To many, an actor is only the character he or she portrays on screen. Our notions of an actor mostly derive from the voices, mannerisms, and costumes they put on with the sole intention of making us believe that they are someone else.
In lots of ways, we own the actor. Who they are depends entirely on how we choose to see them. But in reality, we are merely distant spectators observing them through a tiny keyhole. If we opened the door, a thousand secrets would emerge, destroying the illusion.
While some actors have been open about their past, others have chosen to keep theirs backstage, so to speak. There are also some who have used their own tragic experiences when depicting a character who has endured similar losses or hurt. Many have been able to overcome their pain and have gone on to make some seriously big box-office hits, even picking up some awards along the way.
The fourth wall should rarely ever be crossed, but we're about to smash it to pieces as we list 15 Horrific Tragedies That Happened To Actors In Real Life.
15 Macaulay Culkin
He was the most lovable child star of the '90s, and films like Home Alone and My Girl made him unusually famous for a boy of his age. But his fragmented relationship with his father and the turmoil brought on by his overwhelming success paved the way for a troubled youth and Culkin eventually became renowned for his problems with the law and drug use.
In 2008, Macaulay’s 29 year old sister, Dakota, was struck by a car and killed. Dakota was the only Culkin sibling to stay out of the spotlight. The tragedy did not bring the Culkin siblings and their father together, as the damage is seemingly irreversible, but most of us are still waiting for a Macaulay comeback.
14 Jennifer Hudson
Hudson won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress after starring as Effie in her first film, Dreamgirls. Although her acting career has never reached such heights since, she has achieved a lot within the music industry and even went on to receive several Grammys.
Just as her musical career was kicking off, a terrible tragedy struck on October 2008 when Hudson’s mother, brother, and 7 year old nephew were shot dead by her brother in law, William Balfour. After speaking about her loss on the Oprah Winfrey Show, Jennifer went on to say that she had forgiven William, saying "Had you had the love my mother gave us, or the background that some have, then you would've stood a chance."
13 Jim Carrey
Jim Carrey first graced our screens in the sketch comedy show In Living Color and quickly became the '90s comedy king, starring in films like Dumb and Dumber and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. But his talent was not limited to being the 'funny guy', as he showed us the scale of his acting ability in films such as The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine for a Spotless Mind.
Regrettably, Carrey’s former girlfriend Cathriona White ended her life with prescription drugs just days after their split. Cathriona’s mother, Brigid, claims the medication was given to her by Carrey and also stated that Carrey knowingly gave her daughter STDs. Although Carrey denies both allegations, a trial will be held next year.
12 Pierce Brosnan
You may have loved him as James Bond or absolutely hated him as Stu in Mrs. Doubtfire (we all know he deserved that lime thrown at his head), but Pierce Brosnan has always been, well, he’s always been Pierce Brosnan. And whether you love him or hate him, he’s always got that suave glint in his eyes that says,“I just don’t give a damn”, which is why you’ve gotta love him.
Brosnan had been married to his wife Cassandra for 11 years when she passed away due to ovarian cancer. Later, his daughter Charlotte died from the same disease at age 42 (one year younger than her mother was when she passed). Thankfully, he was able to get the support he needed from his family and he's currently working on a bunch of different projects.
11 Helena Bonham Carter
Helena Bonham Carter is well known for her eccentricity both on and off screen. Her Tim Burton movie catalogue is a long one, to say the least, stuffed with names like Corpse Bride, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Sweeney Todd, to name a few. And let's not forget her bold and unabashed female roles, from Maria in Fight Club to Madame Thenardier in Les Miserables.
But what many don’t know about the actress is that in 2008, four of her relatives were killed in a minibus accident while on safari in Africa. Her second cousin, Graham Bonham Carter (who survived the accident along with his sister and eldest nephew) lost his wife, mother, nephew and stepfather that day, so obviously, this was a huge loss for the entire family.
