Celebrities You Didn’t Know Are Adopted

You might know their famous faces, but how "in the know" are you when it comes to these celebrities' true roots?
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These days, we know so much about celebs’ personal lives, it almost feels like we know them. So there’s no time like the present for a little reality check when it comes to their backstories. When you learn how many mega-famous figures are adopted, you’ll probably be floored.

Some stars have used their public platforms to speak out about adoption rights and do their part to give back where they can. Others continue to be famously quiet about their upbringing, only adding to their air (or should I say heir?) of mystery.

Jack Nicholson

Jack Nicholson on the red carpet with sunglasses

Jack’s mother gave birth to him when she was just 16. Her mother decided to adopt Jack, raising him as her son from that day forward. This was news to Nicholson when he found out later in life.

In a plot twist for the ages, he only found out that his “sister” was actually his mother and the woman who raised him was really his grandmother after both women had passed away.

Jamie Foxx

Jamie Foxx arriving for the Django Unchained Premiere, at Empire Leicester Square, London.

When he was seven months old, Jamie Foxx was adopted and raised by his mother’s parents. His biological parents were not a part of his upbringing, and he’s been open about the feelings of abandonment he dealt with growing up.

Looking back, Fox says his mother “was not ready for the responsibility of being a mother.” And while he knew his father, he wasn’t a stable figure in his life. Turning life’s lemons into valuable lessons, the Academy Award-winning actor says what he went through helped him become a more present parent.

Nicole Richie

Nicole Richie at the Who What Wear 10th Anniversary

This might come as a surprise to some, but Lionel Richie is not Nicole Richie’s biological father. She moved in with the singer and his then-wife Brenda when she was four and they officially adopted Nicole when she was 9 years old.

Born Nicole Camille Escovedo, her biological father briefly toured with Lionel and her biological mother was an assistant to Nicole’s aunt, 80s pop sensation Sheila E. On being adopted Nicole has said, “My parents were friends with Lionel. They trusted that they would be better able to provide for me.”

Babe Ruth

baseball signed by Babe Ruth

George Herman Ruth was born the eldest of eight siblings. Ruth was placed in an orphanage at the age of seven, but there’s a great debate about why. Some say he wasn’t an orphan at all. Instead, there are claims he was sent away to catholic school because he was a “problem child” and his parents were at their wit’s end.

Long before becoming “Babe Ruth,” he was sent to St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys. No matter how or why he ended up without his parents, it was there that fate stepped in. During his studies, Babe met Brother Matthias, the man who taught him how to play baseball. Not only would he become one of the most famous American athletes of all time, but he also adopted children of his own.

Kristin Chenowith

Kristin Chenowith at Thanksgiving day parade in nyc

In 1968, the Tony Award-winning singer and actress was adopted by an Oklahoma couple. She was five years old at the time. About four decades into her career in show business, she opened up about her upbringing. “One woman gave me life and two parents gave me a life,” she’s said.

Chenowith has also said that being adopted led to her own desire to adopt down the road. “I was given parents that supported me—I was lucky—and of course it just makes you want to share that love; it’s like planting a seed,” per Publishers Weekly.

Keegan-Michael Key

Keegan-Michael Key on Netflix red carpet

The Key and Peele star was adopted at birth by social workers. Then, at the age of 25, he was reunited with his birth mother. He once told NPR they have “a wonderful, wonderful” relationship.

Keegan-Michael Key often describes himself as “having a lot of parents.” He also says that having a loving, blended family made up of his biological and his adopted parents helped him find his calling.

Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton

Did you know Eric Clapton was adopted? I sure didn’t. And either did he for a while. Apparently, the music legend’s birth mother had him with a Canadian soldier when she was about 16.

Similar to Jack Nicholson’s upbringing, his grandparents raised him as their son alongside his mother. When he was nine, he was told that his sister was actually his mother. 

Eartha Kitt

Eartha Kitt posing at world premiere The Emperor's New Groove.

In 1927, Eartha Kitt was born in South Carolina and grew up believing the black woman who raised her, Anna Mae Riley, was her mother. All she knew about her father was that he was white and his family owned the cotton farm where she was born. But her life changed drastically when she was 8 years old.

When Anna Mae began dating a man who refused to accept Eartha because of her lighter complexion, she was sent to live with her “aunt” Mamie Kitt in New York. As you might’ve guessed, Mamie was actually her biological mother.

Colin Kaepernick

Colin Kaepernick, Teresa Kaepernick, Rick Kaepernick and Nessa Diab arrives for VH1's 3rd Annual 'Dear Mama: A Love Letter to Moms'

Three weeks after he was born, the former NFL star was adopted by Rick and Teresa Kaepernick. Tragically, the couple had lost two sons to congenital heart defects. This led to their decision to adopt. Looking back, Kaepernick says he can’t imagine his life without them.

