Sometimes famous people look so sparkly and wonderful. Who am I kidding … MOST OF THE TIME their glossy personas, their startling good looks, their incredible talent, their ability to juggle family with media interviews with work on their upcoming album/film/show with a trip to see first-hand the work of the charitable foundation they established last year is nothing short of jealousy-inducing.
And yet, every so often we hear stories that ground them in the world of mere mortals. It’s good for us to know that everyone struggles. It gives meaning to our own challenges, I guess, permission even, and grows our sense of compassion and empathy.
Here are some things you might not have known about five big names in stardom.
1. Oprah Winfrey endured a traumatic childhood of sexual abuse at the hands of family members. At the age of 14, she fell pregnant after one such incident of rape. Oprah gave birth prematurely, but her son died a few days later at the hospital.
“I did have a son. And I named him Canaan because Canaan means new land, new life,” Oprah shared during a trip to Australia in 2015.
Winfrey wrote in O, The Oprah Magazine (February 2007), that she worried her career would be damaged if people found out about the pregnancy.
“I imagined that every person on the street was going to point their finger at me and scream, ‘Pregnant at 14, you wicked girl … expelled!’ ”
But after sharing the story, Winfrey described feeling free.
“And I soon realised that having the secret out was liberating,” she wrote.
“What I learned for sure was that holding the shame was the greatest burden of all.”
2. Andrea Bocelli‘s parents were advised by doctors to abort him, based on predictions that he would be born with a disability. He was born in 1958 with poor eyesight and, at the age of 12, became permanently blind following a football accident.
Honestly, Bocelli’s musical accomplishments are too vast to do justice in a summary. But let’s have a go…
Bocelli is a classical Italian crossover tenor, singer-songwriter and recording artist with 15 solo albums, three greatest hits albums and nine operas, selling 80 million records worldwide. He plays pretty much any instrument that’s popping into your head right now and has a knack for bringing classical music into the top of the international pop charts. He’s won Grammy Awards, a Golden Globe, been listed in the Guinness Book of World Records and broken album sales records all over the place. He is, quite simply, a living legend.
All this despite being completely blind. And the world is forever grateful for the courage of his parents Alessandro and Edi Bocelli who said “no!” when the doctors advised abortion.
3. Layne Beachley is the product of rape. It’s an ugly sentence to write, perhaps because it does absolutely nothing to define her. The seven-time world surfing champion was adopted as a baby and didn’t meet her birth mother until 1999.
Maggie Gardner, Beachley’s biological mother, recounted the story of how she had just arrived in Sydney from Scotland in 1971 as a fresh-faced 17-year-old. She accepted a dinner invitation from the manager of a Kings Cross modelling agency and was date-raped.
She was given two choices, but Maggie chose to have her baby and gave birth at Crown Street Women’s Hospital in May 1972 before putting her newborn baby girl up for adoption and leaving Australia.
“It was a great decision. I am 100 per cent grateful for it, because I was adopted into a beach loving family with the surname Beachley, and became a pro surfer. How much better can it get?” Beachley told the Herald Sun last year.
4. Justin Bieber was born to Pattie Mallette, a woman who overcame adversity to bring her baby boy into the world. She suffered sexual abuse, was using drugs at a young age to self-medicate the pain of her experiences, and fell pregnant with Justin at 17. You know what’s coming… she was offered abortion.
“I didn’t know how I was going to do it. But I just knew that I couldn’t — I couldn’t abort. I had to do my best. I had to see what I could do. And I was determined to do whatever it took,” she told the Today show in 2012.
5. Jack Nicholson grew up thinking his grandmother was his mother, and his mother was his sister. It wasn’t until he was 37 years old, and after a Time magazine researcher did a bit of digging, that he discovered his “sister”, June, was actually his mother. By that stage, both June and his grandmother had died.
June Nicholson was a showgirl of Irish, English and German descent. When she fell pregnant with Jack at the age of 17, father unknown, June’s mum suggested she pose as the newborn’s mother so that June could continue to pursue her career on the stage.
When the truth was revealed and confirmed by Jack’s aunt, who he’d known as his sister throughout childhood, he described feelings of gratitude for the women who banded together to raise who society at the time would have labeled a bastard child.
Amazing stories, huh? Real stories that show how the circumstances of conception have no bearing on who a person is and what quality of life they will achieve.