15 Actors Who Had Extremely Messed Up Childhoods

There are some people who were groomed for stardom at a young age. Celebrities will sometimes use their connections to give their kids an early break in show business. This can sometimes backfire, like in the case of Will Smith's children, who both abandoned their acting/music careers after a brief taste of the pressures of stardom.

However, not all celebrities are the progeny of famous people. The vast majority of famous actors and musicians came from humble beginnings. There are some celebrities who were forced to endure terrible hardships before they became famous. Indeed, for some celebrities, it was their fame that acted as the source of the bad things that happened during their childhood.

We are here today to learn about the grim events that happened in the childhoods of many famous celebrities.

From the cult that imprisoned the Phoenix brothers to the evilest men in show business, here are the 15 Actors Who Had Extremely Messed Up Childhoods.

Continue scrolling to keep reading

Click the button below to start this article in quick view

Start Now

15 Charlize Theron

It's a common misconception that Charlize Theron is an American actress. She was actually born in Benoni, which is in South Africa.

Theron is a native of South Africa and lived there until her teens, when she traveled across Europe, before arriving in New York to pursue a Ballet career. She moved to Los Angeles when she nineteen in order to pursue an acting career.

Charlize Theron endured a terrible tragedy during her youth. She witnessed her mother killing her father and shooting her brother. Theron's father was a violent alcoholic, who came home with her brother from drinking and threatened to harm Theron and her mother.

Her father fired his gun in the house, which prompted Theron's mother to defend herself. She also killed her son, though he was only wounded in the attack.

The attorney general ruled the death as self-defense, so Charlize Theron's mother never served any jail time for the crime.

14 Jim Carrey

Jim Carrey in The Number 23

It's not that unusual for children to find part-time jobs depending on where you live. You wouldn't think it was out of place to see a kid delivering papers or walking dogs in order to earn cash. There are also children and young teens who drop out of school in order to seek employment as soon as possible.

When Jim Carrey was a child, he was forced to find a full-time job along with the rest of his family due to the fact that their father became unemployed. Carrey's father lost his job at the age of fifty-one, which made it difficult for him to find more work.

This forced all of the family to chip, with Carrey and his siblings finding jobs that they went to after school. Jim Carrey worked eight-hour shifts in a factory after he left school. The financial situation grew so dire that the family of six were forced to live in a van.

13 Joaquin & River Phoenix

The Phoenix family were originally known as the Bottom family. They collectively changed their surname after leaving a dangerous cult that they had once been a part of.

The parents of River and Joaquin Phoenix were hippies who traveled across America and earned money by singing on street corners. They eventually joined a cult known as the Children of God and worked on as fruit farmers in Venezuela.

The family left the Children of God after several years when the parents realized that the leader of the group was only trying to increase his own influence. It was after they left the cult and returned to live in America that they changed their name to Phoenix.

River Phoenix has stated in interviews that he was sexually abused at the age of four by members of the Children of God. Joaquin hasn't made the same kind of allegations, but he has been harshly critical of the Children of God in interviews.

12 George Takei

George Takei as Sulu in Star Trek

George Takei was best known for playing Hikaru Sulu in Star Trek: The Original Series for the longest time. His public image changed in 2005 when he came out of the closet and started talking candidly about his personal and professional life during his stints as the announcer on The Howard Stern Show.

Takei is now known for his presence on social media, where he discusses issues related to human rights and infringement upon civil liberties.

It's no surprise that George Takei is a passionate defender of the rights of others when you consider that he was imprisoned at a young age. Takei and his family were interred at the Rohwer War Relocation Center in 1942.

Like a lot of Japanese-Americans, the Takei family were imprisoned for no reason other than that their heritage was linked to that of the current enemy of the country during World War II.

11 Natalie Wood

Natalie Wood the Searchers

One of the most difficult tasks facing any TV or movie director is trying to coerce a performance out of a child. There are those who say that animals are harder to work with, but that isn't always the case. Eddie the dog from Frasier had more screen presence than most of the kids you will see on the Disney Channel.

