Celebrities appear as if they have everything: money, fame, glory and a lifestyle others can only dream of. However, a successful career does not always provide a guaranteed key to happiness. Behind the glamour, these celebrities have one thing in common – they have all experienced tragedy, either before or during fame, when a family member has been murdered.
Knowing how horrific such a sudden loss can be – there is no doubt these celebrities wouldn’t give everything up just to have their loved ones back. Although these events are tragic, the death of a loved one has inspired these stars to work harder to honor those they have lost. Below we look at heartbreaking stories nobody would want to experience for themselves…
18. Serena and Venus Williams
Serena and her sister Venus are two of the world’s top tennis players. On September 14, 2003, their personal assistant, and half-sister, Yetunde Price was killed at the age of 31.
Yetunde was with her boyfriend when she was killed by members of a Crips gang in Compton, Los Angeles. The area was known for its violence, and Yetunde’s boyfriend was allegedly a gang member himself. As they drove past a Crips drugs den, the gang opened fire on the couple. The boyfriend was not injured, even though he may have been the intended victim. Yetunde died from gunshot wounds to her head and upper torso.
The gang escaped a SWAT team but were later arrested. The leader, Robert Edward Mayfield was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Serena confronted him in court and said, “this was unfair to our family…our family has always tried to help people.”
17. Sean Combs
The American rapper and record producer was aged just 3-years-old when his father was killed.
Melvin Combs, a known drug dealer, was an associate of convicted drug kingpin Frank Lucas. At the age of 33, Melvin was shot dead while sitting in his car. Two bullet wounds were found in his head. In a biography written by Frank Lucas, it is claimed Melvin was killed for being a snitch, ratting out his crew to the police.
In interviews, Combs stated that he missed having a father figure to look up to. Despite this, Melvin’s death inspired Sean to better his life and escape the violence on the streets. In an online video, the rapper said: “For every young person who lost their father or grew up without parents know you can still conquer the world.”
16. James Ellroy
Crime writer James Ellroy was 10-years-old when his mother, Geneva, was murdered near their Californian home in 1958 at the age of 43.
James spent time with both his mother and father after their divorce. He much preferred spending time with his father as his mother drank heavily and behaved promiscuously. After a night of drinking at a local bar, Geneva was killed by an unknown man. Her body was found in bushes by a little league baseball team. She had been strangled to death with her own stocking.
To this day, the killer has not been identified. James Ellroy remains unmoved by her death, but he attributes her murder into inspiring him to write crime fiction, as well as his fixation on women. Since her death, he once said he had looked for a woman to fill her place, giving him the affection he never received from his mother.
15. Brad Silberling
Film director Brad Silberling, pictured above with wife and actress Amy Brenneman, suffered a huge heartbreak when his fiancé, Rebecca Schaeffer, was shot in the chest and killed on July 18, 1989, by Robert Bardo, a known stalker of his victim.
Brad had spoken on the phone to Rebecca moments before her death. He had wished her luck for her upcoming audition for The Godfather Part III. Minutes later, Bardo arrived at her door posing as a flower delivery man. He pulled a gun out of a brown paper bag, shot her dead, and left the scene. Bardo was arrested the next day and later sentenced to life in prison.
Whilst the death was a tragic one, it did inspire new anti-stalking laws in America. Rebecca had been stalked for three years by Bardo before his obsession became deadly.
Following the tragedy, Brad moved in with Rebecca’s family to share in their grief. This chapter of his life inspired him to make the film Moonlight Mile in 2002, which depicted a young man living with the parents of his dead fiancé. Before release, Brad screened the film to Rebecca’s family privately, and they considered it to be a fitting tribute to their daughter.
14. Ice Cube
Actor Ice Cube’s half-sister, Beverly Jean Brown, was killed at the age of 22 in 1981. Her husband shot her to death at their home a few blocks away from where 12-year-old Ice Cube was living with his family. The man then turned the gun on himself, and the police ruled their deaths as a murder-suicide.
The murder had a profound effect on the future rapper. His half sister’s death, and the violence he witnessed every day in his community inspired him to rap about guns and violence in later life. In interviews, he has spoken about America’s love with the gun, and how gun culture is entrenched in American values. He called it a “sick love affair.”
