It hasn’t always been an easy road for some celebrities. While these stars have gone on to have successful careers in the entertainment industry, their pasts may come as a surprise to some of their fans. From troubled families to arrests and addictions, celebrities including Charlize Theron, Robert Downey Jr.and Jay-Z have overcome their darkest times and turned it all around to be who they are today.
Scroll down below to see which stars have rather shocking pasts.
Before she was a world-famous actress, Charlize Theron endured a lot of tragedy during her childhood. During an interview with Howard Stern in July 2017, she spoke openly about what it was like to grow up in a household with an alcoholic father, and what it was like to deal with her mother shooting and killing her dad in self-defense. “I just pretended like it didn’t happen,” she told Stern at the time. “I didn’t tell anybody — I didn’t want to tell anybody. Whenever anybody asked me, I said my dad died in a car accident. Who wants to tell that story? Nobody wants to tell that story.”
“I didn’t want to feel like a victim,” she said. “I struggled with that for many years until I actually started therapy.”
When Jack Nicholson was 37 years old, he found out that he had been living a lie. The actor grew up believing that his maternal grandparents John and Ethel May Nicholson were his parents. It wasn’t until TIME magazine was researching a story about the actor that they discovered that his older sister, June, was actually his mother. Pregnant at 17 and unsure of her child’s father’s identity, June’s parents decided to raise her son as their own. “I’d say it was a pretty dramatic event, but it wasn’t what I’d call traumatizing,” Nicholson said about learning the truth at the time. “After all, by the time I found out who my mother was, I was pretty well psychologically formed. As a matter of fact, it made quite a few things clearer to me. If anything, I felt grateful.”
At age 16, Mark Wahlberg beat a man with a wooden stick after attempting to steal two cases of alcohol outside of a convenience store on April 8, 1988. The actor then hit another man in the face while trying to flee. More than two decades after he was convicted of assault in Boston, the Transformers starsought a pardon from state officials in December 2014.
Jay-Z’s childhood is far different than what his life is like now. In November 2013, the “Story of O.J.” rapper spoke candidly to Vanity Fair about his life growing up in Brooklyn’s Marcy Projects with his single mother and three siblings. He also spoke about selling drugs to make ends meet. “We were living in a tough situation, but my mother managed; she juggled,” the mogul told the magazine. “Sometimes we’d pay the light bill, sometimes we paid the phone, sometimes the gas went off. We weren’t starving — we were eating, we were OK. But it was things like you didn’t want to be embarrassed when you went to school; you didn’t want to have dirty sneakers or wear the same clothes over again.” The Grammy winner began selling crack and said he eventually felt guilty about how he was contributing to the drug problem in his neighborhood. “Not until later, when I realized the effects on the community,” he said. “I started looking at the community on the whole, but in the beginning, no. I was thinking about surviving. I was thinking about improving my situation. I was thinking about buying clothes.”
Liv Tyler didn’t find out that Steven Tyler was her biological father until she was 8 years old. She opened up about what it was like to find out the truth during an appearance on The Jonathan Ross Show in 2015. “It’s quite an emotional story, honestly, the whole thing,” she said. “My mother was very young when she had me and there was a little bit of confusion about where I came from but I was very loved and very well taken care of by all my family, which was wonderful.” The Aerosmith lead singer and his second wife, Cyrinda Foxe, had another daughter just 17 months after the Armageddon star was born. “I kind of figured it out because he looked exactly like me and I have a sister named Mia who is a year younger than me and I saw her standing at the side of the stage at a concert and I was literally like looking at my twin,” she said at the time. “She looked exactly like me and I looked at my mom and she had tears in her eyes and I kind of put it all together.”
Her mom, Bebe Buell, gave Liv her then partner Todd Rundgren’s last name when she was born, and he raised her as his own. “Todd was such an amazing [man],” Liv said. “It’s funny because people only ever talk about Steven and they always tell all these stories but [Todd has] been such a beautiful, wonderful influence in my life and I still consider him my father.”
Drew Barrymore has been in the public eye from a very early age, and she has been open about her encounter with drugs when she was just a child. The former child star began abusing drugs by age 11, tried cocaine at age 12 and was in rehab by age 14. “[I started smoking] when I was 9,” she said on 60 Minutes in 2009. “I know it’s nuts. It was an extraordinary experience. I went through it, and I learned a lot. And I learned it in front of everyone which was righteously embarrassing. But you know what, it made me stronger.”
Jon Hamm’s alleged involvement in a 1990 fraternity hazing case resurfaced in April 2015. In a 1991 lawsuit obtained by the Associated Press, the Mad Menactor and some of his University of Texas fraternity brothers were accused of hazing Sigma Nu pledge Mark Allen Sanders. Three of the accused were sentenced to jail for 30 days, and a warrant was later issued for “Jonathan Hamm of St. Louis” in 1993. Two years later, the actor received probation in a deal made in 1995.
According to Sanders, Hamm became “mad, I mean really mad” when the pledge was unable to recite certain details about the fraternity brothers. As punishment, he claims that Hamm shoved his face in dirt, set his jeans on fire, and paddled him. Hamm later dropped out of the University of Texas.
