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Fame is no protection against tragedy. Arguably, it can make things worse. These celebrities have suffered the ultimate tragedy: they’ve each had children who died too young.
Sometimes the death was the merest chance – a twist of fate that could befall anyone. Sometimes, though, their parent’s fame seems to have been an unindicted coconspirator. And the parent?
Sometimes they screw themselves back together and face the world. Sometimes they’re never the same again. And sometimes, they follow their child, and flame out.
By 2009, ex-Heavyweight Champ Mike Tyson was cozying into the third phase of his celebrity. He had been the unbeatable knockout machine. He had been the wife-beating,ex-convict, ear-biting challenger. Now he was something else – a mellowed, beloved humorist on stage and screen, a guy who liked poking fun at himself.
Then his four year-old daughter, Exodus, was found dead. What killed her was a freak accident: she strangled herself on a cord dangling from a treadmill. Her mother, Sol Xochitl, had been in another room of their Phoenix house when the accident occurred.
It was almost a kind of blessing that, by then, the Champ had already lived through so much tragedy.
Eric Clapton’s son, Conor, meant everything to him. The hope of being a good father to the boy is what inspired the hard-living guitarist to finally sober up after ears of drugs and drinking. Then came March 20, 1991
A housekeeper had opened a window in Clapton’s Manhattan condo. Four year-old Conor ran by too quickly to be stopped, and fell out the window. He fell 49 floors to his death.
A devastated Clapton eventually wrote the single, ‘Tears In Heaven’ to commemorate his son. The song won Clapton a Grammy Award.
Jett, John Travolta’s son by Kelly Preston, had always been sickly. He suffered asthma, autism and seizures as an infant. As a 2 year-old suffered from Kawaski’s disease, which inflames the arteries and can leave heart and other cardiovascular damage.
It was tragic but not much of a surprise when he was found dead in 2009 at the family vacation home in the Bahamas. The cause of death was a seizure. He was only 16.
Comedienne Carol Burnett’s daughter, Carrie Hamilton, had grown up struggling with drugs and alcohol. In time, she cleaned up.Fighting through it, she followed her legendary mother into show business.
Her successes included a voice role in the animated film ‘Cool World’ and a role in the hit play ‘Rent.’ Around 2000, Carrie began a struggle against brain cancer. She fought bravely against the cancer she called ‘Yuckie Chuckie’, but it took her life in 2011, when she was 38 years old.
Hollywood superstar Sylvester Stallone’s son, Sage, worked as a horror film distributor. He was found dead at 36. Making things even more painful for his father, Sage’s death started a swirl of rumors, some pointing to a drug overdose, others calling his death a suicide.
It turns out that Sage, who never picked up his father’s habit of fitness, died of atherosclerotic coronary artery disease. He had had a heart murmur as a child, and made things worse by becoming sedentary and drinking soda after soda throughout his young life.
Singer Roy Orbison lost his two older sons, shown here on the left, in 1968. The family’s home in Hendersonville, Tennessee, caught fire. The boys’ grandfather managed to rescue the youngest son, Wesley (right).
Sadly, there was no way to rescue Roy, Jr. or Anthony. Orbison himself was away on tour at the time of the tragedy.
Anna Nicole Smith
Anna Nicole Smith had become the rare Playboy Playmate to become a legitimate celebrity beyond the scope of the magazine’s readership. But it was a troubled, scandal-ridden kind of celebrity. One who suffered it with especially sharp pain was her beloved son, Daniel Wayne Smith.
By all accounts a sensitive, highly intelligent young man Daniel felt engulfed by his mother’s fame. In September 2006, he was found dead in the Bahamas. He had swallowed eight tabs of methadone; his death was rule a suicide.
The pain of her son’s death proved too much for his mother to bear. Just five months later, Anna Nicole Smith, too, was found dead of an overdose.
On January 16, 1997, Bill Cosby had yet to be touched by scandal. When his only son, Ennis, was murdered on the 405 Interstate, the nation stopped in unadorned horror. It was an assault on ‘America’s Dad.’
The 27 year-old Ennis had been a doctoral student in Special Education. He had stopped along the highway to fix a flat tire when 18 year-old Mikhail ‘Michael’ Markhasev pulled over and attempted to rob him. In the altercation, Markhasev shot Cosby in the head.
In 1977, singer Robert Plant was on tour with supergroup Led Zeppelin. His son, five year-old Karac, fell ill with a stomach infection. Sadly, he died while his father was on the other side of the planet, in Oakland CA.
Robert had adored Karac, and his death nearly caused him to leave the group. A rift developed when Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones didn’t attend the funeral. Only drummer John Bonham was truly supportive.
When Bonham died in 1980, that was the end of the band.