20 Celebrities Who Actually Had Really Hard Childhoods

We often idolize celebrities, assuming that they’ve had it all easy from the start. But trust us; there’s more to the picture than meets the eye. Because behind the glimmering lights and glitzy parties, these stars have faced hardships that would cause your heart to ache.

One Redditor asked, “Which celebrities had genuinely hard childhoods?” thousands of users commented on this thread, and we have picked the top 20 celebrities for you!

1. Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton performs in Pittsburgh Tuesday, June 28 at Consol Energy Center. Parton is currently on her first major U.S. and Canadian tour in 25 years.
Image Credit: Jack Fordyce/Shutterstock.

When Dolly was just a kid, her family lost their home in a terrible fire. Can you imagine that? They lost everything they had, but they didn’t lose hope. 

A discerning Reddit user commented, “Dolly Parton. She grew up dirt poor with a ton of siblings in a shack in Appalachia. It’s one of the reasons she is so intent on giving back to people and helping her home area.”

Another person shared similar thoughts and mentioned, “She is truly the gem of East Tennessee. Both of my children participated in her ‘Books from Birth’ program and it helped foster their love of reading. I wish everyone strived to be more like Dolly.”

2. Judy Garland

Judy Garland, american actress and singer as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, in the Madame Tussaud wax museum, TImes Square, New York City.
Image Credit: Rodolpho de Souza/Shutterstock.

One said, “Judy Garland not only had a rough life at home, she’s the ultimate cautionary tale of the dangers of being a child star.”

Another replied, “She was placed on stage to make money as a kid/young teen, and then they started to drug her to be able to perform the way the studio wanted. The set of the Wizard of Oz was heck, they put her on a diet to make her look like a kid (since she was like 19 or something).

She was only allowed to smoke and eat something I don’t remember, they drugged her more, and then she ended up being a drug addict and dying young to an overdose, I don’t remember if it was accidental or s**cide. You should do more research; there is more to it than I remember.”

Judy grew up in a showbiz family, and you’d think that would make things easier, right? Wrong! From a tender age, she had to deal with the dark side of fame.

3. Arnold Schwarzenegger

Italy Rome 25/01/2013 Photocall of the movie 'The last stand' with the Actors Arnold Schwarzenegger Jaimie Alexander and Johnny Knoxville
Image Credit: lucacavallari/Shutterstock.

Back in Austria, in a little village, young Arnold grew up with big dreams. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing for this future bodybuilder and actor. He came from a modest family, and money was tighter than his biceps. But you know what? Arnold didn’t let that stop him. 

A Reddit user wrote, “I think financially they weren’t bad off, but I’d say Arnold Schwarzenegger’s childhood sounded pretty awful. His father was a former Nazi whom the war broke and was a violent, ab*sive alcoholic who openly suspected that his son wasn’t actually his and transparently favored his brother. Plus, growing up after the war itself wasn’t exactly going to be cheerful.”

Another added, “I remember some interview where Arnold was talking about his bodybuilding, and he said that he felt like he could’ve been even stronger from a younger age, but his family could only afford to eat meat a few times a month.”

4. Courtney Love 

Courtney Love arriving at Satellite Awards on February 23, 2014 in Century City, Los Angeles, Ca.
Image Credit: Serge Rocco/Shutterstock.

A discerning Reddit user commented, “Courtney Love wasn’t mentioned yet. Her father was physically abusive (he’s been filmed talking about setting dogs on her, and he gave her LSD as a child), her parents had an ugly divorce, her mum was emotionally abusive/distant, started a new family who she favored. Courtney was in juvenile homes and working as a stripper when she was underage.”

Another person agreed to it and said, “Her mother started a new family in New Zealand, then sent Courtney back to the US at 9 years old to be raised by her stepfather. So awful.”

Picture this: growing up in a broken home and bouncing from one place to another. Courtney’s childhood was far from stable, and it’s no surprise that she turned out to be a bit of a wild child. Her parents split when she was just a kid, and she had to deal with all that on her own!

