There are millions of children who have moved through the foster care system. Many of them either lost their parents at an early age, or never got to know them at all. From political activists to musicians, actors, and athletes, these individuals have emerged at the top of their professions, even after being abandoned by the parents they were born to. Here is a list of celebrities who grew up without knowing their biological parents.
While his smart business decisions would turn him into a billionaire, create the world’s most valuable company, and help reinvent the computer animation industry, Jobs started out in life by being abandoned at birth. He passed away in 2011 after a fight with cancer, but not before starting a family of his own. Sadly, for a very long time he denied that he was the father to one of his daughters.
Marilyn Monroe had a tough childhood. She was given up at a young age and moved around between foster parents, family friends, and aunts and uncles. While she is best known for her later celebrity, she had a miserable childhood. Sadly, she passed away at 36 years old under mysterious circumstances.
Faith Hill is one of the most successful country singers of all time with five Grammy awards for her music. Not many people know that she was given up for adoption at birth. She was raised in a devout Christian household with two other siblings. Today the 48-year-old singer has a family of her own with fellow country superstar husband, Tim McGraw. They have three daughters, who we can only hope have the same country music talent as their parents!
Ray Liotta is known for playing the tough-guy roles we have come to love in Hollywood gangster movies. When he was only six months old he was given up for adoption. With a very successful career throughout the years, we have to admit that the 61-year-old star has done pretty well for himself and probably had a good upbringing.
In one of the saddest circumstances on our list, human rights activist Malcolm X grew up in an orphanage and then the foster care system. His father had died from suspicious circumstances, and his mom then had a complete mental breakdown. Malcolm X died at 40 years old, but not before leaving his mark on the human rights movement.
Andy Dick has appeared in dozens of movies and TV shows, and if he owes any of his success to his upbringing it’s thanks to his adoptive parents. Dick was adopted at birth in Charleston, South Carolina. His adopted father was in the Navy, and Dick spent most of his childhood living in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New York, and Yugoslavia before settling down in Chicago. At 50 years old he has had a successful career and he’s very open about his background.
Blondie singer Deborah “Debbie” Harry was given up at three months old and she has openly talked about how she struggled with her adoption as a child. She revealed that her biological mother was raised in a family that thought musicians were the “slime of the Earth.” Despite her differences with an adoptive parental unit, she has gone on to sell millions of albums all over the world.
Michael Bay was given up and adopted at a young age. The 50-year-old Hollywood director eventually went in search of his parents and first found his mother but the trail turned cold for discovering the identity of his real father. He has claimed he has “two dads” in his heavyweight mentors — Jerry Bruckheimer and Steven Spielberg.
JC Chasez was given up at a very early age. At first he lived with foster parents, andt eventually they decided they couldn’t let him move through the system. They adopted him, and their love and support led him to a very successful music career with the boy band, NSYNC. Chasez is still going strong at 39 years old.
Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe has written some of the darkest and most tortured poetry of modern times. Perhaps his abandonment at two years old had something to do with his view on the world and his ability to write such anguished content. At such a young age, both his mother and father decided to abandon the author. He died at 40 years old.
Melissa Gilbert was given up for adoption at birth. One day after her birth actor Paul Gilbert and his wife, actress and dancer Barbara Crane, adopted her. Gilbert’s parents gave her up for adoption because they already had three children from previous marriages and they feared they couldn’t financially provide for any more children. Melissa’s sister Sara played Darlene in the series “Roseanne,” and her brother Jonathan acted on “Little House on the Prairie” with her, playing the role of Willie Olson.
Figure skater Scott Hamilton was given up for adoption at just six weeks old. Little did his parents know that he would later go on to win a gold metal at the 1984 Olympics. In 2015, Hamilton spoke publicly about his heart “being filled with joy” after he and his wife adopted two children from Haiti.
Dave Thomas was given up for adoption at six weeks old. He would go on to found one of the largest fast food chains in the world, Wendy’s. Years after his adoption the fast food icon founded the Dave Thomas Foundation, an organization that helps reduce the costs associated with adoption. He passed away at 70 years old.
Daunte Culpepper became a Pro Bowl-caliber NFL player in his prime, and he may owe much of his success to his adoptive family. At one day old, Culpeper was taken home by a worker in the correctional facility where his mom was incarcerated at the time of his birth.
Sarah McLachlan was adopted at a young age and raised by a new family. She says being adopted didn’t affect her negatively because she was raised by parents she loved to call her own. “I was happy I had the parents I had. I’m not much to dwell on what may have been,” she told Parents.com. She now has a family of her own.
Keyshia Cole was adopted at age two, after her biological father died. Thankfully family friends Leon and Yvonne Cole adopted her right after the death in her family. She eventually honored them by changing her last name to Cole. The family also adopted her brother Sean.
She’s a heavyweight of the screen and stage, and she was adopted at just five days old. On National Adoption Day she shared her positive outlook on her upbringing. “I knew that my birth mother loved me so much that she wanted to give me a better life,” she wrote. She lovingly talks about her adoptive parents.
Lee Majors is an American television star who was taken in by his aunt and uncle at two years old. Sadly, his parents were both killed in two unrelated accidents. Thankfully, Majors had family who were willing to take him in and make sure he could live his life with relatives close by his side.
Richard was widely known for his great acting talents and his baritone voice in his performance of “Hamlet.” Unfortunately for his birth parents, they did not get to witness this. Burton had a little bit of time with his mom but sadly she passed away when he was just two years old. With his dad not in the picture he was raised by his sister and her husband. Burton passed away in 1984 at the age of 59.
This 48 year old singer was given up at an early age. During an interview with Women’s Health Magazine she once said “I don’t think you can be adopted without being a little bit screwed up.” She has a family of her own now, and with her friends adopting children she has said it must be hard for them to take in a child that has been ripped away from their biological mom.
Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi
Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi gained her fame on the popular television show “Jersey Shore.” She was adopted at 6 months old and raised in both New York and New Jersey. This provided her the unique upbringing that led to her Jersey Shore ways.
NBA star LeBron James is one of the greatest basketball players of all time. He was born in Akron, Ohio, to a teen mom. LeBron has never met his biological father, although there have been rumors that Anthony McClelland is his dad. However, other men have also claimed to be his father.
Fargo actress Frances McDorman was born in Chicago, Illinois. She was adopted by a Canadian couple: nurse and receptionist Noreen E. Nickleson and Disciples of Christ pastor Vernon W. McDormand. The actress believes her biological mother may have been a parishioner at her adopted father’s church. She has two siblings, who were also adopted.
Diff’rent Strokes star Gary Coleman was adopted by fork-life operator W.G. Coleman and nurse practitioner Edmonia Sue. He was born outside Chicago, Illinois in 1968. Coleman had a congenital chronic kidney disease, and it and medications to treat the disease prevented him from growing. He had two unsuccessful kidney transplants and died at 42.
D.M.C. (Darryl McDaniels)
Darryl “D.M.C.” Matthews McDaniels, a founding member of the hip-hop group Run-D.M.C. He grew up in New York City. His unwed mother gave him to the New York Foundling home where he was a ward in foster care until the McDaniels adopted him. He wasn’t told about being adopted until he was 35 years old.
Singer and actress Eartha Kitt was born on a cotton plantation in South Carolina. It’s has been widely reported that she was conceived through rape by a white man. She was raised by a woman named Annie Mae Keith, a black woman whom Eartha believed to be her mother. She didn’t know of her adoption until she was 10.
Stand-up comedian and In Living Color actor Tommy Davidson was born in Mississippi and was dumped in the trash when he was just 18 months old. The woman who rescued him wound up adopting him. His parents are both Caucasian, while he is African-American. He has two white siblings.
Ric Flair is a professional wrestling manager and retired professional WWE wrestler. He is considered one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time. He was born Richard Fliehr in Memphis, Tennessee. He was adopted through arrangements made by the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, and shortly thereafter his family moved to Minnesota.
George Washington Carver
Botanist and inventor George Washington Carver was born into slavery in Mississippi in either 1864 or 1865. He was raised by his master Moses Carver, a German American immigrant, and his wife Susan after his mother and sister were kidnapped by raiders from Arkansas. The Carvers raised George and his brother as their own children.
Businesswoman and reality television personality Patti Stanger is known for her TV series Millionaire Matchmaker. She is the founder and CEO of the professional matchmaking service Millionaire’s Club International, Inc. She was born in New Jersey and was adopted by Ira and Rhoda (who is also a matchmaker). She was raised in the Jewish faith.
Actor Jack Nicholson still doesn’t know who his biological father is. His mother June was just 18 when she gave birth, so her parents decided to raise him as their own child. They pretended that June was his sister. Time magazine learned the truth and revealed it to Jack in 1974. He was 37 years old.
Rapper 50 Cent, real name Curtis Jackson, was born in Queens, New York. He never knew his biological father. His mother, Sabrina Jackson, was a drug dealer. She was tragically murdered in a house fire when Curtis was just 8 years old. After his mother died, Curtis lived with his grandmother.
Patricia Molly Clapton was just 16 when she gave birth to Eric Clapton. His father, whom he never met, was a soldier who went to war before his birth and died in 1985. Clapton was raised by his grandmother and her second husband and believed for years they were his parents and that his mother Patricia was his older sister.
ER, Lie To Me, White Collar and Frequency actor Mekhi Phifer was born in Harlem, New York City. The actor’s mother Rhoda Phifer was a high school teacher and a single mother. Mekhi never met his biological father. Mekhi also starred in the film 8 Mile opposite hip-hop star Eminem.
Future President Bill Clinton was born in Hope, Arkansas, in 1946. His father was a traveling salesman who died tragically in a car crash three months before baby Bill was born. His parents wed in 1943, but the marriage wasn’t legal because his father was still married to his first wife.
Professional surfer Laird Hamilton was abandoned by his father when he was just a baby. He was born in San Francisco, and his dad, L.G. Zerfas, left before Laird turned 1 year old. His mother Joann then moved to Hawaii and later wed Bill Hamilton, and Laird took his stepfather’s last name.
Actress Demi Moore was born in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1962. Her father abandoned her mother Virginia after just two months of marriage and before Demi was born. The actress was raised by Dan Guynes, her mother’s second husband and salesman. Demi has said in interviews that she considers Dan her real dad.
Former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal was born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1972. His father was sent to prison for drug possession when he was an infant. He abandoned his son upon his release and relinquished his parental rights. O’Neal did not speak to his biological father for decades. They met for the first time in 2016.
Lance Armstrong was born in Plano, Texas. His mother was still a teenager when he was born, and his father Eddie Gunderson abandoned the family when he was very small. Eddie made no effort to be part of his son’s life, and Lance refused to make any contact with his biological father, who died in 2012.
Remington Steele and James Bond star Pierce Brosnan was born in Ireland in 1953. His father Thomas Brosnan was a carpenter who abandoned the family when Pierce was just an infant. The actor’s mother was a nurse, and when she moved to London to work Pierce was raised primarily by his grandparents.
Samuel L. Jackson
Prolific actor Samuel L. Jackson was born in Washington, D.C., in 1948 and grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His father lived in Kansas City, Missouri, and died from alcoholism. Jackson only met his father twice during his lifetime. The actor was raised by his factory worker mother and his maternal grandparents.