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Celebrities who survived abusive relationships

Love hurts, almost no matter what — because love is finite. Like all things it blooms, and then slowly fades until you can't quite remember how you came under this crazy spell in the first place. At least that's how the fireworks, temporary insanity, lose-your-mind in passion kind of romantic love works. As long as it lasts anyway. But our deepest human need to connect with another person, intimately, and physically — even spiritually — in a coupled bond, as tragically doomed as it sometimes is, comes with yet another fateful string attached. The longing that romantic love fulfills can also blind us to even the most grievous faults in the one who is so loved. This love thing is a powerful drug — an ecstatic high in the human brain for which we would do almost anything to keep within its sometimes not-so-tender caress. And in recent years, certain celebs have become more vocal about what it's like to escape the dark energy of a toxic romance. These are stars who survived abusive relationships.

Amber Heard

A June 2016 issue of People featured Amber Heard's face, covered the with apparent bruising under her eyes, a cut to her lip, and mark on her chin. The shocking headline read, "Johnny Depp and Amber Heard: Inside Their Toxic Marriage." Heard was filing for divorce after only 15 months of marriage and claims Depp was an abuser. "There was one severe incident in December 2015 when I truly feared for my life," she told the mag. In court documents, Heard further alleged that throughout the four-year romance, "Johnny has been verbally and physically abusive to me." She claims Depp once came home drunk and high, and "violently shoved [her] to the floor." In another incident, she claims Depp threw a cell phone and struck her in the face. Police were called but determined "no evidence of any crime," according to People. Depp's divorce attorney responded that Heard was "attempting to secure a premature financial resolution by alleging abuse." But two months later TMZ released a video secretly recorded by Heard on the night she alleges Depp struck her. The 96-second clip features an agitated Depp slamming cabinets and throwing a bottle against a wall. Depp then pores a large glass of wine, discovers Heard's camera and mutters, "You got this going?" As he grabs the camera, Heard replies defensively, "I just started it." The camera jostles violently, and the video ends. The tale of Heard and Depp's domestic woe, however, was only just getting started.

Johnny Depp

Johnny Depp waited nearly three years to launch a counter-offensive following ex-wife Amber Heard's allegations. In court papers filed in 2019 (via Page Six), Depp's attorney alleges Heard's claims are, "categorically and demonstrably false" and that Heard had used makeup to fake the bruises that appeared in People. Depp's team also submitted surveillance footage they say shows Heard had no bruising prior to her staging the photos. Depp further countered with a $50 million defamation suit. Heard had been portraying herself as a hero of the #MeToo movement following her accusations, even penning an op-ed in The Washington Post in her new capacity as an ambassador on women's rights for the ACLU. But in documents obtained by The Blast, Depp asserts she was the abuser, "While mixing prescription amphetamines and non-prescription drugs with alcohol, Ms. Heard committed innumerable acts of domestic violence against me, often in the presence of third party witnesses, which in some instances caused me serious bodily injury." Then the bombshell. Heard had claimed Depp cut off part of his own finger in a fit of rage. Depp's team says Heard cut off the tip of his finger in one of many instances when she allegedly threw bottles at him. Then, further recordings "leaked," in which Heard "did start a physical fight" with Depp. "I didn't f**king deck you. I was hitting you," she can be heard saying, as well as mocking Depp as "a f**king baby!"  As of this writing, the bitter legal battle is ongoing.

Rihanna

The shocking photos of Rihanna's bruised and battered face at the hands of Chris Brown are indelible images of domestic abuse. Brown was eventually sentenced to five years probation, but was able to avoid prison, according to CNN. The couple's fateful evening in 2009 starting rosy. "We had a blast that night," Rihanna recounted to ABC News. But as they drove through LA, Brown received a text message that raised Rihanna's suspicions about Brown's fidelity. Brown tried to brush it off. Rihanna persisted, "He wouldn't tell the truth and I wouldn't drop it," she said. The argument spiraled and that's when Brown assaulted her. "He had no soul in his eyes, just blank," she added. "He was clearly blacked out. There was no person when I looked at him." Brown admits something evil came over him that night, "I felt like a f**king monster," he said in his documentary Chris Brown: Welcome To My Life. But he also claimed jealousy issues created a mutually violent dynamic, "We were fighting each other, she would hit me, I would hit her. It never was okay." The couple briefly reconciled in 2013 but things soon fell apart again, this time peaceably. "I was that girl ... I was very protective of him," she told Vanity Fair in 2015, adding, "I felt that people didn't understand him .. if you remind them of bad moments in their life, they think less of you — because they know you don't deserve what they're going to give."

