Celebrities Who Suffered the Tragic Loss of a Child

Celebrities Who Suffered the Tragic Loss of a Child

It’s hard enough for celebrities to live their lives under the white-hot glare of the press, and even more difficult with the omnipresence of social media. The bill payment for fame becomes even more onerous when the child of a star dies too soon. As the recent passing of Elvis Presley’s daughter, Lisa Marie, reminds us, it is still sad when the offspring of a star dies suddenly even after their celebrity parent is gone.

24/7 Tempo has compiled a partial list of celebrities whose children died tragically, using sources such as Billboard and IMDb, an online movie and TV database owned by Amazon, as well as various newspaper websites.

Eight of the children on this list passed away at the age of 4 or younger. Three of them died by drowning – Aaren Simpson (daughter of O.J. Simpson), Lou Costello Jr. (son of the comedian), and Christopher Quinn (son of actor Anthony Quinn).

The kids of television luminaries Carol Burnett, Mary Tyler Moore, and Johnny Carson all died violently. Children of Nick Cannon, Prince, and Charlie Chaplin died before their first birthdays from brain cancer, a rare genetic disorder, and possible birth defects, respectively. (These are 30 famous people who died on their birthdays.)

Singer Dean Martin and comedian Jerry Lewis comprised one of the most successful comedy tandems of all time and were one of entertainment’s biggest acts in the 1950s – and each lost a son. Martin’s boy perished in a plane crash, while Lewis’s youngest son, Joseph, likely died from a drug overdose.

Academy Award recognition was of little solace to Regina King, Marlon Brando, and Paul Newman, all of whom lost children either by suicide or drug overdose. Rock ‘n’ roll legends Eric Clapton and Robert Plant each lost sons at an early age, and each singer dealt with their tragedy by writing songs in memory of their deceased children. (These are the musicians with the most emotionally diverse songs.)

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Eric Clapton
> Child: Conor Clapton (1987-1991)
> Cause of death: Fall from a window

In 1991, Conor Clapton, the 4-year-old son of rock superstar Eric Clapton, fell to his death from a New York City apartment building after a window had been accidentally left open during janitorial work. Clapton channeled his grief into the song “Tears in Heaven,” which won multiple Grammy awards.

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Loretta Lynn
> Child: Jack Benny Lynn (1949-1984)
> Cause of death: Drowning

Jack Benny Lynn, country star Loretta Lynn’s eldest son, drowned trying to ford the Duck River in Tennessee on horseback. Authorities believe the young man fell off his horse and hit his head on a rock. The tragedy occurred near the family’s ranch.

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Carol Burnett
> Child: Carrie Hamilton (1964-2002)
> Cause of death: Lung and brain cancer

Comedian and television star Carol Burnett suffered a tragedy in 2002 when her daughter Carrie Hamilton passed away after cancer had spread from her lungs to her brain. Hamilton, an actress/singer who appeared in the movie “Fame,” had struggled earlier in life with alcohol and drug addiction.

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Mary Tyler Moore
> Child: Richard Meeker Jr. (1954-1980)
> Cause of death: Gunshot

Richard Meeker Jr., son of television icon Mary Tyler Moore, died following an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1980. Ironically, that same year, Moore starred in the movie “Ordinary People” in which her character deals with the loss of a son who accidentally drowns.

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Marlon Brando
> Children: Cheyenne Brando (1970-1995)
> Cause of death: Suicide by hanging

Iconic actor Marlon Brando’s son, Christian, the oldest of Brando’s 11 biological and adopted children, died of complications from pneumonia in 2008 (Brando died in 2004). He had led a complicated life that included killing the boyfriend of his half-sibling Cheyenne, for which he served five years in prison, and being implicated in the death of actor Robert Blake’s wife. Cheyenne, an actress and model who lived a troubled life, hanged herself in 1995.

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Nick Cannon
> Child: Zen Cannon (2021)
> Cause of death: Brain cancer

Nick Cannon, the host of the television performance show “The Masked Singer,” lost his 5-month-old son Zen to brain cancer in 2021. Zen was one of Cannon’s 12 children.

