The Most Bizarre Stories of Celebrity Childhoods
by Jennifer Lafferty
Show business tends to draw misfits; some celebrities have a colorful backstory, while others remember exceptionally challenging, even traumatic early years. Ranging from unconventional to totally bizarre, many of our favorite stars have shocking pasts. Here are the weirdest celebrity childhoods.
Jim Carrey has talked openly about his tough childhood in Newmarket, Ontario after his father lost his job, saying: ‘We lived in a van for a while, and we worked all together as security guards and janitors.”
One of the sexiest celebrities around, singer Katy Perry, claims she didn’t have a childhood. She was raised in an evangelical world by Christian missionary parents who she says were “very non-accepting.” As an adult she became a Buddhist.
Late comedian Richard Pryor had a shocking childhood, born to a prostitute and a violent pimp. But wait, it gets worse. Pryor’s main guardian was his grandmother, who owned the brothel where his mother worked and where he was raised.
Gypsy Rose Lee
The most famous stripper of all time, Gypsy Rose Lee, also had the most famous stage mother. The story of how “Mama Rose” pressured her two daughters to succeed in show business inspired the hit Broadway musical Gypsy.
Odd and traumatic are two words that would accurately describe Liev Schreiber’s childhood. His hippie mother was a cab driver who also made papier-mâché puppets. Schreiber was briefly kidnapped by his father during a nasty custody battle.
Now an Oscar-winning actress, Hilary Swank was isolated and discriminated against as a child. Parents of neighborhood children wouldn’t let their kids play with her because she and her hard-working mother lived in a trailer park.
Like many great comedians, Charlie Chaplin had a difficult childhood. His actress/singer mother was mentally ill. By the time Chaplin was 10-years-old, he and his brother Sydney had to support themselves, so they entered show business.
Jewel began performing in Alaska with her singer/songwriter parents when she was six years old. After her parents divorced, she toured with her father. Later, staying with her mother in San Diego, she sometimes lived in a van.
Sylvester Stallone’s early years were tough, growing up in New York’s infamous Hell’s Kitchen. His colorful, unconventional mother was an astrologer. His Italian immigrant father, worked as a beautician and hairdresser.
Bethenny Frankel’s prominent horse-trainer father left when she was four, and her description of her childhood sounds a lot like Real Housewives, telling People. “There was a lot of destruction: alcohol abuse, eating disorders and violent fights.”
Johnny Depp moved a lot as a kid and said ” It was a relatively violent upbringing,” but thinks his parents did the best they could with what they knew, explaining that his mother “was raised in a shack, in the wilds of Appalachia.”
Tatum O’Neal had many unusual experiences growing up. She won an Oscar at 10 for Paper Moon, co-starring with her father Ryan O’Neal, who she claims was abusive and left her and her brother in a house on their own as children.
Marilu Henner’s mother was the president of the National Association of Dance and Affiliated Arts. Henner was teaching dance classes at the studio her mother ran by age 14. As a teen she also choreographed shows at local schools.
David Arquette came from a showbiz family, but there was more drama at home. David started stealing beer and pot from his father as a small child. Their mother violently attacked his sisters, Patrica and Rosanna, before rehabilitating herself, and became a family counselor.
Rose McGowan spent her early childhood in the Children of God sect. Her family left the cult when it began advocating sexual abuse of children. McGowan later ran away from home and was taken in by drag queens.
Natalie Wood was pushed into acting by her outrageous mother, who would tear the wings off butterflies to get her to cry on cue. Natalie’s alcoholic father was her chauffeur, while the child star’s salary supported the family.
At age 37 Jack Nicholson learned that his parents were actually his grandparents and the woman thought to be his older sister was his mother; a single 17-year-old, unsure of his father’s identity when Nicholson was born.
Actress Leah Remini wrote a memoir which detailed her unusual and controversial childhood in the Church of Scientology, tilted Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology. Since leaving Scientology in 2013, she’s had a public feud with the church.
Leighton Meester had a rough start. During her mother’s pregnancy, Leighton’s mom had been arrested for her part in a marijuana smuggling ring, which also involved Leighton’s father and aunt. Following Leighton’s birth, her mother was imprisoned for 16 months.
Another celebrity whose family was once in the cult Children of God is Joaquin Phoenix, who said: “I think my parents thought they’d found a community that shared their ideals. Cults rarely advertise themselves as such.”