“You have a family that you love, but you know you don’t look like. And at a young age, I understood that I was different; I didn’t understand what that meant. So, as I got older it was something that developed. As my identity developed and my place in society and my understanding of that developed, my parents and my family had developed as well,” per Style Caster.

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs talking on a stage
Wikimedia Commons

The late Apple CEO’s biological father was Abdulfattah Jandali, a Syrian Muslim. Jandali’s partner/Jobs’ mother, Joanne Schieble, was not. Her parents strongly objected to their relationship. In turn, Steve Jobs’ was put up for adoption.

Initially, he was going to be adopted by a lawyer couple. However, they decided to hold out for a girl. Soon after, the infant was adopted by Paul and Clara Jobs. He would be 27 before he’d learn any information about his biological parents.

Edgar Allan Poe

portrait of Edgar Allan Poe

In 1809, Edgar Allen Poe was born in Boston. Sadly, his mother died while he was just a toddler. With his father not in the picture, he was raised by a new family in Richmond, Virginia. They’d later move to England.

While they never formally adopted Poe, John and Frances Allan raised the young poet as their own. Rumor has it, he was very close to his foster mother but struggled to bond with his foster father. Literary analysts often say this familial conflict is most apparent in his writings, noting, “it’s clear he despised him.”

Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi

Snooki blowing a kiss on the red carpet

In 1987, the Jersey Shore star was born in Santiago, Chile. When she was 6 months old, she was adopted by Italian-American parents, the Polizzis. Discussing her adoption story, the reality star has said her biological parents “couldn’t afford her” and now that she has kids, Polizzi understands wanting to give your children a better life. Above all else, she feels “truly blessed” for her adoptive parents.

When Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi first appeared on MTV, she dubbed herself a “Poughkeepsie princess.” However, she was really raised in Marlboro, New York. Snooki later admitted she flubbed the truth to keep the paparazzi from “stalking’ her mom. I guess that means Snooki sensed the reality show was going to be a mega-hit long before anyone else did. Who knew?

Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton holding microphone and giving a speech outside in NYC

As far as anyone knows, Bill Clinton is only one of two presidents in US history to have been adopted. Gerald Ford is the other. Born William Jefferson Blythe III in Hope, AR, in 1946, his father died suddenly three months before he was born. His mother relocated to New Orleans to study nursing and left little Bill with family members.

He was raised by his grandparents until his mother returned from school four years later. When she married Roger Clinton, Sr., he adopted Bill as his own. Flash forward to his time as commander-in-chief, he signed off on a number of important bills aimed towards helping orphaned and adopted children.

Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe
20th Century Studios

It’s common knowledge that Marilyn Monroe’s real name was Norma Jeane Baker. It’s less well known that she was adopted, raised as Norma Jeane Mortenson for a while, and then tossed around through the foster system for a painful number of years. Her mother, Gladys Baker, was mentally and financially unable to take care of her, so she was placed in foster care until she was 7. However, Baker fought to get her daughter back. For a moment, she succeeded but later suffered a nervous breakdown.

From there, Norma Jeane was declared a ward of the state. Her mother’s best friend, Grace McKee, took on the role of a legal guardian, but not for long. She wound up in LA’s Hollygrove orphanage and a series of foster homes before Grace McKee and her partner took her in once again. Once they moved to the East Coast, they had to leave Norma Jeane behind. They made an arrangement with their neighbor, James Dougherty, to marry 16-year-old Norma Jeane to keep her out of foster care or the orphanage.

Read More: It’s Not Just Britney: Female Celebrities Mauled by The Media

Michael Bay

Director Michael Bay attends the "Transformers: The Last Knight" premiere at the Civic Opera House on June 20, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois.

The Transformers director was adopted when he was a baby. His adoptive parents would later adopt a baby girl as well. During childhood, he spent years looking for his biological mother. He finally tracked her down the year he turned 20.

Bay never learned the identity of his father, but he’s joked that Steven Spielberg and Jerry Bruckheimer share his “creative DNA.” There are also rumors that director John Frankenheimer is his birth father. While Frankenheimer admits to an affair with his birth mother, he denies allegations he’s Bay’s biological dad.

Faith Hill

Faith Hill stands with hand on hip and smiling  at the Academy of Country Music Awards

Faith Hill has always been open about the fact that she’s “a Mississippi girl,” but did you know the five-time Grammy Award-winner was adopted as an infant? Her adoptive parents named her Audrey Faith Perry.