13. Patrick Duffy
On November 18, 1986, the television actors parents, Marie and Terrence Duffy, were gunned down at the bar they ran in Montana, during an armed robbery. Patrick was 37 at the time of their death. His pictures adorned the walls of the bar owned by his proud parents.
The couple was killed by two teenagers, Kenneth Miller and Sean Wentz. Taking a break from a hunting trip, the two decided to visit Duffy’s bar. Allegedly Terrence didn’t like the way the boys looked and asked them to leave. They did but returned later with revenge on their mind. A customer made a witness statement, telling police the youths had entered the bar a second time, grappled with Terrence, and then killed him with a shotgun, before turning the gun on Marie.
The youths were arrested after a high-speed car chase with police. In court, the youths told the jury that they hadn’t intended to kill the couple. The gun was supposed to frighten them, but events took a tragic turn. Miller, a hard worker at high school, and part of the Montana National Guard was tearful during the trial. Wentz, a young man with a history of violent behavior, was cocky and defiant at the trial, but apparently wept afterward. They were both sentenced to 75 years in prison.
In 2007, Miller was released from prison when Wentz confessed to the murder. Patrick spoke of the compassion he had for the killers. He attributes his Buddhist faith in helping him come to terms with his parents’ loss and the forgiveness he has for their killers.
12. Duane Allman
Duane Allman and his brother, Gregg, were celebrated guitarists and together formed the Allman Brothers Band in the late 1960’s. Despite a successful career in music, their personal lives were dogged by tragedy.
Duane and Gregg were aged 3-years-old and 2-years-old respectively when their father, Willis Allman, returned to his Virginia home in 1949, after serving in the Korean War. One night Willis was at a local bar, and on leaving offered to give a ride to a shell-shocked war veteran. This kind act led to tragedy when Willis was killed by the former soldier. Little else is known about the incident.
Years later, tragedy hit the family again when Duane died on October 29, 1971, in a motorcycle accident. He swerved to avoid an oncoming truck and was thrown into the air. He landed with the motorcycle on top of him, causing internal injuries. He died later in hospital.
11. Sean Lennon
Sean Lennon is the youngest son of Beatles singer John Lennon and Yoko Ono. He followed in his father’s footsteps and became a successful singer and songwriter. Sadly, his father was shot and killed by Mark Chapman on December 8, 1980, and the world mourned the loss of one of the most famous figures in music at that time.
Mark Chapman was a man with psychiatric problems. He suffered from depression and had suicidal tendencies. As a youngster, he had developed a passion for the ‘Beatles’ and John Lennon in particular. As he grew older his passion became an obsession, and a delusional Chapman decided he needed to kill his idol.
Chapman craved infamy, and the killing of John Lennon would provide him with what he wanted. He spent days outside Lennon’s apartment building. On December 8, 1980, he managed to meet the idol he obsessed over and ask for his autograph. A young Sean shook the killer’s hand. Later in the day, Chapman saw John again and, this time shot him four times in the back. John died later in hospital.
Mark Chapman achieved infamy and is still residing in prison today.
10. Robert Blake
Famous television actor, Robert Blake, was arrested on suspicion of murdering his wife. On May 4, 2001, Robert’s wife, Bonnie Lee Bakley was sitting in a car, waiting for her husband to return from a restaurant they had just eaten at. Robert returned to the car and found the dead body of his wife. She had died from a gunshot wound to the head. Robert did have a gun in his possession, but it was later ruled that this was not the murder weapon.
A year later, Blake and his bodyguard, Earle Caldwell, were arrested with conspiracy to kill Bonnie. In court, Blake pleaded not guilty to the murder charge. The prosecution claimed Blake was trying to free himself from a loveless marriage and had hired somebody to kill his wife. The murder weapon, a Walter P-38 had been found in a dumpster near the car where the murder happened. The defense said Blake was a victim of circumstantial and fabricated evidence. The trial ended on March 16, 2005, when Robert Blake was found not guilty of murder.
