Famous People Who Were Adopted (Some May Surprise You)

Recently I was thinking about how some people come over the harsh life to achieve success and are famous, while some people may fail despite having a good life so I started searching and I was amazed to find a few famous people some I know and others who I never knew who were adopted till now .

Being adopted by strangers, grandparents or even relatives at young age could be traumatic and they have to go through big adjustment in life. There are a few success cases where adopted kids have achieved success and fame after going through adoption in their life. Some have rough childhood and others seem to find caring family, despite the odds, these people have worked hard to achieve success in their life.

In case anyone ever wondered whether adopted children could achieve the same success as a biological child, then the list that follows will prove to be quite an eye-opener.

1. Steve Jobs (Former Apple CEO)

Steve Jobs is in news recently due to his resigning from Apple, I am assuming to take care of his health. As I was reading about him, I was surprised to find that he was born to two graduate students (Syrian and American) and was adopted by Paul and Clara Job as an Infant in 1955. Steve Jobs, biological parents eventually married and had a daughter who became novelist. Steve Job’s has biological sister and another sister who was also adopted.

Steve Jobs Worked at Atari before founding Apple with Steve Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne in 1976. He is also involved in NeXT computer (which become first server for World Wide Web), Disney and Also Pixar as well.

(Edit to add) Steve Job died on Oct 5th, 2011 at age of 56, he left a legacy: Check out 9 Things you did not know about Steve Job from Yahoo News. There is also new bestselling autobiography on Steve Jobs that shares more about his life.

2. Doctor Ruth (Sex Therapist, Radio Host)

Everyone knows famous Sex Therapist Doctor Ruth, she was born in 1928 as Karola Ruth Siegel in Frankfurt, Germany. When she was 10, she was put on train by her mother and grandmother to possible avoid nazis.  Her mother told her that she is going to school, but reality, they sent her to orphanage where little Ruth stayed for years. While she was never truly adopted, but she was in various foster home and later she found ways to become successful sniper in Israel army and later had successful career as sex therapist on Radio. At 4 feet and 7 inches, she has achieved great height other field.

3. Bill Clinton (Former US President)

Bill Clinton was born to Virgina Cassidy in Arkansas, his father was traveling salesman who died in auto accident before Bill was born. Virgina left Bill to her parents while she went to school for Nursing Degree. When she came back and married Roger Clinton and Roger Clinton adopted Bill. Bill also had step brother Roger Clinton Jr. His step father was an alcoholic and abusive to him, his step brother and his mother, bill tried to protect his mother and brother often time.

Bill showed talent in music (specially saxophone), painting and singing. He wrote later in his auto biography called “My Life“;

“Sometime in my sixteenth year, I decided I wanted to be in public life as an elected official. I loved music and thought I could be very good, but I knew I would never be John Coltrane or Stan Getz. I was interested in medicine and thought I could be a fine doctor, but I knew I would never be Michael DeBakey. But I knew I could be great in public service.”

Bill married Hillary and he was 42nd US president from 1993 to 2001.

4. Larry Ellison (Oracle CEO)

Larry was born in Bronx to a 19 year old, unmarried Florance Spellman. Larry’s biological father was US air Force Pilot. When Larry was 9 month old, his mother realized that she could not properly take care of him, hence asked her uncle and aunt from Chicago to adopt Larry. So Louie and Lilian Spellman adopted Larry when he was 9 months old. Larry Ellison did not meet his biological mother until he was 48 years old.

While Larry has married and divorced 4 times, in career wise he has found a Success as a CEO of Oracle Corporation.

5. Malcom X (Civil Rights Leader)

Malcom X was born Malcom Little in 1925 to Earl and Louise Little. He was fourth child to total of 7 children. His father who was Christian Minister, was killed when Malcom was barely 6 years old. After his father’s death, his mother had nervous breakdown and was admitted to a mental institute. Malcom and his siblings went to an orphanage and later on various foster homes. His and his brother’s childhood was anything but normal, still he would become the biggest legend in Civil right era and Nation of Islam. One can learn more about Malcom X from his auto Biography.

6. Dave Thomas (Founder Of Wendy)

Dave Thomas was born in 1932 to young, unmarried teen whom he never really knew. He was adopted at 6 weeks of age by Rex Thomas and his wife. His adopted mother died when Dave was 5 years old, and his adopter father went traveling looking for job, he lived with Minnie, his grandmother after adoption. He credits her for teaching him about treating other well with respect.

He was in US army and worked in KFC before opening his successful franchise Wendy, named after his daughter Melinda. He had dropped out of high school until later where he got his GED to encourage teens to not drop out of high school. He died after battling cancer for many years, at the time there were 6000 Wendy’s restaurants in the country.

7. Nelson Mandela (Activist and Former Africa President)

Nelson Mandela belongs to a  the Thembu dynasty, which reigns in the Transkei region of South Africa and was born in Mvezo, a small village. Mandela’s father had four wives, with whom he fathered thirteen children (four boys and nine girls). Mandela was born to his third wife, Nosekeni Fanny. When Nelson Mandela was about 9 years old, his father died due to tuberculosis, Thembu chief Jongintaba became his guardian and informal adoptive father.

