25 Famous People You Didn’t Know Were Adopted
Families form in many different ways. These celebrities not only understand the beauty of adoption, they've lived it.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of family is “a group of individuals living under one roof and usually under one head.” Of course, we know that family is so much more than that. It’s a dynamic full of ups, downs, triumphs, and struggles. And there isn’t a singular way to become a family, either. The path to finding one’s “people” can be a journey in and of itself. For these 25 celebrities, adoption led them to the folks who would be the most formidable of their lives.
Adopted by Paul and Clara Jobs, a couple who had been unable to have children, Apple founder Steve Jobs grew up in the part of Northern California now known as Silicon Valley with his adoptive sister Patti. Though he never met his birth parents, he did meet a biological sister, Mona Simpson, when he was 27. He even went on to describe Simpson as “one of my best friends in the world,” according to The Telegraph. However close he became with her, the tech icon was always quick to point out that Paul and Clara were the only parents he ever knew.
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Academy Award winner Frances McDormand was adopted at 18 months of age. Her parents, Noreen McDormand and Rev. Vernon McDormand worked as a nurse and an evangelical preacher, respectively, according to The Guardian. The McDormands adopted two other children as well and moved around the country frequently to help reinvigorate congregations that needed assistance.
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A Michigan native, actor Keegan-Michael Key was adopted at a young age by two social workers and raised in Detroit. When he was 25 years-old Key found his biological mother. “Finding her was something that had always been in my mind,” he told Chicago Now. “My parents always said, ‘That’s a possibility for you.’ That was one of the most unexpected and crucial and significant and foundational things that has happened in my life.”
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Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi
Beyond her former hard-partying Jersey Shore personal, Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi has an interview story to tell: She was adopted from Santiago, Chile at the age of 6 months old. “[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,” Polizzi shared in a YouTube video about adoption in 2018.
Musician Liz Phair has been very vocal about being adopted, applauding the way her parents relayed the information to herself and her brother, also adopted. “My parents were very responsible,” she told Women’s Health. “They said, ‘We wanted you more than anything in the whole world.’ They were perfect about it.” Phair has never tried to find her biological parents.
As a child, Faith Hill’s parents told her she was adopted, but the story behind how and why that happened was misconstrued, likely to spare her feelings. Hill’s biological parents went on to marry and have another child after she was given up for adoption. “I was adopted into this incredible home, a loving, positive environment, yet I had this yearning, this kind of darkness that was also inside me,” she told Good Housekeeping. She eventually did find and meet her birth parents as well as her biological brother.
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‘N Sync’s JC Chasez keeps a relatively private life, but he has quietly discussed being adopted at the age of five. “I was aware of the whole thing (the adoption),” Chasez said during a radio interview. “I know who my mother is. She raised me up until I was five. I have a very clear idea of who she was. She knew who my parents were because she was actually fostered by them at one point because she had been through a lot in her life at a young age. That’s how I ended up being adopted. She reached out to the people she trusted.”
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If you’ve ever seen the interactions between Nicole Richie and her dad Lionel Richie on her reality show Candidly Nicole, they are like two peas in a pod. The “Hello” singer adopted Nicole at a young age, when he noticed her biological parents, who weren’t getting along particularly well at the time, were seemingly struggle to care for the little girl. “I knew her mother and father… and I said, ‘While you are having difficulty the kid is sitting in limbo. Put her in my house, when the tour is over we will sort this out’,” Lionel said in an interview with Piers Morgan. Not more than a year after that he went on to legally adopt Nicole.
At the age of four, Blondie frontwoman Debbie Harry learned she had been adopted as an infant. In an interview with MOJO magazine, Harry admits that the relationship she shared with her parents wasn’t always smooth, particularly when she decided to pursue music as a career. ”Unfortunately for me, or unfortunately for my parents, I was determined to be an artist,” she says. “And of course they weren’t artists and the whole idea of it was barbaric. My mother came from a family that thought artists were the slime of the earth. I think it was frightening for them, because they, of course, were trying to protect me.”
Nine-year-old Nelson Mandela was adopted after his father passed away in 1927. He joined the family of Jongintaba Dalindyebo, a leader of the Thembu tribe who lived in the South African village of Mvezo. It was Dalindyebo who saw the potential in Mandela and encouraged him to become a young leader within the tribe. The rest, as they say, is history.
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Actress Melissa Gilbert was adopted as a newborn. So new, in fact, she was only a day old when she became the daughter of Paul Gilbert and Barbara Crane, both actors. The Little House on the Prairie star would eventually learn that her biological parents had come from previous marriages, each with three children of their own, and were concerned they could not financially support another, according to Biography.