Eight months later, Blake has tried again in a civil court. He was found liable for her murder and ordered to pay Bonnie’s children $30 million in damages. Despite this, Blake still denies his involvement in the murder of his wife.
9. Sofia Vergara
Columbian born Sofia Vergara, the former model turned chat show host, is now most famous for her role as Gloria in the successful American sitcom, Modern Family. Yet her larger than life personality and cheerful exterior hide a tragic past.
Sofia was born to a wealthy family in Colombia. Her brother, Rafael Jose Vergara, always believed he would be the target of kidnapping because of his family’s status. Tragically he was proven right when, on August 12, 1996, he left his home without the aid of his bodyguards, and was the subject of a foiled kidnapping attempt. On reaching for his gun to protect himself, Rafael was gunned down and killed.
A private investigator later claimed that Rafael may have been killed by an embittered crime boss, worried that his girlfriend was sleeping with Rafael. Sofia has disputed this claim as nonsense.
At the time of writing, Rafael’s killers have never been brought to justice.
8. Michael Jordan
Former American basketball star Michael Jordan was devastated when the man who inspired him to play the sport was killed on July 23, 1993. On his way home from a funeral, Michael’s father, James Jordan, was killed while taking a nap in his car at a rest stop.
Daniel Green and Larry Demery recognized the Lexus that Michael had recently bought for his father. They entered the car, shot James dead, and drove it into a South Carolina swamp. They fled the scene, taking with them two NBA Championship rings that they had found by the driver’s seat.
James was found in the swamp several days later with a bullet wound to his chest. His killers were eventually arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment.
7. Charlize Theron
Award-winning Hollywood actress, Charlize Theron has become a huge success considering her troubled and violent childhood. In 1991, at the age of 15, Charlize witnessed her mother shooting her father dead at their South African home.
On June 21, 1991, Charles Theron returned home with his brother. Both men were in a drunken and agitated state. Charlize and her mother, Gerda Maritz, hid in the kitchen when Charles pulled a shotgun on them, threatening to kill them both. He shot at them through the kitchen door. Gerda, also in possession of a gun, shot her husband dead and badly wounded his brother. Authorities decided the killing was in self-defense and no further action was taken.
In 2015, Charlize starred in the film Dark Places, about a woman who had witnessed her family being brutally murdered as a child. She drew on her own experiences to prepare for the role.
6. Jennifer Hudson
American singer and actress Jennifer Hudson saw her world fall apart on October 24, 2008, when her former brother-in-law, William Balfour, murdered her mother, brother, and nephew in their Chicago home.
Balfour was the estranged husband of Jennifer’s sister, Julia. Before their breakup, he threatened her with the words, “If you leave me, you will be the last to die. I’ll kill your family first.” He meant what he said. When Julia left for work that October morning, William entered the house and discovered Jennifer’s mother Darnell and brother Jason. Darnell was shot in the back and Jason in the head. Both were killed. He then abducted Jennifer’s nephew, Julian. Police later found the seven-year-old boy’s dead body in the back of a car. He had been shot several times.
William Balfour was sentenced to three life imprisonments with no opportunity of parole. After the trial, Jennifer spoke on behalf of the family she had left. She said, “It is our prayer that the Lord will forgive Mr. Balfour of these heinous acts and bring his heart into repentance someday.”
5. Charice Pempengco
Glee actress Charice Pempengco was estranged from her father, Ricky, when he was murdered in 2011. He had been an abusive man, and to survive his attacks, she and her mother abandoned him when Charice was just 3-years-old.
Ricky Pempengco was in a San Pedro grocery store and had a fatal argument with the man who would become his killer. Angel Capili Jr. killed Ricky with an ice pick, stabbing him in the back and chest.
Angel handed himself into Philippine police and told them he had killed in self-defense. In a statement to the press, Angel said, “I am seeking forgiveness from the family left behind by Mr. Pempengco… I am prepared to suffer whatever is the judgment.” However, Charice didn’t forgive him, claiming that he didn’t appear to be truly sorry for what he did. Angel was later charged with murder after an inquest ruled the killing hadn’t been in self-defense.
