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19 celebrities detail their heartbreaking experience with grief

These celebrities are inspiring us to open up…

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Chloe Ash
Chloe AshSocial Media Content Producer
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Grief is a painful loss that everyone will have to deal with throughout their lives, and it's important when celebrities speak out about it in a bid to reassure us that we are not alone. Talking about it can inspire and motivate others to share their heartbreak and help them in their recovery process.

HELLO! has looked back at how some celebrities have dealt with losing a loved one and reminded us that is it okay to not be okay...

John Travolta

Just nine months after his wife Kelly Preston died of cancer, John Travolta detailed his experience with grief – at the time, he explained every journey is "different" for someone else. The actress passed away in July 2020, at the age of 57, following a two-year battle with breast cancer.

READ: Olivia Newton-John reflects on John Travolta's 'beautiful' late wife Kelly Preston

In a candid interview with Esquire Spain, John explained: "I have learned that mourning someone, mourning, is personal. Mourning is individual and experiencing your own journey is what can lead to healing. This is different from someone else's journey. The most important thing you can do to help another when they are in mourning is to allow them to live it and not complicate it with yours. That's my experience."

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Louis Tomlinson

The One Direction star suffered serious tragedy in 2019 when his sister Félicité died at just 18 from an accidental overdose. The tragic death comes just two years after the former X Factor contestant lost his 43-year-old mother Johannah following a battle with leukemia. Five days before the death of his sister, Louis opened up in an interview for Lorraine about dealing with grief following his mother's death and how his new single, Two of Us, was written in her honour.

The singer told Dan Wootton: "I think that's why I feel good about singing the lyrics because it was a moment for me to speak about it publicly. My mum was always obsessed with the idea of me playing piano and they said what about me playing the opening verse on piano," he added. "Normally I might have said no but knowing that she liked that idea... again, I kind of just zoned into that idea and just went for it."

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Debbie McGee

In 2016, television personality Debbie lost her husband Paul Daniels who passed away just five weeks after being diagnosed with an incurable brain tumour. In an interview with The Wright Stuff in 2018, the former Strictly Come Dancing contestant explains that she takes "everyday as it comes" and "wouldn't function" without focusing on her work.

The star explained that on most days she can recall "memories of Paul and really think about what we did together and this amazing life we had together." But it is not always easy to recall beautiful memories, as the magician's assistant explained: "Other days I have to focus on work, because If I did that, I would just…the floodgates would open, I just wouldn't function."

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Celine Dion

Celine Dion's heart will go on for her late husband and manager Rene Angelil, who she was married to for 21 years. The 73-year-old died of throat cancer in 2016, with Celine explaining on Lorraine that he was the "greatest man in the world."

Previously, in 2018, the Power of Love singer told The Project: "For three years, my husband did not have a sip of water or food. He was eating through a tube. The only thing I hoped while he was in three years of agony, I wanted him to leave in peace. I wanted him to feel so light and no worries. He had a little heart attack, it's so quick, he didn't even feel anything. I thought that he was like liberated from his pain."

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Alexandra Burke

Singer Alexandra Burke revealed that her 53-year-old mother Melissa Bell sadly died on the same day that she took part in the Strictly Come Dancing launch show. Ahead of her first Mother's Day without Soul II Soul star Melissa, Alexandra told HELLO!: "I owe everything I have in my life to her. This passion inside me, I absolutely inherited it from her. Losing her is still quite raw for me so I'm taking it one hour at a time."

To pay tribute to her precious mum, who battled kidney disease for nine years, Alexandra penned the poignant song The Truth Is for her album of the same name. "I wrote it for her," she says of the track, which includes the line: "I get scared of life without you. The thing is, I've always been the kind of person to sugarcoat how I feel. When people asked me how I was, I used to reply that I was great and everything was fine. But now I'm learning to be honest and that if something is wrong I talk about it."

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Michelle Williams

Hollywood was left heartbroken when Heath Ledger died after a cardiac arrest in 2008 aged just 28. He left behind his daughter Matilda Rose who he had with ex love Michelle Williams. The pair had dated for three years after meeting on the set of Brokeback Mountain, and went their separate ways in 2007, just five months before his death. Despite their split, Michelle remained close to the father of her child up until his shock death, and has since opened up about her grief.

