Just because a person is famous doesn’t mean his or her life was easy. From witnessing murder, suffering violent abuse, to being afflicted with addiction to losing limbs, these celebrities and public figures faced some extreme adversities. Yet they all managed to overcome all obstacles thrown their way. Their stories inspire us to never give up on the struggle to achieve our dreams.
Strung Out on Meth
Jodie Sweetin played Stephanie Tanner on Full House for the majority of her childhood. Her mother was an addict and her father was murdered during a prison riot, so her uncle and his wife adopted her. When the show was canceled, Jodie turned to alcohol and drugs as a coping mechanism and found herself in and out of rehab. She got strung out on crystal meth in her early 20s and hid the addiction from her husband, a cop, for years. After a messy divorce and nearly losing her children, Jodie got clean, earned a degree, and went on to re-launch a successful acting career.
Living in Fear of Her Father
In one interview, rapper Nicki Minaj stated, “All of my young and teenage early years we lived in fear that my mother would be killed by my father.” He was a drug addict and alcoholic who was both physically and verbally abusive. In turn, Nicki found herself taking out her anger on other men while growing up. The abuse continued until her brother was old and big enough to stand up to her father and protect her and her mother. While the ordeal was horrific, she believes it made her the tough and fierce woman she is today.
Teenage Runaway Mom
Oprah may be a billionaire now, but the queen of daytime TV came from an extremely poor upbringing. She moved back and forth from her father to her mother, who lived in separate states. At nine, she was raped by her 19-year-old cousin. She was later sexually abused by other family members, including her uncle and her mother’s boyfriend. Finally fed up, she ran away from home at the age of 14. That same year she became pregnant and gave birth to an ill son, who died soon after he was born. She then went to live with her father, who was very strict and helped straighten her life out.
Survived Vicious Shark Attack
You’d think that getting your arm bitten off by a shark might deter you from ever getting back in the ocean, never mind on a surfboard. But that wasn’t the case for Hawaii native Bethany Hamilton, who’d been competitively surfing since the age of eight. When she was 13 years old, Bethany was attacked by a tiger shark. It ripped off her entire left arm. After the attack, Bethany paddled for 20 minutes back to shore on her own. One month later she was back on her surfboard, refusing to give up her passion. Two years later, she took home first place in the Explorer Women’s Division on the NSSA National Championships.
Single Mother, Broke and Rejected
Best-selling author J.K. Rowling may be living lavishly now, but it wasn’t without a great deal of struggles. From Southwest England, Rowland wrote her first book at age six. She married and had a daughter, but after just 13 months, the relationship crumbled. She found herself a single mother on welfare in a tiny apartment in Scotland, without a penny to her name. She was receiving rejection letters for her books daily. She became depressed and admits to contemplating suicide. After she added the K to her name in order to give it a sexually ambiguous sound, she found a publisher, and has since sold over 450 million copies.
He Witnessed His Father Commit Murder
Christmas took a dark turn for a two-year-old Terrance Howard. The actor was waiting in line with his father to meet a department store Santa when his father got into a tiff with another father in the line. Accounts are blurry on what caused the altercation (some speculate race), but it ended with Terrance’s father stabbing the other man to death in front of all of the other children and families waiting to meet Santa. Terrance recalls how the blood splattered all over his coat. His dad served 11 years in prison and his parents separated soon after. The incident became known as the “Santa Line Slaying.”
Turned Cancer into a Success Story
Kris Carr was a struggling dancer, actress and photographer in NYC when she was diagnosed with a rare Stave IV Cancer called epithelioid hemangioendothelioma, which affected her lungs and liver. A few years later Kris released a book and documentary titled Crazy Sexy Cancer. The book was well-received and the documentary aired on TLC. She was then inspired to launch a wellness website called Crazysexylife.com, and it quickly became a huge success. She wrote another book called Crazy Sexy Diet, which landed on the best-seller list. Today she is “thriving with cancer” as a respected expert on how to live a healthy lifestyle.
From Gambling Orphan to President
Not every president came from a wealthy background. Andrew Jackson’s dad died before he was born, and he joined the Continental army at 13 years old. He fought in the Revolutionary War and was captured. While imprisoned, he was slashed with a sword for refusing an order to clean a British soldier’s boots. When he finally returned home, he found out his mother and brothers were dead, and he was an orphan at 14. He spent the next years of his youth gambling and getting into fights. He then left to North Carolina to study law and the rest is history.
Convicted Drug Dealer
Basketball may have saved Caron Butler’s life. Raised in an extremely poor and rough neighborhood, Caron was dealing drugs by the time he was 11 years old. By the time he reached 15, he had been arrested 15 times. He had previously loved to play basketball, but had been too busy getting into trouble to perfect his skills. During one particularly long stint in a detention center, he realized how much he loved the sport and put his energy toward playing instead. He landed a scholarship to UConn and went on to play for the NBA.
