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Successful People Who Were Adopted

Updated on March 29, 2018
LaurenSutton12 profile image

Empathizes with people who were adopted, as her grandma may have been. She feels that creative outlets are the best way to deal with life.

Keegan Michael-Key
Keegan Michael-Key | Source

I've known people that have found out they're adopted. Some aren't surprised--their childhoods have been marked with insecurity, chaos, and confusion. Others feel abandonment, but are thankful for being adopted. A few, sadly don't have stories that are happy endings.

And some people rose above their circumstances to channel their heartache and/or confusion into incredible success. Here are a few of their stories.

Keegan Michael-Key

If you've seen MADtv, Key and Peele, or Obama's "Angry Translator", you know of this underrated comic.

Keegan was born on March 22, 1971 in Detroit, Michigan. His birth was the result of a couple who had an extramarital affair. He was adopted by a bi-racial couple in Detroit, who would later become a source of material for his show.

This funnyman was not without personal struggle. He was diagnosed with epilepsy, which ruined his dream of becoming an athlete, so his parents recommended that he be an actor. He obtained his Masters' degree in Theatre from Penn State University. Shortly after graduating, his good friend died in a car crash.

Keegan found an outlet in comedy at Second City Detroit and Chicago, where he was in several featured shows. During this time, he also met his birth mother. He described their conversations as being a 'spiritual and emotional experience'.

He met future partner Jordan Peele while auditioning for MADtv, and became cast mates. After the show ended, Key and Peele created their own show on Comedy Central, aptly named "Key and Peele". The show used humorous sketches to discuss sensitive, real-life situations, or simply exaggerated situations including, "Substitute Teacher", "Office Homophobe", and "Al Qaeda Meeting". (If you haven't seen the show, I highly suggest you do. It's reminiscent of Monty Python.) "Key and Peele" earned numerous awards, including: NAACP Image Awards, Screen Actors' Guild, Primetime Emmy, and Writers' Guild Awards.

Keegan continues to be apart of creative endeavors, appearing in such shows and films as "Pitch Perfect 2", "The Muppets", and "The Simpsons". In 2017, he made it to Broadway to star in Steve Martin's show "Meteor Show". It's clear that Key shows no signs of stopping.

Kristin Chenoweth

This very talented petite-spitfire was only five days old when she was adopted by the Chenoweths in Oklahoma. Throughout her childhood, she found her voice while singing in church choirs and became active in school plays.

Kristin obtained her Bachelors' degree in musical theatre and her Master's degree in Opera Performance at Oklahoma City University. She later placed runner-up in the Miss Oklahoma pageant.

Her consistent work paid off. In 1993, she attended a friend's audition in New York City an audition for "Animal Crackers". Kristin decided to audition for herself, and won a supporting role.

She hasn't looked back since. Ms. Chenoweth has been in eight productions on Broadway, including her famous role as Glinda in Wicked (to which she won a Tony Award), and in numerous off-Broadway productions. Kristin won a Primetime Emmy Award for "Pushing Daisies", has guest-starred in over thirty t.v. shows, been in numerous films, has released six albums and a biography.

In 2015, Kristin wrote an article for People Magazine where she stated that she viewed her adoption as a "blessing" and credits both her birth adopted mothers for wanting to "give her a better life". That same year, she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She has had quite a career so far, and I wouldn't be surprised if she becomes a theatre legend like Bette Midler or Barbra Streisand.

She continues to give back with her charity, Broken Arrow Performance Arts Center Foundation, in which Broadway hopefuls from Broken Arrow can take part in workshops and scholarship opportunities.

Her honest message to other people who were adopted?: "We weren't abandoned. We were chosen. We were given a chance. I'm not saying it's not hard or that it's easy for people to understand. But it really isn't for the world to understand; it's for the people who were involved."

Kristin Chenoweth
Kristin Chenoweth | Source

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs was born to two University of Wisconsin graduate students and adopted as an infant by the Jobs family. His father immersed him in electronics, and this greatly influenced the young Steve. He was unimpressed by school and was frequently bored due to his high intelligence. While in high school, he met another person who also found electronics fascinating--his future partner Steve Wozniak.

Upon graduation, Jobs attended school in Oregon and dropped out after six months. This wasn't before one particular course in calligraphy caught his attention. This passion would later translate into his 'love of typography'. He took a position at Atari as a video game designer, and then left for India to find himself. He did. As Steve returned, he reconnected with Steve Wozniak and together, they formed the new Apple Computers in Steve's garage.

As he grew into his twenties, more details about his adoption emerged. His birth father's family was Syrian and didn't want him to marry Steve's mother, a non-Syrian. Steve refused to speak to his birth father, and only spoke with his birth mother a handful of times. He continued to struggle with his adoption and this crept into his personality. At times, he could be obsessive, bossy, and dismissive--virtually abandoning his daughter.

Fortunately, Steve was able to push through his personal demons to help make Apple one of the largest companies in the world, and has impacted nearly everyone in the modern world. Steve continued to grow his business ventures, and purchased Pixar from George Lucas, which netted several billion dollars and becoming one of the most powerful mergers with Disney. He passed in 2011 of pancreatic cancer, after battling it for eight years.