As a child, country singer Shania Twain watched her mother Sharon endure physical abuse for years allegedly at the hands of stepdad, Jerry Twain. “[It was] overwhelming for any child to never know what to expect from one day to the next,” Twain told Nightline in May 2011. “It could happen anytime. But also you don’t know if they’re going to survive it.” The singer spoke of an incident where her stepdad, who legally adopted her at age 4, shoved Sharon’s head into a toilet. “I thought he’d killed her. I really thought she was drowned, or dead, or that he had just smashed her head in and she was never going to wake up,” she continued. “So I’d gone through the shock and experience of really believing my mother had died at that moment. Also, through the humiliation of how I thought she had been killed, by drowning in a toilet seat. … It was very, very obviously very hard to take.”
Twain said she has finally accepted those experiences as part of her life. “I think I’ve remained very detached from my life to this point, almost as though it was a different person, every phrase I went through,” she said. “So I’ve reconnected and said, no, this is actually who I am. I’m neither embarrassed of who I am, where I come from, what I’ve experienced, I’m not ashamed of it.”
A photographer was sentenced to three years in jail in July 2005 after he was accused of trying to sell topless photos and videos of Cameron Diaz from 1992 when she was a 19-year-old struggling actress. Prosecutors accused John Rutter of attempting to blackmail the actress for $3.5 million before releasing the photos after she became famous for starring in movies such as The Maskand There’s Something About Mary. The signature on the model release form appeared to be forged and Rutter was sent to prison for forgery, attempted grand theft and perjury.
In a 2009 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Al Pacino revealed the truth about his days in Italy and shared his experience with using his body as a means of survival. “At 20, I lived in Sicily by selling the only asset I had — my body,” the actor recalled. “An older woman traded food and housing in return for sex. I woke mornings not really loving myself.”
Before he found success in show business, Idris Elba was just another struggling actor in New York City, and it led the London-born star to turn to drug dealing to make ends meet. “I was running with cats. I mean, I was DJ’ing, but I was also pushing bags of weed; I was doing my work. I had to,” he told GQ in 2013. “I know that sounds corny, but this is the truth.” The actor also revealed he had to sleep in his van after one of his marriages ended. “The apartment we had lived in together was in Jersey City,” he recalled. “So when I left, I was sofa-hopping here and there and got to a place where I was parking it in Jersey somewhere and just camping down for the night.”
Snoop Dogg has been open about his stint as a pimp, helping professional athletes find women. “I put an organization together,” the rapper told Rolling Stone in 2013. “I did a Playboy tour, and I had a bus follow me with ten bitches on it.” He said he would allow the players to “pick and choose” the girl they wanted and then he’d get paid for it. ”I’d act like I’d take the money … but I’d let her have it,” he revealed to the magazine. “It was never about the money; it was about the fascination of being a pimp … As a kid I dreamed of being a pimp.”
Demi Moore’s biological father, Charles Harmon, Sr., left her mother, Virginia, after two months of marriage and before the actress was born. Her mother then married Dan Guynes, and Moore didn’t find out about her biological father until she was 13. “My dad was Dan Guynes. He raised me. There is a man who would be considered my biological father who I don’t really have a relationship with,” the Ghost actress told Vanity Fair in 1991, revealing how she found out Guynes wasn’t her biological father. ”I saw my parents were married in February 1963. I was born in ’62.” The pair reportedly struggled with alcoholism together throughout their marriage, and Guynes committed suicide in 1980, two years after separating from Moore’s mom. Her mother died of cancer in 1998.
Robert Downey Jr.
Robert Downey Jr. has been open about his struggles with drug and alcohol addiction in the past. “Not having done drugs for literally five or six years is a lifetime,” he said in an interview with Playboy in 2010. “I think of myself as someone who has no desire, use for or conscious memory of that life. And yet I don’t shut the door on it, and I don’t pretend it didn’t happen.” He added: “Looking back, I think, ‘Oh, my God, I could have been done. I could have been so fried and so bad off and, oh my God, such a cautionary tale. And I still could be.”
Gossip Girl actress Leighton Meester was born in jail, where her mother was serving time for drug smuggling. “It makes me very nonjudgmental and open-minded,” she told Us Weekly in 2008. “And I think it just makes me appreciate the things that I have now.” She also spoke to Marie Claire in 2012 about her childhood. “My family has a crazy history. Probably the craziest I’ve ever heard of,” she said at the time. “I look back now and I see it in a nice light. It wasn’t uncomplicated, but I played outside, I went to the beach. There were happy, fun times.”
Joaquin Phoenix’s parents joined the religious group, Children of God, in the early 1970s and traveled throughout South America with their children. “When people bring up Children of God, there’s always something vaguely accusatory about it,” the actor said in an interview with Playboy in 2014. “It’s guilt by association. I think it was really innocent on my parents’ part. They really believed, but I don’t think most people see it that way. I’ve always thought that was strange and unfair.” The pair eventually left when they became disenchanted with the group. “I think my parents thought they’d found a community that shared their ideals,” he continued. “Cults rarely advertise themselves as such. It’s usually someone saying, ‘We’re like-minded people. This is a community,’ but I think the moment my parents realized there was something more to it, they got out.”