Getting a good start in life is important for all of us. But for some kids, that good start can take a while to appear. And when parents can’t cope, adoption is there to help children find a forever family. Whether that’s with a relative, family friend or a completely new set of relations, families can take all sorts of forms. And as these 40 stars prove, that good start can lead to amazing things. From Marilyn Monroe to Babe Ruth, here’s our list of celebs you probably didn’t even know were adopted.
40: Faith Hill
Country music superstar Faith Hill, who is married to fellow musician Tim McGraw, knew from a young age that she was adopted. That information, though, seems to have had a positive effect on the future songstress. She told Good Housekeeping magazine in 2017, “I was adopted into this incredible home, [a] loving, positive environment.” She went on, “I have a lot of respect for my birth mother and no feeling of anger.”
As a child Black Eyed Peas singer Apl.De.Ap lived in the Philippines. Surviving an upbringing blighted by extreme poverty, at 14 his fortunes changed when he was sponsored by an American philanthropist. That man, Joe Hudgens, eventually moved the future star to the U.S., before legally adopting the teen. The rest, as they say, is musical history.
38: Priscilla Presley
Yes, the King’s former wife was adopted as a child. But Priscilla Presley had no idea until, as a 13-year-old, she accidentally stumbled across pictures of her real father. She once described discovering those images as “finding my life… in front me! [But] that was different... [to] what I knew.” Despite the shock of it all, though, she never stopped calling the man who raised her “dad.”
Darryl McDaniels – better known as the DMC element of hip hop royalty Run DMC – had no idea he was adopted. In fact, he’d already sold millions of albums before he discovered the truth at age 35. But for the rap superstar, his true origin story is nothing but positive. As he told Essence magazine in 2017, “I realized I was given love, direction and education, something that was pivotal in me becoming the person I was destined to be.”
36: Louis Armstrong
The jazz legend they came to call Satchmo actually knew his birth mother, but saw very little of the teen mom. Instead, he was raised by his grandmother, but it seems she had a little help. The young Armstrong was unofficially adopted by a Jewish family from his neighborhood. They even gave the future star the cash to buy his first horn. In return, he adopted them right back. To show his appreciation for their support and care, he sported a Star of David necklace in tribute.
35: Ric Flair
The WWE legend we all know as Ric Flair was actually originally called Fred. Baby Fred didn’t have a great start, as he was abandoned at a Tennessee children’s home. Things soon improved for the future wrestling star, though. He was quickly adopted by Dr. and Mrs Fliehr – hence his eventual wrestling moniker – who also changed his first name to Richard. That Nature Boy thing though was all Flair. His parents had nothing to do with it.
34: Kristin Davis
Better known as Sex and The City’s super-clenched Charlotte, Kristin Davis was originally Kristen Atkinson. Her parents, Dorothy and Tom Atkinson, divorced when she was a toddler, leaving the future star estranged from her birth father for many years. When her mom married again, her stepdad, a psychology professor, officially adopted the young Davis.
Rapper, producer and actor Ice-T knew both of his biological parents. But he was adopted by his aunt after losing his dad when he was just 12. And that was only a few years after the passing of his mom. Believe it or not, both of the rapper’s parents died of heart attacks in the space of four years.
32: Bo Diddley
Rock ’n’ roll legend Bo Diddley had more than a few name changes in his life. Born Ellas Bates, his first new moniker made him Ellas McDaniel. That came after he was adopted by relatives of his mother at just seven years old. As for the name Bo Diddley? That’s a nickname the guitar legend earned for famously doing nothing!
31: Daunte Culpepper
NFL legend Daunte Culpepper was a mere 24 hours old when he went home with his adopted family. Born to a mother who was serving a jail sentence at the time, a worker at the facility volunteered to adopt the infant. Little Daunte joined the ranks of a total of 15 adopted Culpepper siblings. Reflecting on his adoption, the footballer once said, “It was the best thing that happened to me in my whole life.”