Debbie Harry

The would-be lead singer of Blondie was born Angela Tremble. She was adopted at three months in New Jersey and her name was changed to Deborah Harry. Debbie found out she was adopted at four years old, at which point, she admits that she had an "identity crisis". When she emerged, she wanted to be an artist, which scared her adoptive parents. Debbie built her performing chops while singing in their local church.

As an adult, she attempted to contact her birth mother who sadly, did not want to meet her. This didn't hinder Debbie, who paid her dues in various jobs as a server and go-go dancer before she became a background singer.

She met Chris Stein, and they formed the band "Blondie". Their well-known hits as "Call Me", "Heart of Glass", and "One Way Or Another", incorporated new wave, disco, pop, rap, and punk aspects into their songs. Debbie was the face and the voice of Blondie. She was unique--she was not aggressive as punk women typically were. Rather, she was stunning, sexy, sassy, yet seemingly attainable. Trail-blazing, yet humble. And tough.

Debbie proved that her toughness wasn't an act. In one instance, she was having trouble hailing a cab in New York City. She recalls: "A car kept coming round and offering me a ride, so I accepted. Once in the car I noticed there were no door handles on the inside, which made me wary. I don’t know how, but I managed to put my hand through the window and open the door from the outside.” The car swerved to "stop her from escaping" and she threw herself out of the car. Debbie found out later that the driver was Ted Bundy. “I always say my instincts saved me.”

Debbie Harry has since influenced such lady singer powerhouses as Madonna, Gwen Stefani, and Lady Gaga. In 2006, Blondie was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Of aging, she admits plastic surgery as 'part of the job', but says: "If you stay creative, interested and open to new things, you won’t stagnate. You have to look around, keep new influences coming in." Always refreshing, that Debbie Harry.

Debbie Harry
Debbie Harry | Source

Edgar Allen Poe

Poe's works conjured creepy tales of death and became a world-famous author. One thing is for sure: the man was born to write.

Edgar Allen Poe was born on January 19, 1809 in Boston. His mother died when he was just a toddler, and his father left the family. Edgar was sent to live with John and Frances Allan, who were well-off tobacco exporters. Edgar showed an early interest in writing, which his adoptive father and his school's headmaster discouraged. John Allan wanted Poe to take over the family business at some point, while Edgar had no interest. Edgar responded by supposedly writing on the back of one of Allan's ledgers.

In 1829, his adoptive mother Frances died of tuberculosis. Poe, like Steve Jobs, dealt with his personal heartache through his creativity. He attended the University of Virginia but was kicked out when he ran out of money. After a brief stint in the Army, Edgar started writing short stories and published his collection Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque thereafter. In 1834, John Allan died and left Poe out of his will. Poe became penniless. He found a job in Richmond as an editor and critic and moved to New York City as his career furthered.

During this time, he kept writing and perfected his style. Edgar published some of his best known works, including "The Tell-Tale Heart", and "The Raven"; the latter of which made Poe a household name. Although the theme of his stories were usually about death, his unique and unpredictable tales entertained the masses. (This was during the time of no radio or television, mind you.) His writings arguably set the stage for a new genre in movies and books: the psychological thriller. In addition, Edgar also influenced up-and-coming authors, Ambrose Pierce, and the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle.

Frances McDormand

Who else in Hollywood is simultaneously naturally beautiful, seemingly normal, strong, and charming? Only one lady that I can think of, Ms. Frances McDormand.

Our beloved Frances McDormand was born Cynthia Ann Smith in Illinois on June 23, 1957. She adopted as an infant to Canadian parents and thinks her birth mother may have attended her family's church at one point. Awkward!

In high school, she caught the acting bug when she played Lady MacBeth. Frances graduated from Bethany College and made her way to the highly-esteemed Yale Drama School. After graduating, she and roommate Holly Hunter moved to New York City to pursue their acting careers. In 1984, Frances was cast in "Blood Simple" by pair of unknown filmmakers, the Coen brothers. She married Joel Coen the same year and her movie career took off. She earned an Academy Award nomination for her role in "Mississippi Burning"--pretty good for someone that just started out.

Her arguably most recognizable movie role was Marge Gunderson as Chief of Police in the movie "Fargo". This would continue a tradition of her acting in relatively independent films and choosing roles that featured strong, intelligent women of substance, including "Almost Famous", "North Country", and "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri". She has won several awards for her work, consisting of two Academy Awards, one Golden Globe, four Screen Actors Guild Awards, among many more, and numerous nominations.

And yet, she uses her stardom for good. During her acceptance speech for her Golden Globe Award win in 2018, she asked the female nominees to stand, noting to the attendees that "we all have stories to tell, and we all have projects to finance". Frances also encouraged actors and actresses to include an "inclusion rider" in their contracts, that dictates diversity in their cast and crew.

Additionally, as she was adopted, she and her husband Joel returned the favor. They adopted a son from Paraguay. Frances McDormand has solidified herself as an accomplished and respected actress as well as a pretty decent person.

Frances McDormand
Frances McDormand | Source

Honorable Mentions

  • Bill Clinton (President of the United States)
  • Dave Thomas (founder of Wendy's)
  • Marilyn Monroe (actress)
  • Faith Hill (award-winning singer)
  • Sarah MacLachlan (accomplished singer and theme song for the saddest commercial on the planet)
  • J.C. Chasez (member of N-SYNC)


© 2018 Lauren Sutton


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