There are some parents who are determined to make their children stars. These stage moms and dads are notorious for being pushy and over-bearing to both their children and the production staff.

Natalie Wood endured one of the worst stage mothers in the history of the industry. Maria Stepanovna moved the whole family to Los Angeles in order to help Wood's movie career, even though Natalie was only seven years old at the time. Wood spent her entire youth on studio lots, which included homeschooling.

One of the most notorious incidents involving Natalie Wood's overbearing mother happened on the set Tomorrow Is Forever. When Wood couldn't cry on command, her mother grabbed a butterfly and killed it in front of her daughter's eyes.

10 Judy Garland

Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz

The health and safety laws that exist in Hollywood today weren't always in place. There was a time when performers would work themselves half to death and allow themselves to be put into dangerous situations, as they didn't want to lose their jobs. It took the hard work of actors like Boris Karloff for the actors to unionize and ensure that their safety was being taken into consideration.

Judy Garland suffered by enduring unhealthy habits on the stage, but these were imposed by her own mother. When Judy Garland was a ten-year-old girl, her mother used to take her and her sisters to dodgy clubs and have them perform on the stage. Garland's mother threatened her with physical abuse if she wouldn't perform.

It was during this period that Judy Garland's mother gave her drugs in order to keep her energized on the stage. Louis B. Mayer (the head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) shared these sentiments when he signed Garland to a movie deal. He enforced a diet of soup and amphetamines in order to make Garland lose weight.

9 Brooke Shield

It's amazing that a movie like Pretty Baby would ever be made. The idea that Paramount Pictures distributed a movie in the late seventies which featured a naked little girl is insane. It wasn't even a case of different sensibilities, as the movie was accused of having inappropriate scenes with children at the time of its release.

Pretty Baby also happened to be the big break for Brooke Shields. She had previously starred in soap commercials, but Pretty Baby offered her the chance to star on the big screen.

It's possible for underage boys and girls to appear without clothing in movies, so long as their parent gives permission. This was the case with Thora Birch, who was sixteen when she appeared topless in American Beauty. 

Brooke Shields appeared naked in Pretty Baby when she was only twelve years old. Her first kiss was with her co-star Keith Carradine, who was in his thirties at the time.

Brooke Shields' mother would later allow her daughter to appear practically naked throughout Blue Lagoon when she was only fourteen years old.

8 George Brent

You would think that it would be difficult to get a job in Hollywood when you have a bounty on your head. This is especially true when a foreign government is offering money for you to be returned to their clutches.

Being a wanted criminal didn't stop George Brent from building a big career for himself as a TV and movie actor. He became a member of the IRA in his youth and acted as a courier for the terrorist organization.

George Brent acted as a courier for Michael Collins during the Irish War of Independence. He was forced to flee to America in 1921, as the British government had placed a bounty on his head for his actions.

Brent decided to make the most of his exile, so he spent the next nine years learning to become an actor. He would go on to become a huge star in the '30s and '40s.

7 Glenn Close

Glenn Close in Damages

It seemed as if Glenn Close was going to have an easy path through life. She grew up in an affluent part of Connecticut, as her father served as the personal physician to the ruler of Zaire. This state of affairs would not last, however, as her family joined a cult known as the MRA, which stands for Moral Re-Armament.

From the age of seven to twenty-two, Close and her family moved from the various headquarters and bases owned by the MRA. It was during this period that Glenn Close's life was no longer under her control. All of her actions were dictated by the cult, which included how she dressed, how she spoke to people, and how to think.

Glenn Close left the MRA when she was twenty-two and enrolled at the College of William and Mary. She still refuses to speak about the events surrounding her leaving the cult, as she feels they aren't appropriate.

6 Leighton Meester

It's not unheard of for celebrities to have served time in jail during their youth. Tim Allen spent time in prison for drug trafficking, while Tony Sirico spent a year in jail for robbing a nightclub. The audience is usually forgiving of these crimes, so long as the celebrity seems genuinely sorry and ashamed about their previous crimes.

Leighton Meester is one actress who spent time in jail during her youth -- nine months in fact. Her mother was pregnant when she was arrested for smuggling weed into America. Meester was born in prison and her mother was allowed to nurse her for a few months in a halfway house, before returning to finish her sentence.