30: Tim McGraw
Country megastar and husband to Faith Hill, Tim McGraw also accidentally stumbled across his true parentage. He always believed his stepdad was his biological father, but rooting around in some old boxes proved otherwise. An 11-year-old McGraw found his birth certificate but was shocked when his dad’s name wasn’t on it. Eventually, the future star discovered that his birth father was in fact baseball player Tug McGraw.
29: Kristen Chenoweth
Writing for website Huffpost, singer Kristen Chenoweth revealed that a movie had inspired her to share her own origins story with the world. That movie was Lion, and her tale is one of joy: we’ll let her tell you the rest. “[I] can honestly say being adopted was one of the best things to ever happen to me. [My status] was never something that was hidden from me and it is not something I have ever been ashamed of. I recognize how fortunate I am to have parents who love and support me unconditionally. The fact that they are not my biological parents does not change the fact that they are simply, my parents.”
28: Keegan-Michael Key
SNL comedian Keegan-Michael Key, unsurprisingly, sees the funny side of having been adopted at birth. With his adoptive parents later divorcing and both remarrying, and then meeting his birth mother when he was 25, it’s been quite the emotional roller coaster for the funnyman. As he put it on the You Made It Weird podcast, “I’ve had a lot of parents!”
27: Ted Danson
The star of first Cheers and later The Good Place Ted Danson was also adopted as a child. And although he recalls a childhood in which money was scarce, his family were always there for him. As the actor to AARP in 2017, “There wasn’t a day that went by that I wasn’t told that I was loved in one form or another.”
26: Jack Nicholson
Jack Nicholson, owner of Hollywood’s most expressive eyebrows, has a backstory so outrageous it could have come from a movie. Long after launching his acting career, a journalist told the actor something unbelievable: that the woman he had called mom all his life had been, in fact, his grandma; his “sister” had been his true mom. And while both had passed before the truth came to light, a surviving aunt eventually confirmed the revelation. All the star could say was, “I was stunned.” Quite.
25: Ray Liotta
Actor, Emmy-winner and owner of the bluest dead-eyed stare in Hollywood, Ray Liotta was adopted just six months after his birth. But he didn’t find out until he was in his 40s. For the actor, that discovery changed his life. He told The Hollywood Reporter magazine in 2014, “I found my birth mother and found out I have… a half-brother, five half-sisters and a full sister that I didn’t know about until 15 years ago.”
24: Babe Ruth
Perhaps baseball’s most famous star, Babe Ruth’s start was anything but glamorous. Although he wasn’t technically adopted, his birth parents gave his school guardianship over him. Why? As the star himself put it in his autobiography, “Looking back on my boyhood, I honestly don’t remember being aware of the difference between right and wrong.” But Ruth discovered his affinity for the national game while living at the school. So maybe it was for the best?
23: Marilyn Monroe
As with so much of Marilyn Monroe’s story, her adoption journey looked a little different to most. Being born to a single mom who struggled with her mental health meant that, as a child, the future star spent her early years in foster homes and municipal facilities. At 11 years old she was formally adopted by a family friend. But for some reason, the young Monroe wasn’t taken out of the care system until she was 12, and after a brief stint with her new stepmom, lived mostly with other friends and relatives until her nuptials at 16.
22: Nancy Reagan
Future First Lady Nancy Reagan actually spent the first two years of her life living with her birth mother. But she spent the next six living with her aunt and uncle. When her biological mom Edith Luckett married the splendidly named Loyal Davies, though, the little girl’s life changed once again. She moved to Chicago to be with her, and the new man in her mother’s life officially adopted his stepdaughter a few years later.
21: Eartha Kitt
Revered as an icon for her portrayal of Catwoman, Eartha Kitt is also a musical icon. Abandoned in 1927 by her mother shortly after her birth, she grew up in the care of relatives in South Carolina. At the age of just eight years old, the future star moved to The Big Apple to live with an aunt. And it was while living there that her decades-long entertainment career started. Thank you New York!
