8 Celebs Whose Lives Were Turned Upside Down By Unexpected Tragedies

By Valerie Williams

Celebrity or not, we are all susceptible to the kind of unpredictable circumstances or tragedies that leave permanent scars – both physical and psychological. Witness singer Nick Cave, whose 15-year-old son accidentally fell off a cliff last month and died from his injuries after being air-lifted to a hospital. “Our son Arthur died on Tuesday evening,” read Nick’s statement. “He was our beautiful, happy, loving boy.” Heartbreaking, right? Whether it’s the profound loss of a loved one or being the victim of a heinous crime, plenty of celebrities have seen their lives turned upside down by occurrences they could not have seen coming. Here are eight famous folks who have weathered unimaginable storms.

1. Angelina Jolie

Angelina’s life has been rocked by her family’s terrible history of cancer deaths. Her mother died in 2007 at the age of 56 after losing an eight-year battle with ovarian cancer. The same cancer killed her grandmother and great-grandmother. Angelina took action in 2013 by undergoing genetic testing. She discovered she was indeed prone to both breast and ovarian cancers, possessing an inherited gene mutation that likely caused the deaths in her family. Angelina has since had multiple surgeries to mitigate her risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer, including a double mastectomy, reconstruction and removal of her ovaries and fallopian tubes. Between losing her mother, undergoing major body-altering surgeries, and now presumably worrying about her two biological daughters, Angelina certainly hasn’t had an easy road.

2. Charlize Theron

In 1991, at the age of 15, Charlize Theron’s life changed forever in a way she never could have seen coming. Charlize received a phone call one night from an aunt warning her that her father and his brother were drunk and agitated – and on their way to the family home. Charlize was in her bedroom with the door locked when her father opened fire outside of the house. He then entered the house and fired more shots. When he shot into Charlize’s bedroom door and screamed that he was going to kill her, Charlize’s mother used her own handgun to kill her husband and wound his brother. Charlize says she her alcoholic father had never physically abused her, but was verbally abusive. There was no reason stated for his violent outburst other than he was drunk, irrational and emotional.  Charlize credits her mother with saving her life.

3. Jennifer Hudson

Jennifer Hudson’s world was shaken to the core when her mother, brother and nephew were all murdered by her brother-in-law, William Balfour. In 2008, William shot her mother and 29-year-old brother inside a house that was shared with Jennifer’s sister. Jennifer’s nephew, only seven years old, was found three days later, having also died of gunshot wounds. In the aftermath of this heinous violence, Jennifer had to revisit these horrible events as her brother-in-law stood trial for the murders. Her faith and her mother’s insistence on finding the positive are what kept her going. “It feels like another Jennifer life. I don’t look the same,” she said after the tragedy. “So many things have changed. I sometimes think the only constant is my voice.” Jennifer has since married and had a child of her own. We’re happy Jennifer survived experiencing what she called “the lowest of lows.”

4. Kelsey Grammer

Kelsey Grammer’s life has been touched by tragedy so many times it’s as though he’s been cursed. His sad family history began in 1968 when a man who was later determined to be insane set his father’s car on fire and then shot and killed him in front of the family home. Kelsey was 13 at the time. Seven years later, his 18-year-old sister was raped by multiple men and then murdered. Sadly, it was Kelsey who was given the traumatizing task of identifying her body. As if all of this weren’t terrible enough, his two half-brothers both  died in scuba diving mishaps in 1980. Unbelievable. Kelsey is now married with two adorable children.

5. Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton’s life was changed forever by the most tragic event imaginable – his 4-year-old son Conor’s  death in 1991. The toddler was living with his mother in a condo on the 49th floor of a New York City skyscraper. A housekeeper had a window open in order to clean it and the child came darting past… and went tumbling out. Of course he didn’t survive the fall. Clapton was thrown full-force into every parent’s worst nightmare. In the coming months, he immersed himself in his work and created the Grammy-winning song Tears In Heaven in memory of his little boy. We’re sure Clapton will never be the same, but he  remarried in 2001 and has since had three daughters.

6. John Travolta

John Travolta is another celebrity whose world was rocked by the loss of a child. His son, Jett, had autism and suffered from seizures throughout his life. No one could have known that those seizures would cause his death on a family vacation in the Bahamas in 2009. As if this unimaginable and unexpected loss weren’t enough, Travolta was then the victim of an extortion plot in connection with the details surrounding his son’s death. After a mistrial, Travolta dropped charges and attempted to move on with his life, even having another child with wife Kelly Preston in 2010.

7. Joaquin Phoenix

Who could forget the night River Phoenix died at the LA club called The Viper Room? It was the lethal combination of cocaine and heroin that killed him at the young age of 23. Joaquin was not only present, he was the one who called 911 in a desperate bid to save his big brother’s life. Only 19 years old at the time, he hesitated to call, probably because he didn’t want his brother to get in trouble for drug posession. Joaquin would later come under intense public criticism for not calling for help sooner. It sent him reeling and he took a year out of the public eye while radio and television stations replayed his 911 call for the whole world to hear.

8. Liam Neeson

In 2009 on a family trip, Liam Neeson’s life took a devastating turn when his wife, actress Natasha Richardson, was fatally injured in a skiing accident. At first, the injury appeared minor but her health went downhill over the next few days until she ended up on life support. It was Liam’s decision to pull the plug, as he knew from prior discussions that she did not want to live in a vegetative state. Five years later, Liam speaks of her death as though it happened very recently. He says he still expects her to come walking through the door and that he will never be entirely over it. Laim is currently raising the couple’s two teenage children on his own.   

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