Tragic Details About Christina Applegate's Life

Professionally, it's almost always been about keeping the masses entertained and laughing. But privately, and historically, life has been fraught with peril, trauma, and tragedy for Christina Applegate. Likely still best known for her role as complex ditz Kelly Bundy on the 11-season run of "Married...with Children" in the 1980s and '90s, Applegate went on to star in critically acclaimed TV comedies, including "Samantha Who?" and "Dead to Me," and won an Emmy Award for her recurring role on "Friends," all while maintaining a film career. She appeared in a string of well-liked comedies and cult favorites alike, including two "Anchorman" films and the "Bad Moms" series.

Applegate has been acting since early childhood and lived most of her life in public view, therefore many of the most tumultuous moments in her life she has endured with an audience. Thanks to her fame, she's often been unwillingly the subject of numerous headlines for the unfortunate and deeply sad experiences she's directly or indirectly experienced. Nonetheless, she has privately suffered through other tragic events. Here's a look into the most tragic and harrowing times in the life of Christina Applegate.

She's experienced divorce twice

Christina Applegate grew up in Hollywood. Her mother, Nancy Priddy, was an actor best known for "Days of Our Lives," and her father, Bob Applegate, worked as a producer at Dot Records. The relationship, and the presence of Bob Applegate in his daughter's life, ended quickly. "My mom and dad separated when I was about five months old, and he moved up to Big Sur, so I grew up with my mom," Christina Applegate told "Who Do You Think You Are?" "My dad and mother split up when I was so young. I didn't get to spend the kind of time with him that I think either I or him would've liked to have spent."

The divorce was finalized in 1972, and with Priddy finding only occasional TV roles throughout the '70s, it fell on Applegate to support the family with child-acting work. "It was something that I was always doing because I had to, for survival," Applegate told Backstage. "That was how we made our money, me doing radio commercials or commercials or whatever. It's how we were fed."

Divorce would greatly impact Applegate's life once more. In 1997, she began a romantic relationship with actor Johnathon Schaech. The actors married in 2001, announced their separation in 2005, and legally finalized the split with a divorce in 2007.

Her grandmother died under strange and tragic circumstances

Christina Applegate's father, Bob Applegate, was primarily raised by his paternal grandmother, and he knew very little about his biological mother, who died when he was a child — not even her name. "We know she died young," Christina Applegate told "Who Do You Think You Are?" After her sister located her father's birth certificate, Christina Applegate discovered that her grandmother's name was Lavina Shaw. Bob Applegate remembered being told by his grandmother, around the age of seven or eight, that his mother had just died. "She told me that she was found outside a bar, dead, beaten to death," he said.

Via court documents, the Applegates learned that Shaw had suffered repeated acts of emotional and physical abuse from her husband and Bob's father, Paul Applegate, and left him in 1941 while she was pregnant. A reconciliation after Bob's birth sadly resulted in more abuse, and Shaw filed for divorce. When Shaw moved in with another man, Paul Applegate had Shaw successfully prosecuted for adultery, and custody of Bob went to the child's grandmother. Shaw remarried and died in March 1955: According to her death certificate, she died from pulmonary tuberculosis and cirrhosis of the liver caused by alcoholism, at age 33.

An onstage injury left permanent damage

Neil Simon's 1960s musical "Sweet Charity" geared up for a Broadway revival in the spring of 2005, with a series of performances in Chicago. Christina Applegate was set to make her major theatrical debut with the lead role of Charity Hope Valentine, a down-on-her-luck dancer. The musical is strenuous and loaded with choreography, and Applegate, a co-founder of the Pussycat Dolls dance troupe, was up to the task. While dancing during a Chicago show, Applegate fractured a bone in her foot. She attempted to continue with the performance, but she was in too much pain and after 20 minutes, allowed an understudy to take over.

While Applegate recovered, producers announced that they planned to cancel the Broadway stint. Applegate successfully convinced organizers to proceed with the New York opening, and "Sweet Charity" premiered on Broadway in May 2005. Applegate received a Tony Award nomination for Best Actress in a Musical, but would never work on Broadway again — or dance. With her broken bone not fully healed, Applegate wore medical-grade, foot-protecting shoes during performances, and all that contributed to longstanding bodily damage. "I actually can't dance anymore," Applegate told The Insider (via TV Passport). "And that is sad for me because I always wanted to go back. But I probably won't be able to."

