5 Famous People Who Had Horrifying Childhoods
Here's a proven life hack for you: The best way to get a career in show business is to be born to famous parents. Stars love to make their lives sound like a rags-to-riches story, but rarely is it true. That's why it's good to appreciate the ones who did have nightmare childhoods but made it big anyway. For example ...
George Takei's Internment Camp Experience Was Even Worse Than You Thought
As some of you may know, George Takei, the internet's favorite uncle and the man who played Sulu on the original Star Trek, was sent to an internment camp at the age of five for the heinous crime of being Japanese-American. But this is one of those stories that gets worse with the details.
Let's start with the horrifically sad fact that child George thought being forced from his home at gunpoint and then living three years behind barbed wire was normal, because his parents desperately tried to reassure him it was. When his family was relocated to a single horse stall at a racetrack, his father told him they were going on "a vacation to live with the horsies," and, well, he believed it. When the Takeis were moved via shuttered train to a camp near a fetid swamp in Arkansas, his father told him they were going on an adventure, and he believed that too.
"We saw people crying, you know," Takei later explained to Democracy Now, "and we thought, 'Well, why are they crying? Daddy said we're going on a vacation.'" After all, why destroy a child's faith in humanity at such an early age?
The Takeis were finally released near the end of World War II, at which point they were given $20, a one-way ticket to anywhere, and literally nothing else. Not the house the government had stolen from them, and not their savings accounts or the dry cleaning business it had closed down. And thanks to the paranoia and fear of Japanese-Americans that the government had stirred up, Takei's parents couldn't find work or housing.
Eventually the Takeis settled into Skid Row, where young George and his sister found themselves homesick ... for the internment camp. Is there a word for being simultaneously blinded by a white-hot rage but also so sad that you're crying until you're dehydrated? Asking for a friend.
Leighton Meester's Whole Family Was In And Out Of Prison
Leighton Meester, most famous for her role in Gossip Girl, was born while her mother Connie was in federal prison. It should be noted that Meester was born in a hospital and not, like, on a prison cell floor (as is occasionally reported), but her mother was back behind bars almost immediately afterward. And then so was her father. And her grandfather. And her aunt ... who then broke out of prison and became the first woman on the U.S. Marshall's most wanted list. Suck on that, Patriarchy!
Anyway, jailbreaks aside, basically the whole Meester family did time for drug trafficking after smuggling over a half-ton of pot out of Jamaica in the early '80s. After their respective terms ended, the family was reunited in Florida, with Meester's parents marrying and then divorcing in short order. After landing a modeling gig at ten, Leighton spent her early teens supporting her mother and brother, something that continued once she became one of the titular Girls of Gossip. But hey, that was a pretty popular show, right? Happy endings for everyone!
Except Connie was allegedly using that fat CW cash for cosmetic surgery and hair extensions instead of her son's medical bills, as Leighton had intended. Things got real ugly real fast after that, with lawsuits and countersuits, including Leighton trying to get custody of her brother. When the dust settled, Mama Meester was out on her ass and Leighton was forced to walk back all those comments she'd made about her ex-con mom not being awful (which honestly seems like the most awkward part).
Liev Schreiber Was Kidnapped By His Parents And Forced Into Crime
Liev Schreiber is a talented character actor of both stage and screen who you probably know best as the guy who played Sabretooth in X-Men Origins (Though We Explained Most Of This In Flashbacks): Wolverine. It turns out Schreiber's also an accomplished thief. Not by choice, though.
Schreiber's mother, Heather, was your prototypical hippie, until she had a bad experience with LSD and became remarkably unstable. In and out of mental institutions in the years prior to Liev's birth, Heather became afraid that now that her child was outside of her, Liev's father would have her committed. So she did what any good mother trying to prove her sanity would do and stole her son away in the dead of night, and then joined a commune in upstate New York.
A few years later, once he was finally able to track them down, Tell Schreiber snuck into the commune and kidnapped his son back. This second abduction resulted in a contentious custody battle, and somehow Heather -- the first kidnapper, and a woman who made her living making papier-mache puppets -- won.
