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They may not have grown up in “traditional” households, but that didn’t stop these celebrities from rising all the way to the top. And getting lots of love from family and friends along the way. The following stars were raised by their relatives and family friends when times got hard.


Oprah may be worth billions now, but she was born to an unwed teenage mother and raised by her grandmother. The star’s grandmother taught her to read and write before she was three years old.

Nicole Richie

TV personality Nicole Richie was adopted by family friends Lionel Richie and Brenda Harvey at the age of three, who at the time, were like family to her mom and dad. They asked Lionel and Brenda to help them when they could no longer afford to take care of her.

Jack Nicholson

Jack Nicholson thought he and his sister were raised by his mother. That is until a reporter uncovered a shocking secret that they shared with the actor when he was 37: His mother was actually his grandmother, and the woman he thought was his sister was his real mom.

Despite such deception, Nicholson said he had no hard feelings about the way things went down:

“Show me any women today who could keep a secret, confidence, or an intimacy to that degree. You got my kind of gal.”

John Lennon

The Beatles star was actually raised by his mother’s sister, Mary (also known as “Mimi”) Smith. His aunt had this to say about taking him in:

“I knew the moment I saw John in that hospital that I was the one to be his mother, not Julia. Does that sound awful? It isn’t, really, because Julia accepted it as something perfectly natural. She used to say, ‘You’re his real mother. All I did was give birth.’”

Jamie Foxx

Jamie Foxx’s birth mother was adopted shortly after he was born, and his adoptive grandparents not only raised him, but put him on the path to stardom.

“My grandmother said, ‘I’m going to give you all the things I wanted to give my children, but they were a little too old to understand.

‘I’m going to make sure you play the piano because I think that could get you on the other side of the tracks.’”


Rapper Ice-T, born Tracy Marrow, was also adopted by his aunt after both of his parents died when he was a child.

Carol Burnett

If you ever saw comedienne Carol Burnett tug her ear at the end of each episode of The Carol Burnett Show, you’ve seen Burnett’s secret message to her grandmother, the woman who raised her.

The two were so close that Burnett continued to give her grandmother her special “I love you” signal at the end of each episode, even after the woman passed on.

President Barack Obama

Did you know that the POTUS was raised by his grandparents, Madelyn (also known as “Toot”) and Stanley Dunham?

While President Barack Obama’s mother was always in his life, he credits his grandparents’ influence for giving him “Midwestern” values as well as “love, a thirst for education, and a belief that we’re all part of something larger than ourselves.”

Eric Clapton

Jack Nicholson isn’t the only celebrity who grew up with misconceptions about who his parents were. Until the age of 9, singer Eric Clapton thought that the grandparents who raised him were his parents and that his mom Patricia was actually his older sister.

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou was raised by her grandmother, Annie Henderson, after her parents, “for all intents and purposes, abandoned my brother and me.”

But things turned out well for the acclaimed writer after being under her grandmother’s loving care. Angelou would later call her grandma, or “momma” as she referred to her, “the greatest person I ever met.”

Bill Clinton

Barack Obama isn’t the only president raised by his grandparents. Bill Clinton went to live with his grandparents after his father died.

“My grandfather just had a grade-school education. But in that country store he taught me more about equality in the eyes of the Lord than all my professors at Georgetown.”

Willie Nelson

Willie Nelson’s grandparents not only raised him after his parents abandoned him, but the amateur musicians also introduced him to music. Nelson calls them both his “true, and earliest, inspiration.”

Dylan McDermott

The actor was raised by his grandmother after his mother was murdered when he was just 5 years old.

“It was my grandmother who raised me, and living with her and my sister is what I remember best. It was the family unit that is special to me. My grandmother was the best.”

50 Cent

Curtis Jackson, better known as rapper 50 Cent, lived with his grandmother Beulah Jackson from the age of 12.

Before she passed away, he lovingly said of her, “If I had one person in the world that I could give everything that I have to and I’d be comfortable with it, it’ll be my grandmother.”

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