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10 Big TV Stars With Dark Pasts

by Gordon Gora
fact checked by Jamie Frater

We can never truly know the truth about our favorite celebrities and stars, but sometimes we can get a glimpse into who they are. Some stars endured and overcame unimaginable trials to enjoy the fame that television success brings. These are just a few of television’s stars who had hard lives before they achieved success.

10Craig Ferguson

1- Craig Ferguson

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

Craig Ferguson made it in the US by acting on The Drew Carey Show, but what really made him famous was hosting The Late Late Show. He was widely acclaimed as a host and built a sizable fan base. However, he didn’t always have his life quite so together. A skilled drummer, Ferguson once made a living with various punk bands in his youth, and the culture which he performed in caused him to develop a drug and alcohol habit.

Ferguson, who was never particularly fond of school, dropped out at 16. He began to practice drumming, which he was very good at. He started touring with bands like the Dream Boys, which was fronted by Peter Capaldi (who went on to be one of the Doctors of Doctor Who). Ferguson and Capaldi soon began using drugs together; Ferguson’s drug of choice was cocaine, which helped him perform. He continued drinking and using hard drugs throughout the 1980s and claims that once, while using LSD, he was convinced that he was being attacked by flying ducks.

After his years of partying, though, Ferguson became depressed and suicidal. He claims that on Christmas Day 1991, he thought about committing suicide by jumping off Tower Bridge in London. He decided to become clean in 1992 and hasn’t drank or used drugs since. Soon afterward, he experienced a change in his life and started to become increasingly more successful until he eventually became host of The Late Late Show in 2005.

9Anthony Bourdain

2- Anthony Bourdain

Photo credit: Daniel Case

Anthony Bourdain is famous as the foul-mouthed world traveler of the shows No Reservations and Parts Unknown, but he when he was younger, he never imagined that he would one day be famous and respected. Bourdain candidly described his early twenties in a Reddit conversation: “I was a complete asshole. Selfish, larcenous, druggy, loud, stupid, insensitive and someone you would not want to have known . . . I would have robbed your medicine cabinet had I been invited to your house.”

He worked in several restaurants throughout New York in his earlier years but continued to abuse drugs and alcohol heavily. His memoir, Kitchen Confidential, deals with the topic of his drug use while working in a restaurant in Soho: “We were high all the time, sneaking off to the walk-in refrigerator at every opportunity to ‘conceptualize.’ Hardly a decision was made without drugs. Cannabis, methaqualone, cocaine, LSD, psilocybin mushrooms soaked in honey and used to sweeten tea, secobarbital, tuinal, amphetamine, codeine and, increasingly, heroin, which we’d send a Spanish-speaking busboy over to Alphabet City to get.”

His drug use became out of control and he began losing work because of it. Soon, he was struggling so badly with finances that he began to sell his possessions on the street so he could make enough money for drugs. However, after writing his memoirs at the age of 44, he experienced a rebirth in his career. He kicked drugs and started to host his various television programs and write more books. While he acknowledges that abstinence is helpful to most former substance abusers, he still enjoys a few drinks on occasion.

8Andrew Zimmern

3- Andrew Zimmern

Photo credit: Punch Pizza

Andrew Zimmern is known as the genial host of Bizarre Foods, a man no one would suspect was once a homeless junkie squatting in abandoned buildings throughout New York, but that was once what he was. He said that in his past, he was so addicted to drugs that he often resorted to stealing purses for money. He lived for a year in an abandoned building in Manhattan and often sprinkled Comet cleanser so that rats and vermin wouldn’t bother him while he slept.

Despite the constant abuse he received during his time as a homeless man, he didn’t think of anything being wrong with the way he lived until he sobered up in 1992 at the Hazeldon clinic; he continues to show his appreciation there by volunteering. Afterward, he received acclaim as the executive chef at a restaurant in Minnesota. He grew an increasingly large media presence with his show Bizarre Foods in 2006.

7Glenn Beck

4- glenn beck

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

Many of us know Glenn Beck as the conservative media figure that you either love or hate, but what many people don’t know is that Beck had a depressing past filled with drugs and alcohol which almost led him to the brink of suicide. Mental illness ran in his family—his mother struggled with substance abuse and manic depression, eventually dying in an accident which Beck believes was suicide.

Beck became interested in radio through his collection of records from the Golden Age of Radio. He also began drinking and using marijuana heavily at this time. He became successful as a radio DJ and started to use harder drugs like cocaine along with his alcohol. His first marriage began to suffer when he started to have suicidal fantasies. However, after he divorced his wife and was forced to work mediocre gigs, he began attending Alcoholics Anonymous. He finally beat his addictions and converted to Mormonism, a religion he once mocked on his radio shows. He again found success (soberly this time) on the radio, this time as a political commentator. He soon made the switch to television on CNN but found greater success on Fox News as a conservative commentator. He left Fox News and now controls his own television network, The Blaze.

6Oprah Winfrey

Opening Night Of "Three Days Of Rain" At Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre
Many of us know Oprah Winfrey as the ultra-successful talk show host and businesswoman who has made a career out of talking to those who have lived unfortunate lives, but she herself has lived a life which has been characterized by abuse and pain. She has said that she was molested at the age of nine and, even before then, she was physically abused by various family members. Between the ages of 10 and 14, she was repeatedly sexually abused until she discovered that she was pregnant, at which time she was sent to live with her father.

