From Macaulay’s father to Madonna’s brother: When the enemy bears your last name

Be it driven by greed, envy or revenge, sometimes a celebrity’s biggest problem comes from within their own family

Beyoncé with her father, Joan Crawford with her daughter and Madonna with her brother: examples of how those who should love a celebrity the most can be the ones who end up betraying them.
Beyoncé with her father, Joan Crawford with her daughter and Madonna with her brother: examples of how those who should love a celebrity the most can be the ones who end up betraying them.Getty Images / Pepa Ortiz (collage)
Eva Güimil

While fame and success usually come with the support of loved ones, some celebrities face a harsh reality when they find out that those who should have been their biggest allies are, in fact, their biggest problem. There have been many instances of show business figures who found themselves betrayed by their own blood, either for personal revenge or gain. Here is an overview of the most notable cases of famous family feuds.

Macaulay Culkin and his father Kit Culkin in 1993.
Macaulay Culkin and his father Kit Culkin in 1993.Ron Galella (Ron Galella Collection via Getty)

Kit Culkin, Macaulay and Kieran Culkin’s father

The tradition of child artists being seen by their parents as a combination of ATM and retirement pension plan is as old as show business itself. One of the first child film stars, Jackie Coogan, the star of The Kid alongside Charlie Chaplin, would become infamous for inspiring what became known as the “Coogan law”: when he reached the age of 21, Jackie discovered that his mother had squandered the money he had earned, estimated at $4 million. Although he never recovered that amount, the young man’s lawsuit gave rise to a law that mandates that a trust fund be established for part of a child actor’s earnings, which must remain untouched until they come of age.

Nevertheless, cases similar to Coogan’s have been sadly recurring. Perhaps the best known is that of Macaulay Culkin, who became a star at the age of 10 when he appeared in Home Alone. Macaulay would describe his father, Kit Culkin, as a “mentally and physically” violent person who abused him and did not respect his desire to work less (in the middle of puberty) and, therefore, reduce his income – which had already taken the entire family from rags to riches. “My father was jealous of me,” Macaulay would confess. “Everything he had tried to do in life, I excelled at before I was 10 years old.” Just in case, Kit repeated the move by taking two more of his children, Kieran and Rory, to auditions.

When Kit Culkin and his wife Patricia Brentrup divorced, a violent dispute broke out over the custody of their seven children, and especially over control of the trust fund that had been created with Macaulay’s money. Patricia won and Kit disappeared from family life, announcing that he no longer considered Macaulay his son. After a while, Macaulay left show business, with his brother Kieran finding success in the industry. When he received a Golden Globe in 2024 for his role in Succession, Kieran dedicated it to “my wonderful mom. Mom, thank you so much for doing everything you did for us, you’re an amazing woman.”

Ronald Fenty and his children, the singer and businesswoman Rihanna and Rajad Fenty in 2012.
Ronald Fenty and his children, the singer and businesswoman Rihanna and Rajad Fenty in 2012. Lester Cohen (WireImage)

Ronald Fenty, Rihanna’s father

Rihanna’s childhood in Barbados was far from idyllic. Her father, Ronald Fenty, was addicted to crack and alcohol and abused her mother, Monica Braithwaite. Rihanna’s relationship with her father has been full of ups and downs, fights and reconciliations, typical of a situation of codependency marked by an addicted father. Many even saw her past with an abusive parent as one of the reasons why she had an abusive relationship with singer Chris Brown. In any case, Ronald cannot accuse Rihanna of being resentful: in 2008, the singer bought him a mansion in Barbados for $1.8 million. That same year, when Ronald was thrown out of his daughter’s tour for his drunken behavior, she paid for the rehabilitation that prevented him from going to prison. In 2014, at the Diamond Ball gala organized by the artist, Ronald arrived drunk and fell on the red carpet, from which he was discreetly removed.

The conflicts reached the courts in 2017. That year, it emerged that Ronald had attempted to trademark a company as “Fenty,” which in addition to being his legal last name, was the name of his daughter’s million-dollar makeup and lingerie company. The singer’s lawyers prevented him from doing so, considering that it would lower the value of the Rihanna brand. But they were not aware of the extent of his actions: in 2019, the singer filed a lawsuit against her father and his partner Moses Perkins after finding out that he was posing as her agent behind her back to negotiate concerts worth more than $15 million. In September 2021, shortly before the trial began, the singer dropped the lawsuit.

