The hardest thing about being a celebrity is being constantly scrutinized in the public eye. Grief is such an exhausting and difficult emotion that most of us can work through without many people knowing about it. For celebrities, the opposite is true. If something tragic befalls a famous person, headlines scream it out for all to see. There are many celebrities who have overcome immense tragedy in their lives and you might not even know about it. However, most celebrity tragedies have been publicized and you can learn more about them.
We wanted to round up a list of some of the most terrible tragedies that celebrities have weathered. So many famous people who we associate with being healthy and happy have been through some seriously dark days. We found dozens of celebs who have overcome intense suffering for you to see just how bad things can get.
It’s apparent through her soulful voice that Jennifer Hudson understands how to channel her emotions into a song. She likely relies on her lived experiences to help inform how she emotes for each song. She is one of the celebrities who has lived through some extremely serious tragedy.
She lost three of her family members in the same day in 2008. Her mother, brother, and seven-year-old nephew were all shot and killed. She spoke openly about the effect the murders had on her, saying that finding out she was pregnant shortly after the slayings kept her from committing suicide. But, it gets worse. It turned out the murderer was Hudson’ brother-in-law. He is currently serving three life sentences but Hudson eventually found it in her heart to forgive him.
It turns out Nicole Kidman is not a fan of cults. She married Scientologist Tom Cruise when she was in her early twenties and claims that she was “naive” at the time. The leaders of the Church of Scientology had their claws in Cruise at the time of his marriage to Kidman. The church felt that Kidman was pulling him too far from the fold and so they hired a PI to spy on Kidman.
The couple split in 2001 and a former high-ranking official of the church claimed that it was the church’s fault that they divorced. Many celebrities get divorces but what makes this one truly tragic is that the couple’s two children decided to stay with Cruise and become Scientologists. This left Kidman estranged from her kids against her own will and Cruise did everything he could to keep her children from Kidman.
Following her split from Cruise, Kidman has been an outspoken advocate who speaks against domestic violence and general violence against women.
Legendary singer-songwriter Roy Orbison sure knew how to craft a ballad. Many of his songs were vulnerable snapshots of the performer’s own tragic life. His first wife, Claudette, died in a 1966 motorcycle accident. Orbison had drawn so much inspiration from her that he was unable to write any music for years after her passing. Just two years later, the singer learned that his house had burned down with three of his children inside. Only one child was saved from the blaze.
A few years after the loss of his children, Orbison’s brother died in a car wreck on Thanksgiving. Then, Orbison had to undergo triple coronary bypass surgery. In 1988, it would be his heart that failed him when he died.
Rita Hayworth is an iconic actress and dancer who starred in dozens of films through the 1930s and 1950s. She confided in Orson Welles that her father sexually abused her throughout her life but especially when the pair were touring together as a dancing duo called the Dancing Cansinos. It was later revealed that her mother knew about the abuse and would sleep in Hayworth’s bed with her as a child to deter her father from preying on her daughter.
In 1937, when Hayworth was 18, she married Edward C. Judson, an oil tycoon turned promoter who was more than twice her age. He was extremely controlling and allegedly abusive with Hayworth, often threatening bodily harm. After her divorce from Judson, she was left with nothing. A few decades later she was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, which contributed to her death in 1987.
In the 1990s it seemed like country sensation Shania Twain was untouchable. It turns out she had survived an appalling childhood. Her father abused her, her mother, and her five brothers and sisters. They grew up in poverty with little to eat. Twain said her mother was too afraid of her father to spend money on groceries. She said she has a vivid memory of her father pushing her mother’s head into the toilet, fearing that she would drown.
She was just 12 when both of her parents died and she was left to raise her siblings all on their own. They lived in the woods and washed their clothes in a nearby lake. Finding food was a constant struggle for the children.
Eventually, Twain made it big thanks to her immense musical talents but even after all of that success, tragedy still followed her. She discovered her husband was having multiple affairs including one with her best friend and personal assistant. This caused her to develop dysphonia, a physical and physiological ailment that affects her singing
Keanu Reeves lost his best friend and co-star from My Own Private Idaho, River Pheonix to a drug overdose in 1993. Pheonix was just 23. A few years later, Reeves would meet and begin a romantic relationship with Jennifer Syme. On December 24, 1999, Syme gave birth eight months into her pregnancy to the couple’s child, Ava Archer Syme-Reeves, who was stillborn. The loss was felt so deeply that the couple separated weeks later. They eventually reconciled and got back together only for Syme to tragically die in a car crash in 2001.