Sadly, two weeks after giving birth, Oprah lost her baby. However, she refused to let her life of abuse consume her, and she started to attend acting workshops. She soon decided that she wanted to have a career in entertainment. She was already showing signs of intelligence at a young age, having learned how to read before the age of three, and she quickly became something of a prodigy. She started to host programs in Chicago and eventually rose to the top of the ratings. Of course, we all know of her phenomenal success since then, showing that she succeeded in her goal of overcoming a hard childhood.

5Phil Robertson

6- Phil Robertson

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

Whether you love or hate the reality show Duck Dynasty, we all have to admit that the show is a smash success. However, the patriarch of the Robertson family, Phil Robertson, didn’t always have such happy days in his life. During the early years of his marriage, Phil Robertson struggled with alcoholism and was often gone from his family. He cheated on his wife, Kay Robertson, but she refused to leave him and stayed by his side.

Phil Robertson was involved in barroom brawls and had legal troubles because of it. Eventually, his wife was forced to leave to protect their children. It was at that time that Robertson realized how far he had let his behavior take him. He decided to clean up his act and became a born-again Christian. After years of clean living, in 2012, the reality show about his family and business premiered. He has been very candid about his past life, saying: “It’s only when you meet Jesus and you look back at where you were that you end up saying things like, ‘What was I thinking?’ ”

4George Lopez

Premiere Of Touchstone Pictures' "The Proposal" - Arrivals
While George Lopez is best known for his television show about a Hispanic family, he himself never had a true family. Lopez was born in 1961, but at the age of just two months, his father abandoned him and was never heard from again. He and his mother went to live with his grandmother, herself a victim of childhood abuse. He had very little nurturing from either his mother or his grandmother, and when he was 10 years old, his mother left him. He never celebrated birthdays due to his grandmother’s poverty, and he has said that there are no baby pictures of himself even though he was an only child.

When Lopez began going to school, things weren’t any better. He was bullied for being dark-skinned and for the shape of his head. To help make ends meet, Lopez worked in the same factory where his grandmother was an inspector. However, instead of allowing the hardships of life bring him down, he found the humor in his situations. He began dreaming about being a performer after seeing comedian Freddie Prinze, who was also Hispanic. After Lopez graduated, he spent one day in a computer class at junior college before dropping out and pursuing a career in comedy. He became a popular stand-up act and received some film roles. In 2002, he achieved the biggest break in his career: his own television show.

3Fran Drescher

Premiere Of "Sicko"
Before Fran Drescher achieved fame on her television show The Nanny, she went through a harrowing ordeal. In 1985, the actress was with her husband and a friend when two armed men broke into her home and proceeded to tie up the group. The two burglars were brothers, and one of them had previously been in prison but was out on parole. While one of the brothers went about burglarizing the home, the other sexually assaulted Drescher and her friend while her husband was forced to watch.

The two brothers were eventually caught, but the pain and the memory of the ordeal followed Drescher for many years. She spoke about the incident in an interview with Larry King and said that it caused her to fear being in her home. She said that she even installed bars to protect herself. However, she also spoke about how she kept going: “And so I sort of tucked it away and picked myself up, and dusted myself off and just marched on.”

2Felicia Pearson

The Wire’s “Snoop” Opens Up To Michael K. Williams In An Intimate Interview

For those of us who worshiped the show The Wire, Felicia Pearson is best known as “Snoop.” But her role as a cold-blooded criminal is not far from home for her, because she had a hard life from the moment she was born. She was born prematurely with prenatal cocaine exposure, as both of her parents were addicted to crack cocaine. She was placed in a foster home, but the man who raised her, Levi Pearson, died when she was only 12. Soon after, she dropped out of school and began dealing drugs.

In 1995, the 14-year-old Pearson was involved in a fight with a stranger. She pulled out a gun and fired at the stranger, killing her. She was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to eight years in juvenile prison. She decided to make a change in her life when her drug dealer mentor was shot to death. She earned a GED and was released early in 2000, at which point she tried to lead a steady life but went back to dealing drugs. However, a chance encounter with The Wire actor Michael K. Williams led to an audition and stardom. She recounted her life and experiences in her 2007 memoir, Grace after Midnight; she hoped to inspire others in hard situations, saying: “[It’s] just to let people know you can make it through your trials and tribulations . . . You can make it out of it.”

1Suzanne Somers

"Sex And The City 2" New York Premiere - Arrivals
Suzanne Somers starred in Three’s Company and became very famous for it, but she has a past which is particularly unsettling. From an early age, she was frequently abused by her alcoholic father and said that she would often hide in the closet out of fear of his alcoholic rages. She and her family, however, kept quiet about her father’s drinking. When she was 15, she began dating a college student and became pregnant two years later. She married him and took his last name, Somers.

The marriage was unhappy, and they soon divorced, at which point she started juggling her career with raising her child. Once, when she couldn’t pay her son’s medical bills, she was forced to do nude photographs to raise the cash. Her father’s condition only worsened, as he began missing work due to his alcoholism. In 1976, he finally sobered up, which greatly helped the rest of the family. In 1977, one year after her father decided to become sober, she was cast in her career-making role in Three’s Company. In 1988, she wrote her book Keeping Secrets, which revealed her abuse in early life.

Gordon Gora is a struggling author who is desperately trying to make it. He is working on several projects, but until he finishes one, he will write for Listverse for his bread and butter.

fact checked by Jamie Frater