When she learned she had been adopted, Sarah McLachlan recalls taking the news in stride. “I think I was about nine,” she tells Parents. “And even then it wasn’t a big deal. It was like, ‘Oh, okay, good to know, you’re still my mom and dad.’ Perhaps I was too young to understand it really, but it just never was a big issue to me. I never had this empty place in me thinking that I’ve missed out somewhere, or that I was abandoned.” Later in life, McLachlan did meet her biological mother, an artist, who gave birth to her at the age of 19.
Impacted by the film Lion, which addresses adoption, Kristin Chenoweth chose to share her own adoption story in a personal essay. “Can honestly say being adopted was one of the best things to ever happen to me,” she wrote on Huff Post. “It 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.”
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A prolific songwriter and beloved musician, John Lennon had a lot of life experience to draw from at an early age. According to Adoption.com, after his parents’ marriage failed around the time he was five years-old, Lennon was raised by his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George, who did not have any biological children of their own.
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For Ray Liotta, knowing he was adopted shaped some of the roles he has chosen throughout his acting career. For example, his part in The Identical appealed to him because of his personal history. “I found my birth mother and found out I have, not an identical twin, but a half brother, five half-sisters and a full sister that I didn’t know about until 15 years ago,” he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2014.
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On his FOX game show Beat Shazam, Jamie Foxx brings the funny during the light-hearted (but tense) rounds of contestants trying to win money. During one particular episode, however, Foxx got teary-eyed by a couple trying to win money to send their adopted children to college. “You know what’s amazing?” 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.'”
Both comedian Andy Dick and his brother Jeff (who sadly passed away in 2016) were adopted by their parents Allen and Sue Dick. The family moved frequently because of Allen’s job as a nuclear submarine officer. This meant they set up households everywhere from Charleston, South Carolina to Yugoslavia.
Figure skater Scott Hamilton was adopted as an infant, raised by a loving family that made adoption, to him, a wonderful experience. Because of this, Hamilton and his wife adopted two Haitian children, Evelyne and her brother Jean Paul, when they were 11 and 13, respectively. “We fell in love with these kids two years ago and it took us that long to bring them home,” he said in an interview on Today.
Perhaps one of the most public proponents of adoption was Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas. He was adopted at just six weeks old. After experiencing career success with the fast-food chain named after his youngest daughter (Thomas had five children), he set up the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, helping to unite children in foster care with their forever families.
Teresa and Rick Kaepernick adopted son Colin Kaepernick when he was five weeks old. The NFL player’s parents came under fire when they initially remained silent about the controversy surrounding Colin’s decision to kneel during the National Anthem because of his views on the way the U.S. treats minorities. “As his parents, it pains us to read articles and tweets saying that his family does not support him; this could not be further from the truth,” Teresa and Rick said jointly. “We want people to know that we are very proud of our son and admire his strength and courage in kneeling for the rights of others.”
During a particularly intimate moment during her time on Dancing with the Stars, Olympic gymnast Simone Biles opened up about her own adoption, noting that her biological mother suffered from drug and alcohol abuse. Biles’ grandfather and his wife adopted her, making them her mom and dad. “My parents saved me,” she said. “They’ve set huge examples of how to treat other people, and they’ve been there to support me since day one. There’s nothing I could say to them to thank them enough.”
Movie director Michael Bay tells Rolling Stone he was about five or six years old when he found out he was adopted and didn’t find the news all that surprising. He recalls picking up his younger sister from an orphanage when he was three years old. And that, now that, was a different story. “Afterward, we had a big family party, and I was all upset,” he says in the interview. “I took my milk and poured it on the floor.”
Adopted at a young age, actor Ted Danson went on to later adopt children with his second wife Cassandra Coates. About his own childhood, Danson tells AARP he always felt like money was tight, the family didn’t own a TV, and he generally looked like a “ragamuffin.” But his parents had the important stuff down. “There wasn’t a day that went by that I wasn’t told that I was loved in one form or another,” he says.
Music icon Eric Clapton did not know that the people he believed to be his parents were actually his grandparents (mother and stepfather to his biological mom Patricia, who gave birth to him as a teen) until later in life. Clapton wasn’t legally adopted by the couple, but that clearly did not impact the love he received growing up in the (not surprisingly) musical household.
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Born Marguerite Johnson, treasured poet Maya Angelou lived with her parents in St. Louis, Missouri until they divorced when she was three years old. At that time Angelous was moved to the town of Stamps, Arkansas to be raised by her grandmother. Similar to Eric Clapton’s story, she was not legally adopted by her grandmother, however, experienced much of her childhood under her roof.
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