Her boyfriend died of a drug overdose

Shortly after her 2005 separation from estranged husband Johnathon Schaech, Christina Applegate started a new relationship with Alaska-based fisherman and photographer Lee Grivas, introduced by a mutual friend who worked on "Sweet Charity" with the actor. Grivas had difficulties with addictions to drugs and alcohol, which led Applegate to break off the romance. An attempt at sobriety led to a reconnection, but when he began to misuse substances again, he and Applegate split once more, which became a pattern for the couple. "She loved him, but couldn't stand by and watch him ruin his life," an unidentified insider told the National Enquirer (via HuffPost). The couple reunited for the last time in April 2008, and broke up once again later that year, before Grivas was discovered deceased in his home in Hollywood in July. Pronounced dead by authorities from an apparent overdose, Grivas was 26 years old.

"Lee was an incredible human being who was an extremely important and beautiful part of my life," Applegate told Us Weekly (via HuffPost). "He is missed beyond words."

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

A stalker threatened Christina Applegate and her husband

Lifelong Los Angeles resident Christina Applegate met musician Martyn LeNoble in the mid-1990s, around the time that he was playing bass in the LA alternative rock band Porno for Pyros. Friends for more than a decade, they became a couple in 2008, got engaged in February 2010, and experienced the birth of their first and only child, Sadie, in 2011.

Within the next year, the couple received multiple threatening messages via social media. In September 2012, an unidentified X (formerly known as Twitter) user wrote to LeNoble's account, expressing their displeasure with the musician's choice of spouse, and that they intended to take revenge. "You stole [Christina Applegate] away from me," the poster wrote (via TMZ). "If not for you she would be mine." They also tweeted, "I will not accept this. I am going to kill you!!!!!!!!!" The party also wrote at LeNoble, "I'm going to bust your head in for taking her away from me!!!" and "I want to see how funny you think I am when I blow your f***ing head off!!!"

Fearing for their safety, LeNoble and Applegate contacted the Los Angeles Police Department, which was granted a search warrant to research the Twitter account of the threatening stalker. No arrests were made, however, after police failed to identify the harasser, who deleted their Twitter profile.

Her insomnia is a chronic and serious medical condition

Insomnia isn't just an occasional loss of sleep or daytime sluggishness — it's a diagnosed medical condition that can lead to extreme discomfort and long-term health problems. Christina Applegate has dealt with a very serious case of insomnia for more than two decades. "It affects your spiritual self, emotional self, and physical self," Applegate told People in 2020. "In my twenties and thirties, I used to never be able to fall asleep and would just stay up all night long." Upon the birth of her daughter in 2011, and having to wake up multiple times a night to breastfeed, Applegate fell into a three-hour sleep cycle from which she never really emerged. "My body still wakes up every few hours. I'll also be up from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. and finally fall asleep," she said.

In order to eke out more sleep, Applegate follows a strict bedroom regimen involving cold temperatures, no lights, no pets, and no phones. In 2016, Applegate became a celebrity ambassador and advocate for sleep hygiene, partnering with the nonprofit organization Why So Awake?

Christina Applegate's mother had cancer twice

Christina Applegate was raised almost entirely by her mother, actor and musician Nancy Priddy. In about 1978, when Applegate was seven years old, Priddy, 38 years old at the time, received a breast cancer diagnosis. To potentially stop the spread of the possibly fatal disease, Priddy elected to undergo a mastectomy, or the complete surgical removal of breast tissue. After the procedure, doctors declared Priddy to be cancer-free, but the remission would not be permanent. In 1986, Priddy's doctors once more detected cancer, now present in her abdomen.

Priddy would spend the next two years living under the specter of cancer, subjected to many chemotherapy treatments as well as seven cancer removal surgeries. By 1988, Priddy no longer had cancer. But the threat of the disease would linger in the family. When a mother is diagnosed with breast cancer, the odds greatly increase that her daughter will also develop the disease in adulthood. Applegate would spend the next two decades aware on some level that she may face breast cancer in the future, so she enacted an early detection plan and submitted to more screenings than women without a genetic predisposition, and earlier too, beginning at age 30.