20: Eleanor Roosevelt
Born in 1884 in New York, Eleanor Roosevelt’s early years were full of tragedy. The future First Lady and acclaimed social reform campaigner was orphaned by the age of ten. She and her two younger brothers were then placed in the care of their grandmother, Mary Ludlow Hall and moved to Manhattan to live with her. Believe it or not, she and her future husband met as childhood friends; they were also cousins.
19: Nicole Richie
Socialite, actor and reality star Nicole Richie’s adoption story is definitely unique. Her biological parents, it seems, were struggling to take care of their young daughter. Step forward family friend and bona fide music superstar Lionel Richie. He offered to give the little girl a place to stay until things got better. A year later, she was officially Nicole Richie. As she explained to website Yahoo.com, “My parents were friends with Lionel. They trusted that they would be better able to provide for me.”
18: Michael Bay
Michael Bay, director of the Transformers movies, has known about his adoption status since he was a child. He even recalls a party thrown for his sister after she was retrieved from an orphanage. Three-year-old Bay was so incensed he poured his milk all over the floor. The identity of his biological father, though, remains a mystery to this day. The Hollywood rumor that fellow movie director John Frankenheimer might be his dad was quashed when a DNA test ruled him out.
While infamous Jersey Shore star Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi will always be linked to her family’s Italian background, she’s not actually Italian. Or American, for that matter. In a fantastic origin story, Polizzi was in fact born in Chile, adopted as a baby by her American family. That might sound improbable, but the way she tells it, things couldn’t have turned out otherwise. She told Reader’s Digest magazine, “[My parents] flew all the way to Chile to come pick me up and they said that right when they saw me I was like, ‘Mama. Dada.’ So it was, like, meant to be. I could tell because, you know, things just work out that way. It’s called fate.”
16: Malcolm X
Civil rights activist Malcolm X, real name Malcolm Little, spent time in both state facilities and foster homes as a child before finding his place in Boston. On occasion he’d visit his half-sister Ella Collins there; she later was awarded full custody of her teenage brother. In a stable home for the first time in years, the future activist learned his oratory skills working several local jobs.
15: Gerald Ford
Former President of the United States Gerald Ford was 13 years old when he found out that the man who he believed to be his father, after whom he had been named, was actually his stepfather. Born Leslie Lynch King, Jr., it was the future president’s mom who began calling him Gerald Ford, Jr. That was following marriage to, you guessed it, Gerald Ford, Sr. And to make things more confusing, Ford, Sr, never formally adopted his namesake. Instead, Ford, Jr legally changed his name in 1935.
14: Ingrid Bergman
Golden Age icon Ingrid Bergman suffered an incredible three losses before she was a teenager. Her mother passed away when she was a toddler, her father when she was 12, and then to pile on the misery the aunt who had taken her in died just weeks later. Eventually, she was informally adopted by an uncle before her move to Hollywood and international stardom.
13: Keyshia Cole
Singer/songwriter Keyshia Cole was adopted by family friends as a toddler. She’s been in touch with her birth mom Frankie on and off for a while, but she didn’t meet her biological dad until she was in her 30s. That was thanks to a DNA test that led her to boxing trainer Virgil Hunter, who’s worked with the likes of Amir Khan. After their meeting, Cole took to Instagram. She posted, “The story behind this is beyond me!!! God has his hands all in this!!!”
12: Michelle Visage
RuPaul’s right-hand-woman and Jersey’s classiest export, Michelle Visage was adopted as a baby. Her family never hid her status, but that led to some angst during her teenage years. She told OK magazine, “I’ve had an incredible life but I’ve never really felt like I belonged. I didn’t realize until I was older that I was truly lucky to be adopted by my family.”
11: Truman Capote
Writer of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and flamboyant Southern gentleman, Truman Capote was born Truman Streckfus Persons. He spent his early years living in Alabama with relatives but eventually moved to New York, where he was adopted by his new stepfather. He also got a new name, which may have been for the best.