Mandela was initially was influenced by M. K. Gandhi’s non-violence stance (from 1948-1961) before committing to armed anti-apartheid activities in 1961. He was arrested, jailed and eventually released and pardoned in 1990. Nelson Mandela become oldest President of Africa at age of 75 in 1994 and retired in 1999. One can learn more about him from his book called Conversation with Myself.

8. John Lennon (Singer, Musician)

John Lennon was born in 1940 to Julia and Alfred Lennon. Alfred was always traveling to sea as traveling merchant and was hardly there when John was there. John had turbulent childhood where he was asked to choose to live between his father and mother at age 5. He grew up with his aunt and uncle (Julia’s older sister) who did not have kids of their own. He was known as trouble maker in school and college. Later on he created a Quarryman band which evolved in to successful Beatles group. Later he had success as a solo artist before his early death by Gun shot.

9. Edgar Allen Poe (Poet, Writer)

Edgar was born in 1809 to actor parents, he had an older brother and younger sister. When he was about one year old, his father abandon the family and year later his mother died due to sickness. Edgar and his siblings were left orphaned. Edgar was taken as a foster child by James Allen, a rich merchant. James Allen was strict with Edgar and eventually they parted later in life.

When Edgar did not have enough money, he left his education and joined to army. He started publishing his poems and writeup slowly and eventually first poet ever to make living by writing according to some expert. Edgar married twice and once to his 13 years old cousin. He died in mysterious circumstances when was 40. His influence in poetry, literature, cryptology is still felt in United States and around the world. You can see his vast poems and writing in his complete collection of Edgar Ellen Poe.

10. Leo Tolstoy (Writer)

Leo Tolstoy was born in 1852 in Yasnaya Polyana, Russia. He had 4 other siblings and his family was part of Russian Nobility. His parents died when he was young so him and his siblings were brought up by relatives. Leo was not studious and had left college in middle of his studies. After running up big gambling debt, he and his brother joined army to make some money. He started writing around that time, eventually writing many novels including classics War and Peace and Anna Karenina .

Other Famous Adopted People:

Other famous celebrities and successful people who were adopted or were part of foster care system are;

  • Marilyn Monroe (Actress),
  • John Washington Carver (Inventor),
  • Nat King Cole (Singer),
  • Tim McGraw and Faith Hill (Country Singer),
  • Tommy Davidson (Comedian),
  • Bo Diddly (Musician),
  • Gerald Ford (Former US President),
  • Melissa Gilbert (Actress),
  •  Scott Hamilton (Skater),
  • John Hancock (Politician),
  •  Debbie Harry (Singer, Blondie),
  • Jesse Jackson (Minister),
  • Lee Majors (Actor),
  • Nancy Regan (First Lady),
  • Elenore Roosevelt (First Lady) and many more.

If you like to find out more, read these books;

Relative Origins: Famous Foster and Adopted People

LifeBooks : Creating a Treasure for the Adopted Child

Fame and success can be achieved by anyone, who works hard, has passion and bit of luck! All of these people can inspire us to be more.

Do you know someone who is successful despite having less resources?


  1. Reema says:

    Wow, I did not know 8 out of 10 people who were adopted. I guess they really worked hard and achieved success! Inspirational post. Thanks for sharing. I found your site recently and read up for 2 hours reading old posts!

  2. rob white says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Preeti. Steve Jobs piqued my interest when he was in the news last week. I had no idea about these other folks. It seems to me that people who accomplish extraordinary things are often faced with great challenges.

  3. Vaishali Honawar says:

    Preeti, what a great post. I knew some of these famous people were adopted, but some– like Jobs– were a surprise. My husband and I are now actually in the process of adopting from India, so this post really spoke to me. 🙂

  4. ZenGirl says:


    I did not know many of these famous celebrities who were adopted until I started to research for this article, I was sure amazed as well.
    I think adopting is pretty neat! I hope all goes simply well for you, we do know a few people in life that have adopted and it can be win win for both parents and kids well. I will look forward to your new addition to your family news soon.

  5. ZenGirl says:


    Yes, Steve Job certainly was in news for his retirement to take care of his frail health, reading about him, made me aware that he was adopted. That led me to see and believe that adopted kids can achieve as much as any biological children with right environment and sheer inner strength.

  6. ZenGirl says:


    Yes, I was intrigued too. I want to write about positive stuff in life that interesting yet great for personal development without being boring. I certainly had fun researching and writing about it. Thanks for always supporting here. Your comment always brings up smile as seeing an old friend. Thank you.

  7. ZenGirl says:


    Welcome and thanks for the comment. Do not feel bad, I sure did not know many myself, as isn’t that amazing? Many times, we just imagine thing while reality can be different. These all people are inspirational for all of us, adopted or not, they achieved many things that ordinary of us have not.

  8. Awori Moses says:

    wow so interesting to from you,keep on doing so and may the almighty gives you strength.you are also so inspirational because i know it takes you time think all those positive ideas.am so challenged.thanks much and may God bless you

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