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Johnny Carson
> Child: Richard Carson (1952-1991)
> Cause of death: Car tragedy

Fans of Johnny Carson joined with the famed late-night TV host in mourning the death of his son Richard. Carson devoted a segment of his show to displaying the work of his son, who was a photographer. The younger Carson died when his car slid down an embankment in California in 1991, the year before his father retired after hosting “The Tonight Show” for almost 30 years.

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Anthony Quinn
> Child: Christopher Quinn (1938-1941)
> Cause of death: Drowning

Swarthy actor Anthony Quinn, who appeared in epics such as “The Guns of Navarone” and “Lawrence of Arabia,” suffered a tragedy early in his career. His nearly 3-year-old son Christopher drowned in a pond on property owned by comedian W.C. Fields. The boy’s mother was Katherine DeMille, daughter of famed Hollywood director Cecil B. DeMille.

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Mike Tyson
> Child: Exodus Tyson (2005-2009)
> Cause of death: Accidental strangulation

Exodus Tyson, the 4-year-old daughter of former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson, died by accidental strangulation at his home in Phoenix. The child was apparently playing on a treadmill when a cord dangling off the workout device ended up wrapped around her neck and hanged her.

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Anna Nicole Smith
> Child: Daniel Smith (1986-2006)
> Cause of death: Drug overdose

Daniel Smith, the 20-year-old actor son of former Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith, died from a combination of lethal drugs in the Bahamas. The younger Smith had flown to the Bahamas to be with his mother, who was giving birth to another child, a girl.

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Mia Farrow
> Children: Thaddeus Farrow (1989-2016); Tam Farrow (1981-2000); Lark Previn (1973-2008)
> Cause of death: Suicide; accidental prescription overdose; complications of AIDS

Actress Mia Farrow (“Rosemary’s Baby,” “Broadway Danny Rose”), who had 14 biological and adopted children, has lost three of them tragically. Son Thaddeus Farrowkilled himself, daughter Tam passed away because of what her mother said was an “accidental prescription overdose,” and daughter Lark died of what Farrow said was “complications of AIDS.”

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Michael Madsen
> Child: Hudson Madsen (1995-2022)
> Cause of death: Suspected suicide

Tough-guy actor Michael Madsen (“”Reservoir Dogs”) lost his son Hudson in a suspected suicide in 2022. The younger Madsen apparently died from a gunshot wound to the head, according to a spokeswoman for the Department of the Medical Examiner in Honolulu. His death deeply affected Madsen, who fell into a depression and was arrested for trespassing, an action some attributed to his emotional state following the death of his son.

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Dr. Dre
> Child: Andre Young Jr. (1988-2008)
> Cause of death: Drug overdose

Andre Young Jr., son of rapper Dr. Dre, died from an overdose of heroin and morphine, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Coroner. The 20-year-old Young was found unresponsive by his mother, Jenita Porter, 40, in their home in Woodland Hills, California.

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Bruce Dern/Diane Ladd
> Child: Diane Dern (1957-1960)
> Cause of death: Brain hemorrhage

Diane Dern, first daughter of Oscar-nominated actors Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd, died tragically before her third birthday. She accidentally fell into the family pool and hit her head causing a brain hemorrhage.

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Roy Orbison
> Children: Roy Orbison Jr. (1958-1968) and Anthony Orbison (1962-1968)
> Cause of death: House fire

Roy Orbison, who sang movingly about heartbreak (“Only the Only”), had experienced his own anguish in 1966 when his first wife, Claudette, was killed in a motorcycle accident. More tragedy was to come. Two years later, his sons Roy Jr. and Anthony both died in a house fire.

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> Child: Amiir (1996)
> Cause of death: Complications from a rare genetic disorder

Musical icon Prince married Mayte García, a resident of Germany, in 1996 and she soon became pregnant. She gave birth in October of that year to a son, Amiir. He died just a week later, the result of complications from the rare genetic disorder Pfeiffer syndrome type 2.

