Stars Who Tragically Lost Their Children

For many regular people, it often seems that celebrities live charmed lives. From star-studded award shows like the Grammys and the Oscars and glamorous premieres, to the wealth, opulence, and best-life-living clips that pop up on social media feeds from celebrity accounts, the rich and famous often appear to belong to another world entirely, with none of the cares of the mere mortals who follow their every move.

But the fact is that the stars are all too human, and they have to deal with the same strains and stresses — and tragedies — as the rest of us. Indeed, many have suffered one of the most heartbreaking tragedies imaginable, one that haunts every parent the world over: the death of a child. Whether the loss is experienced when the child is a minor or an adult, the idea of having to lay one's progeny to rest is the stuff of nightmares, but sadly some of the world's favorite celebrities have gone through it. Here are some celebrities who tragically lost their children and had to deal with their grief in the public eye.

Keanu Reeves

Keanu Reeves has become one of Hollywood's most beloved actors throughout his long career, with classic blockbusters like "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" and the "Matrix" franchise continuing to find fans. In fact, both of his best-known works have commanded such cultural cache in recent years that they have received modern sequels, each featuring the seemingly ageless actor. Reeves is also admired for his behavior off-camera. From tales of his humble and philanthropic lifestyle to snaps that have become enduring internet memes, it feels like the whole world is a fan of Reeves, one way or another. In 2019, a petition called for Reeves to be named Time magazine's Person of the Year, around the time he earned the moniker "the internet's boyfriend."

So it is unsurprising that there has been an outpouring of grief from those who admire him when they learn about the tragedies that have befallen Reeves' life over the years. In the late 1990s, Reeves' private life was given greater exposure than ever before with the news that his girlfriend, Jennifer Syme, was pregnant with their first child. Tragically, the baby, a daughter, was stillborn at eight months. The relationship collapsed shortly after, and the tragedy was compounded by Syme's death soon after in a traffic collision.

Robert Plant

Robert Plant has been one of the most instantly recognizable and critically acclaimed rock vocalists for an incredible six decades at this point. His recent career has been buoyed by a fruitful collaboration with the singer and fiddler Alison Krauss, which has resulted in two critically acclaimed studio albums and a bevy of concerts around the globe.

But of course, his most famous work will always be with the classic heavy rock group Led Zeppelin. The British band released eight studio albums between 1969 and 1979, many of which have continued to be major sellers with each new generation of rock fans. However, the group split in 1980. Part of the reason Zeppelin decided to call it a day was the tragic death of John Bonham, the band's drummer, who died at the age of just 32 in 1980. But according to Ultimate Classic Rock, the band experienced its first major rift in 1977, when Plant's 5-year-old son, Karac, died of a stomach virus. Plant was on tour in the U.S. at the time, but rushed back to the U.K. after receiving the heartbreaking news by telephone. The band canceled the rest of their American tour while Plant mourned with his family. Though he later claimed to have received emotional support from Bonham, the absence of guitarist Jimmy Page and bassist John Paul Jones hurt the singer deeply and changed the dynamic of the band forever.

Vanessa Bryant

The heart-wrenching death of basketball legend Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna in a helicopter crash shocked the world of sports when the accident was first reported back in January 2020. The father and daughter, whose close relationship was clear in Kobe's interviews on shows such as "Jimmy Kimmel Live," were reportedly traveling to Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, California, when the Bryants' helicopter went out of control around 30 miles from Los Angeles.

News of the accident was met with a deluge of support for the Bryants, including comments from the NBA and Kobe's many sports colleagues and celebrity friends, who were united in their grief. But the deaths were especially harrowing for Kobe's widow, Vanessa, who had been with the basketball player since 1999, having met him when he was 21 and she was 17. Her ordeal was exacerbated by a high-profile dispute with Los Angeles County, whom she sued for negligence in allowing photographs of her family's remains to be leaked into the public domain.

Eric Clapton

The death of the famed guitarist Eric Clapton's son in 1991 was deeply shocking for the world of rock music. At the time, the founder of the bands Cream and Derek and the Dominos was reportedly on vacation in New York, where his son, Conor, lived with his mother, the actress Lory Del Santo. According to a contemporary report in The New York Times, a cleaner was working in one of the rooms of Del Santo's apartment, and had opened one of the windows. Conor ran in unexpectedly and fell from the open window of the 53rd floor apartment.

The tragedy was heartbreaking for Clapton, who learned of his son's death via a frenzied phone call from Del Santo. At the time, Clapton was at a nearby hotel and was due to pick up his son for a father-son day out at the zoo. The last time he had seen Conor was the night before, when he had taken the boy to the circus.

Clapton had made a breakthrough in overcoming his addiction to drugs shortly after Conor's birth, and despite his harrowing loss, he managed to maintain his sobriety after the boy's death by attending group sessions and writing songs. One of the most famous written during this time, "Tears in Heaven," deals with Clapton's grief.