The previous year, when he got sick with Covid-19, Ronald claimed that his life had been saved thanks to the ventilator that Rihanna bought him. Maybe that is the solution that she found: having her father close, but not too close. A good example is the moment when she announced her second pregnancy by showing her belly during the halftime show of the 2023 Super Bowl. Ronald did not know anything and found out at the same time as everyone else... but from a seat that his daughter had gotten him to watch the show.

Madonna and her brother Christopher Ciccone in Paris, in 1990.
Madonna and her brother Christopher Ciccone in Paris, in 1990. ARNAL (Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Christopher Ciccone, Madonna’s brother

From younger brother to professional collaborator and, from there, to sworn enemy: Christopher Ciccone’s career is inseparable from that of his sister. From the moment Madonna achieved success in the music industry, Christopher started working for her as a personal assistant, artistic director and decorator. According to him, she needed an extremely trustworthy person and knew that she could count on her brother. It all faded away, however, when Madonna did not hire him for her Drowned World Tour in 2001.

As Christopher told in detail in his 2008 book Life with My Sister Madonna, it all happened as a result of her marriage to Guy Ritchie. Christopher claimed that his brother-in-law was homophobic and had caused the estrangement between them, which began when she accused him of swindling her “after 20 years of being the only person that hadn’t.” In the book, he claimed that his sister had paid him less than what he was entitled to for his work and that she had outed him against his will. He also reproached her for only allocating $500 a month to the care of their 97-year-old blind grandmother, aside from her medical bills. According to some publications, in recent years their relationship has recovered.

Joan Crawford pictured with her daughter Christina, who was 7 years old at the time.
Joan Crawford pictured with her daughter Christina, who was 7 years old at the time. Bettmann (Bettmann Archive)

Christina Crawford, Joan Crawford’s daughter

When the actress Joan Crawford passed away in 1977, it emerged that she had distributed her inheritance in a strikingly unequal manner: the bulk of the money went to her twin daughters, Cindy and Cathy, while the eldest, Christina and Christopher, received nothing. The will included the puzzling phrase “for reasons which are well known to them.” Soon, Christina made sure that the rest of the world knew those reasons, too. A year later, Mommy Dearest went on sale, a memoir in which Christina tore apart her mother’s memory and which became the standard by which all scandalous star biographies were measured.

First, she revealed that the star had bought her illegally, bypassing the law that prevented single women from adopting. She also claimed that she first named her Joan and then changed it to Christina on a whim, and that her younger sisters were not actually twins, but that Crawford decided to label them as such because she felt like it. According to the book, this erratic, irresponsible behavior was a constant, along with beatings and hysterical fits of cleaning. She also accused her of being controlling, obsessive, jealous and stingy with money. The climax came when Christina, who also tried to be an actress, said that Joan had stolen a role from her in a soap opera, replacing her when she fell ill, made up and characterized to look 30 years younger.

The book (and its subsequent 1981 film adaptation starring Faye Dunaway) sparked a huge debate among those who saw it as a pack of lies and exaggerations (Crawford’s youngest daughters defended their mother) and those who considered it to be one of the first public denouncements of child abuse. Its success gave rise to a bizarre trend of scandalous memoirs by other famous children, such as My Mother’s Keeper, by B.D. Hyman, the daughter of Bette Davis, who had been a great rival of Crawford but still expressed her deep disgust when Mommie Dearest was published.

Beyoncé Knowles and her father Matthew Knowles in 2005.
Beyoncé Knowles and her father Matthew Knowles in 2005.Frank Micelotta (Getty Images)

Mathew Knowles, Beyoncé's and Solange’s father

Having your father as your manager is a delicate situation. Miley Cyrus, Kim Kardashian and Venus and Serena Williams know it well: both possibilities, success and failure, can lead to the destruction of the relationship. Mathew Knowles was selling medical equipment when his eldest daughter, Beyoncé, proved that she had a great talent for singing and dancing. Although the girl was only 11 years old, her father quit his job to dedicate himself full-time to her group, Girl’s Tyme. He changed its name, fired its less talented members and directed its professional footsteps with an iron fist until he achieved the fame of Destiny’s Child.