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Bill Cosby
> Child: Ennis Cosby (1969-1997)
> Cause of death: Shooting

Before his own personal misconduct caught up with him, comedian Bill Cosby experienced heartbreak with the death of his son. In 1997, Cosby’s son Ennis was shot to death in a robbery attempt on the California roadside while he was trying to change a tire.

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John Travolta/Kelly Preston
> Child: Jett Travolta (1992-2009)
> Cause of death: Complications from a seizure

Jett Travolta, the oldest son of actors John Travolta and Kelly Preston, died after suffering a seizure while he was with his family in the Bahamas to celebrate the new year in 2009. Jett died after hitting his head on a bathtub following a seizure. Jett, who was 16, had a history of seizures since he was 2 years old.

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Charlie Chaplin
> Children: Norman Spencer Chaplin (1919); Charlie Chaplin Jr. (1926-1968)
> Cause of death: Blood clot; SIDS

Cinema’s greatest star, Charlie Chaplin, had 11 children from four marriages, and two of his children passed away before he did. His son Norman Spencer Chaplin died in 1919 three days after he was born from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. In 1968, his son Charlie Chaplin, Jr., died at age 42 of a blood clot in the lungs.

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Paul Newman
> Child: Scott Newman (1950-1978)
> Cause of death: Drug overdose

Scott Newman, the only son of Oscar winner Paul Newman, was following in his dad’s footsteps with roles in the films “The Great Waldo Pepper,” “The Towering Inferno,” and “Fraternity Row.” But his career ended in 1978 when he overdosed on a combination of painkillers and liquor following a motorcycle accident.

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Dean Martin
> Child: Dean Paul Martin (1951-1987)
> Cause of death: Plane crash

Dean Paul Martin, the son of crooner Dean Martin, was killed in a plane crash while serving in the Air National Guard in 1987. The younger Martin was a captain when his F4-C Phantom slammed into the San Bernardino Mountains killing him and weapons officer Capt. Ramon Ortiz instantly.

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Lou Costello
> Child: Lou Costello Jr. (1942-1943)
> Cause of death: Drowning

Lou Costello, one half of the successful comedy team of Abbott and Costello, lost his infant son, Lou Costello Jr., in a drowning accident in California two days before his first birthday.

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Tim Roth
> Child: Cormac Roth (1996-2022)
> Cause of death: Germ cell cancer

Cormac Roth was the son of Tim Roth, the intense British actor known for his collaborations with director Quentin Tarantino. The younger Roth lost his battle to germ cell cancer in 2022. The aspiring musician was 25 years old.

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Jerry Lewis
> Child: Joseph Lewis (1964-2009)
> Cause of death: Suicide

Comedian Jerry Lewis had six sons, of whom Joseph was the youngest. Their relationship was not a loving one and Joseph committed suicide in 2009. When Jerry Lewis died in 2017, he explicitly disinherited all of six of his sons and their descendants, without explanation.

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Regina King
> Child: Ian Alexander Jr. (1995-2022)
> Cause of death: Suicide

Ian Alexander Jr., the only son of Oscar winner actor Regina King (“If Beale Street Could Talk”), committed suicide in January of 2022. He was the son of record producer Ian Alexander Sr. and had worked as a DJ.

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O.J. Simpson
> Child: Aaren Simpson (1977-1979)
> Cause of death: Drowning

The former football great turned actor and then felon experienced tragedy earlier in his adult life. Simpson’s daughter, Aaren, died in August 1979, drowning in the family swimming pool just before her second birthday.

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Robert Plant
> Child: Karac Plant (1972-1977)
> Cause of death: Stomach virus

Robert Plant, lead singer of classic rock band Led Zeppelin, lost his son Karac to a stomach virus in 1977. The child was just 5 years old. The tragedy inspired Plant to write several songs, among them, “All My Love” from Led Zeppelin’s final studio album, “In Through the Out Door,” released in 1979.

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