5. Jennette McCurdy

Jennette McCurdy at the Los Angeles premiere of "The To Do List" at the Regency Bruin Theatre, Westwood. July 23, 2013 Los Angeles, CA
Image Credit: Featureflash Photo Agency/Shutterstock.

Jennette grew up in a single-parent home. Her mom worked multiple jobs to keep the lights on and food on the table. But life had other plans, and her mom got sick, like, really sick. Imagine being a kid and watching your superhero mom struggle with health issues. Tragic, isn’t it? 

One said, “Reading Jennette McCurdy’s book broke my heart.”

Another replied, “Absolutely loved her book. I wasn’t a fan previously; I was already aged out of those shows when iCarly was on. But I saw her interviewed somewhere about the books, and it resonated, as someone with a dead mom who I had a complicated relationship with at times (but will say I’m NOT glad my mom’s dead, lol). 

I got the audiobook, and I recommend it to everybody. She talks about her narc mom but also growing up religious and in purity culture, being a child breadwinner, and her complicated feelings about it all. She’s a great writer, and I hope we get more books.”

6. Christina Aguilera

Christina Aguilera on stage for CBS The Early Show Concert with Christina Aguilera, Midtown Manhattan, New York, NY June 9, 2010
Image Credit: Everett Collection/Shutterstock.

A Reddit user wrote, “Christina Aguilera experienced a lot of domestic violence growing up; she has a song about it called I’m Okay.”

Another added, “Wasn’t she also horribly bullied at school? I remember her talking about school was really difficult, so she had to be home-schooled instead.”

Behind the scenes, Christina battled insecurities, body image issues, and even pressure to fit into a certain mold!

7. Leighton Meester

Leighton Meester at the Los Angeles Premiere of "Star Trek" held at the Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California, United States on April 30, 2009.
Image Credit: Tinseltown/Shutterstock.

Someone commented, “Her parents were both in prison when she was born. Her mom was able to stay in a halfway house with her for three months after she was born. She then went to her grandparents, and her mom went back to serve the rest of her sentence.”

Another person shared similar thoughts and mentioned, “Leighton actually initially became a child model and actor to support the family who were, unfortunately, living in a state of poverty and food insecurity due to her parent’s criminal records making it difficult to find employment. They moved from Florida to NY and then later to LA for her career before she ever turned 18. 

After hitting it big on Gossip Girl, she was funding her family pretty much, including her younger brother, who is chronically ill. After a couple of years, Leighton found out the 7.5k she was sending per month to fund her brother’s living needs and medical bills was actually being spent by her mother on Botox and plastic surgery. 

Her mother then claimed that there was a verbal contract for Leighton to start sending >100k per annum, and she tried to sue her for 3 million. Leighton initially tried to get custody of her brother when she was only 25 to ensure that the money would definitely go to him and not her mother and eventually had to open a lawsuit just to get her mother out of her life which she luckily won at age 26. 

Her mother then gave interviews to the paps saying that she had been treated unfairly and that Leighton never sees her brother anymore (which Leighton rebuked), and that she only found out when Leighton was getting married/pregnant through the media. Like boohoo woman cry me a river that your daughter won’t talk to you anymore after everything you did.”

But here’s what’s so awesome about Leighton- she didn’t let her tough childhood hold her back. Nope, she knew she wanted to be an actress, so she went after her dreams like a girl on a mission.

8. Tobey Maguire

Tobey Maguire arrives for the ‘Babylon’ Hollywood Premiere on December 15, 2022 in Los Angeles, CA
Image Credit: DFree/Shutterstock.

Long before Tobey Maguire swung through the city as the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, he was a young boy facing a turbulent upbringing. 

A discerning Reddit user commented, “Tobey Maguire had it tough, which is crazy because you’d never even know. Young parents, moving around a lot, being at homeless shelters, being a young alcoholic, and being on the child actor circuit meant he was growing up around some unsavory people. 