Over time, former members of the group would accuse Mathew of favoring Beyoncé and misappropriating money, something he has always denied, although he has defended the toughness with which he managed, first the group and then his daughter, as the only way to achieve such success. The family-business association suffered a severe blow in 2009, when Mathew and Tina Knowles separated after it was revealed that he had fathered a child with his mistress, actress Alexandra Wright. Two years later, Beyoncé and her father announced that he was no longer her manager. The official statement claimed that it was amicable decision, but TMZ reported that, through an audit, the singer’s lawyers had found out that he had stolen money from her tours.

Mathew Knowles followed a similar path as the manager of his youngest daughter, Solange, with whom he also ended up breaking off his professional relationship. When Mathew married Gina Avery in 2013, none of his daughters attended the wedding. Always cryptic when it comes to public statements, Beyoncé has spoken through her music, comparing her husband’s power and influence in her life to that of her father in the album Lemonade, with lines like “Did he make you forget your own name? Did he convince you he was a god?” Currently, Mathew claims to have a great family relationship as a father and grandfather (although he has rarely been seen with his daughters in recent years) and divides his time between being a lecturer, a businessman (in the cannabis industry, among other ventures) and an activist against breast cancer in men.

Angelina Jolie and her father Jon Voight, in 2011.
Angelina Jolie and her father Jon Voight, in 2011.Kevin Winter (Getty Images)

Jon Voight, Angelina Jolie’s father

When Angelina Jolie became famous in the mid-1990s, her father Jon Voight’s golden years were a thing of the past. The actor, who had won an Oscar in 1979 for Coming Home, had suddenly become “Angelina’s father.” And the use he has made of the title has not been particularly becoming. Their relationship has been marked by fights and reconciliations, as well as Voight’s constant criticism of his daughter in the press. The discord began early: Angelina was only one year old when Voight left his family to go with student Stacey Pickren. In Jolie’s version, her father neglected her and her brother, both emotionally and financially, and only remembered them when he could show them off on a red carpet.

As Jolie rose to fame as a wild star in the then-saccharine Hollywood scene, she faced criticism on multiple occasions from her father, who frowned upon her bisexuality and her penchant for (literally) sealing her love with blood. They filmed Tomb Raider together, but that did not help improve their relationship: according to him, she refused to see him; according to her, he was aggressive and did not respect her. The press found out that Angelina had adopted her eldest son, Maddox, in Cambodia, because Jon had announced that he was looking forward to meeting his grandson, shattering the discretion that she sought.

On other occasions, he claimed that Angelina had serious mental problems. Since then, with Angelina’s life always under the spotlight, her father’s presence in her life has been ambivalent. One of the latest examples of their complex relationship has been Voight’s criticism of Angelina’s statements of concern for the civilians in Gaza.

The American tabloid magazine ‘Star,’ in which Meghan Markle’s sister, Samantha, tells intimate things about her.
The American tabloid magazine ‘Star,’ in which Meghan Markle’s sister, Samantha, tells intimate things about her.

Samantha Markle, Meghan Markle’s sister

In the explosive cocktail of family relationships that has been the history of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, several people could accuse each other of betrayal: Harry of William and William of Harry, just to give a quick example. However, few characters embody the archetype of fame-hungry relative as well as Samantha Markle, the half-sister of the Duchess of Sussex. According to Meghan, their relationship was practically non-existent — until she got engaged to Prince Harry and the media began to delve into her family tree, where they found Samantha.

According to Meghan, Samantha changed her last name back to Markle to make their link more evident, and she dedicated herself to selling lies to the press and spreading intimate details, much like their father, Thomas, did. Samantha did not take long to publish her own book, The Diary of Princess Pushy’s Sister, where she claimed that Meghan had orchestrated a defamation campaign against her and her father. She even sued her sister for £75,000 (approximately $95,000) for spreading “demonstrably false and malicious statements” in her interview with Oprah. Samantha accused Meghan of lying about being an only child and exaggerating her childhood poverty. The lawsuit was dismissed several times, but Samantha’s lawyers are still trying to bring the case to trial.

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