Rock Stars Who Had Tragic Upbringings

They say art is pain, an idea which all too often refers to more than the hard work that goes into creating the latest masterpiece. They also say that a person's early years will greatly shape their lives, for good or ill, so maybe it's no surprise that the trope of the tortured artist exists. These traumatized, creative souls have suffered torment, loss, and injustice, and they've poured that pain into their work.

Here's the thing, though — it's not a trope. Countless famed artists, from Beethoven to Van Gogh, led grueling lives yet churned out masterworks that struck chords in countless others, and that's just as true today, whether we're talking about painting, writing, or music. That last one is especially important when you consider just how many people will hear hit songs, including those who might take hope from seeing a reflection of their own ordeals in the words of someone who's gone through something similar. Let's look at some rock stars who had tragic upbringings.

Kurt Cobain's childhood spiraled after his parents' divorce

In the music world, it's hard to find a more legendary embodiment of the tortured artist than Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. Born in Aberdeen, Washington, in 1967, Kurt's childhood had a few bumps early on. As detailed by Charles R. Cross in his Cobain biography Heavier Than Heaven, his father, Don, was on the strict side, and he expected the hyperactive Kurt to behave "like a 'little adult.'" Perhaps this is why Kurt was placed on Ritalin at age seven and then prescribed sedatives when the Ritalin would keep him awake until 4:00 AM. Nevertheless, Kurt would later tell Kerrang! that his early childhood was "extremely happy."

The biggest shift in Kurt's childhood came in the form of his parents' divorce when he was nine. Kurt blamed himself for the bitter proceedings that followed, and his behavior steadily worsened. On his bedroom wall, he wrote, "I hate Mom, I hate Dad. Dad hates Mom, Mom hates dad. It simply makes you want to be so sad."

Kurt's mother, Wendy, gained custody of the children, but Kurt opted to move in with Don. However, when his father remarried a couple of years later, Kurt didn't get along with his new stepmother. Meanwhile, Wendy was drinking heavily, and her boyfriend, Francis, would beat her in front of Kurt. Nevertheless, Wendy wouldn't leave him — even after he broke her arm. Wendy legally granted custody of Kurt to Don when their son was 12.

Billy Corgan suffered regular beatings

Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins fame was born in Chicago in 1967. He was unplanned, and his teenage parents considered giving him up for adoption. According to the Telegraph, they didn't love each other, but they tried to raise their child. After his parents separated when he was 4-years-old, Corgan stayed with his mother, but this short-lived arrangement came to an end when she had a nervous breakdown and was committed to a mental institution. Corgan lived with various grandparents for a time before moving in with his father.

Corgan shared a love of music with his father, himself a musician, and he fondly recalls listening to Stevie Wonder and Al Green in his dad's trailer. But Corgan's father was also a heroin addict, and circumstances only became worse when he remarried. Per Rolling Stone, Corgan's stepmother would beat him while his dad was away.

In a 2005 LiveJournal post, the vocalist shared a vignette of life in the trailer. Corgan described the first time he considered running away, an evening when his stepmother had given the 7-year-old a $20 bill and instructions to obtain cigarettes from the liquor store. Corgan, who loathes the smell of cigarettes to this day, concluded that he'd only be caught and beaten worse than usual. He also detailed his learning of a skill abused children know well — deducing what the abuser wants, be it tears or their cessation, in order to end the violence quicker.

James Hetfield wasn't allowed to see doctors

At a quick glance, it might seem like James Hetfield of Metallica fame had a good upbringing for an aspiring musician. According to CLRVYNT, he was born in California in 1963 to an opera-singing mother who was comparatively open-minded when it came to things like long hair and rock 'n' roll. Hetfield's father was a more conservative-minded truck driver, but one thing the parents had in common was their religion. The Hetfields were members of the Church of Christian Science, and they didn't believe in seeing doctors.

Hetfield himself questioned the faith from an early age. He once recalled a girl at Sunday school, which was taught by his father, talking about how God had healed her broken arm, a limb which still looked very crooked to Hetfield. As he described to Metal Hammer, his family's religion also left him distanced from others at school. He had to sit in the hall during health class and would be teased about it.

As Hetfield was starting middle school, his father unexpectedly left and never returned. Hetfield began to frequently fight with his sister while their mother tried to support them, but there was an even bigger upheaval coming. Hetfield's mother had cancer, and she hid this fact from her children for as long as she could. She died while Hetfield was in 11th grade, having refused medical treatment the whole time she was ill.