When the songstress-to-be started her career, Hill also began a quest to find her birth mother and closure. The country star once revealed, “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.”

Tim McGraw

Tim McGraw performs at the Toyota Concert Series on the Today Show at Rockefeller Plaza

As it turns out, Faith Hill’s famous hubby was adopted as well. But his story is a little different. When Tim McGraw was 11, he discovered the man he thought was his father was actually his step-father who had legally adopted him. And that’s not all.

Adding to this surprise, McGraw found out his biological father was actually professional baseball player Tug McGraw. However, Tug was reluctant to admit it and denied he was the future country singer’s father until Tim turned 18.

Frances McDormand

Frances McDormand holding two Emmys at the 67th Primetime Emmy Awards

The Nomadland star was adopted when she was a year old. She was born in Chicago, Illinois before being adopted by a pastor and a nurse who raised her in Pittsburgh.

She says her minister father gave her a “moral barometer.” In 1995, McDormand would follow in her adoptive family’s footsteps. She and her husband, Joel Coen, adopted a 6-month-old son from Paraguay.

John Lennon

John Lennon's Imagine, strawberry fields forever memorial in Central Park New York

Shortly before John Lennon turned 4, his parents separated. His father “went AWOL” while on a naval ship and his mother was unable to care for him. From the age of 5, he was raised by his maternal aunt Mimi and his uncle George in Liverpool, England.

Lennon grew up an only child. However, the iconic musician had a half-sister he never knew about. Lillian Ingrid Maria Pedersen was born Victoria Elizabeth Lennon. She was raised by another family in Norway and didn’t learn about her connection to the famous Beatle until 1966.

Read More: All You Need Is Love — And These Beatles Documentaries

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela smiling

Nelson Mandela once said, “There can be no keener revelation in a society’s soul than the way it treats its children.” And that life lesson proved to be hard-earned.

Following his father’s death, 12-year-old Mandela was adopted by Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo, the acting regent of the Thembu people. Dalindyebo did so as a favor to his late father (who died of lung disease.) Mandela’s father was the one who recommended he become chief.

Priscilla Presley

Priscilla Presley and Elvis Presley look at their newborn baby while an excited audience watches
Wikimedia Commons

Priscilla Ann Wagner was born to US Navy pilot James Wagner and his wife Anne. Tragically, her biological father died in a plane crash when she was just six months old. She was later adopted by her mother’s second husband.

She was not told about her birth father until she was a teenager. Around the same time, 14-year-old Priscilla met Elvis Presley–and the rest is history.


Ice-T attends the 'Something For Nothing: The Art Of Rap' screening at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center

Also on the list of surprisingly adopted celebs: Ice T. In 1958, the rapper and Law & Order: SVU star was born Tracy Lauren Marrow. At the age of 8, his mother passed away. Four years later, he lost his father too.

According to the star, his time spent in South Central L.A.’s foster system was rough. Ice-T was eventually raised by his aunts. They later adopted him officially.

Debbie Harry

Debbie Harry performs with Blondie at the TBD Festival in Sacramento, CA.

Born in Miami, the Blondie frontwoman was adopted by New Jersey natives, Catherine and Richard Smith Harry. After growing up in The Garden State, she moved to New York City, took what gigs she could find, and began working her way towards stardom.

At age 4, she was told she was adopted. After that, the singer says she experienced “an identity crisis.” Unlike her adoptive parents, she had an artist’s soul. Harry has said she often fantasized that Marilyn Monroe was her birth mother, but more so for artistic connection and inspiration than a lack of gratitude for those who raised her.

George Lopez

George Lopez smiling on red carpet at the world premiere of LEMONY SNICKET'S A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS, Hollywood, CA,

When George Lopez was 2 months old, his father left their family. When he was 10, his mother left as well. From there, his maternal grandmother, Benita Gutierrez, and her husband, Refugio, stepped up to the plate, adopting and raising the comedian in Los Angeles.

Later in life, Lopez shared how the ups and downs of his adoption journey shaped him. Namely, the superstar comedian said that through what familial support he did have and through his faith, he was able to “find humor in the darkest time.” 

Simone Biles

Simone Biles in the 2016 Olympics on the floor after routine

After a stint in foster care, Simone Biles’ maternal grandfather and his wife adopted the star athlete and her sister. However, before NBC gymnastics commentator Al Trautwig refused to acknowledge her adoptive parents as her parents, it wasn’t a widely known fact that Biles was adopted.

Following Trautwig’s remarks, a social media firestorm ensued. Busy making history, Simone said she didn’t let any of it get to her. The Olympic gold medalist told Us Weekly “I personally don’t have a comment … My parents are my parents and that’s it.”