The Culkins Shined With Major Hollywood Awards, and 10 Other Stars Who Also Beat Tough Childhoods

5 months ago

Celebrities often seem to lead charmed lives, untouched by the struggles faced by ordinary people. However, beneath the glamour lie stories of childhoods filled with hardship and adversity. These remarkable individuals endured and triumphed over the challenges that unfolded in their early years.

1. Macaulay and Kieran Culkin

In December 2023, Macaulay Culkin receivedHollywood Walk of Fame star for his storied career. Meanwhile, his younger brother, Kieran, started the new year by winning major Hollywood awards, including the Golden Globes and Emmys, for his standout performance in Succession. Yet, life at home wasn’t always easy for them.

The Culkin family was really poor before Macaulay’s breakthrough in the Home Alone franchise. Kieran recalled their parents raising seven kids in a small New York apartment, describing it as “just a hallway” with no separating doors except for the bathroom. The brothers also opened up about their complex relationship with their parents. Macaulay once stated that his father was bossy and controlling over his career. Despite all their past challenges, Macaulay and Kieran seem to have made peace with their childhood and now lead happier lives with their families.

2. Barry Keoghan

After losing his mother at 12, Keoghan was placed in 13 different foster homes. He clings to her memory for strength and often credits her for his success. Reflecting on his childhood, Keoghan once said, “As a kid, you don’t know what is happening. You get attached to one place and boom... you have to move to a new one.” Fortunately, he and his brother eventually found a more permanent home with their grandmother.

Keoghan’s openness about his experiences in the care system has resonated with many, breaking down stigma and earning gratitude from those with similar backgrounds.

3. Viola Davis

Viola Davis’ drive for success was prompted by her experience growing up in poverty. In 2014, the actor shared that, as a child, she didn’t know where her next meal was coming from and would do everything to get food. “I sacrificed a childhood for food and grew up in immense shame.”

Amid hardship, Davis discovered her passion by taking an acting class in high school. This class, designed for low-income students, paved the way for her to earn scholarships for theatre studies at Rhode Island College and later at the renowned Juilliard School in New York City.

4. Charlize Theron

Charlize Theron’s serene childhood on a South African farm was overshadowed by her father’s short temper. At 15, she witnessed a traumatic incident where her mother had to defend herself, leaving a lasting impact on Theron. Struggling for many years, Young Charlize coped by pretending it never happened. Eventually, Charlize found solace and healing through therapy.

5. Eminem

DIGITAL/EROTEME.CO.UK/East News, Darla Khazei, PacificCoastNews/EAST NEWS

Marshall Bruce Mathers III, famously known as Eminem, faced poverty and aggression from an early age. Abandoned by his father at just six months old, Eminem turned to rap to escape a difficult adolescence at the age of 14. Battling both bullying at school and difficulty keeping up with classes, he decided to quit school, determined to make a name for himself in the music world.

6. Hilary Swank

© hilaryswank / Instagram, JA/Everett Collection/East News

In her early years, the Oscar-winning actress Hilary Swank faced tough times. Her friends’ parents often refused to let their kids play with Hilary because her family was poor. At 16, her parents split, and her older brother left home. Despite the financial struggles, her mom backed her dream of acting and moved the two of them to California. They couldn’t afford an apartment then, so they ended up living in a trailer park.

Living there while attending acting lessons left Hilary feeling like an outsider in high school. Recalling those times, she shared, “I didn’t fit in. I didn’t belong in any way. Teachers seemed to overlook me. It was as if no one saw or understood me.”

7. Jim Carrey

Courtesy Everett Collection/Everett Collection/East News, © s_bukley /

The iconic comedian spent his early years in a crowded home with four siblings and faced significant financial challenges. His family reached a point of such poverty that young Jim had to leave school. When his father, employed as an accountant, lost his job, the family experienced homelessness and had to reside in a van. The actor revealed that during this period, he developed his sense of humor and eventually decided to transform it into a career.

8. Halle Berry

© halleberry / Instagram, Invision/Invision/East News

The accomplished actress shared about her challenging upbringing: “I wasn’t married to a man that beat me up, but my mother was.” Young Halle witnessed distressing scenes repeatedly. Her father left when she was just four years old, and they remained estranged throughout her life.

She then moved to a new neighborhood with her mother and sister, where she experienced discrimination while attending school. In the ’90s, while pursuing her acting career in New York, she was forced to stay in a homeless shelter for a while because she couldn’t afford accommodations. Despite these struggles, Halle admits that her experiences motivated her to succeed.

9. Naomi Watts

Watts was born to an actress and a road manager for the British rock band Pink Floyd. She experienced heartbreak early on. Her parents separated when she was just 4, and tragedy struck when her father passed away at 7, right before they considered reconciling.

Watts recalls, “When he died, my dad hadn’t saved money, and I guess my mom didn’t have any. So, the band chipped in a few thousand dollars.” Their life in England became nomadic, prompting Naomi to change schools nine times. This lifestyle lasted until the family finally moved to Australia when Naomi was 14.

10. Mark Wahlberg

Wahlberg is the youngest of 9 children in a working-class family. His parents divorced during his childhood, and at 14, he left high school. Before his rise to fame, Wahlberg grappled with a troubled life involving violence, stealing, and substance abuse. Fortunately, he managed to turn his life around, finding happiness in marriage with four children. Beyond acting, he dedicates his time to charity work.

11. Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey’s mother was only 18 when she gave birth to her. The renowned talk show host faced severe poverty during her childhood, often forced to wear a potato sack as a dress. Growing up in an exceedingly unsafe and impoverished neighborhood, she had to mature faster than her peers.

At just 14, Oprah became a mother, but sadly, the baby didn’t survive for long. Faced with life’s challenges, she sought employment while still in high school. This search led her to a position as a radio show host, marking the beginning of her remarkable career journey.

These celebs showcase how their life experiences shaped them. Behind every success, a strong support system emerges, sometimes from fellow stars who willingly took them under their wings at the beginning of their career journey.

Preview photo credit Craig Skinner/Globe Photos/, culkamania / Instagram, ROBYN BECK/AFP/East News


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