Christina Applegate was diagnosed with breast cancer

As part of a medical checkup in 2008, Christina Applegate received an MRI scan. A concerning inconsistency appeared in the results, prompting Applegate's doctor to order a biopsy. The material was malignant — breast cancer. Applegate was 36 years old, two years younger than her mother had been when she was diagnosed with the same disease in the late 1970s. "Even though it ran in my family, I never in a million years thought it would happen to me," Applegate told Women's Health. "I was scared s***less."

Following the news and before she started breast cancer treatments, Applegate had herself tested to check for a mutation on the BRCA gene. A positive result indicates that a woman has a 40% to 85% greater chance of developing breast cancer, and an increased likelihood of recurrences of the disease after periods of remission. Applegate has that mutation, and so to aggressively stave off the possibility that the cancer would come back, even if it were eliminated from her body at that point, she decided to have a double mastectomy. Within weeks after the surgery in July 2008, Applegate's diagnosis and status were disclosed to the media, making her publicly confirm the news when she wasn't yet ready to do so.

Christina Applegate faced mental and physical challenges due to breast cancer

While coping with a cancer diagnosis is stressful and traumatic in and of itself, Christina Applegate also had to deal with being a public figure with breast cancer. After her medical status was revealed to the public without her knowledge or approval, and after a double mastectomy surgery to treat the cancer, Applegate didn't receive much time to properly mentally mend from all that she'd experienced. A "total emotional collapse" followed, Applegate told More magazine (via HuffPost). "The good thing is that we got the information out, but talking about the facts of the disease, I didn't have to see what was going on with me. I think when it slowed down, all that came crashing down," she explains, admitting to herself that she'd dealt with the psychological impact of cancer, the mastectomy, and her mortality.

Because she tested positive for a mutation on the BRCA gene, Applegate was genetically more at risk of developing ovarian cancer, as well as breast cancer. In 2008, a cousin died from that disease, and in 2017, after the birth of her daughter, Applegate opted to have surgeons remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes taken out. "That's how I've taken control of everything. It's a relief," she told Today

She has multiple sclerosis

While in her late forties and early fifties, Christina Applegate began to experience a sensation of vibration in her arms and legs, along with a lack of feeling in those appendages. The symptoms grew noticeably and alarmingly worse with time. "My toes got numb, and I ignored it. The balls of my foot got numb, and I ignored it. All of a sudden, I'd be, like, falling over. People were like, 'Oh, it's just neuropathy,'" she told Variety

After she found herself unable to walk moderate distances on the set of her Netflix series "Dead to Me," sleeping a lot more, inexplicably gaining weight, and losing her balance on set, in the summer of 2021, Applegate sought medical attention. Doctors diagnosed her with multiple sclerosis: a degenerative and destructive neurological condition in which the body fights itself, and a breakdown in the brain's ability to send signals to the body takes away from patients their capacity for mobility, vision, balance, strength, and speech, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Production halted for five months on the third season of "Dead to Me" so Applegate could receive medical attention for the disease. The effects of MS can be slowed down or diminished, but there's ultimately no cure. "There is no better. But it was good for me. I needed to process my loss of my life, my loss of that part of me," Applegate told The New York Times. "So I needed that time."

Multiple sclerosis forced Christina Applegate into retirement

During a "Dead to Me" filming hiatus, Christina Applegate received treatment for multiple sclerosis and adapted to life with the condition, while realizing her limitations. "It takes time to kind of figure out this disease, and figure out what's bringing on symptoms. I'm just a newbie to all of this. So I'm trying to figure it out — and I'm also in mourning for the person that I was," Applegate told Variety.

The actor discovered that while she was able to walk, it was at a slower pace than before her MS diagnosis, and only with the assistance of a cane. Applegate had to advocate for herself with the "Dead to Me" production, as working long hours on a set in California heat proved exhausting. She required the use of a wheelchair on set, a crew member held her upright for some scenes, and sequences were rewritten to allow Applegate to be able to support herself against doors. Some filming days were scrapped entirely if Applegate didn't have the strength to leave her home.

In 2023, Applegate suggested that with shooting complete on the final season of "Dead to Me," she will likely retire from performing in live-action projects. "I can't even imagine going to set right now. This is a progressive disease," she told Vanity Fair. "I don't know if I'm going to get worse. I can do voiceover stuff because I have to support my family and keep my brain working."