Chevy Chase exploded onto the scene in the 1980s as part of an iconic Saturday Night Live lineup. He transitioned easily into films, starring in such comedy classics as Caddyshack and the National Lampoon Vacation series, in which he played plucky father-of-two Clark Griswald. However, his childhood was nowhere near as easygoing. In his autobiography, Chase revealed that he was physically and psychologically abused by his mother and stepfather growing up.
Often considered America’s greatest-ever stand-up, Richard Pryor lit up the scene in the 1970s with his irreverent material. What many may not know is that he was raised in brothels run by his mother, which exposed him to an awful lot of violence, including a fight that ended with his mother tearing his father’s testicle. At his family’s bar, the Famous Door, punters were regularly beaten up and subjected to knife crime.
Stephen Fry is a national treasure in the UK, mostly known for his time spent as the affable peacekeeper on BBC’s QI panel show. He has never shied away from his troubled past, though. When he was 17, Fry stole a family friend’s coat containing a credit card and went on a spending spree across the country before being arrested in Swindon. He was convicted of credit card fraud and spent three months in Pucklechurch Prison in remand.
The frenetic energy seen in many of Robin Williams’ iconic performances may look like it is rooted in drug use, but his most famous films were actually made while he was sober. It was back when he first started out on the stand-up circuit that Williams was indulging in illicit substances, a habit shared by many of his contemporaries and pals, including John Belushi. When Belushi died of an overdose, the Mrs. Doubtfire star went cold turkey.
David Walliams’ camp sense of absurdist humour has made him hugely popular in the UK. Starting in the sitcom Little Britain, Walliams has gone on to become a TV talent show judge and popular children’s author. During his childhood, however, Walliams went through hell with his mental health. He attempted to take his own life several times, his first attempt happening at just age 12, after being bullied at school. Aged 18, he was hospitalised after overdosing and on New Year’s Day 2003, he was admitted to the hospital again for severe self-administered knife wounds.
Tim Allen’s unmistakable voice in the Toy Story franchise was a huge part of the childhoods of millions of children, as was his portrayal as Father Christmas in the Santa Clause movies. In 1978, however, Allen’s personal life was far from wholesome, as he was arrested at a Michigan airport and found guilty of drug possession. Allen decided to snitch on his fellow drug dealers and dodged a seven-year prison sentence.
Brand has become a spokesperson for healthy living and spirituality over the last decade but his formative years were teeming with almost any drug you could name. When he was six months old, his father walked out on him, with their only bonding time after that being when he’d take the young Russell to meet sex workers. When he was seven, Brand was sexually abused by a tutor, and his mum fought three diagnoses of cancer by the time he was ten.
Famous for his eccentric radio comedy The Goon Show, Spike Milligan led a long but tough life. His issues likely originated from a traumatic experience as a signaller at the Battle of Monte Cassino in World War II, where he was hospitalised for a mortar wound on his right leg. Milligan had at least ten nervous breakdowns over his life. During one, he asked a doctor to put him into a deep narcosis, saying: “I cannot stand being awake. The pain is too much… Something has happened to me, this vital spark has stopped burning .”
Jim Carrey is one the most successful comedic actors of all time. In the 1990s, he enjoyed back-to-back box office sensations with Ace Ventura, Dumb and Dumber, Liar Liar, The Mask, The Truman Show, and Me, Myself and Irene. It was a long way from his homeless teenage years, which saw the Carreys struggle financially and live out of vans and tents at the height of their troubles.
Chris Rock’s experience with assault didn’t begin at the 2022 Oscars. His childhood was rife with severe bullying at his predominately-white school in New York. Just weeks before the infamous Will Smith slap, Rock opened up about how the abuse he suffered at school got so bad he sought revenge. “I went home, I put a brick in a book bag,” he recounted. “I swung that s - and smacked the guy in the face with this brick and stomped on him, Joe Pesci-style, to the point that we thought he might die.”