The family would be reunited a year and a half later, where they spent the next few years living in desperate poverty. It wasn't until Leighton Meester started finding modeling and acting work in her early teens that this situation changed.

5 Drew Barrymore

Stage parents generally push their children so hard because they want to vicariously live through their achievements. This often leads to rebellion on behalf of the child as they grow up, which can include acting out in various ways.

Drew Barrymore didn't have much of a chance to act out, as her own mother was already doing the work for her. Jaid Barrymore used her young daughter's stardom to live the Hollywood lifestyle.

Drew Barrymore was taken to nightclubs like Studio 54 when she was only seven years old, where she was encouraged to drink and smoke. This led to Drew trying harder drugs over the following years, which landed her in rehab at the age of twelve.

At the age of fourteen, Drew Barrymore legally emancipated herself from her mother. This finally allowed Drew to enter formal education and try to seek a normal existence, as she had spent her entire life up to that point in the movie industry.

4 Tim Roth

Tim Roth has starred in some of the greatest movies ever made. He is a particular favorite of Quentin Tarantino, as the two have collaborated on several amazing projects, such as Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and The Hateful Eight.

Tim Roth is primarily known as an actor, though he did direct a movie in 1999 called The War Zone. This was an adaptation of a book of the same name, which dealt with the topic of inappropriate interactions and abuse between family members. The War Zone would earn Roth several awards for his directing.

The reason Roth chose to direct this movie was that he grew up under similar circumstances. Roth was sexually abused by his grandfather at a young age. He later learned that his own father was also abused by the same man throughout his own upbringing. It was these experiences that prompted him to make The War Zone.

3 Gabriel Byrne

In Treatment Gabriel Byrne

Life may once have turned out very differently for Gabriel Byrne. He spent five years in the seminary while he trained to be a priest. In another life, he may have ended up as a Catholic priest instead of an actor. This was not meant to be, however, due to the experiences of his youth.

Gabriel Byrne has stated in interviews that he was sexually abused as a youth during his time in the priesthood. It was during the period when he served as an altar boy in Dublin, as well as his later time in the seminary.

This happened multiple times while he studied in both Ireland and England. It was these experiences that prompted him to abandon the faith and seek out an acting career. He believes that these experiences impacted him greatly later on in life and made it difficult for him to deal with certain issues that he was dealing with.

2 Ashley Judd

Ashley Judd as Ensign Robin Lefler in Star Trek the Next Generation

Ashley Judd's mother and sister were part of one of the most successful country music acts of all time. The Judds held fifteen number-one hits and won five Grammy Awards throughout their career. Things weren't going as smoothly at home, as Ashley Judd has confirmed in her autobiography: All That Is Bitter & Sweet.

From a young age, Ashley Judd was abused by one of her mother's boyfriends. This kind of abuse continued on with a member of her own family, as Judd was a victim of sexual abuse by a male relative, though she has never named the person. It was these experiences that almost drove Judd to suicide.

Ashley Judd would go on to become a model and actress. It was during a two-month trip to model in Japan that one of her managers and a man who gave her a ride both tried to force themselves on Judd.

1 Corey Haim

Corey Haim

The recent allegations against Harvey Weinstein seem to prove that the Hollywood casting couch is not only a real thing but is still a pervasive force in the industry. It isn't just adult women who are coerced into performing sexual favors in exchange for professional consideration, however, as young boys are also targeted.

Corey Haim was in his early teens when he became a teen idol, with films like The Lost Boys and License to Drive propelling him to stardom. It was during this period that Haim, along with his best friend Corey Feldman, were both targeted by powerful Hollywood executives and abused at a young age. The two of them openly discussed this on their reality show The Two Coreys.

During the segment on The Two Coreys where they talked about their abuse, and Haim accused Feldman of still being friends with his abuser. This has caused numerous speculation as to the identity of this man, who has been described as an A-list celebrity who still operates within the industry to this day


Can you think of any other actors who had messed up childhoods? Let us know in the comments.

More in Lists