The Beach Boys
You might not know that the happy, singing teens of The Beach Boys were suffering behind the scenes. The band was founded in the early 1960s by brothers Brian, Dennis, and Carl Wilson, their cousin Mike Love, and friend Al Jardine. The band was managed by Murry Wilson, the father of the brothers. Murry overworked the young members of the band and physically and emotionally abused them.
On tour, Murry had a policy that the band members “not fraternize with women, use profanity, or drink alcoholic beverages.” Initially, the fee was $50 for swearing and $100 for fraternizing with women. Later, he changed the fee to a flat $1,000 that would be held back from the proceeds they would make. Eventually, the band realized that Murry was not the one and they dismissed him as their manager.
In late 1969, Murry sold Sea of Tunes, over the band’s objections, for the undervalued amount of $700,000 (equivalent to $5.17 million in 2021). Brian later suggested that his signature was forged by his father on several related business documents, making the sale illegal.
Most people are familiar with Oprah‘s tragic past but it bears repeating to understand just how much the icon has overcome in her life. When she was just 10 years old Oprah was sexually abused by a family member. Growing up in extreme poverty, Oprah was left in the care of her grandmother while her mother sought work. Not being properly supervised is how the molestation was able to happen.
The abuse continued throughout her childhood until she was 14 when she became pregnant with her abuser’s child. She was so young and naive that she did not realize that she was even pregnant, not recognizing it was even possible. Oprah explained that despite the pain, she was excited to give birth to her child. Unfortunately, the baby was stillborn. She is one of the celebrities who really turned her difficult history into a force to be reckoned with.
Kelsey Grammer made us laugh in shows like Frasier and Cheers but much of his personal life was no laughing matter. When he was two, his parents divorced and he was sent to live with his grandparents. In 1966, his grandfather died of cancer when he was 12. In 1968, his father was set on fire and murdered in his car. In 1975, his sister was kidnapped, raped, and murdered by three men in Colorado Springs. In 1980, his two teenage half-brothers died in a scuba diving accident.
On 9/11 his dear friend, David Angell, and Angell’s wife were among the passengers of American Airlines Flight 11, who were all killed when that plane struck the North Tower of the complex. Just a year later another one of Grammer’s close friends was murdered by his wife. This is one of the celebrities who has definitely seen a lot of sadness in his life.
Linkin Park frontman, Chester Bennington, died by suicide in 2017. Despite success as a musician and a loving wife and kids, Bennington could not escape the trauma of his past. Bennington was a victim of sexual abuse from an older male friend when he was seven years old. He was scared to ask for help because he did not want people to think he was gay or lying, and the abuse continued until he was 13 years old. Years later, he revealed the abuser’s identity to his father (a detective who worked on child sexual abuse cases) but chose not to press charges. He turned to alcohol and drugs and developed substance abuse issues.
Bennington also suffered from depression and he was in the midst of a depressive episode following the death of his close friend Chris Cornell (who also died by suicide) when the musician took his own life.
Charlize Theron saw the unimaginable when she was just 15. Growing up in South Africa, she was subjected to abuse by her alcoholic father. He was also abusive toward Theron’s mother and she urged her mother to leave her father (divorce was not easily attainable in South Africa at the time). One night, Theron’s father returned home drunk and began physically attacking Theron’s mother. He started firing a gun in their home, threatening to kill them. Theron’s mother retrieved a handgun and killed her father right in front of Theron’s eyes.
Thankfully, authorities ruled that the killing was an act of self-defense and her mother faced no charges.
Many of us know Rose McGowan as a leading voice in the #MeToo movement. She was one of the people brave enough to come forward with sexual abuse allegations against convicted criminal Harvey Weinstein. This would have been tragic enough to include McGowan on this list but did you know she was born into a cult? For the first nine years of her life, McGown was part of the Children of God cult. According to her they “blended free love attitudes with preparing for the second coming of Jesus.”
Members of the cult were not allowed to speak to anyone outside of the cult. They were also not allowed to consume news from the “outside.” A lot of scary things went on in front of McGown as a child including the abuse and subservience of women to men. According to the actor and activist, the only role women had in the cult was to serve the men. After older members of the cult began targeting young girls, her family realized it was a bad situation and left.
Demi Moore was born in Roswell, New Mexico where her father left her mother before Moore was even born. However, Moore’s mother remarried an alcoholic which spelled really bad news because she was also an alcoholic. This made for a very violent and turbulent home life for Moore. She moved every few months as a teen which kept her from making and maintaining friendships.
