10 Celebrities with Dark Family Pasts

We’d like to think that celebrities are cut from a different cloth, but they are no different from us. From the strange to the downright horrifying, these 10 celebrities come from dark family pasts that rival the storylines of the movies they act in.

Without further ado, here is the list of 10 celebrities with dark family pasts.

#1 Christian Bale


Do you ever have the sinking suspicion that your family is from the circus? Christian Bale can relate because his family really were circus folk. A clown and dancer, Christian’s mom Jenny moved from European city to city entertaining audiences. By the time he was 15, Bale had lived in 15 of those cities. While that’s hardly dark and more interesting than anything, here is where the possibly sinister comes in. Christian’s mom and sister called the police on him after they alleged that he violently assaulted them. Bale said it just wasn’t so… even though this wasn’t the first time that Christian was said to have acted out violently.

#2 Tobey McGuire

Great Gatsby actor and best friend to Gatsby himself, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey McGuire’s life looks pretty rosy… but it wasn’t always so. After Tobey’s aunt fell victim to cancer, Tobey’s dad Vincent was left not only raising Tobey but the two children his sister left behind in death. Fearing he couldn’t put food on the table, Vincent staged a bank robbery across the street from his house. He was caught and since he attempted the robbery unarmed and on foot, he only served two years in prison.

#3 Joaquin Phoenix

Joaquin Phoenix has one of the coolest names in Hollywood but the truth is that he used to be Joaquin Bottom. Oh how the tides could have turned! Bottom is a horribly uncool name after all. But we digress; Phoenix was the name that Joaquin’s family took on not as a stage name but as a way to start fresh and rising from the ashes of living life in the cult entitled The Children of God, based on free love and a massively big distortion of Christian principles.

#4 Woody Harrelson


Ever wonder how Woody became such a funny guy? He had to laugh. As it turned out his dad was allegedly a contract killer that murdered a judge and a grain dealer. Woody tried to get his dad a new trial and was a regular at the prison for visits. Unfortunately, Woody’s dad would die before he got the chance but we are sure that Woody’s visits were just as valuable to his father as freedom.

#5 Kathy Griffin

When it comes to gossip and trash talkers, Kathy Griffin is about as fiery and loose lipped as they come. Perhaps that is why it came as no surprise that in her tell-all book lots of s@#% hit the fan. Kathy claimed that her brother was “sexually inappropriate” with her as a young girl and even went on to call him a “wife beater.” If this is true, we feel horrible for Kathy, and it would explain her crude and cruel persona; however, if it’s not… consider the source. Kathy isn’t exactly the picture of morals.

#6 Rose McGowan


Charmed? Not so much. Like Joaquin, Rose was raised in The Children of God cult. Though Rose says she always knew something wasn’t quite right, it wasn’t until her dad swooped up the family and moved them far away that she realized she was absolutely correct. The adult members were having sex with the children of the cult. McGowan’s father left the cult to keep his children safe.

#7 Jack Nicholson

This one is stranger than fiction as the truth often is…

In 1937, a newborn Jack Nicholson came into the world but in this time there were some things in a ‘30s universe that could destroy a family. Jack grew up in the same house with a sister, 19 year old June Nicholson – his birth mother. Jack didn’t know of the family secret until a TIME reporter revealed the news to Jack that the woman he thought was his mother was in all actuality his grandmother. Nicholson went more than four decades of his life without knowing that John and Ethel May were his grandparents and not his birth parents.

#8 Kevin Spacey

A brilliant, award winning actor? Check. Son of a Nazi father? Maybe. At least that is what Kevin’s eldest brother Randall Fowler claimed. Randall told the press that his dad was a member of the American Nazi Party and that he was so involved that he would trim his moustache to resemble Hitler’s infamous facial hair. If that wasn’t scary enough, Fowler recounted claims of emotional, physical and sexual abuse… but Spacey cried foul. Who is telling the truth about this deep dark family secret? Only this sibling duo knows that answer.

#9 Charlize Theron


While you’d never guess that this golden girl had any skeletons in her closet you’d be wrong. Though Charlize has only spoken out about it once, Charlize witnessed her father’s murder. Her mother shot him after he threatened to kill her and a young Theron. Because the killing happened in self-defense, there were no charges or trial.

#10 Jason Sudeikis

SNL royalty Jason Sudeikis started his career as a sketch writer that quickly became a familiar face on the cast of the iconic weekend comedy show. After appearing on an episode of Who Do You Think You Are, a show that traces celebrity heritage, Jason learned that a 1920s census cited his granddad was living a double life… with two different families. Talk about a revelation! Seeing as how Sudeikis is betrothed to Oliva Wilde, we don’t think Jason is at risk of repeating his grandfather’s lifestyle choices.

Who were you shocked the most with?

About the author

Spencer Grace

Spencer Grace is a longtime celebrity and style writer for Fish Wrapper, Celeb Zen, ABC Family and top design houses around the world. Spence has a BA in literature and creative writing from Columbia University and resides in New York, New York with her husband Brian.

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  • I was more shocked with Joaquin Phoenix, and Rose McGowan, because two very different actors, shared an equally dark past in that particular cult.