Tina Turner

Tina Turner's marriage to Ike Turner was infamously brutal. But it didn't start that way, "In the beginning, Ike was very good to me," Tina told CBS News in 2019. "He didn't like that he had had to depend on me. And I didn't want to start a fight because it was always a black eye, a broken nose, a busted lip, a rib. Ike and Tina were married for 16 years but Tina revealed she only said "I do" in 1962 out of fear. "I had to say yes ... or it was gonna be a fight. And so then, when we drove to marry, that wasn't my idea of my wedding." In her 2018 memoir My Love Story (via the Daily Mail), Turner further alleges that Ike's escalating cocaine problem fueled his rage, which manifested in his abuse of her, including burns, broken bones, and sexual assault. But she says the final straw was when Ike moved two mistresses into their "whorehouse" home. What had begun as a stunning musical collaboration — Rolling Stone ranked the couple as the second-best musical duo of all time — morphed into a living nightmare that ended when she fled from him in 1976. Tina eventually won the right to her stage name — his last name — and her most iconic hits all followed the split. Soulful pop ballads like 'What's Love Got To Do With It' resonated all the more for what the public knew she'd survived. Ike Turner died in 2007.

Charlize Theron

Charlize Theron grew up in an abusive home riven by violence difficult to even fathom. She and her mother Gerda lived in constant terror of her alcoholic father. "The day-to-day unpredictability of living with an addict is the thing that you sit with and have kind of embedded in your body for the rest of your life," she told NPR in 2019. One evening in 1991, when Theron was just 16, her father and namesake Charles came home "so drunk that he shouldn't have been able to walk." But this time he had a gun. A terrified Charlize and Gerda retreated to her childhood bedroom and braced their bodies against the door. Charles pursued and attempted to force his way in. When he couldn't, Charlize told NPR, "He took a step back and just shot through the door three times." Miraculously, the bullets missed them, and that's when Gerda used her own gun to "[end] the threat." Charles died that night, and for years thereafter, Theron avoided the truth and said the cause was a car accident. But she's since come to terms with what she survived. "I'm not ashamed to talk about it, because I do think that the more we talk about these things, the more we realize we are not alone in any of it," she told NPR, adding, "This story really is about growing up with addicts and what that does to a person."

Christina Aguilera

Before a teenage Christia Aguilera became a "Genie In A Bottle," she was also a child star of that legendary '90s Mickey Mouse Club graduating class that included Britney Spears, Ryan Gosling, and Justin Timberlake. But Aguilera's picturesque onscreen childhood hid the reality of the abusive home she would return to each day when filming wrapped. "I remember often having to up and escape in the middle of the night with my mom & little sister, having just the clothes on our backs, to drive cross country for shelter at my grandma's house," Aguilera wrote in 2019 as she accepted the Deacon Bonnie Polley Community Hero Award from a Las Vegas domestic violence shelter. "It's just disgusting and it happens far too much to people...and it is very dear to my heart, because I did grow up in [violence] and am a survivor of it, as I'm sure many of you are, and I'm affected by it," she said in her acceptance speech (via GMA). Aguilera has avoided hyper-specific descriptions of what she endured but makes clear her mother was the primary target of the violence in her home. "I watched my mom have to be submissive, watch her Ps and Qs or she's gonna get beat up," she told Paper in 2018. The singer has fittingly described music as her escape from what she witnessed and committed in 2019 to donate a portion of the proceeds from her Las Vegas residency to domestic violence victims.

Gwenyth Paltrow

When Gwenyth Paltrow stepped on stage to accept her 1999 Oscar for Shakespeare In Love, no one outside Hollywood's elite knew that the man behind both that film's creation and its celebrated parade through awards season was a monster. Paltrow first met Harvey Weinstein when she was only 22 and the producer immediately sucked her into his familiar pattern. She was invited to his Beverly Hills hotel suite for a "work meeting." Weinstein allegedly touched her, then "[suggested] they head to the bedroom for massages," according to The New York Times. Paltrow says she was "petrified." She refused Weinstein's advances and feared the price would be her career. But she mustered the courage to confide in then-boyfriend Brad Pitt. Pitt was enraged and in a now-legendary story, he confronted Weinstein at the Broadway premiere of Hamlet in 1995. "If you ever make her feel uncomfortable again, I'll kill you," Pitt threatened, according to Paltrow speaking to Howard Stern. The Goop mogul says she still loves Pitt for this. "He leveraged his fame and power to protect me at a time when I didn't have fame or power yet." Pitt confirmed the story to Christiane Amanpour of CNN, "At that moment, I was just a boy from the Ozarks on the playground, and that's ... how we confronted things." Weinstein finally faced justice in 2020, and was sentenced to 23 years in prison on convictions for third-degree rape and a criminal sexual act, committed on two separate associates.

