let's move on).
Late in the 1970s, the Phoenixes moved back to America to live with their maternal grandparents. It is there that a top kids agent spotted River, his now-famed brother Joaquin, and their sisters, Summer and Rain, singing on the streets for change. From there, they were cast in many commercials before transitioning into film. At the peak of his fame, River, Joaquin, Rain, and River’s girlfriend, Samantha Mathis, were partying at The Viper Room in Los Angeles when River began to convulse and vomit. Upon reaching the outside of the club, River collapsed and began to seize. Joaquin was the one who called 911, and the recorded audio is simply haunting to listen to. Despite the call, it was too late. River Phoenix died on October 31, 1993. But one thing is for certain, from start to finish, Phoenix’s life is iconic and deserves a film in remembrance.
14 Charlize Theron
In Theron’s most iconic role as Aileen Wuornos, she plays a man-killing sociopath, which is something that she can too closely relate to. Theron grew up in South Africa, eventually garnering a modeling contract that would jumpstart her acting career and storied works. But her young teens is forever stained by her father, Charles. Charles was a violent alcoholic, and would often threaten both Charlize and her mother, Gerda. On the night of July 21, 1991, Charles began to threaten Charlize and Gerda with a gun in a drunken haze. The situation escalated to a point so desperate that Gerda eventually fatally shot Charles. The shooting was ruled self defense and Gerda was never charged. Charlize appears to have a wonderful relationship with her mother, giving this tale a rare happy ending.
13 Woody Harrelson-Harrelson
Woody is known for playing hard knock characters like his iconic roles in Zombieland, The Hunger Games, and Natural Born Killers. However, his father actually was a natural born killer. Charles Harrelson was a hitman. Woody Harrelson hadn’t seen his father since he was a young boy before he heard of his father’s arrest for killing a Federal Judge. Charles Harrelson was eventually convicted and sent to a maximum security prison where he would spend the rest of his days. Thankfully his son would go on to become one of the world’s most recognizable and wonderful actors despite this dire situation.
12 Kelsey Grammer
For years Kelsey Grammer was best known as the melodic and smooth-voiced, but quick-witted, Dr. Frasier Crane on the NBC sitcoms Frasier and Cheers. But for playing an upbeat character, Grammer has led a less than positive life. Grammer has been known for long time substance and alcohol abuse, even leading to arrests and DUIs. But most tragically, Kelsey’s younger sister, Karen, was killed by American spree killer Freddie Glenn and his accomplice Michael Corbett. Kelsey has said it has affected him immensely, and his daughter, Spencer Karen Grammer is partially named for his sister.
11 Judith Eva Barsi
This young actress met her untimely and tragic death before the world truly got to know her name. Barsi is most fondly remembered for voicing Ducky in the beloved, The Land Before Time. Her childhood was not storybook. Her parents began grooming her to be an actress at the young age of 5, and even gave her hormone injections to cause her to grow faster. Her father, Jozsef, was a vicious alcoholic who physically and verbally abused Judith and her mother. At one point, Judith actually began crying in the middle of an audition, so distraught by the trauma. On the evening of July 25, 1988, Judith’s father shot her in the head while she slept, before murdering her mother as well. For the next two days, he wandered around their house before finally pouring gasoline on the bodies and setting them aflame. Afterwards, he went into the garage and shot himself in the head.
10 Heath Ledger
Heath Ledger was born in Perth, Australia and grew up exhibiting the same lovable aloofness that was portrayed in such films like 10 Things I Hate About You and A Knight’s Tale. He was first spotted by casting agents when he was at school, giving electric performances in numerous Shakespeare pieces. Eventually, he moved to Los Angeles and began blossoming as a film star. However, this took its toll like it had on many actors before him. He was unable to relax in L.A., his movies taking up his time, but what was worse was that the paparazzi were so incorrigible in Australia that Heath often was scared to leave his own home whenever he vacationed there. He began taking medication for insomnia, back pain, and stress. However, around this time he also accepted the role of the Joker in the newest Batman franchise. Ledger, who was known for throwing himself into roles, outdid himself with this one, even going so far as to create an in-depth journal with terrifying scratched out pictures and the words “Bye Bye” scrawled on the final page. On January 22, 2008, Heath accidentally took a lethal amount of his own prescription medication, resulting in his death at only 28. Later that same year he would posthumously take home the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for the role that many attribute to costing his life— the Joker.
9 Dylan McDermott
McDermott is probably best known for his roles in The Practice, as well as the FX hit American Horror Story. But in real life, McDermott lived a horror story of his own. His mother was shot in cold blood when he was only five years old. His mother’s gangster/heroin addict boyfriend was the main suspect, but for four decades the shooting was ruled as ‘accidental’. However, in 2011, McDermott demanded that the case be reopened, as the original evidence had disappeared. Despite the fact that his mother’s boyfriend had been found dead in 1972, McDermott was determined to have the case solved. It was eventually found out that said boyfriend had been a police informant and the true murder had been covered up for forty years. It has recently been ruled a murder, as opposed to the suicide brand the case had been given for so long.