10 John Travolta
Travolta has never been afraid of a little variety. Starting out as Danny Zuko in Grease, he went on to star in Quentin Tarantino’s epic Pulp Fiction (which also propelled his career upwards after a mini dry spell of bad flicks) and, to top it off, he even played Mrs. Edna Turnblad in Hairspray. So yeah, Travolta is definitely one of the more surprising actors in the industry!
He’s been married to the breathtaking Kelly Preston for a whopping 25 years, but their marriage has not been an easy ride. In 2009, their autistic son, Jett Travolta, sadly passed away after having a seizure and severely hitting his head. The actor did manage to overcome his grief, however, and even went on to set up a non-profit organization named after his son for children with special needs.
9 Miles Teller
Teller is one of today’s most prominent rising stars, and it’s not difficult to see why. After starring in films such as The Spectacular Now and Whiplash, Teller is known for charming an audience with such ease, it's hard to believe he is actually acting.
His unique scars are frequently mentioned during interviews. They are remnants of an accident he suffered when his friend lost control of the car they were in. Being only 20 at the time, he was forced to come to terms with the drastic changes to his face (the scars were much worse back then) and his new perceptions of the fragility of life. The car flipped 8 times and Teller was lucky to have survived, having been propelled from the vehicle at a horrific speed and damaging both his shoulder and wrist. Then in 2008, one year after his scarring incident, two of his friends tragically passed away, one in a motorbike accident, the other in a car crash.
Today, it seems road accidents are a theme in his own films; Rabbit Hole, The Spectacular Now, Whiplash and Bleed For This all contain car accidents which alter the direction of their narratives.
8 Liam Neeson
Most people would love to be related to this guy; not just because you know he would rescue you if you were ever kidnapped by a gang of perverted criminals, but because he has played some of the most chivalrous action heroes of all time and continues to be one of the most beloved actors in Hollywood.
But Neeson's life was thrown into turmoil when his wife Natasha Richardson, famous for family flicks and rom-coms such as The Parent Trap and Maid in Manhattan, died after suffering a head injury during a ski lesson. In honor of Richardson, who had been a adored member of the theater community, the lights were lowered in the West End in London and on Broadway in New York. Luckily for Neeson fans, the Irish actor went on to complete the Taken franchise, as well as star in renowned films such as A Monster Calls -- despite his harrowing loss.
7 Michelle Williams
Starting her career in all time teen favorite, Dawson’s Creek, William’s went on to star in some highly acclaimed movies, proving that she was an actress to be taken seriously. One such film was Brokeback Mountain. It was during the filming of this Ang Lee classic that she met Heath Ledger, who went on to win a Golden Globe for Best Actor for his mumbling yet compelling depiction of Ennis Del Mar.
After about 3 years together, Williams and Ledger split and both parties took the break-up badly. After the split, Ledger took on his infamous role as the Joker in The Dark Knight. During filming, he went through long spells of both insomnia and anxiety, resulting in the heavy prescription drug use which ultimately led to his death. After the tragic news had emerged that Ledger had been found dead at his apartment of an accidental overdose, Williams was heartbroken and publicly stated: "I am the mother of the most tender-hearted, high-spirited, beautiful little girl who is the spitting image of her father. All that I can cling to is his presence inside her that reveals itself every day."
6 Lea Michele
Lea Michele first shot to fame after starring in Glee, the hit Fox show centered around the members of a high school glee club. Lea Michele and Cory Monteith starred as high school sweethearts, Rachel and Finn, on the series before becoming sweethearts in real life.
With a history of heavy substance abuse, Monteith was found dead in a hotel room after a drug overdose. Michele and the rest of the Glee cast were, of course, devastated by this, but continued the show without the beloved character of Finn Hudson. Michele went on to pursue a music career, and dedicated two songs ("If You Say So" and "Hey You") to her lost love.
Michele has remained a TV teen star after playing Hester Ulrich in slasher comedy Scream Queens and currently has a few TV projects up her sleeve. She has also worked with a bunch of different charities helping raise awareness of the issues that most concern her whilst still maintaining a successful music career in America.
