While tragic deaths in the family are not exclusive to celebrities, when they do happen, the bubble of showbiz glamour that surrounds these talented people bursts to reveal a truly sobering fact: no one is immune to tragedy.
When celebrities pass away, we’ve come to expect outpourings of grief from fans as a natural response. Celebrities, for better or worse, embody facets of our personality – such is their talent – and we can’t help but mourn the loss. But something else happens when celebrities are struck by deaths in their families. The sad news of Julia Roberts’ 37-year-old half-sister Nancy Motes’ death by an apparent drug overdose was made more tragic in light of Motes’ earlier revelation that her more famous sibling used to criticise her weight problems.
There was also Taiwanese actor Collin Chou’s recent admission in the media about the suicides of his two sisters and the tragic double-murder and suicide committed by the father of Leeteuk, leader of the massively popular K-pop band Super Junior. The keen realisation of reading the grim details of these deaths then hits us that celebrities are also susceptible to unimaginable pain and loss. We take a look at some of the most heartbreaking tragedies that have befallen the famous.
Popular MyFM radio DJ and actor Royce Tan suffered a shocking loss when his 63-year-old mother Lai Kam Lian was found dead with a knife stab wounds outside the compound of her house at Taman Sri Segambut in Kuala Lumpur on Dec 1, 2011. During the course of the trial of murder suspect, 31-year-old Kenny Lim Kang Wee, that began in November last year, Royce was forced to reveal his sexuality in court when he confirmed that he and Kenny had been in a romantic relationship since early 2011. The court heard how the drama began when Kenny insisted that Royce move out of his family home so they could live together. Lai, who had given her blessing to the two lovers, decided to step in as a go-between, but as fate would have it, ended up as the victim. Royce has remained mum on the case outside of court as he awaits the resumption of the trial later this month.
Jennifer Hudson was still riding high from her Dreamgirls fame when her world came crashing down on Oct 24, 2008, as her sister Julia returned late to their Chicago family home and discovered a bullet hole in the front door. Inside, Julia discovered the bodies of her mother and brother, both shot to death. The tragedy peaked three days later when Julia’s missing seven-year-old son Julian D. King was discovered in the back seat of an SUV, also dead from a gunshot. The gun found near the boy linked the three murders to William Balfour, Julia’s estranged husband. Balfour received three consecutive life sentences for the murders, with an additional 120 years for other convictions. To cope with their grief, Jennifer and Julia set up a foundation called The Hudson-King Foundation for Families of Slain Victims – for which Jennifer received a People’s Choice Humanitarian Award.
Venus and Serena Williams
On Sep 14, 2003, tennis divas Venus and Serena suffered personal tragedy when their 31-year-old half-sister Yetunde Price was gunned down in their hometown Compton in California. Yetunde was with her boyfriend in a four-wheel-drive when they wandered unwittingly into the middle of a gang shootout. When police arrived, Yetunde was found slumped on the street. Despite efforts to resuscitate her, she was later pronounced dead at the hospital. Twenty-five-year-old Robert Maxfield, who claimed that he shot the SUV because he thought it belonged to a rival gang, was sentenced to 15 years' jail for his crime. Both Venus and Serena were reportedly distraught, as Yetunde was their personal assistant, stylist, confidante and huge fan – her beauty salon was filled with photos of the tennis prodigies. Thankfully, the sisters bounced back and went on to become the most successful siblings in tennis history.
Nov 10, 2007, was a black day for rap’s most controversial hero: his mother, Donda West, passed away after suffering a heart attack aggravated by a liposuction and breast reduction surgery. Apparently, Donda elected to undergo surgery despite warnings from two plastic surgeons who told her she wasn’t fit enough to recover. Dr Jan Adams, the surgeon who operated on Donda, initially denied wrongdoing but eventually gave up his medical licence after revelations surfaced in the media that Donda wasn’t his first botched surgery. In fact, Donda’s death led to so much public scrutiny that it prompted California’s then-governor Arnold Shwarzenegger to pass a law requiring all patients to provide full medical clearance before undergoing plastic surgery – it’s also known as the Donda West Law. Kanye, for his part, channelled tragedy into art, releasing the sombre 808s & Heartbreak album a year after his mother’s passing.
Nick and Aaron Carter
Unknown to many, Nick and Aaron Carter had a sister called Leslie whose nascent pop career in the early 2000s failed to take off. Ironically, it was her death on Jan 31, 2012, at age 25 that would propel her to public attention. Even more ironic: her death was caused by an overdose of anti-anxiety medication she had been taking for years to keep her depression at bay. Both Nick and Aaron, who had their own share of problems with depression and substance abuse in the past, were deeply affected by Leslie’s death. Aaron tweeted his disbelief and sadness with the post “#broken #distraught #pain #confusion #disbelief #agony #Anger #lost #Sad #Family #LeslieCarter #empty #Leslie #dazed #Heaven #Sister”. But it was doubly sad for Nick who missed his sister’s funeral due to an ongoing family feud. Instead, Nick shared his grief onstage with fans during a concert held less than a week after the funeral, dedicating an acoustic version of his song Falling Down to her memory.
Perhaps the most tragic death in this list: Eric Clapton’s four-year-old son Conor accidentally falling to his death from a 53rd-floor New York apartment’s opened bedroom window on March 20, 1991. Conor’s mother, Italian model Lory Del Santo, was visiting her friend when the fall happened. Eric, who arrived at the apartment shortly after the incident, actually passed by the crowd that had gathered around the building, not realising his son’s death was the cause of the commotion. Conor’s death led the singer to compose the touching ballad Tears In Heaven. Released in 1992, the song ended up topping charts around the world and winning three Grammys. The singer has said that performing the song was cathartic, allowing him to come to terms with Conor’s death. Others have also used the song to deal with tragedy: in 2005, Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne recruited various stars to cover the song in order to raise funds to help survivors of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami catastrophe.
Tun Musa Hitam
Former Deputy Prime Minister and Sime Darby Foundation chairman Tun Musa Hitam faced his biggest tragedy when his son Carlos Rashid and daughter-in-law Rosina Abu Bakar perished in the Highland Towers collapse on Dec 11, 1993. In a video interview conducted by The Star’s Switch Up TV to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the national tragedy last December, Musa recalled the anxiety he felt upon hearing of the tower collapse and the agonising three-hour car journey to reach the site. His anxiety didn’t recede until the bodies of Carlos and Rosina were uncovered from the rubble a few days after the collapse: “No words can describe how I felt then. I remember my ex-secretary telling me: ‘I don’t want you to see their bodies.’” But there was light in the gloom. Seconds before the collapse, Rosina gave the maid her baby girl and told her to run out of the apartment as fast as she could. Today, that baby girl, Musa’s granddaughter, is 20-year-old Marissa who is currently studying psychology in Britain.