18 Celebrities You Didn’t Know Were Adopted
Some big-screen stars have stories worthy of the big-screen treatment.
Families created through adoption often have compelling stories about how parents and children found each other. And while we often hear about celebrities adopting children both domestically and internationally, there are just as many fascinating stories about celebrities who were adopted themselves as children and how it forever changed the course of their lives. In honor of November being National Adoption Month, we’ve rounded up 18 adopted celebrities and the amazing adoption journeys that set them on track for success.
Athlete and activist Colin Kaepernick was born to a white mother and an African-American father who split up before he was born. He was adopted when he was five weeks old by Rick and Teresa Kaepernick, a white couple who had lost two other sons to birth defects. The Kaepernicks were not eligible to adopt a white baby from a private adoption agency, so when they learned that a biracial baby boy was up for adoption, they chose to adopt him and named him Colin, who Teresa called her “perfect child.”
When Kaepernick, then quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, began to kneel for the national anthem as a protest to the continuing racial inequality in this country, his parents believed they should remain silent so as not to get involved in the firestorm, but soon after changed their minds when the issue became a national controversy. They issued a statement that said, in part, “We were truly shocked at the amount of racist hatred out there! Until this had occurred, we had naively believed that the racial atmosphere in this country was far better than it actually is. Prayer and talks with our son gave us a much better understanding of the reason for his protest and how we should view it.” Teresa later told a reporter, “I just want to be on the record that we absolutely do support him.”
The two-time Oscar winner was born in Chicago and was adopted when she was a baby by a Canadian couple living in the United States. Her adoptive father, Vernon, was a pastor at Disciples of Christ, and the actress has said her biological mother may have been one of the parishioners at the church.
The former president was born William Jefferson Blythe III in Hope, Arkansas, in 1946. His father died three months before he was born. His mother moved to New Orleans to study nursing and left him to be raised by his grandparents, Eldridge and Edith Cassidy, until she returned four years later. When she later married Roger Clinton, Sr., he adopted then 15-year-old Bill.
When she was just five days old, the Tony Award-winning singer and actress was adopted in 1968 by Oklahoma couple Junie and Jerry Chenoweth. “Growing up, my parents explained my adoption by telling me, ‘We chose you,'” Chenoweth told People. “It was a wonderful way to put it to an adopted child. And I think it’s true. An adoption is a full-circle blessing.
The Key and Peele star was adopted as a baby by Michigan social workers and raised in Detroit. When he was older, he met his biological mother and found out he had two brothers, both of whom had died. However, it seems natural talent was in Key’s blood all along: One of his two biological siblings was Dwayne McDuffie, a comic book writer and producer of Justice League 10.
The Goodfellas actor was born in New Jersey and adopted by Mary and Alfred Liotta when he was six months old. He has said when he first learned he was adopted he felt “kind of given up” and asked himself, “How can a mother not keep their kid?” However, he later came to believe almost all adoptions come about “for the betterment of the kid.” He didn’t meet his birth parents and siblings until he was in his 40s, when he learned he was part Scottish.
Her parents, Lionel Richie and his then-wife Brenda Harvey, knew Nicole’s biological parents (Peter Michael Escovedo, a musician who toured briefly with Lionel, and Karen Moss, an assistant to Nicole’s aunt, Sheila E), who weren’t able to provide for her financially. She went to live with the Richies when she was three years old and, when Nicole was nine, she was legally adopted by the singer and his wife. Nicole has said, “My parents were friends with Lionel. They trusted that they would be better able to provide for me.”
The Beatles’ singer and guitarist was raised by his maternal aunt and uncle in Liverpool, England, from the time he was five years old, after his father went AWOL in the military and his mother ran off with another man.
Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi
Snooki, who gained reality show infamy as a cast member of MTVs Jersey Shore, wasn’t always destined for stateside stardom. Born in Santiago, Chile, she was adopted by her parents when she was six months old and raised in New York and New Jersey.
The late founder of Wendy’s was born to a young, unmarried woman and given up for adoption at birth. He was adopted at six weeks old by Rex and Auleva Thomas. Dave later founded the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption to make adoption affordable and more accessible to families around the country.
The New York Yankees outfielder, who was adopted the day after he was born by Wayne and Patty Judge, has never contacted his biological parents and is extremely close to the parents who raised him. “I know I wouldn’t be a New York Yankee if it wasn’t for my mom,” Judge has said. “The guidance she gave me as a kid growing up, knowing the difference from right and wrong, how to treat people and how to go the extra mile and put in extra work, all that kind of stuff. She’s molded me into the person that I am today.”
The day after the actress was born, actress Melissa Gilbert was adopted by actor and comedian Paul Gilbert and his wife, actress Barbara Crane. Growing up in a show business family helped her win the coveted role of Laura Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie. (Her adopted brother Jonathan also starred on the hit NBC show). Her parents divorced when she was eight, and her mother remarried and gave birth to Melissa’s half-sister, Sara Gilbert, who starred on Roseanne, as well as the more recent reboot, The Conners.
The late Nobel Peace Prize winner and activist was adopted by an entire tribe following the death of his parents. He was born into the Thembu tribe and was adopted by the chief after his father died when Mandela was nine. His father earned the gratitude of the tribe for his work in bringing them into power, and Mandela’s adoption was their repayment for his help.
The uber-successful country singer and music producer was raised by her two parents, along with their two biological sons, in Star, Mississippi. Hill told Billboard she grew up knowing that she had been adopted, and had been told that she was the product of her birth mother’s affair with a married man. When she moved to Nashville to embark on a singing career, she decided to search for her birth family. Hill has said, “I have a lot of respect for my birth mother. I know she must have had a lot of love for me to want to give what she felt was a better chance.”
Hill’s husband was also adopted. McGraw believed his stepfather, Horace Smith, was his father until he found his birth certificate when he was 11 year old. Up until that time, his name has been Tim Smith. His mother took him to meet his biological father, minor league baseball pitcher Frank Edwin “Tug” McGraw, Jr., who denied paternity until Tim turned eighteen. After that, the two men formed a relationship.
The late president was born Leslie Lynch King, Jr., to Dorothy Ayer Gardner and Leslie Lynch King, Sr., who separated just 16 days after he was born. Ford was raised by his stepfather, Gerald Rudolff Ford, from the age of two, and the former commander-in-chief’s name was subsequently changed to Gerald Rudolff Ford, Jr., after his adoption.
The Oscar winner was born to young parents who split up shortly after his birth. He was adopted at seven months old by his mother’s adoptive parents, Esther and Mark Talley.
The late Apple CEO’s biological father was Abdulfattah Jandali, a Syrian Muslim. Jandali’s girlfriend at the time was American student Joanne Schieble. Her parents objected to their mixed relationship, so the couple gave up their son at birth in 1955. He was adopted by Paul and Clara Jobs, a San Francisco couple who were unable to have children.
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