Celebs Who Came From Single-Parent Families
There's not one right formula for raising a successful child.
Single parenthood gets a pretty bad rap (as if being a single mom or dad isn’t hard enough!), but the truth is that kids raised by single parents do just as well as children from two-parent families.
There are tons of famous faces you’ll recognize who grew up in single-parent families — and many of them will say they’re all the better for it.
Singer Mariah Carey was raised by her opera singer mother, Patricia Hickey, from the time that she was a toddler. Carey’s father and mother divorced when the “Always Be My Baby” artist was 3 years old. Carey didn’t have much contact with her father during her childhood.
Former President Barack Obama was raised by his late mother, Ann Dunham, with the help of his maternal grandparents. His parents had separated shortly after his birth in 1961 in Hawaii. Dunham passed away in 1995 after a battle with cancer.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s mom, Irmelin Indenbirken, separated from the actor’s father, George DiCaprio, when her son was a baby. Indenbirken raised DiCaprio mostly on her own, and the two are very close. In 2006, he told People that his mom is “the only person” he would buy diamonds for, “and for a while now she hasn’t wanted one.”
Apolo Anton Ohno
Apolo Ohno’s mother left the family when he was 1 year old, leaving his father, Yuki Ohno, to raise the Olympic medalist on his own. Yuki, a hairstylist, was a dedicated dad, driving his son hundreds of miles for competitions and training.
“He saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself,” Apolo Ohno told ABC News in 2006.
Halle Berry’s dad left when she was 4 years old. Her mother, Judith Ann, was left to raise the actor and her older sister, Heidi Berry-Henderson, on her own. Berry has been estranged from her dad since she was a child.
Actor and humanitarian Angelina Jolie is the daughter of celebrity parents, Marcheline Bertrand and Jon Voight, but Jolie was primarily raised by her mother after Bertrand separated from Voight when Jolie was a baby. The “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” star has been estranged from her father for decades.
Gloria Carter raised Jay-Z and his three older siblings on her own in Brooklyn, New York, after their father abandoned the family. The rapper and business mogul, who has a strong bond with his mom, has spoken candidly about his tough childhood.
“Sometimes we’d pay the light bill, sometimes we paid the phone, sometimes the gas went off,” he told Vanity Fair in 2013. “We weren’t starving — we were eating, we were OK. But it was things like you didn’t want to be embarrassed when you went to school, you didn’t want to have dirty sneakers or wear the same clothes over again.”
Christina Aguilera‘s parents, Shelly Kearns and Fausto Aguilera, separated when the vocal powerhouse was 7 years old. Kearns raised Aguilera and her younger sister, Rachel, on her own until she later remarried.
“To remember the chaos that [my mother] went through, the abuse, I don’t know how she did it,” Aguilera told Latina in 2010. “But it’s amazing how much you can trick your mind into surviving when you have to.”
Eva Mendes’ parents, Eva Pérez Suárez and Juan Carlos Méndez, divorced when the actor was young and Mendes was raised primarily by her mom. Her father, though, was still present in her life during childhood. When filming 2012’s “Girl in Progress,” Mendes called her mom “a few times to tell her thank you,” she told Quinceanera.com. “Because it’s tough. Raising a child on your own is really tough.”
Keanu Reeves was raised primarily by his mother, Patricia Taylor, with the support of relatives, after his father, Samuel Nowlin Reeves, Jr., abandoned the family when the actor was 3 years old. Reeves did not have much contact with his father during his childhood. The “John Wick” actor moved around a lot as a kid and had a few stepfathers.
Alicia Keys was raised solely by her mom, Terria Joseph, who is an actor and paralegal. Joseph has been a strong force in Keys’ career and gave her the push to pursue music during her childhood.
“She found me a piano teacher and she found the money to pay for it and she found even a piano,” Keys said during the 2016 VH1 special, “Dear Mama.” “Who can fit a piano in a one-bedroom apartment?”
Jodie Foster’s dad abandoned his family before the actor was born, leaving Foster’s mother, Evelyn Ella Almond, to raise her and her three siblings on her own. Foster’s mom played a large role in the launch of her daughter’s career, which led to a tense — but loving — relationship between the two.
“She made me do the things she couldn’t do well,” Foster told PorterEdit in a July interview. “It was an interesting relationship that was fraught — wonderful but painful, too.”
Comedian Kevin Hart and his older brother, Robert, were raised in Philadelphia solely by their mom, Nancy. Hart’s father, Henry Witherspoon, was in and out of his sons’ lives for most of the actor’s childhood.
“The reason I am the way I am is because my mom was strong,” Hart said on “The Howard Stern Show.” “It may have affected my mom, but my mom was such a strong woman, she said, ‘Look, regardless of whatever your father’s doing and where he is, I have a job to do raising you, you’re going to do what you’re supposed to do and you’re going to grow up to be two intelligent men.'”
Jon Stewart’s parents, Marian and Donald Leibowitz, divorced when the comic was a preteen. Marian was left to raise Stewart and his brothers, Lawrence, Dan and Matthew, on her own. The former “Daily Show” host has spoken openly about his estranged relationship with his dad, and he told The Guardian in 2015 that it was still “complicated.”
Swimmer Michael Phelps credits his Olympic success to his mother, Debbie, who raised him and his sisters, Whitney and Hilary, on her own after she divorced their father, Fred. She worked hard, providing for her children on a teacher’s salary while also supporting Phelps’ athletic dreams.