Not speculating anything but it’s concerning how child actors are surrounded by such predatory people in general: Bob Villard (he and Leo Dicaprio’s old manager who got busted for CP) was so close that he took him to Hawaii on vacation with Chris Pettiet (another child actor who passed away of an OD in the 2000s).”

Another person pitched in to say, “His aunt passed away from cancer, and his father had to support all his cousins. Then his dad had reason to believe he had cancer and so robbed a bank for money to support his family. Dad then went to jail, and therefore Tobey was basically the main breadwinner on steroids while going through everything else.”

9. Richard Pryor

LOS ANGELES - MAY 1: Richard Pryor Jr at the 2019 Daytime Emmy Nominees Reception at the Castle Green on May 1, 2019 in Pasadena, CA
Image Credit: Jean_Nelson via DepositPhotos.com.

In the realm of comedy, few names shine as brightly as Richard Pryor. Known for his raw, unfiltered humor and groundbreaking stand-up routines, Pryor left an indelible mark on the world of entertainment. However, behind the laughter and applause lies a tumultuous childhood that shaped the man he is today! 

One said, “Richard Pryor. From Wiki: “Pryor was born on December 1, 1940, in Peoria, Illinois. He grew up in a brothel run by his grandmother, Marie Carter, where his alcoholic mother, Gertrude L. (née Thomas), was a prostitute.[4] His father, LeRoy “Buck Carter” Pryor (June 7, 1915 – September 27, 1968), was a former boxer, hustler, and pimp.[5] 

After Gertrude abandoned him when he was 10, Pryor was raised primarily by Marie,[6] a tall, violent woman who would beat him for any of his eccentricities. Pryor was one of four children raised in his grandmother’s brothel. He was intimately  ab*sed at age seven,[7] and expelled from school at the age of 14.[8]””

Another replied, “He was able to talk about this a lot on his standup. It must have been cathartic. So many of his characters and stories were based on real-life.”

10. Mariah Carey

Mariah Carey on Hollywood Boulevard where she was honored with the 2,556th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Image credit: Featureflash Photo Agency/Shutterstock.

When we think of Mariah Carey, the image of a dazzling diva with a soaring voice often comes to mind. Her chart-topping hits, stunning vocal range, and glamorous lifestyle paint a picture of fame and fortune. However, beneath the glittering exterior lies a story of resilience and triumph over adversity.

A Reddit user wrote, “Mariah Carey. Her sister tried to drug her and pimp her out. She goes into detail in her book. Grew up poor, mother wasn’t the best, racism, a lot of things, so it’s nice to see how successful she became.”

Another added, “Her brother was incarcerated and living abroad to run the fact. Her sister is an HIV-positive prostitute + Drug Addict. Her addiction forced Mariah to take care of her children. Her father left them. It’s kinda insane how far she’d make it.”

11. Demi Moore

Demi Moore arrives at the world premiere of the movie "Valentine's Day" held at The Chinese Theater, February 8, 2010 in Hollywood, CA.
Image Credit: Music4mix/Shutterstock.

Demi Moore! Before she became a Hollywood sensation, her childhood was marred by her father’s alcoholism and her mother’s mental health struggles. She had to switch schools constantly, and her family life was far from stable. Yet, she didn’t let her past dictate her future; she embraced her talent and made her mark in the industry.

Someone commented, “Her mom let some man she knew attack her for 500$. She was 15.”

Another person agreed to it and said, “This elevated Demi in my eyes even more. From overcoming her alcoholism to supporting her 2nd husband through what are his last days to being a force for her daughters during their struggles with drugs and alcohol, this woman is an absolute force.”

12. Shania Twain

Shania Twain arrives for 'I Still Believe' Los Angeles Special Screening on March 07, 2020 in Hollywood, CA
Image Credit: DFree/Shutterstock.

When we hear the name Shania Twain, our minds conjure up images of a talented and glamorous country music superstar. But it’s not exactly what it looks like.

A Reddit user wrote, “Raised native, so lots of inter-generational trauma.  Abuse and domestic violence. Her parents died in a car crash when she was 22, and she had to raise her younger siblings. Amazing gritty woman and one of my heroes.”