Even though Moore’s father was not an ideal role model or a supportive parent, the actress says she was still traumatized by his suicide he committed by carbon monoxide inhalation from his car. This was the catalyst for Moore to leave home to pursue a career in modeling. Soon after finding work, Moore began to abuse drugs and became an addict. What followed was a string of failed marriages and eventually a stay in the hospital after suffering a nervous breakdown. Thankfully, she has put all of this behind her.
Natalie Wood began performing at the age of five. She was overworked and controlled her entire life. She was sexually abused by a powerful producer as a young person but her mother would not allow her to report it for fear that Wood’s career would suffer.
If you look at old photographs of the actress you will notice she always wears a bracelet. This is because she broke her wrist on set while filming a dangerous scene without proper protections in place. She had a romance with Warren Beatty that left Wood so distraught that she allegedly attempted suicide. Her entire life, Wood’s mother kept her from playing near water as she said she had a premonition that “dark water” would be the death of her daughter. Remarkably, Wood died by drowning.
Now you know a little bit more about these beloved celebrities and what they have gone through. Many have been through truly harrowing episodes. Let’s hope that we can all treat each other with a little more patience and kindness because you never know what someone is going through. If you would like even more celebrity content, keep reading. We also have a list of celebrities who have battled cancer and won!
Celebrities Who Have Fought Cancer and Won:
Sharon Osbourne was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2002 and underwent chemotherapy to treat it. Though she successfully recovered, the Osbournes alum chose to have a double mastectomy in 2012 to lower her chances of getting cancer again.
“I didn’t want to live the rest of my life with that shadow hanging over me,” Osbourne told Rolling Stone at the time. “It’s not ‘pity me,’ it’s a decision I made that got rid of this weight that I was carrying around.”
Edie Falco discovered she had stage I breast cancer in 2003 while working on The Sopranos. She went into remission the following year.
Falco shared with Health that she initially didn’t want to disclose her diagnosis, not even to her Sopranos colleagues. “It was very important for me to keep my diagnosis under the radar, even from the cast and crew of The Sopranos, because well-meaning people would have driven me crazy asking, ‘How are you feeling?’” she told the outlet in 2011. “I would have wanted to say, ‘I’m scared, I don’t feel so good, and my hair is falling out.’”
10 years after Stanley Tucci lost his first wife, Kate Spath-Tucci to breast cancer, he was diagnosed with a large tumor on his tongue. The Hunger Games star opened up about his secret cancer battle three years after the fact during an interview with Vera magazine.
“The kids were great, but it was hard for them,” he told Vera in 2021 of his difficult treatment journey. “I had a feeding tube for six months. I could barely make it to the twins’ high school graduation.”
Kathy Griffin revealed that she had lung cancer in August of 2021. She is one of the latest celebrities to join the ranks of cancer survivors. “I’ve got to tell you guys something. I have cancer. I’m about to go into surgery to have half of my left lung removed. Yes, I have lung cancer even though I’ve never smoked!” Griffin wrote on Twitter and Instagram. “The doctors are very optimistic as it is stage one and contained to my left lung. Hopefully, no chemo or radiation after this and I should have normal function with my breathing. I should be up and running around as usual in a month or less.”
In February 2022, she shared another happy update. “6-month lung cancer scan is CLEAN!!! No more #cancer,” she shared via Twitter in February 2022 alongside a video of her swimming naked. “And yes, I’m skinny dipping in the pool while shaking my boobs and butt. SO WHAT?”
“Just saw my oncologists and I’m cancer-free,” Hoppus shared via Instagram that September. “Thank you, God and universe and family and friends and everyone who sent support and kindness and love.”
Nearly one year after Jeff Bridges announced his lymphoma diagnosis, he revealed that he was in remission, and he was excited to go back to work.
“Lots has gone down since my last installment,” Bridges shared via a handwritten note on his website in September 2021. “My cancer is in remission — the 9″ x 12″ mass has shrunk down to the size of a marble.”
“I’ve been fortunate because my celebrity has brought me enough financial security to receive excellent medical attention. No one wants an NBA legend dying on their watch. Imagine the Yelp reviews,” he joked in the piece.
Ashley Park from Emily in Paris was diagnosed with leukemia when she was just 15 years old, but she underwent chemotherapy to battle it. Speaking on the experience with Cosmopolitan in October 2020, she talked about not letting the potential long-term side effects of chemotherapy deter her.