The two are incredibly close: According to The New York Times, Phelps said during the 2008 Summer Olympics, “There’s so much emotions going through my head, so much excitement. I guess I just want to see my mom.”
Singer Demi Lovato and her sisters were raised primarily by their mother, Dianna De La Garza. Lovato’s parents divorced in the mid-1990s when the “Sorry Not Sorry” singer was 2 years old.
“It broke my heart to realize that my girls had seen and heard so many things that must have terrified them,” De La Garza wrote in her book, “Falling with Wings: A Mother’s Story,” according to People. “Starting over as a single mom was hard. But I finally felt free.”
Selena Gomez’s parents, Mandy Teefey and Ricardo Joel Gomez, split when the singer was only 5 years old. Gomez was raised primarily by her mom, with the help of her grandparents. She had difficulty coping with the divorce growing up but has said recently that she now understands the sacrifices her mom had to make to support her family.
“It’s because of [my mom] that I can do things on my own,” she told Glamour in 2012.
Adele‘s father, Mark Evans, left the family when the Grammy Award-winning singer was 2 years old. Her mother, Penny Adkins, raised Adele on her own, and the mother-daughter duo share a close relationship. When accepting her award at the 2012 Grammys, Adele told the crowd, “I just want to say, Mum, your girl did good!”
Eddie Murphy’s father, Charles Edward Murphy, died when the actor was 8 years old, but his parents split when he was a toddler. His mother, Lillian, was left to raise him and his late older brother, Charlie, on her own until she later remarried. At one point during their childhood, the brothers spent a year in foster care when their mother became ill — a period that was influential on Murphy’s career.
Julia Roberts‘ parents, Betty and Walter Roberts, divorced when the beloved actor was young. Betty soon remarried, but later divorced her second husband and raised her children on her own. Roberts’ mom passed away in 2015 after a battle with cancer — a loss that still breaks the actor’s heart. Roberts told People in 2017 that she still thinks about her mother “all the time.”
Pierce Brosnan was raised by his mother, May, after his father, Thomas Brosnan, left the family when the actor was an infant. May moved to London for work when Brosnan was 4 years old, and the veteran actor was then largely raised by his grandparents, Philip and Kathleen Smith.
Oprah Winfrey was raised by her grandmother for the first few years of her life, and then at the age of 6, she moved with her mother, Vernita Lee, to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As a teenager, the iconic television mogul, who had a difficult childhood, was sent to live with her father, Vernon Winfrey. In 1986, Winfrey told the New York Times, “His discipline channeled my need for love and attention into a new direction.”
Kelly Clarkson’s parents, Jeanne Ann and Stephen Michael Clarkson, divorced when the award-winning singer was 6 years old. Clarkson was raised solely by her mom, while her brother, Jason, was raised by their dad, and her sister, Alyssa, was raised by an aunt. The “American Idol” is close to her mother and has been open about her difficult and estranged relationship with her dad.
Growing up, 50 Cent didn’t know his father and he was raised by his mother, Sabrina, until she passed away when he was 8 years old. He was raised by his grandmother following Sabrina’s death.
Sean “Diddy” Combs
Sean “Diddy” Combs’ father, Melvin, died when the entertainment mogul was a toddler. Combs and his sister were raised solely by his mother, Janice, after Melvin’s passing. The rapper has said his mother was always by his side, through thick and thin.
“Every single day, she was there,” Combs told VH1 this year. “And that’s something that you’d expect, but it meant so much to me. It meant so much to me.”
Samuel L. Jackson
Actor Samuel L. Jackson was an only child raised by his mother, Elizabeth, with the help of his grandparents and extended family. He didn’t have a relationship with his father, Roy Henry Jackson, whom he had only met twice. Jackson speaks fondly of his childhood, praising his mother for how hard she worked to take care of him.
Barbra Streisand and her older brother, Sheldon, were raised by Streisand’s mother, Diana, after her father, Emanuel, died following an epileptic seizure. Streisand was just a toddler at the time of her father’s death. The iconic performer has had a difficult relationship with her mom, who was often critical of Streisand.
Mary J. Blige
Singer and actor Mary J. Blige was raised by her mother, Cora, after her father, Thomas Blige, left the family in the mid-1970s. Blige has a strong relationship with her mom.
“You were to us the greatest dancer, the greatest mother, the greatest cook, the greatest friend,” Blige told her mother during VH1’s 2017 “Dear Mama” special. “I know I didn’t listen to you a lot when I was younger, but I can hear you so clearly now as a woman.”
Stephen Colbert was raised by his mother, Lorna, after his father, James, and two brothers, Peter and Paul, died in a plane crash in 1974 when Colbert was 10 years old. Colbert was extremely close to his mother, and the late-night talk show host was devastated when she passed away in 2013.
“I know it may sound greedy to want more days with a person who lived so long,” he said during an episode of his former show, “The Colbert Report.” “But the fact that my mother was 92 does not diminish it; it only magnifies the enormity of the room whose door has now quietly shut.”
Rapper Kanye West owes much of his success to his late mother, Donda West, who played a big role in his career. Donda raised Kanye on her own after divorcing his father when the rapper was a toddler. The mother-son duo were incredibly close and before her death, she even served as his “momager.” Donda West died in late 2007 due to complications from plastic surgery.