Another person shared similar thoughts and mentioned, “Yeah, I was gonna say Shania Twain; what a legend of a woman.”

Another person pitched in to say, “The things this lady went through before AND after fame are… crazy.”

13. Rose McGowan

Rose Mcgowan arrives at 'Cinema Against AIDS 2005', at Le Moulin de Mougins at the 58th Cannes Film Festival on May 19, 2005 in Cannes, France
Image Credit: Denis Makarenko/Shutterstock.

Born in 1973 in Florence, Italy, Rose McGowan’s early life was far from glamorous. Her parents were members of the Children of God cult, which subjected its followers to a strict and oppressive lifestyle. 

A discerning Reddit user commented, “Rose McGowan grew up in a cult (Children of God iirc) and ran away as a teenager.”

Another added, “Children of God was extremely abusive. Totally normalized beating your children as well as intimate abuse of children.”

14. Viola Davis

Viola Davis arrives to the ABC TCA Press Party 2016 on August 04, 2016 in Hollywood, CA
Image Credit: DFree/Shutterstock.

One said, “Viola Davis. She wrote about growing up in poverty in her memoir. I’m amazed at just how much she’s had to overcome.”

Another replied, “Every kind of abuse. The poverty was EXTREME. Really awful living conditions. The racism of growing up in an all-white town. Bullying. Oppression. Severe domestic violence in the home. You name it. Highly recommend listening to the audiobook because hearing her tell her own story is especially powerful. She’s truly inspiring.”

From her compelling performances on screen to her powerful speeches on important issues, Viola has established herself as one of the most respected figures in Hollywood.

15. Macaulay Culkin

Macaulay Culkin at the "Changeland" Los Angeles Premiere at the ArcLight Hollywood on June 3, 2019 in Los Angeles, CA
Image Credit: Kathy Hutchins/Shutterstock.

Macaulay’s acting career began at a young age, and it quickly skyrocketed to international fame with his breakout role in “Home Alone” at the age of 10. As a child actor, he was under immense pressure to maintain his status and continue delivering box-office hits. The demands of fame and the spotlight added to the challenges he faced in his personal life.

Someone commented, “I remember an interview where Chris Columbus talked about how important it was for him to cast kids with good parents and families for Harry Potter after seeing what happened with Macaulay after Home Alone.”

Another person said, “He did an interview not too long ago talking about how abusive his dad was to his mother, his siblings, but most of all himself. His dad was weirdly jealous of Macaulay’s talent but used him to make money. They were pretty poor as well, from what Macaulay talks about.

It’s really no wonder why he went off the deep end for a while. It makes my heart happy to see him with Brenda Song now, and they have a child together. I have always been a huge Macaulay stan (I’m a 90s kid), so I’m glad to see that he’s worked through his trauma and has gotten better. I’m sure he still struggles with it, of course, but it’s good to see him looking happy and healthy.”

16. Samantha Morton

Samantha Morton attends the AFI Fest premier of Everybody's Fine on November 3, 2009 at The Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood.
Image Credit: Photo Works/Shutterstock.

A Reddit user wrote, “Samantha Morton grew up in the foster care system and had tough upbringings from the sounds of it.”

Another person agreed to it and said, “Samantha Morton has said she was intimately abused as a child while in foster care. She reported it to the police, but nothing came of it. Unfortunately, this is the reality for a lot of kids in foster care or from poor neighborhoods. The police see them as being from “bad backgrounds”, therefore, they are “bad kids”; therefore, the police don’t take them seriously when they’re abused. There’s been a lot of scandals in the UK about this. It’s stomach-turning.”

At the age of 16, Samantha made the courageous decision to leave home and strike out on her own. She moved to London, determined to pursue her dreams of becoming an actress.

17. Michael Jackson

BANGKOK, TH - DEC. 13: Michael Jackson wax figure at Madame Tussauds Bangkok on December 13, 2016 in Pathumwan, Bangkok, Thailand.
Image Credit: Walter Eric Sy/Shutterstock.