“I didn’t want to know that I might be infertile or that my heart might stop working or any of that stuff because once you say it, you’re thinking about it,” she shared. “Even though my body beat the disease, if I let it change anything, it’s won.”
Julia Louis-Dreyfus announced her breast cancer diagnosis in 2017, and she successfully beat the illness nearly one year later. “I was to-my-bones terrified [of having cancer],” she told The New Yorker in 2018. “But I didn’t let myself — except for a couple of moments — go to a really dark place. I didn’t allow it.”
Wanda Sykes revealed on The Ellen DeGeneres Show in 2011 that she underwent a double mastectomy after finding out she was in the early stages of breast cancer. “I have a lot of breast cancer history on my mother’s side of the family. I had both breasts removed,” she said. “Now, I have zero chance of having breast cancer.”
Hugh Jackman was treated for basal cell carcinoma in 2013 and 2015. After his second round with the disease, he took to Twitter and Instagram to caution his followers about doing preventive care to avoid getting skin cancer. “Another basal cell carcinoma,” he wrote at the time. “Thanks to frequent checks & amazing doctors, all’s well. Looks worse [with] the dressing on [than] off! WEAR SUNSCREEN.” Noted!
Fran Drescher learned that she had uterine cancer in 2000. To resolve the issue, she underwent surgery as well as radiation. Two years later, Drescher documented her experience with the disease in a book titled Cancer Schmancer.
Olivia Newton-John was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992, but she entered remission the following year. She battled cancer again in 2013 and 2017. In an interview with “Today’s” Hoda Kotb in 2021, the singer talked about living with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer.
“I have my days, I have my pains,” Newton-John said at the time. “But the cannabis that my husband grows for me has been such a huge part of my healing, and so I’m a really lucky person.”
Len Goodman, a Dancing With the Stars judge, confirmed through the Melanoma Fund in August 2020 that he underwent skin cancer removal from his face.
“Len Goodman has asked us to keep ‘spreading the word’ re. sun protection for golf,” the nonprofit wrote via Facebook. “The ex-BBC Strictly Come Dancing judge was playing a few rounds with our ambassador Paul Way at The Grove – a Sun Protection Accredited club, and revealed he has just had skin cancer removed. He wanted us to use this image to inspire others to take the issue seriously!”
Julie Walters, who is most likely familiar to you via Harry Potter, announced in February 2020 that she beat stage III bowel cancer. She told the BBC that she “couldn’t believe” the diagnosis in 2018, but chemotherapy turned out to be “fine.”
Marcia Cross, Desperate Housewives star, revealed to her Instagram followers in September 2018, that she had battled cancer and was in the process of growing back her hair. Three days later, she explained that she had beat anal cancer and was happy to finally let the world know about her journey.
“After posting a picture of myself here and uttering the words #cancer and #hairloss, I felt liberated, deliriously free, and completely me,” she wrote. “How or why this simple act gave me such a powerful lift I did not question, but I thanked God or whatever gave me the internal push to move forward and expose myself.”
Erin Andrews was diagnosed with cervical cancer at her annual Ob-Gyn checkup in September of 2016. After undergoing two surgeries in October and November, without missing work or sharing her struggles with coworkers, she received the news that all of the cancerous cells had been cleared.
Andrews spoke out about the fact that she was a survivor in January 2017 and has continued to advocate for cervical cancer screenings. “The message we want to get out to women is: They have to go get tested,” she said of getting tested for cervical cancer. “The stats are insane and they’re shocking, and they don’t need to be this way. But every two hours a female dies of cervical cancer. We’ve got to change that.”
Christina Applegate was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, the actress underwent a double mastectomy. The following year, the cancer-free star launched the Right Action Foundation, which provides financial aid to women who want MRIs. “That’s what saved my life, and I want to give back,” she
Ewan McGregor revealed in 2008 that sun damage resulted in a cancerous mole on his face that he later had removed. “I had a little skin cancer under my eye,” he explained to the BBC at the time. “I just went to have them checked … I went to see a specialist who thought they were better to be removed and indeed he was correct.”
Maura Tierney was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, Tierney was forced to pull out of a TV show shortly before filming began. But the actress (now in remission) is grateful doctors detected the disease early.
“From the beginning, my doctor told me, ‘You’re going to be okay,’ and I chose to believe him,” she said.
Kylie Minogue learned she had breast cancer in 2005 and immediately began intense chemotherapy cycles. “Some days I don’t think about it at all, and other days I’m reminded of physically what I’ve been through,” Minogue (who is now cancer-free) told Us.