4. Mark Ruffalo
Actor Mark Ruffalo’s brother, Scott, was murdered on December 1, 2008, at his Beverly Hills home. His body was found with a gunshot wound to the head. In his left hand was a loaded gun. Cocaine and morphine were later found in his system. Who had killed Scott, and why?
At the time of his death, some speculated that Scott had been playing Russian Roulette, due to a gun found in his hand. However, the autopsy dismissed this theory as the angle of the bullet to the head did not indicate a self-inflicted shot. Somebody else had killed him.
A key witness, Shaha Mishaal Adam, was allegedly in the house at the time of the shooting. She fled the scene and was later a possible suspect in the case before police dismissed this. She later died of a drugs overdose.
A while after his brother’s death, Mark took a role in the film The Kids Are Alright. He chose the part because the character’s charm and sense of humor reminded him of his brother. Mark said it was important to make something meaningful and worthy in the wake of his brother’s murder.
The case remains unsolved.
3. Dylan McDermott
American Horror Story actor Dylan McDermott suffered a traumatic event at the age of just 5. He was standing outside his apartment building in February 1967 when he heard his mother’s killer shooting her in the head.
Dylan’s mother, Diana, was dating her killer, gangster John Sponza, at the time of her death. He had committed many violent crimes before this fateful day and had previously terrified the young Dylan by pointing a gun at him. Dylan was often witness to the violent arguments between his mother and Sponza, but on the day she was killed, Dylan had been ordered to leave the house by the gangster.
Dylan was still outside when the police and ambulance services arrived. Sponza told the police Diana had taken his gun into the pantry and shot herself. At the time, the murder was classified as an ‘accidental shooting’ but the adult Dylan decided to pursue this further. In 2011, he asked the Connecticut police to reopen the case and they discovered the crime had been covered up, possibly because Sponza may have been a police informant. Police deduced that Diana had been killed by her boyfriend.
John Sponza’ dead body was found in the trunk of a car in 1972. His criminal past had finally caught up with him.
2. Roman Polanski
Just over a year into their marriage, director Roman Polanski’s wife, Sharon Tate, died on August 9, 1969, when she and four others were murdered by the Manson family.
Charles Manson had assembled a group of hippies and misfits who became his ‘family.’ He and his followers committed a series of murders in the summer of 1969, including that of Polanski’s pregnant wife. Her LA home was invaded by Manson’s followers, and she and visiting friends were murdered. Polanski was away at the time.
The following day, the bodies were discovered by the housekeeper. The word ‘Pig’ was written on the front door in Sharon’s blood. Inside the house, Sharon’s naked body was found tied to another victim. One of her breasts had been cut off. Her stomach had been mutilated with the letter X cut into it. In total, she had been stabbed 16 times.
The Manson family were arrested and sentenced to die in the gas chamber. However, in 1972, the California State Supreme Court abolished the death penalty, and the murderous gang was spared. They remain in prison to this day.
1. Kelsey Grammer
Television and film actor, Kelsey Grammer, has suffered several tragedies within his family, including the death of two half-brothers in a scuba diving accident in 1980. Two other family members were murdered several years before.
When Kelsey was 13, his father was killed on April 25, 1968. Frank Grammer was murdered by Arthur B. Niles, a man in need of psychiatric care. Frank was shot dead when he left his home to investigate his car which Niles had set alight. The killer was arrested and later found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity. He was placed in a psychiatric facility and was released in 1994.
On June 30, 1975, at the age of 20, Kelsey’s 18-year old sister, Karen, was raped and murdered by four men. She had just finished her shift at a Colorado restaurant when she was abducted by the men. After stopping off at a convenience store to rob it, the men took her to their apartment and allegedly raped her for around four hours. The ringleader, Freddie Lee Glenn, stabbed her, dumped her in a nearby trailer park, and left her for dead. She crawled to a nearby house looking for help but nobody was home. She died on their doorstep.
Freddie Lee Glenn was convicted of murder but escaped the gas chamber due to the Colorado Supreme Court overturning the death sentence. At his most recent parole hearing, in 2014, Kelsey told Glenn that he forgave him but could not endorse his release from prison. The next parole hearing is in 2017.