Dave Mustaine had to repeatedly flee his father

Dave Mustaine's childhood was lived in the shadow of his father. Born in La Mesa, California, in 1961, the eventual Megadeth vocalist grew up in various parts of Southern California, and it wasn't because his parents were changing jobs. Mustaine's father was an abusive alcoholic, and the impoverished family needed food stamps to get by. Unfortunately, the parents' inevitable divorce did little to improve circumstances.

Mustaine's mother took him to Costa Mesa to live with her sister, a devout Jehovah's Witness, and it wouldn't be long before his mother joined the faith as well. Mustaine later told Kerrang! that his childhood was ruined afterward. In addition to the loss of joys such as birthday parties and Christmas, he wasn't allowed to make friends with kids at school. Only children from the church were allowed, and none of them were Mustaine's age. Worse, as time went on, Mustaine and his mother had to repeatedly move in order to keep away from his father. As Mustaine described it, once his father knew where they lived, it was time to be uprooted once again.

Jimi Hendrix's father wouldn't let him attend his mother's funeral

Guitar god Jimi Hendrix was born in Seattle in 1942 to Lucille Hendrix, a 17-year-old high school dropout, and Al Hendrix, a laborer who'd been drafted to fight in World War II. As detailed in Jimi Hendrix: Musician, Lucille began to drink excessively and still craved the night life, so Jimi was often cared for by his grandmother, aunt, or his mother's friends.

After Al came home from the war, he and Lucille reconciled after nearly divorcing, but before long, both were drinking. Jimi's little brother Leon was born in 1948, and another brother, Joe, soon followed. Joe suffered from a number of birth defects, as did Lucille's next three children, and all of the kids, save Jimi and Leon, were ultimately given up for adoption. By the time Jimi was 12, Al and Lucille had divorced, and Leon was in foster care.

Jimi continued to live in poverty with Al, who struggled to find work and often left others in charge of raising his son, something which left the boy reluctant to become attached to anyone. When Jimi was 15, Lucille, who'd been suffering from both cirrhosis of the liver and hepatitis, died at only 32-years-old. Afterward, Al refused to allow Jimi or Leon to attend her funeral, though according to Contact Music, he did give Jimi a shot of whiskey. Neither Jimi nor his younger brother ever forgave Al.

Tom Petty was beaten black and blue

As Tom Petty told it, his family history was not family-friendly. Tom's grandfather, a logger, allegedly once killed a man with an ax, an act which forced him to flee to Florida. Tom's father, Earl, might not have seemed so bad by comparison. Per Men's Journal, the Air Force veteran was well-liked and owned a few small businesses. However, he was also fond of drinking, and he was a mean drunk. Tom's mother wouldn't let her husband drink at home, but this simply meant Earl would shamble home at night, fists at the ready for whichever family member rubbed him the wrong way.

Tom once told his biographer about the first beating he could remember. When he was four or five years old, he shot a passing car with a plastic slingshot. The driver wasn't pleased, and Earl was incensed upon his return home. He took his belt and beat his son head-to-toe, leaving the boy covered in welts. Tom's mother and grandmother tended to his wounds afterward, but many more beatings would follow. Tom later recounted that he never felt safe at home.

John Rzeznik lost both of his parents

Goo Goo Dolls frontman John Rzeznik was born in Buffalo, New York, in 1965 and grew up in a rough neighborhood on the East Side. His father, Joseph, was a mailman, his mother, Edith, was a teacher, and John was the youngest of the family. He'd later joke that having four older sisters was "one of the worst things that can happen to a man."

As detailed by The Buffalo News, John does not remember his parents for their warmth, to each other or their children. Edith's idea of love was a quick hand ready to strike at the slightest transgression, and according to John, she actively discouraged her kids from bonding with their father. Joseph, meanwhile, was a functional alcoholic who left for work at 4:30 AM. The only quality time John remembers with his generally distant father was when they'd go out for guys-only drives on Sunday mornings.

John's high school years brought a sequence of events he'd later describe as a "1-2 punch." When John was 15, Joseph suffered a heart attack and later died of pneumonia in the hospital. Barely a year passed before Edith succumbed to a heart attack as well. Parentless at 16, John's only comfort afterward was playing guitar.

Rob Thomas' childhood was insane

Before Matchbox Twenty, Rob Thomas already had quite a few stories to tell. According to People, he was born on a military base in Germany in 1972 to his mother, Mamie, and his Army dad, Bill. The couple soon moved back to the US, but they divorced when Rob was two. Per Rolling Stone, the toddler was sent to Lake City, South Carolina, to live with his grandmother, Maddie.

Rob's grandma was a character, to say the least. She'd sell booze and marijuana under the counter of her convenience store, and she was not to be crossed. One of Rob's childhood friends recalls her spraying the inside of a man's car with gasoline after the impatient driver honked at her for service, as well as another time when she shot a customer who stole from her store. Maddie was also quite willing to give weed to her grandson and his friends.