Sylvester Stallone

The 1990 film "Rocky V" saw Sylvester Stallone's iconic boxer Rocky Balboa's relationship with his son, Robert, develop as the boy reached his teenage years. The tension between the on-screen father and son — which included accusations from the younger Balboa that his father didn't give him enough attention — were reportedly a reflection of the actors' real-life relationship. Robert was played by Stallone's real-life son, Sage, who later starred with his father in the 1996 disaster movie "Daylight."

Sadly, in 2012 it was announced that Sage had been found dead by his housekeeper, at his home on Mulholland Terrace in Studio City, at the age of just 36. "He wasn't depressed. He was thinking about getting married. He had his whole life ahead of him," announced Sage's lawyer, George Braunstein (via The LA Times). Though no cause of death was given as the news broke, it was later revealed that Sage had died suddenly of a heart attack.

A representative for the elder Stallone told People: "Sylvester Stallone is devastated and grief-stricken over the sudden loss of his son ... His compassion and thoughts are with Sage's mother, Sasha. Sage was a very talented and wonderful young man. His loss will be felt forever."

Joe Biden

The current president of the United States has enjoyed a stellar career that has seen him take the most powerful office in the Western world after more than half a century of public service in the political arena. But while Joe Biden's professional life has gone from strength to strength, he has suffered some devastating losses over the years.

The first came in 1972, a month after he was elected to the U.S. Senate at the age of 29. Biden's wife, Neilia Hunter, and their three children were in a traffic collision in which Neilia and their 13-month-old daughter, Naomi, died, while the couple's two sons, Beau and Hunter, who were 3 and 2 at the time, suffered serious injuries. Despite his grief, Biden was convinced to take his place in the Senate the following year.

In 2015, Biden suffered another loss, when his son Beau died of brain cancer at the age of 46. Biden, who was expected to run for president the following year, declined to enter the race while his family mourned.

Roy Orbison

Roy "The Big O" Orbison had a long and distinguished career, beginning with his emergence in the late 1950s and ending with a glorious coda thanks to his involvement in the supergroup the Traveling Wilburys just a few months before his death in December 1988. Orbison's musical legacy has been kept alive ever since by his children, including Roy Orbison Jr., who themselves are talented musicians.

But the Orbison family suffered a devastating loss at the peak of the musician's fame. In 1968, his two eldest sons were killed in a fire at Orbison's home near Hendersonville, Tennessee. Roy Dewayne Orbison, who was 10, and Anthony King Orbison, who was 6, died in the flames, while their 3-year-old brother Wesley survived uninjured. Orbison himself was on tour in the U.K. at the time of the fatal fire, which led to an explosion in the basement of the lakeside home. The children were being looked after by their grandparents and a housekeeper at the time of the fire. The double tragedy came just 18 months after the iconic singer's wife, Claudette, died in a traffic collision while traveling by motorcycle in 1966.

Sinead O'Connor

The death of 56-year-old Sinead O'Connor in July 2023 stunned her fans in her native Ireland and beyond. An iconic singer-songwriter who was arguably as famous for her activism as for her chart-topping records, her relationship with the mainstream entertainment industry struggled to recover after she tore apart a picture of Pope John Paul II during a performance on "Saturday Night Live," an act that outraged the Catholic Church. She claimed her protest was aimed at highlighting allegations of child abuse. In later life, O'Connor suffered mental health issues and attempted suicide, though her career continued until her death, which a London coroner described as resulting from natural causes.

Reports of O'Connor's tragic death highlighted that it occurred only 18 months after that of her teenage son, Shane, who died by suicide in January 2022. In a tweet that was later deleted, O'Connor wrote: "My beautiful son, Nevi'im Nesta Ali Shane O'Connor, the very light of my life, decided to end his earthly struggle today and is now with God ... May he rest in peace and may no one follow his example. My baby. I love you so much. Please be at peace." In another tweet, the singer described her son as the "love of [her] life" and said: "I am lost in the bardo without him" (via People).

Bob Geldof

The Boomtown Rats' founder and frontman Bob Geldof is another Irish icon who has had to contend with terrible family losses that played out in public. The Band Aid founder and tireless activist, whose song "Do They Know It's Christmas?" raised millions for charity in the 1980s, lost the mother of his children, the British TV personality Paula Yates, in 2000. She died of a heroin overdose, leaving behind four daughters, three of whom she had with Geldof. (Her fourth daughter, Tiger Lily, was adopted by Geldof after her father, Michael Hutchence of INXS, died by suicide in 1997.)

A couple of Geldof and Yates' children went on to have careers in the public eye, including their daughter Peaches, who became a star while still a teenager as a model and TV personality. Tragically, she was found dead at her home on April 7, 2014, at the age of just 25. A coroner later confirmed that, like her mother, she had died of a heroin overdose.