One said, “The Jacksons, 2300 Jackson Street, is still open, and you can see how small it was. Imagine being trapped in that with a violent, philandering, failed musician and his hyper-religious wife who does not and will not interfere. Now imagine if that violent man decided it was your kids’ job to solve the families’ poverty problem, even if he had to beat the talent out of you. I remember there being a lot of allegations against Joe in regards to his abuse of his family, but as I’m not an MJ fan anymore, it’s hard to remember.”

Another replied, “What makes me even more upset at his mom is that, apparently, his father once hit her, and she was not afraid to tell him never to do it again or else she’ll leave. But she just shrugged and let him abuse their kids. Michael Jackson was a messed up person, and his parents kickstarted it.”

Michael Jackson faced rumors and controversies that overshadowed his immense talent throughout his life. Speculations about his appearance, health, and personal life were constantly scrutinized by the public. These challenges took a toll on his mental and emotional well-being, adding to the complexity of his difficult childhood experiences.

18. Kelsey Grammar

Kelsey Grammer at the Los Angeles premiere of "Like Father" at the Arclight Theatre
Image Credit: Featureflash Photo Agency/Shutterstock.

A discerning Reddit user commented, “Kelsey Grammar’s father and sister were murdered in separate events, and later two of his half brothers died in a scuba accident.”

After his father’s death, Kelsey relocated to New Jersey, where he faced financial struggles.

Another added, “His second marriage, to Leigh-Anne Csuhany in September 1992, lasted one year. When Csuhany was three months pregnant, Grammer filed for an annulment and evicted her from their home; Grammer claimed she was abusive and fired a gun at him.”

19. Jim Carrey

Jim Carey
Image Credit Anton_Ivanov/Shutterstock.

When we think of Jim Carrey, laughter is the first thing that comes to mind, but there’s more to that!

A Reddit user wrote, “Jim Carrey – His family lived in a car and were janitors overnight in a factory. As a child, Jim would carry a broom and a bucket around a dingy factory and clean toilets and floors, all while trying to get through elementary school during the day.”

Another person shared similar thoughts and mentioned, “not to mention he suffers from depression and takes Prozac.”

20. Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey at the 29th Santa Barbara International Film Festival Montecito Award at the Arlington Theater on February 5, 2014 in Santa Barbara, CA
Image Credit: Joe Seer/Shuterstock.

Before becoming a media mogul, Oprah was raised in poverty in the rural corners of Mississippi. She faced racial discrimination and abuse and even became pregnant as a teenager. But you know what? She didn’t let her hardships define her; she took charge of her life and conquered the world.

One said, “Just going to quote the first paragraph of Oprah’s personal life section on Wikipedia: “Winfrey was born into poverty in rural Mississippi to a single teenage mother and later raised in inner-city Milwaukee. She has stated that she was molested during her childhood and early teenage years and became pregnant at 14; her son was born prematurely and died in infancy.”

Another replied, “To add: Her uncle, cousin, and a family acquaintance ab*sed her when she was nine years old. I know we hate billionaires, but by god, I would be lying if I said it was wildly inspiring to come from this to where she is now.”

Another person agreed to it and said, “had to scroll way too far for this. What she endured as a child is absolutely heartbreaking.”


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LAS VEGAS - APR 02: Chadwick Boseman arrives for the CinemaCon 2019 - STXfilms presentation "The State of the Industry: Past, Present and Future' on April 02, 2019 in Las Vegas, NV.
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English actor Christian Bale arrives at the Los Angeles Premiere Of Netflix's 'The Pale Blue Eye' held at the Directors Guild of America Theater Complex on December 14, 2022 in Los Angeles, California, United States
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Kylie Jenner wearing Balmain arrives at the 2022 Billboard Music Awards
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Taylor Swift performs at her concert in Shanghai, China, 30 May 2014.
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This article was produced and syndicated by A Dime Saved.