Famous people seem to lead charmed lives, but that’s largely because money totally buys happiness. More often than not, you have to live through some bonkers shit to develop the drive (and the balls) to achieve such great success, so even some of the most wholesome celebrities are the fruit of a dangerous family tree, the kind with dead roots and deceptively precarious branches.

Woody Harrelson

Woody Harrelson

(David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons)

Harrelson’s father, Charles, was not only a hitman, he was so good at it that he pulled in $250,000 for assassinating a judge who was about to preside over the trial of a drug kingpin. It earned him two life sentences (just to make double sure he never ended up back on the streets), and until his death in 2007, his appeals were paid for in part with his son’s movie money, which is a further blow to anyone who paid to watch EDtv.

Glenn Close

Glenn Close

(Senator Stabenow/Wikimedia Commons)

When Close was seven, her parents joined the Moral Re-armament, then her dad took off to the Congo to become the personal physician of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, leaving the rest of the family to live at the cult’s headquarters in Switzerland. She even performed with Up With People, the cult’s musical group that performed at all those Super Bowls back when the halftime show was just a bathroom break.

Dylan McDermott

McDermott was born to a 15-year-old mom, so that’s already not great, but then she started living with a gangster who had a habit of pointing guns at children and eventually killed her when McDermott was only five years old. He went to live with his father and worked in his bar when he was 13, and after his father married Eve Ensler, writer of The Vagina Monologues, she adopted him and started writing plays for him to star in once he recovered from the whiplash of it all.

Jonathan and Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan

(Ben Coombs/Wikimedia Commons)

The Nolan brothers have another brother who is arguably far more interesting. In 2010, Matthew Nolan was accused of killing a financier in the course of attempting to extract money out of (i.e. torturing) him on behalf of a drug trafficker in Costa Rica, after which he made an elaborate but thwarted plan to escape from jail. In the end, the U.S. found “insufficient evidence” to extradite Nolan to Costa Rica to face the charges, so he’s still out there. Just something to think about next time you consider trashing a Nolan movie.

Leighton Meester

“Oh, yeah?” says Leighton Meester, in our minds, because she was actually born in jail after her parents were convicted of smuggling over 1,200 lbs. of weed from Jamaica. She said her family history made her “very nonjudgmental and open-minded,” a trait she had to suppress on Gossip Girl.

Mariah Carey

Mariah Carey

(Raph_PH/Wikimedia Commons)

In her memoir, The Meaning of Mariah Carey, she alleged that her brother was an abusive drug dealer who once accepted money to kill someone (though the client apparently got impatient and did it themselves) and her sister once burned her with boiling hot tea, drugged her, and offered her up to her pimp boyfriend when she was 12. Her siblings have sued her over the book, but her sister also claims their mother forced her to take part in satanic rituals, so she’s maybe not the most reliable source. She was also once arrested for offering sex work in an ad that promised a “sweet, sweet fantasy,” so she definitely knows how to work an angle.

Cary Elwes

Elwes’s maternal grandparents were so against the idea of their daughter marrying penniless aristocrat Dominick Elwes that they instituted wardship proceedings and took out a restraining order against him, forcing the couple to run all over the world to find someone to marry them. They finally succeeded in Cuba, but then Castro revolutioned everywhere, which puts a real damper on a honeymoon, forcing them again to flee in a raft. Dominick was briefly arresting, but they stayed married for 10 years, shortly after which he intentionally overdosed on barbiturates after refusing to participate in a high-society murder cover-up. It was basically a Scorsese movie with fancier accents.

Jackie Chan

Jackie Chan

(U.S. Navy/Wikimedia Commons)

After being widowed in World War II, Chan’s mother tried to sell her two daughters and then settled for just abandoning them, became an opium smuggler and legendary gambler, and married the cop who arrested her. They changed their names and moved to Hong Kong before Chan was born, so he didn’t learn about any of this until a 2003 documentary uncovered the truth. Oh, his father was also a spy. At least he never faked his own death.

Top image: U.S. Navy/Wikimedia Commons

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