Speaking to Irish comedian Tommy Tiernan, Bob Geldof said in relation to his grief that "the abyss is infinite," and that he is often struck by his loss unexpectedly and finds himself crying for his daughter (via The Independent).

Anna Nicole Smith

The reality TV star and former Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith was famous for her Marilyn Monroe-esque blond bombshell look, as well as her tumultuous love life that included her marriage to oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall II, who was more than 50 years her senior. However, she had been married once before, prior to her gaining fame as a centerfold. When she was 17 and working at a fried chicken restaurant, she married a cook named Billy Smith, with whom she had a son, Daniel (pictured). She and Daniel would later work together on a movie, "Illegal Aliens."

In 2006, Smith gave birth to her second child, a daughter called Dannielynn, in the Bahamas. Daniel went to visit his mother and new sister, but in a shocking turn of events, he died at the age of 20 of a drug overdose just three days after the birth. An autopsy found the death may have been the result of the combination of methadone and two different prescription antidepressants. The timing made the death a tabloid spectacle, which was especially painful for Smith, who also found herself in a paternity battle concerning her new daughter. Smith herself died the following year, again of an overdose.

Tim Roth

The British actor Tim Roth, who first made his name with his debut movie "The Hit" in 1984, is arguably best known for his work with director Quentin Tarantino, having taken a starring role in 1992's "Reservoir Dogs" opposite Harvey Keitel. Roth's son, Cormac, who died in October 2022 at the age of just 25, was a musician, composer, and producer who had already established himself in the industry by the time he announced via Instagram that he had been diagnosed in November 2021 with choriocarcinoma, a rare form of germ cell cancer. "It has managed to stay many steps ahead of me no matter what I throw at it," he wrote in the post, which included a clip of the young musician playing electric guitar. "It has taken away half of my hearing, 60 pounds of weight, my confidence, and will continue its murderous path until I can manage to stop it somehow, and kill it. But it hasn't taken away my will to survive, or my love of making music." A statement from the Roth family at the time of Cormac's death praised his energy and wild spirit, but also his kindness. "We will carry him with us wherever we go," the statement read (via Variety).

Granger Smith

Granger Smith, aka Earl Dibbles Jr., rose to prominence as a country music star in the late 1990s. His Christian faith has always been an aspect of his songwriting, but in 2023 he announced that he was leaving the music business to commit himself to being a Baptist minister in his hometown of Austin, Texas.

Smith's faith was undeniably tested in 2019, when he and his wife Amber suffered a loss that all parents fear. While the couple and their three children were relaxing at home, their 3-year-old son, River, fell into the family pool, where he tragically drowned. Granger later told Today that he was just 20 feet away from River at the time of the accident, doing gymnastics with his daughter.

The family has also described their journey through grief, with Amber stating: "Going through the worst of what I hope we ever have to go through, we still have joyful moments ... We choose to find joy, and you have to," while Granger has said of his Christian beliefs: "Having faith in a higher power, it's the only thing that we've been able to hold on to in the darkest times."

John Travolta

The "Saturday Night Fever" star John Travolta, whose career underwent a major revival thanks to his role as Vincent Vega in Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" in 1994, lost his beloved son, Jett, when the latter was just 16 years old. Jett died suddenly in 2009 at the Travoltas' home in the Bahamas. He had long suffered from seizures, and an autopsy later confirmed this as the teenager's cause of death.

On April 13, 2022, Travolta took to social media to pay his respects to his son on what would have been his 30th birthday. "My dearest Jetty," he wrote. "I miss you more than words can say. I think about you every day. Happy birthday. Love, your Dad" (via Instagram). Though the Travolta family welcomed another son, Benjamin, the following year, they again suffered a loss in 2020 when Travolta's wife, the actress Kelly Preston, died of breast cancer.

Mike Tyson

Former world heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson lost his daughter, Exodus, in 2009, after a freak accident at the Tyson family's home in Phoenix, Arizona. Exodus, who was 4 years old, was unsupervised while her mother was in another room. After Exodus' mother sent the girl's 7-year-old brother to check on her, she was found with a cable attached to the family's treadmill around her neck, inhibiting her breathing. Exodus' mother called 9-1-1 and tried to revive her daughter, but to no avail. Tragically, emergency services were also unsuccessful. Tyson was in Las Vegas at the time of the accident but went immediately to the hospital where Exodus was taken and later died.

"Iron Mike" suffered the loss of many of his inner circle as he rose to become a champion, including his mother and his trainer Cus D'Amato. But the death of Exodus left the boxer distraught, with a statement from Tyson reading: "The Tyson family would like to extend our deepest and most heartfelt thanks for all your prayers and support, and we ask that we be allowed our privacy at this difficult time ... There are no words to describe the tragic loss of our beloved Exodus" (via ABC News).

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues or is struggling or in crisis, contact the relevant resources below:

  • Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
  • Call or text 988 or chat