5 Joaquin Phoenix
Joaquin is renowned for his work in films such as Walk the Line (which won him an Oscar) and Gladiator (who can forget his sadistic portrayal of Commodus the power hungry creep?). But before his own acting career took off, Joaquin lived in the shadow of his older brother, River Phoenix, who was one of the biggest teen actors of the 80s. If he were alive today, it's a pretty safe bet that River would be one of the most successful actors in the field.
Like many young actors coping with fast-paced success, however, River fell victim to heavy drug use. Joaquin was at the same night club as his brother when he suffered an overdose just outside the venue walls. He made the 911 call, but medics were unable to resuscitate him, thus ending a career and a life that were cut too short. River died at 23, yet his films live on as cult classics.
4 Owen Wilson
Owen Wilson is good at what he does. Highly praised for his comedy roles, he doesn’t see much reason to delve into other genres where laughter takes a back seat. He did, however, dabble in script-writing and even co-wrote The Royal Tenenbaums alongside the magnificent Wes Anderson, proving that there is a lot more to this funnyman.
Although a maestro at comedy, Wilson has been diagnosed with depression, and he sadly attempted to take his own life in 2007, which was allegedly brought on by his break up with co-star Kate Hudson (whom he met on the set of You, Me and Dupree). Unexpectedly, Hudson and Wilson got back together roughly a year later, but called it quits once again after just a couple of months.
After hitting rock bottom, Wilson has since been on the up and up, starring in popular movies such as Midnight in Paris and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Wilson has not written anything since his breakdown and said that if he ever picked up the pen again, it would be to write a more personal script.
3 Charlize Theron
Theron won an Oscar in 2003 for her role as Aileen Wuornos in Monster and if you’ve ever seen that movie, you'll know how much of a transformation she underwent in order to depict Aileen. She's recently become one of the industry's biggest action stars as well; her stint as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road received critical acclaim, and you can catch her in theaters now playing a badass MI6 agent in spy flick Atomic Blonde.
The actress has a huge catalogue of accomplishments, but conversely, Theron’s childhood was plagued by fear. At just 15, she witnessed her extremely volatile and abusive father being shot dead by her mother in self defense. Theron has been candid about her past and prefers to see it as something that has molded her, rather than something she should keep hidden.
In 2007, Theron set up The Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project, an organization that helps support children against HIV/AIDS with a particular focus on her home country of South Africa, which is where the tragedy took place.
2 Sofia Vergara
Sofia Vergara has become one of the highest paid actresses on TV for her role in Modern Family, so even if you don’t find the show remotely funny, she is making stacks right now. Her career on the small screen started with a Pepsi commercial in Latin America, after which she was picked up by a Spanish TV channel, prompting the actress to move to the US.
Unfortunately, along with her success in the States came the kidnapping and murder of her older brother Rafael back in her birth place of Colombia. Later, in 2011, her younger brother Julio, who had been living with her in Miami, was deported back to Colombia after problems with drug and alcohol addiction. Sofia has said she stays strong for her loved ones, but she's definitely had a rough go of it with her siblings.
1 Keanu Reeves
Although he looks like he’s been frozen in time (seriously, what face cream does this guy use?), Keanu Reeves has been acting for decades now. Starting out in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, he has done everything from rom-coms (yep, we're talking about The Lake House) to classic actions movies (Speed, of course).
Everyone knew him before he was cast as Neo in The Matrix and as the titular hero in John Wick but that didn't stop both characters from becoming action movie icons. Sure, he’s not the most disciplined actor in the world, but let’s face it, Hollywood would be dull without him.
Keanu has faced many obstacles. After a rocky childhood and a distant relationship with his father, Keanu met girlfriend Jennifer Syme. After becoming pregnant, Jennifer sadly gave birth to a stillborn baby. Their loss led to a break up and the following year, Jennifer tragically died in a car accident. Despite all this, Keanu Reeves continues to be one of the most bankable leading men in the industry.
What other Hollywood stars have been forced to endure horrific tragedies in their personal lives? Let us know in the comments.