From Extreme Poverty and Sickness to the Senate
One of 11 children, Marina Silva grew up in an extremely impoverished area of Brazil. Three of her siblings died at a young age, and Marina herself came down with malaria five times in her youth. Marina did not learn to read until she was a teen. Her parents worked endlessly as rubber tapers in order to make ends meet, and Marina became an active voice in the community in support of rubber tapers. She went on to become an influential Brazilian environmentalist, the first rubber taper to be in the Brazilian Senate, and revered by the United Nations.
His Drug Dealing Mother Was Murdered
It’s no wonder as to why rapper Curtis Jackson, AKA 50 Cent, adopted the thug persona that made him famous. His mother had Curtis at 15 years old, dealt drugs to support her son and was murdered when he was eight. Curtis went to live with his grandmother and eight aunts and uncles. At 15 he bought a gun, began dealing drugs and soon dropped out of high school. He was in and out of jail, and survived being shot nine times. Once he landed a deal with Eminem’s label, he turned his life around and became a top-selling hip-hop artist and television producer.
Homeless and Hungry
Benjamin Franklin may have been a major figure in American history, but not without battling through some majorly humble beginnings. One of 17 children, Ben was removed from school at 10 so that he could help his father make candles. He went to work for his older brother, who was so cruel that Ben decided to run away to Philadelphia at 17. He arrived there with nothing but three pennies. He found work, sent up his own printing business, married his childhood sweetheart, and became a renowned inventor, author and scientist. Not to mention he signed the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
Record Holding Amputee
Melissa Stockwell joined the ROTC as a sophomore in college, and was deployed to Iraq in 2004. She lost her leg when a roadside bomb exploded during a convoy in Baghdad. A diver in her high school years, she once again began to swim as part of her physical therapy. She then became the first Iraqi veteran to compete on the Paralympics U.S. team, earning the records for 100-meter butterfly and the 100-meter freestyle, and became the face of the Hartford U.S. Paralympics Partnership ad campaign. She is now a triathlon coach.
No Label Would Sign Him
Music mogul Jay-Z faced rejection time and time again before hitting the big time. He grew up in drug-infested projects in Brooklyn and his father left when he was 11 years old. He started to sell drugs to make ends meet. Rapping was a means of escape, he decided to pursue a career in hip-hop. Unfortunately, no record label took him seriously. Instead of throwing in the towel, he created his own label that became highly successful. He’s now considered one of the greatest rappers of all time. Oh, and he married Beyoncé. ‘Nuff said.
His First Business Bombed
He may be one of the richest men in the world now, but Bill Gates failed miserably with his first business. His first company was called Traf-O-Data, and it produced devices that were supposed to read traffic tapes and process the data. However, when he and his partner attempted to sell the device, they couldn’t get it to work. Once they got it to function properly, they couldn’t find any customers and ended up losing money. Bill refused to give up, and took what he learned and used it to create Microsoft’s first product years later.
Speechless Until Four
Albert Einstein is known as one of the greatest thinkers to ever live. But the famous scientist didn’t speak a single word for the first three years of his life. The only Jewish student in a Catholic school, Albert maintained good grades, but was viewed as lazy by his teachers. His head was always in the clouds and no one could really understand all of the wacky questions he was constantly coming up with. His teachers and peers assumed he would do nothing of importance with his life. Except develop the theory of relativity. No big deal.
Bad Grades and a Broken Leg
Chris Johnson wanted nothing more than to play professional football, but after a terrible senior year, it seemed impossible. A broken leg ended his last high school fall football season, not to mention he was failing. Without the grades or test scores, he wasn’t eligible for an NCAA competition, and no school would offer him a scholarship. A career in football was looking bleak. That was until East Carolina head coach John Thompson offered to help Johnson with his studies. Higher grades led to a NCAA scholarship, and eventually a position as running back for the Arizona Cardinals.
Conquering His Learning Disability
Entrepreneur Richard Branson was a not a very good student. He had dyslexia, which affected his ability to read, write and learn. This caused him to perform poorly on standardized tests. Teachers mistakenly thought he was lazy and stupid. He refused to allow his disability to get in the way of his success, and instead adapted a managing style that accommodated his dyslexia. His disability has presented certain obstacles in his career, such as his ability to understand certain business jargon, but he never let that hold him back. His corporation Virgin Group has a net worth of 7.2 billion dollars.
Incest and Abuse
Prior to her mother and sister’s success as country singers, Ashley Judd and her family were so poor they often lived without electricity and indoor plumbing. Her parents divorced when she was four and Ashley was often left home with her father as her sister and mother toured. Ashley was sexually abused by several men in her life, including a family member. The worst part was that no one believed her. By the time she was seven, she was suffering with severe depression, and later contemplated suicide. She pulled herself out of the hole and became a successful actress.
Institutionalized and Emancipated
Drew Barrymore became an instant celebrity at the age of seven after starring in E.T. Her parents soon divorced, and her violently alcoholic father was unavailable while her mother was eccentric and irresponsible. She even took Drew clubbing at age nine at the infamous Studio 54, where Drew witnessed drug use and was encouraged to dance with young famous men. By 12, Drew was in rehab, and the following year her mother locked her up in a mental institution for 18 months. At 14 Drew emancipated herself from her parents. After a few ups and downs, she managed to pick herself up and become the massively talented star that we love today.