5 Famous Celebrities With Insane Family Backgrounds

#2. Olivia Newton-John's Parents Were Nazi-Fighting War Refugees

Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

You probably know Olivia Newton-John from her leading role in the film Xanadu, although it's possible that you also saw her in Grease. Additionally, she's responsible for the song "Physical," which everyone born in 1981 was conceived to.

Geffen Records
Craft services on the shoot was just bananas and melons.

But it's Olivia's parents who are the real story, because the lives of Irene Born and Brinley Newton-John read like a subplot from Inglourious Basterds. Irene was the daughter of Max Born, a Nobel Prize-winning atomic physicist and one of the founding fathers of quantum mechanics. Her family was forced to flee Germany after the Nazis took over, and it was in England where Irene met Brinley.

Brinley was born in Wales, but despite that disadvantage, he grew up to be a brilliant linguist who earned a double major from Cambridge, which is a school for people who think Harvard is adorable. During World War II, Brinley's fluency in German led him to a job interrogating captured Nazi pilots. Forgoing the standard torture and intimidation, Brinley would take the pilots out for dinner and drinks. He figured that people are generally more willing to give you information if you're being friendly, rather than if you're smashing them in the crotch with a fuel canister. His technique worked so well that it was adopted by Ian Fleming, which makes us wonder if there's a rough draft of a Bond novel wherein 007 and Goldfinger just get drunk and hug things out.

Eon/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
"Yeah, he was totally cool after I got him laid. We turned the giant laser into a vaporizer."

One of his interrogations led to the capture of Rudolf "I'm Crazy Even by Nazi Standards" Hess, the Deputy Fuhrer who launched an unauthorized one-man mission to negotiate a treaty between Britain and Germany that (spoilers!) didn't quite pan out.

Later in the war, Brinley joined Bletchley Park, MI5's code-breaking headquarters. Brinley was part of a team that had to quickly and accurately translate decoded German messages into the Queen's English. Brinley himself translated the secret German battle plans for El Alamein, which you may recognize as a level in Call of Duty 2 (and, to a lesser degree, as an important turning point in World War II). So, to sum up, Olivia Newton-John's father helped win a major battle and capture one of the highest-ranking Nazis (and was also a kickass opera singer), and her mother was the war refugee daughter of one of the greatest minds in atomic science. Olivia, meanwhile, grew up to make Christmas albums with John Travolta.


So, in a way, this is just another atrocity the Nazis are responsible for.

#1. Jackie Chan's Mother Was a Drug Baron Who Married the Cop Who Caught Her

Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

We all know Jackie Chan as the loveable star of ridiculous action comedies and the gentle recipient of 50 percent of Chris Tucker's racism. Given his astounding success and lighthearted personality, you'd assume he was born into relative privilege, but his family background is filled with so much despair and intrigue, it could have been written by John le Carre.

Jackie's father, Charles Chan (not Charlie Chan), had the misfortune of living through the Chinese Civil War, one of the worst periods in Chinese history. Charles found himself serving as an orderly to a Nationalist general when he was only a teenager.

Time Magazine
OK, le Carre may have had George R.R. Martin ghost write that chapter.

Then the Second Sino-Japanese War began, which was essentially the opening act of World War II, and Charles became a Nationalist spy working against Japanese aggressors before growing sick of government corruption and quitting to become a port inspector in Shanghai. It's remarkably like the origin story of a Jackie Chan character, if his movies were set to a background of war, genocide, and widespread human suffering.

New Line Cinema
Not counting the widespread human suffering of watching Rush Hour 3.

While Charles was trying to be one good cop in a world of corruption, Jackie's mom, Lee-Lee, took the "underworld kingpin" route. After her previous husband was killed by a Japanese bomb, she was forced to abandon her daughters and make a living in Shanghai. She soon discovered she had a talent for the humble professions of gambling and opium smuggling, and before long she had earned the street nickname of Big Sister. Her operation eventually ran afoul of port inspector Charles Chan, but instead of a climactic rooftop karate battle, they decided to get married, because that's way less exhausting and requires fewer warm-up stretches.

But the 1940s had a habit of being terrible for everyone, and the civil war ended with China under Communist control. A former Nationalist spy and a drug-peddling crime boss were two of the many things the new government frowned upon, so the Chans fled to Hong Kong, where Jackie was born a few years later, presumably doing a series of dangerously wacky stunt falls through the delivery room.

Related Reading: Prefer your celebrities to just be straight-up nuts? So do we. Hence, this collection of famous people twitter accounts descending slowly into madness. And if you haven't heard Daniel Radcliffe's insane (and insanely effective) strategy for avoiding the paparazzi, you'll want to click here. Not celebrity'd out yet? Read about the most WTF post-fame lives of formerly famous people.

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