It is no secret that every person on this earth got here in a very similar way- from their birth mother. Perhaps not as well-known is that there are many people who their biological parents did not raise. There are probably a hundred different reasons why a child does not remain in the care of their birth parents, which typically boils down to the parent’s inability to provide for the child. As an adoption specialist of nearly a decade, it has become common knowledge in my daily vocabulary to discuss permanency and identify how to meet a child’s specific needs. Due to various circumstances, birth parents may be unable to care for their child and may choose to pursue an adoption plan. Many times, this leads to the child being placed for adoption with a family who is suitable to care for the child permanently. 


There are many stereotypes and stigmas related to foster children and adopted children, such as mislabeling their behaviors or anticipating that the child may live a troubled life. It may surprise you that there are many prolific figures who their biological parents did not raise. An article from Reader’s Digest from 12/02/2022 identifies 25 famous adopted people. One of the most well-known and easily identifiable is Steve Jobs, founder of Apple. He and his adoptive sister were adopted by a couple who were unable to have biological children. He met his biological sister when he was in his late 20s. Famous actor Keegan-Michael Key was adopted by two social workers and was raised in Detroit. Per during an interview from 2013, Key discusses his biracial ethnicity and how that was mirrored with his adoptive parents- a white mother and a black father. He reports that he has a great relationship with his birth mother now and that it has been very healing to have her in his life. 


Among the 25 famous people from Reader’s Digest are actors, musicians, and sports players. Known for her party-going lifestyle, Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi was adopted at the age of 6 months. Musician Liz Phair had adoptive parents who were very open about her being adopted, and she has never tried to locate her birth parents. Musician Faith Hill was adopted into a loving home but had a yearning. She did eventually find and meet her birth parents and biological brother. JC Chasez from ‘N’Sync was raised by his birth mother until age five, at which time she reached out to her former foster parents, who ended up adopting JC. A friend of her birth parents adopted Nicole Richie. Nelson Mandela was nine years old when he was adopted after the death of his father. Sarah McLauchlan was age nine when she learned she was adopted. She later met her biological mother, who had given birth at age 19. His aunt and uncle raised John Lennon from about age five after his parents’ marriage failed. Jamie Foxx was adopted at seven months old. Ted Danson was adopted at a young age and later adopted children with his second wife. His maternal grandparents raised Eric Clapton, as his mother gave birth to him at a young age. Although he was unaware until later in life, and the couple did not legally adopt him, it did not impact the love he received. 


A short clip on Forever Families’ social media for Black History Month included a list of famous African Americans who have significantly contributed to our society. These include Keyshia Cole, musician; Colin Kaepernick, civil rights activist and football player; Gary Coleman, actor and comedian; Tony Shellman, co-founder of Enyce fashion label; Anita Baker, musician; Kirk Franklin, musician; Bo Diddley, musician; and others previously mentioned in this blog. 


Reader’s Digest also includes Dave Thomas in their list of adopted famous people. He is the founder of the fast food chain Wendy’s, which is named after his youngest daughter. Dave was adopted at 6 weeks old and has set up the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. According to the foundation’s website, donations to the nonprofit help to raise awareness about the need for foster care adoption, advocate for adoption benefits in the workplace, and support the expansion of the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program. This program consists of “adoption recruiters who are dedicated to finding forever families for children in foster care who are too often overlooked.” It further states that a national evaluation revealed that a child referred to the program is up to 3 times more likely to be adopted! 


According to the Clinton White House Archives, former President Bill Clinton was raised by various family members throughout his childhood. His father had died in a car accident just months before Bill Clinton was born, and his mother had to travel for work. Bill Clinton has dramatically impacted the child welfare community as he signed the Adoption and Safe Families Act in 1997, which includes reasonable efforts and safety requirements for foster care and adoption placements, incentives for providing permanent families for children, and additional improvements and reforms.  


Although every adoption journey is unique, similarities are prevalent in most experiences- adoptive families accept and love a child when the child is in need of a permanent family. These families can include relatives, family friends, step-parents, and foster parents, to name a few. Some children have a strong desire to locate their biological parents, while others are content without meeting them. Ultimately, it is the goal and expectation of the adoptive families to ensure that their child feels a sense of belonging in a safe and loving permanent home. In achieving this goal, this will open doors to so many incredible opportunities for adoptive children to do great things. Adoptive parents are encouraged to talk openly about adoption in general. They can also talk about famous adopted people to show their adopted child that many others have had a similar journey and successful and meaningful careers.

Famous people mentioned in this blog:

  • Steve Jobs, founder of Apple
  • Keegan-Michael Key, actor
  • Keyshia Cole, musician
  • Colin Kaepernick, civil rights activist and football player
  • Gary Coleman, actor and comedian 
  • Tony Shellman, co-founder of Enyce fashion label
  • Anita Baker, musician
  • Kirk Franklin, musician
  • Bo Diddley, musician
  • Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, reality TV personality 
  • Liz Phair, musician
  • Faith Hill, musician
  • JC Chasez, musician from ‘N’Sync
  • Nicole Richie, actress and fashion designer
  • Nelson Mandela, politician/ first president of South Africa
  • Sarah McLauchlan, musician
  • John Lennon, musician
  • Jamie Foxx, actor, comedian, and singer
  • Ted Danson, actor
  • Eric Clapton, musician
  • Dave Thomas, founder of fast food chain Wendy’s, the Dave Thomas Foundation, and Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program
  • Bill Clinton, politician, former US president