10: Eric Clapton
It seems in the movie of guitar legend Eric Claption’s life, Jack Nicholson was born to play him. Like the Oscar-winner, Clapton’s younger years were spent believing his biological mother was his sister. And he, too, didn’t find out until he was an adult. Arguably, it was this revelation that spurred the young Clapton on to create the music that became so important during the ’60s and ’70s. We wonder if the pair have ever talked about it…
9: Maya Angelou
Poet, author and activist Maya Angelou was born in Missouri and lived with her parents until she was a toddler. They divorced at that point and the little girl went south to live with her grandmother, where she spent large parts of her childhood. Angelou and her mother, however, later reconciled. Recalling that experience to Oprah, the writer said, “My mom was a terrible parent of small children but a great parent of young adults. She’d talk to me as if I had some sense.”
8: Simone Biles
During Simone Biles’ appearance on Dancing with the Stars, she opened up about her adoption journey. The Olympian and gymnastics legend revealed that she and her sister were both adopted by their grandparents as toddlers. She went on, “My parents saved me,” adding, “They’ve set huge examples of how to treat other people, and they’ve been there to support me since Day One.”
7: Colin Kaepernick
Teresa and Rick Kaepernick adopted their future NFL superstar son Colin just five weeks after his 1987 birth. Yes, he’s that young. The couple, though, were always open about his status. He once recalled to Time magazine, “My parents told me from the time I can remember that, ‘Yeah, you’re adopted. But this is your family.’ Looking back, I think that was the biggest thing. Just the love and affection that they showed was what made everything so smooth for me.”
6: Jamie Foxx
Proving that even when you’ve come to terms with your life, revealing your adoption status can be incredibly emotional, Jamie Foxx broke down while talking about his early years. Filming the TV quiz show Beat Shazam, the actor connected with a couple trying to send their adopted kids to college. He said, “I was adopted at seven months and I’m going to tell you what that means. My grandmother? That’s not actually my biological grandmother. That’s somebody who said, ‘I see something in that little boy that’s very special.’” The star then left the stage in tears.
5: John Lennon
Back in 1946 social mores were such that lone parents, particularly women, weren’t looked on with favor. Ditto any couple living together without first having married. So when Alf Lennon went AWOL from the Merchant Navy, it left his wife Julia and their son John in a difficult spot. To compound matters, Julia later moved in with a man to whom she was not married, John Dykins. So the family intervened, and with the agreement of the local authorities, five-year-old John was removed to the care of his aunt Mimi Smith, in whose home he was living when he helped form the biggest band in the world.
4: Nelson Mandela
Successful activist, orator and former president, it seems as though Nelson Mandela was always destined for greatness. But as a child, he saw tragedy and upheaval. Aged about nine, he lost his father to cancer. As a result, the little boy was adopted by Thembu tribal leader Jongintaba Dalindyebo. And it was he who would set Mandela on the path that would eventually lead to the presidency.
3: Debbie Harry
Catherine and Richard Harry adopted future punk queen Debbie when she was just a few months old. She would later cut her singing teeth, so to speak, at the local church. So when a teenage Harry decided she wanted to be a punk rocker, her parents were horrified. She told Mojo magazine, “I think it was frightening for them, because they, of course, were trying to protect me.”
2: Frances McDormand
Frances McDormand moved in with her adopted family when she was just 18 months old. And it seems the McDormand’s was a busy household. The future triple Oscar-winner was, in fact, one of nine adopted and foster siblings at home. She joked with The New York Times newspaper in 2021 that her parents loved a full house so much they “even took in stray cats.”
1: Steve Jobs
Apple’s famously inventive co-founder was adopted as a baby by Clara and Paul Jobs, as they were unable to have children themselves. Despite later discovering that his birth parents actually got married and had another child, Jobs described his sister as “One of my best friends in the world.” But the tech whiz chose not to meet his biological parents. According to The Daily Telegraph newspaper he always emphasized that Clara and Paul were the only parents that he had known.