This, dear reader, is where things truly get wacky. Liev and Heather began living out "a sort of hippie-fantasy," in which the pair meditated and went vegetarian, and occasionally adopted Hindu names, with Liev going by "Sivadas" and "Ayappa" for short stretches. They also only watched black-and-white movies, for some reason. Oh, and Heather forced her son to rob the yoga studio where she worked. You know, that hippie fantasy.
Liev -- who, again, was a literal child -- would climb three stories down a drainpipe and then through a window into the room with the studio's safe. Heather would memorize the combination during the day, give it to her little reverse Spider-Man at night, and over the course of a few years pocketed around $5,000 before he finally got caught. At this point, he was 12.
The Writer Of Little Women Spent Time In A Cult-Like Commune
While best-known for writing Little Women (as well as its two sequels, Little Men and Little Women: Infinity War), Louisa May Alcott's infamous love of money and drugs has also entrenched itself in the public consciousness. But hey, she spent her childhood performing hard labor for a sorta cult, so cut her some slack, OK?
In 1843, at the ripe old age of ten, little Louisa May was brought to the Fruitlands commune along with the rest of her family and thrown into a life of Transcendentalism. On paper, Transcendentalists were woke AF, advocating for abolitionism, environmentalism, feminism, and anarchism. Let's be real, this is every ten-year-old's dream. Their core belief was that mankind was inherently good, and self-reliance was the key to unlocking that goodness.
In practice, though, they could've used some work. Alcott was taught that society was trash, meat was murder, and hot water and haircuts were an extravagance. The Fruitlandians wore only linen and canvas, because wool was off-limits, as it belonged to the sheep, while cotton was also forbidden because it was made with slave labor (again, they made some pretty good points). Child labor, on the other hand, was totally cool with them (never mind). While the men were off in the cities extolling the virtues of Transcendentalism and trying to recruit more members to their definitely-not-a-cult, the actual work was left to the women and children -- who, it should be noted, had no clue what they were doing. No one did, actually.
One of the Fruitlands' hyper-vegan beliefs was that manure was also off-limits (because horseshit belonged to the horses, I guess). As a result, all of their crops failed. Once the winter rolled in, adding an unbearable Boston cold to their already-craptastic lives (again, they bathed in and drank only cold water), Louisa May's mom called it quits and hauled ass to a rental farm, taking her kids with her. When she grew up, Alcott was determined get rich off her writing. And yeah, it's kind of hard to blame her.
Charlie Chaplin Was Dropped Into A Hellscape Of Orphanages And Child Labor
Born in London in the late 1800s to a (probable) former prostitute who was (definitely) slowly going insane with syphilis, legendary screen comedian Charlie Chaplin was pretty much screwed from the start. Both his mother Hannah and his father Charlie Sr. were actors, which already wasn't a great way to make a living back then. When Charlie was two years old, Papa Chaplin split, because he was an asshole.
With no other means to provide for herself or her children, Hannah, Charlie, and his brother Sydney entered into the Lambeth Workhouse, a timeless institution of Old London where homeless and otherwise-destitute folks were exploited for factory labor. And because that wasn't grim enough, parents were also forcibly separated from their children, which hopefully I don't have to remind you is bad and/or evil.
But wait, things get worse! Soon enough, Hannah was committed to an asylum for the aforementioned syphilitic insanity, and Charlie and Sydney were sent to an 1800s London orphanage, which is exactly as horrible as you're picturing. A seven-year-old Charlie was viciously caned, caught ringworm from the terrifically unsanitary conditions, had his head shaved, and was placed in solitary confinement.
At some point, Charlie and Sydney were sent back to the workhouse, which, let's be real, was a lateral move. Eventually his mother was released, the family was reunited, and they all ended up living on the street. For reasons of mental illness and whatever Sydney's excuse was, the onus of earning a living fell on young Charlie, and he took whatever jobs he could to support his family.
There were a litany of said jobs, by the way, because it's hard for a homeless elementary-schooler to hold down a career. In the span of a few years, Charlie was able to add clog dancer, newsboy, printer, toymaker, and the alarmingly vague "doctor's boy" to his resume, among other things, before finally, at the wizened age of 12, getting his first big break as an actor. He started making Hollywood movies at age 25, and then lived happily ever after! Well, until he was banned from the U.S. on suspicion of being a communist.
Eirik Gumeny is the author of the Exponential Apocalypse series. Find him on Twitter. Or don't. He's not your mom.