Michael C. Hall
Michael C. Hall was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma during the production of the fourth season of Dexter (in 2010). He kept the news private until shooting wrapped and received treatment during the show’s hiatus. Dexter had a painful secret and for a while, Hall did too, which was useful for the role, he told the New York Times.
Sofia Vergara was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2002. “When you are a cancer survivor, your priorities in life change,” the actress (who is now in remission) told Extra. Her advice for those currently battling the disease? “Live day to day and try not to think too much about it.”
Robert De Niro
Robert De Niro was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2003, the same disease that took his father’s life a decade earlier. Just one year later, De Niro announced he was in remission. He’s been cancer-free for decades now. One of the truly remarkable celebrities who have fought cancer and won.
Lance Armstrong was diagnosed with stage three testicular cancer in 1996, which later spread to his lungs, abdomen, and brain. He soon underwent chemotherapy and had an orchiectomy to remove his diseased testicle, which rendered him cancer-free. He then launched the Lance Armstrong Foundation in 1997…
Cynthia Nixon was diagnosed with breast cancer during a routine mammogram in 2006, though she didn’t announce the news until two years later on Good Morning America. With her cancer now in remission, Nixon serves as an ambassador for Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
“I felt scared. … I thought, ‘Oh, I don’t want this to be happening.’ I was very cognizant of if it’s going to happen, this is the best way for it to happen, that it’s found so early and we can just get right on it,” she said of learning of the diagnosis.
Sheryl Crow underwent a lumpectomy and seven weeks of radiation before being declared cancer-free in 2006. Two years later, she unveiled the Sheryl Crow Imaging Center in L.A., which features state-of-the-art digital screening and diagnostic technologies for the early detection of breast cancer.
Barry Watson took a hiatus from 7th Heaven in 2002 when he discovered a lump on his neck. Soon after, he learned he had Hodgkin’s lymphoma. “I said, ‘I’m going to be fine. I know I am,'” he later recalled. In April 2003, Watson proudly announced he was in remission.
During a routine self-exam, Robin Roberts felt a lump in her breast. “Because I was familiar with my body and the lumps, I knew this one felt different. It was in a different place on my breast, and it was hard,” she told Prevention in a 2011 interview. Roberts was diagnosed with cancer after an ultrasound and biopsy, and first underwent a lumpectomy, then followed with chemo and radiation therapy for further treatment.
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Jane Fonda opened up about her multiple battles with cancer in British Vogue in 2019. “I’ve had a lot of cancer,” she explained. “I was a sun-worshipper. When I have a day off, I frequently go to my skin doctor and have things cut off me by a surgeon.” She also had a mastectomy in 2016 following a breast cancer diagnosis.
There you go! We hope you found the stories of these celebrities who have fought cancer and survived to be uplifting and hopeful. While cancer is terrible, the worst outcomes are not for all, and many people survive and go on to thrive after their fight.
- 0.1 Jennifer Hudson
- 0.2 Nicole Kidman
- 0.3 Roy Orbison
- 0.4 Rita Hayworth
- 0.5 Shania Twain
- 0.6 Keanu Reeves
- 0.7 The Beach Boys
- 0.8 Oprah Winfrey
- 0.9 Kelsey Grammer
- 0.10 Chester Bennington
- 0.11 Charlize Theron
- 0.12 Rose McGowan
- 0.13 Demi Moore
- 0.14 Natalie Wood
- 1 Celebrities Who Have Fought Cancer and Won:
- 1.1 Sharon Osbourne
- 1.2 Edie Falco
- 1.3 Stanley Tucci
- 1.4 Kathy Griffin
- 1.5 Mark Hoppus
- 1.6 Jeff Bridges
- 1.7 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
- 1.8 Ashley Park
- 1.9 Julia Louis-Dreyfus
- 1.10 Wanda Sykes
- 1.11 Hugh Jackman
- 1.12 Fran Drescher
- 1.13 Olivia Newton-John
- 1.14 Len Goodman
- 1.15 Julie Walters
- 1.16 Marcia Cross
- 1.17 Erin Andrews
- 1.18 Christina Applegate
- 1.19 Ewan McGregor
- 1.20 Maura Tierney
- 1.21 Kylie Minogue
- 1.22 Michael C. Hall
- 1.23 Sofia Vergara
- 1.24 Robert De Niro
- 1.25 Lance Armstrong
- 1.26 Cynthia Nixon
- 1.27 Sheryl Crow
- 1.28 Barry Watson
- 1.29 Robin Roberts
- 1.30 Jane Fonda
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