Reese Witherspoon

Reese Witherspoon has accomplished a lot in her time on this mortal coil. But the Legally Blonde star told Oprah for OWN in 2018 that the hardest thing she's ever done is leaving a psychologically and verbally abusive relationship. Much like Tina Turner, who was unable to extricate herself until Ike Turner's infidelity was rubbed in her nose, Witherspoon felt equally trapped until she reached her own breaking point, "A line got drawn in the sand, and it got crossed, and my brain just switched ... I just couldn't go any further." Witherspoon says finally standing up for herself changed her in a fundamental way because of how badly the abuse had "damage[d] her self-esteem." Witherspoon has not named her abusers, but also says she was sexually assaulted as a teenager. "[I feel] true disgust at the director who assaulted me when I was 16 years old and anger at the agents and the producers who made me feel that silence was a condition of my employment," she said during a speech at the Elle Women in Hollywood event in 2017 (via People). "And I wish that I could tell you that was an isolated incident in my career, but sadly it wasn't. I've had multiple experiences of harassment and sexual assault and I don't speak about them very often."

Amy Schumer

Amy Schumer has spoken about the self-gaslighting that can happen in abusive relationships where the victim tries to rationalize the physical violence for the abuser. "I got hurt by 'accident' a lot," she told Oprah in 2018, adding, "It was, he didn't realize how hard he'd grabbed me or shook me or pushed me, and I would fall and hit something, and then I'd be hurt." The comedian says the gaslighting goes deeper still though. "I would feel bad for him, after he hurt me, about how bad he would feel," she admitted. Schumer went on to put this paradox succinctly, "You don't choose to fall in love with someone who hurts you, and you can be in love with someone who hurts you." Schumer added that she can still picture a time where she was "thrown on the hood of a car," among other violent incidents. In her memoir, The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo, the comic also recalls she lost her virginity at age 17 to her boyfriend at the time, while she was asleep. She says there was no consent, no discussion, and now considers it rape. It's unclear if these anecdotes are from separate relationships but like many victims, Schumer told Oprah of her own vivid breaking point, where she abruptly fled the scene of abuse, shoes in hand, running through backyards, and "afraid for [her] life."

Oprah Winfrey

For decades, Oprah Winfrey has been a clearinghouse for women to tell their stories, and if you've been reading this list, there are no signs she's slowing down. After letting Amy Schumer tell her story, Oprah chimed in about her own abusive relationship in her 20's where she says her boyfriend once slammed a door on her hand. Like many other victims of abuse Oprah also says she had a moment of clarity where she was quite literally able to see herself and her relationship for what it was. The anonymous partner of the young Oprah had knocked her over in front of a hallway mirror. "And I saw myself. And I started to cry for this woman that I had allowed myself [to become]," she revealed during her chat with Schumer. Oprah also recounts the story of a cousin locked in an abusive relationship and admits she deluding herself into thinking it couldn't happen to her, "I will never be that woman," she emphasized, adding, "And I held myself superior to that." But Winfrey goes on to conclude the true takeaway: "There is no that kind of woman."

Kate Moss and Pete Doherty

Sometimes abusive relationships are mutual — or at least difficult to disentangle. Kate Moss and Pete Doherty's drug-addled romance went off the rails from the jump. The couple met at a party in 2005 and were even engaged at one point. "I love her with all of my heart. I love her bones. I love her brains," Doherty doted in 2007 chat with Mirror. In a separate interview around the same time with The Sun (via People), however, he lamented, "I was always dodging bullets, it became like the Vietnam War." The rocker says he and Moss were watching a DVD one evening (remember those?) when she accused him of having an affair. Moss allegedly began hurling insults and "kicked [Doherty] in the head." He recalled to Mirror, "She's got an awful temper." Moss reportedly demanded Doherty quit heroin (he also admits crack use) but in 2005, the Daily Mirror published images from a hidden camera that allegedly showed Moss doing lines of cocaine at a party, then chasing them with shots of vodka and whiskey, according to Vanity Fair. Moss then allegedly taunted Doherty that the cocaine was all gone before he could get to it. The grainy video is still circulating. Moss lost numerous modeling contracts when the story broke and soon entered rehab. The relationship was on and off after that until it fizzled in 2007. Nonetheless, Doherty mused to Mirror after the split, "If I had Kate back then life wouldn't be so bad, would it?"

Pamela Anderson

Speaking of toxic rock and roll romances: Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee. The couple met on New Year's Eve in 1994. Six weeks later they had their first date, which turned into a 96-hour marathon culminating in a wedding in February 1995. The couple filmed their honeymoon, all of it, and when a disgruntled electrician stole their safe, the entire world caught a graphic glimpse of their marital bliss in what Rolling Stone dubbed "the World's Most Infamous Sex Tape." Then, in 1998, an argument spiraled out of control. According to Rolling Stone, Lee claims Anderson struck him first. But he admits to retaliating and kicking Anderson, and then wrestling their son Brandon from her arms while pushing her into a blackboard in the child's room. The Motley Crue rocker was arrested and charged with felony spousal abuse. He was sentenced to six months in jail, according to the Los Angeles Times. The couple reconciled on and off for the next 12 years, finally calling it quits for good in 2010. "There was Tommy and then there was nobody else," Anderson told People. "He was the love of my life. We had a wild and crazy beginning that was too much for both of us."