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The road to fame isn’t always paved with gold. These celebrities who had a rough childhood may be in the limelight now, but they had to come a long way to get there.

50 Cent

Rapper 50 Cent had it tough as a child. His mother, a drug dealer, had him when she was 15 and died when he was eight. Then, after moving in with his grandmother (and eight aunts and uncles), he began dealing drugs himself — when he was only 12 years old.

Charlize Theron

Charlize Theron saw her mother shoot and kill her alcoholic and abusive father in 1991.

But she recently said that she was able to use that experience to help prepare for her role in the new movie Dark Places. All these years later, she said, “it doesn’t haunt me at all. I’m completely at peace.”

Christina Aguilera

Christina Aguilera has written several songs about her father’s abuse toward her, her sisters and her mother. The songs “Oh Mother” and “I’m Okay” both touch on her troubled upbringing.

“Growing up I did not feel safe. Feeling powerless is the worst feeling in the world. I turned to singing as an outlet. The pain at home is where my love for music came from.”

And while Aguilera’s father still denies the abuse, her mother shared a harrowing story here.

Oprah Winfrey

Media mogul Oprah Winfrey started out life so poor that she had to wear potato sacks as clothing. Then, after years of molestation by male family members, Winfrey ran away from home at 13, got pregnant at 14 — and then lost the baby.


Rihanna’s father, Ronald Fenty, was addicted to alcohol and crack cocaine — and abused her mother. Rihanna’s mom finally left Fenty when the singer was 14.

But Rihanna once told Oprah that it wasn’t all bad, saying, “As awful as he was to my mom at times, it didn’t compare to how great he was as a father.”

Terrence Howard

Terrence Howard’s controversial behavior may come from his childhood.

When he was just a toddler, he witnessed his father murder another man while waiting in line to see Santa Claus. The incident was known as the “Santa Line Slaying” in national news — and that’s not the only influence Tyrone Howard had on his son’s life.

Naomi Watts

Actress Naomi Watts’s father was found dead from an apparent heroin overdose when she was just a child. After that, she and her mother moved around quite a lot. According to Watts, that brought “a lot of sadness in my life when I was a child.”

Later, Watts’s mother spoke to the Daily Mail about her daughter’s struggles:

“It was a shock. His death made Naomi incredibly determined. It had a profound effect on her, as it did on the entire family. [Losing a parent is a] terrible thing to happen to anyone, especially at that age when she needed her dad.”

Missy Elliott

Rapper Missy Elliot grew up in a house that was not only poor (rats often crawled over her as she slept) but violent. Elliott once witnessed her father threaten to shoot her mother with a loaded pistol.

And she was repeatedly abused by a family member beginning at the age of eight. Of the abuse, Missy Elliott has said, “Being molested … it don’t disappear. You remember it as if it was yesterday.”

Mark Wahlberg

To say Mark Wahlberg was a troubled youth may be an understatement. By the time he was an adult, he had 20 to 25 run-ins with the law (for hate crimes and being charged with attempted murder).

But Wahlberg turned his life around. He’s now a married father of four and even attends church twice a day on Sundays.

Drew Barrymore

Drew Barrymore may be Hollywood’s favorite free spirit now, but she was not always such a happy-go-lucky person. Barrymore started smoking cigarettes and drinking at 9 and using cocaine at the age of 12. She even attempted suicide as a teen.

Luckily, Barrymore was able to turn her life around and is now a happily married mother of two.

Jim Carrey

Jim Carrey grew up so poor in Canada that his family lived out of their Volkswagen camper van for quite some time. When Carrey was a young teen, he had to quit school to get a job as a janitor to support his family and help care for his chronically ill mother.

Leighton Meester

Gossip Girl star Leighton Meester was born in a federal prison where her mother was serving a sentence for drug trafficking. Her father also did time in prison. Later, Meester’s family often struggled to make ends meet.

Meester has said that growing up in poverty made it hard for her to relate to some of the things kids were into: “‘Jimmy doesn’t like me!’ Who cares? I was worried we didn’t have gas money or food. Those were my concerns.”

Tyler Perry

Before director Tyler Perry began making audiences laugh, he went through very dark times. Perry grew up with an alcoholic father who physically abused him (once beating him with an extension cord until the skin came off of his back).

Perry was also sexually abused as a child. He dealt with such horrifying encounters in an interesting way:

“I could go to this park (in my mind) that my mother and my aunt had taken me to. … I’m there in this park running and playing, and it was such a good day. So, every time somebody was doing something to me that was horrible, that was awful, I could go to this park in my mind until it was over.”

Nicki Minaj

Star Nicki Minaj grew up with a terrifying father who once tried to burn their house down with their mother in it.

In 2011, Minaj opened up about life as a young girl:

“All of my young and teenage early years we lived in fear that my mother would be killed by my father. It was ridiculous… It was very tough emotionally for me to have a parent who was an alcoholic and a drug addict… My father was violent – physically and verbally.”

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