14 Famous People Who Were Adopted

There’s a certain curiosity about adoption, as old as the practice is. From locating your birth parents to being raised by a family that’s a different race or ethnicity than you to calling your grandparents "Mom and Dad," is living the life of an adopted child really all that strange in today’s mix of modern families? Whether you’re adopted, a delivery nurse interested in family dynamics, or someone who wants to understand how it all works, here are 14 famous people who made it big after coming from humble beginnings.

  1. Debbie Harry: Blondie front woman and 90s It girl Debbie Harry is also a successful actress. She was adopted in Miami at just three months old, but raised in Hawthorne, NJ, before graduating with an associate’s degree and taking food service and dancing jobs until performing with various bands in the 60s and 70s.
  2. Faith Hill: Country music star Faith Hill is known for her powerful voice as much as she is for her dedication to keeping her family together. She often gives her parents credit for fostering her strong sense of family — but the man and woman who raised her aren’t her birth parents. Hill was adopted as an infant after her real parents — who did end up marrying and having another child later — gave her up, and she was raised in a tiny town in Mississippi before moving to Nashville at age 19.
  3. Marilyn Monroe: To say Marilyn Monroe was a pop culture icon is a major understatement, and many of her fans today are still obsessed with her movies and style, nearly 50 years after her death. Monroe, who was baptized Norma Jeane Baker, grew up in foster homes, claiming to never really know her real father. Her mother was mentally unstable and refused to let her be officially adopted, and Marilyn was even nearly sexually abused on several occasions while staying with her mother’s best friend’s family. Passed around among aunts and back to the best friend’s house, Marilyn was married off at 16 to avoid further foster homes.
  4. Dan O’Brien: Decathlete Dan O’Brien won the 1996 Olympic Gold medal in Atlanta, and has won four other world championship gold medals for his sport. Of mixed race decent, O’Brien was adopted but white parents as a young child and raised in Oregon before moving to the University of Idaho, where joined track and field.
  5. Senator Robert Byrd: Legendary U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd held the honor of being the longest serving senator in history — serving a total of 55 years. Born in 1917, Byrd was adopted by his aunt and uncle when he was just one year old, after his mother died of influenza. It was his mother’s wish for he and his siblings to be passed on to other family members instead of being raised by their father.
  6. Steve Jobs: Apple executive and technology pioneer Steve Jobs discussed his adoption in his 2002 commencement address at Stanford University. His biological mother wished for him to be adopted by college graduates — he wasn’t, but his new parents did promise his mother that he would attend college. Jobs dropped out of his first university but audited a class at another school that ultimately helped build the first Mac computer.
  7. Dave Thomas: Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas was adopted at just 6 weeks old and started an adoption foundation to help other babies, children and teens escape foster care and find "forever families." The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption was established in 1992 and helped found National Adoption Day in 2008.
  8. Eric Clapton: Guitarist and singer Eric Clapton is one of the most successful and recognized artists of the last several decades, but his childhood was a little less straightforward. His mother gave birth to him when she was 16, after having an affair with an older soldier who returned home to Canada. Clapton was raised by his grandparents and believed that his mother was his older sister.
  9. Edgar Allan Poe: Known for his dark but insightful stories, Edgar Allan Poe was adopted by the Allan family after his father (Poe) left the family and his mother died. Poe was two years old, and was split up from his brother and sister. Sent to England for school at just six years old, his wealthy father ended up sending him to the University of Virginia for college, but refused to give him enough money, and Poe had to drop out.
  10. George Washington Carver: Agriculture inventor and commandeer George Washington Carver was born into slavery in Missouri. After his mother was kidnapped and slavery was abolished, Carver was taken in by his former owners who taught him to read and write. Over the next few years, Carver moved around the country in pursuit of schools who would take him in, staying with foster families until he settled in Kansas to homestead some land, plowing farms to raise crops.
  11. Edward Albee: Playwright Edward Albee was born Edward Harvey, but was adopted by the Albee family when he was just two weeks old. His new family were well-known in the theater world, although they wished Edward to have a more conventional career. Albee eventually ran away at 20 years old, moving to Greenwich Village and soaking in the art scene as he worked odd jobs.
  12. Scott Hamilton: Figure skater and commentator Scott Hamilton is still a crowd favorite for his passion for the sport and cheerleading spirit of up and coming skaters. He was adopted at just six weeks old by a Bowling Green State University father and second grade teacher mother, who also found a job at BGSU to help fund Scott’s skating training.
  13. Melissa Gilbert: Most famous for playing Laura Ingalls on the Little House on the Prairie TV series than ran in the 1970s and 80s, Melissa Gilbert has continued to act in adulthood and has served as President of the Screen Actors Guild. She was adopted by actor Paul Gilbert and his dancer/actress wife. Soon after they adopted Melissa, her family adopted a boy who would go on to co-star with Melissa on Little House as Willie Oleson.
  14. Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi: Whether Jersey-area Italian Americans like it or not, they’re best known to the rest of the world by the likes of Jersey Shore party people like Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi. But Snooki’s actually not Italian — she was born either in Chile or to Chilean immigrants — it’s still a little unclear — and was adopted by Italian American parents living in New York.

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