When Rob was 10, he moved to Florida to live with his mother. They were so poor that they sometimes didn't have furniture, and Mamie was a heavy drinker who'd occasionally beat her son. She'd frequently throw wild parties, randomly waking Rob up to introduce him to her "friends," often bikers. As the de facto bartender of these shindigs, Rob would sometimes witness the bikers beating his mother, and the next morning, he'd tiptoe over their passed-out bodies to make himself breakfast. Eventually, Rob started sleeping in friends' closets or their parents' cars.

Marilyn Manson's mother made him believe he was sickly

Marilyn Manson, aka Brian Warner, was born in Canton, Ohio, in 1969 to Hugh and Barb Warner. Hugh had a short temper but was frequently gone for work, so Manson does not recall abuse by him. As he told the Guardian, however, "My father was working all the time. I had to become this homunculus of sorts for my mother." Barb was a classic case of Munchausen syndrome by proxy, and her son grew up believing he suffered from all sorts of medical issues.

According to Rolling Stone, Manson was told that he had allergies to random things like eggs and fabric softener, which he now knows he doesn't have. Barb also insisted that her son's earlobes were too long, something that spurred Manson to undergo cosmetic surgery once he'd become rich. In addition, his mother told him that when he was 8- or 9-years-old, an intruder broke into the house and tried to smother him with a pillow. Manson doesn't remember this, but the tale has left him unable to fall asleep without a TV on. Lies about allergies and stories about intruders aside, young Manson found himself in the hospital at least six times for pneumonia, real or alleged.

Axl Rose was regularly beaten and allegedly kidnapped

Guns N' Roses megastar Axl Rose was born in Lafayette, Indiana, in 1962 as William Rose Jr. Per Biography, his mother was only 16 when he was born, and his father, 20 at the time, left a few years later. As Rose recounted to Rolling Stone in 1992, his mother's eyes would darken at any mention of the man. In adulthood, he underwent regression therapy and recalled his biological father kidnapping him when he was 2-years-old and sedating him in order to make the job easier. Before the regression, Rose only knew that something bad had happened when he was very young.

After his father left, Rose's mother married another man, Stephen Bailey. The boy's surname was changed accordingly, and until he was 17, he believed Bailey was his biological father. According to GQ, Rose's presumed father was a fanatically religious Pentecostal minister who required his son to attend church five times a week and would beat him regularly. He later described how he grew up thinking his stepfather's abuse of him and his younger half-sister was normal.

Corey Taylor was left for dead in a dumpster

Corey Taylor has a varied musical resume, singing for both Slipknot and Stone Sour, but his childhood was literally all over the map. His father had already disappeared before his birth in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1973, and Taylor was raised by his mother. Money was hard to come by, and Taylor was uprooted frequently as his mom searched for work. As he put it to Revolver, "I had more backseats than bedrooms." When Taylor was nine, he and his younger sister were stuffed into two cars as his mother and her boyfriend drove to Florida, hoping to work as security guards. One of the cars broke down in Georgia and had to be abandoned, so Taylor and his sister were forced to say goodbye to three-fourths of their belongings.

By the time Taylor was 15, he'd lived in 25 places. Now he was back in Iowa, residing in a trailer park outside Waterloo. He'd found music by this time — and drugs. One night, he overdosed at a party, and the others, believing him to be dead, put him in a dumpster 12 miles away. Taylor awoke an indeterminate amount of time later, shirtless, shoeless, and with a bloody face, and had to make his way home. It was after this that he moved into his grandmother's house, quit the drugs cold-turkey, and really got into guitar-playing.

GG Allin's childhood was a horror movie

GG Allin was born Jesus Christ Allin in 1956. As told by Metal Hammer, Allin's brother had trouble pronouncing "Jesus" and called him "Je Je," which eventually became "GG," instead. This cozy bit of trivia diverts attention from why Allin was named "Jesus Christ" in the first place. According to Medium, not long before Allin's birth, his father had a vision of the Jesus Christ, who told him his son would be the next Messiah. That's what you call a recipe for a childhood more terrifying than any of the punk rocker's infamous onstage antics.

Despite Allin's asthma and his older brother's developmental disabilities, the New Hampshire family lived in a log cabin with no running water or electricity. His father would regularly abuse his wife and children, and Allin wasn't allowed to see doctors for his asthma. Any toys the children managed to acquire were burned. On top of it all, Allin's father repeatedly threatened to kill the entire family and then himself, a promise he punctuated by keeping individual graves dug for everyone in the cabin's cellar.