8 Keanu Reeves
Keanu Reeves graced the screens playing everything from ‘lovable’, such as his character of Ted in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, to ‘in-depth’, as Neo in The Matrix, to incredibly ‘disappointing’ and ‘embarrassing’, as Johnny Utah in Point Break. But Keanu’s life has spanned every dismal corner of the book, beginning with his father leaving his family at age 3. Keanu struggled in school, his severe dyslexia causing him to change high schools four times. Ironically, Reeves' good friend River Phoenix’s death was said to have impacted him immensely. In 1998, Reeves met Jennifer Syme and began a beautiful relationship. In 1999, it was announced that Syme was carrying their child. Sadly, the child was a still-born. Devastated, Syme and Reeves ended their relationship. Tragically, 18 months later Syme died in a violent car accident. Despite all this, Keanu is reported to be one of the nicest guys in Hollywood.
7 Liam Neeson
Liam Neeson was born in Northern Ireland and started his childhood out with a bang, becoming a junior boxing champion. After being offered a part in a school play at age 11, Neeson had found his calling. His name and face became recognizable after taking roles in timeless films like Love Actually and Taken. But it was always clear in interviews and press, Neeson’s true love in this world would be his sons and wife, actress Natasha Richardson.
Sadly, Richardson fell whilst skiing in Quebec, and at first appeared to be fine. As the hours passed, it was clear this was not the case. Neeson rushed to be at her side, the doctor telling him Natasha was completely brain-dead. Richardson died with her husband at her side. Neeson’s torture continued after doctors came out afterwards saying her brain injury could have been treated, and her life could have been saved. Neeson has largely been a recluse ever since only really emerging to work.
6 Rose McGowan
Much like River Phoenix, Rose McGowan and her family were also members of the controversial ‘Children of God’ cult. She believed that the cult was very idyllic in ways, promoting love… but definitely to a fault. She and her family did not believe in the child-adult sexual relations that the cult pushed, and McGowan has stated that she, in particular, hated the idea that women had to be subservient to men. When they finally retreated to America, she remembers the process of assimilation to be a strange one. But she did eventually make good for herself, going on to star in one of the most popular TV Shows in the early 2000s, Charmed.
5 Natalie Wood
Natalie Wood is probably best known for her iconic role as Maria in the famed musical West Side Story. However, she had been acting for many years before her arguably most famous role. She began at the age of four and slowly grew into a beautiful and well-practiced star. Wood seemed to have the perfect Hollywood starlet life. Tragically, on November 29, 1981, Wood’s body was found one mile from the boat she had attended a gathering on the night before. A dark mystery remains— Wood was known to have a fear of water, and she was never seen entering the ocean the night of November 28.
4 Steve Irwin
Steve Irwin charmed audiences with his inviting smile and knowledge of all things wild. He was like the Australian wildlife father figure. He grew up with two wildlife conservationist parents, who gave him his first scrub python… at age six. His infamous show, The Crocodile Hunter, debuted in 1996 and made him the father of nature related reality television. He went on to produce and star in many nature documentary pieces, showcasing everything from deadly snakes to monkeys. But what he loved most would ultimately bring Irwin to his untimely end. On September 4, 2006, Irwin was snorkelling while filming a documentary series called Ocean’s Deadliest. Suddenly, a stingray with a wingspan of 6.5ft began wildly flailing, stabbing Irwin in the chest. While it was first believed he only had a punctured lung, the stingray’s barb actually pierced Steve Irwin’s heart, fatally wounding him.
3 Jennifer Hudson
Hudson rose to fame on American Idol with her gangbuster vocals and relatable charm. After disappearing for a while after her far-too-early departure on the show, Jennifer Hudson burst onto the film scene with an unforgettable, Oscar-winning performance in Dreamgirls. But Hudson’s life has not always been glitz and glam. She’s been very public about her struggles with weight and the media’s effect on her. However, the most heartbreaking news in Hudson’s past begins on a night in October 2008, when her mother and brother were found slain in an apartment in Chicago. Hudson’s nephew was missing originally, and hours later a body found on Chicago’s West Side was identified as his… the cause of death multiple gunshot wounds. Hudson’s brother-in-law, William Balfour, was later charged and convicted of this horrific crime.
2 Grace Kelly
Grace Kelly is wonderfully known as a beautiful actress, as well as a princess. Beginning her career at 20, she rose to fame in films such as Dial M for Murder and Rear Window. She eventually won an Academy Award for Best Actress in 1954 for her performance in The Country Girl. During the Cannes Film Festival, she met Prince Rainier III of Monaco, with whom she began a secret correspondence. She eventually ended up marrying Rainier, to the sweet tune of a $2 million dowry. Her reign was somewhat warmly received, but she was never really accepted as a true royal.
On September 13, 1982, Grace and her daughter, Stephanie, were driving their way to Monaco when Kelly suffered a stroke. She proceeded to drive her car right off a 120ft cliff, despite Stephanie’s best efforts to regain control of the car. The following night she died after being taken off life support for numerous threatening injuries. There is some controversy, however, surrounding the death of Princess Grace, some saying the monarchy was never a fan from the beginning.
1 Philip Seymour Hoffman
Starting at his high school theatre in New York state, Hoffman made waves in the acting world from a young age. Taking roles that were risky and almost abrasive, Hoffman made a name for himself as a character actor in both theatre and film. An intellectual man, he struggled with the inner demons and the parts that demanded so much of him. He dealt with addiction and reclusive ways during numerous points throughout his storied career, but finally shocked the world when he was found dead on February 2, 2014, of a drug overdose. In his apartment was found heroin, prescription drugs, and a syringe left in his arm.
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