Speaking to ABC, the star said: "In a strange way, I miss that year, because all those possibilities that existed then are gone. It didn’t seem unlikely to me that he could walk through a door or could appear from behind a bush. It was a year of very magical thinking, and in some ways I’m sad to be moving further and further away from it.” Talking about giving her daughter a normal upbringing, she added: “It is of more importance to me than anything else in my life." 

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Jeff Brazier

Jade Goody entered the public spotlight in 2002, after her appearance on Big Brother. She had two sons with Jeff Brazier, who were born in 2003 and 2004, but sadly passed away on Mother's day in 2009 from cervical cancer. The 27-year-old was told her cervical cancer had become terminal after it spread to her bowel, liver and groin.

In Telegraph writer's Bryony Gordon's podcast Mad World, the single-father explained that this country deals with death "badly", explaining "whether it's being typically English or whether it's a throwback to the war. I don't blame that generation for having that [stiff upper lip] mentality because needs must. But nowadays we're having wonderful discussions like this."

The television presenter went on to explain: "We think that by not crying we're protecting other people but when you cry you give everyone around you permission to cry," he said. "The easy way [to cope with bereavement] in the short term is to say 'no, it's fine, I'm just going to immerse myself in work. Then you're inevitably going to delay the whole experience. You start living a lie."

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Jennifer Hudson

Hollywood star and The Voice judge Jennifer Hudson lost her mother Darnell, brother Jason and seven-year-old nephew Julian during a shocking triple shooting in 2008. William Balfour - who was married to Jennifer's sister Julia Hudson - was convicted of the murders and was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences in 2012.

Speaking about the devastating ordeal in an interview with The Observer in 2015, Jennifer said: "You don’t know how strong you are until you are placed in that kind of moment. In many ways the trial was the most dreadful part of it all but again I know my mother would not have wanted us to miss a beat, so we were there every day."

She continued: "Mom would always tell us if you are hurting, moan and you will feel better. There is not a day that goes by when I don’t repeat the things she said. She was very quiet. The complete opposite of us kids. Now she has gone, I realise she had a lot to say. My brother, too, I hear him, too."

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Joey Essex

Reality TV star Joey Essex lost his mother to suicide when he was 11 years old. His protective sister Frankie, who is four years older than Joey, and cousin Chloe Simms helped to raise him. It took Joey a few years to publicly talk in detail about his mum's death. During his date on First Dates in 2018, he opened up to the girl he was having dinner with, saying: "I was very confused, I just knew that she was gone and that was it." He then went on to explain how the grief affected his school grades and that he was held back a year.

Joey has since worked with Child Bereavement UK, saying in a campaign video: "Waking up this morning [Mother's Day,]  I've come to terms with it. Well, not come to terms with it but, with every year that goes by, I'm nearly 24, and I'm starting to try and come to terms with what's gone on in my life." He continued: "It is really hard, it's really hard growing up from such a young age with that happening. You don't really understand it.It's very hard to understand. No one does understand, really."

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Lea Michelle

Glee stars Lea Michelle and Cory Monteith met on set and started dating in 2008 until Cory died the following year. He was just 31 years old when took a fatal drug overdose. Lea has since opened up about the tragedy, telling Ellen De Generes during filming of Glee: "Work is no harder than being at home and being in the house and opening up a closet and seeing a pair of shoes. There's this is grief goes with you everyday whatever you're doing."

She added: "I'm just trying to do my best for him because I know that that's what he would have wanted and to just do my best and to you know, hopefully make something positive for where I go in the rest of my life." Lea later used her experience to write and release album Louder. She told the Los Angeles Times: "I had this experience happen to me [and] decided to write about it .That's what felt organic." Michele recalled hearing her song Cannonball for the first time, saying: "I just literally keeled over because grief is a very scary thing, and there comes a point where it can really take you down. Cannonball lifted me up. It was what I needed to get through my difficult situation." 

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Mary Berry

The Great British Bake Off star tragically lost her 19-year-old son when he was killed in a road accident. In 2014, Mary appeared on Piers Morgan's Life Stories where she spoke candidly about the death of her late son: "I remember it well. It was a Saturday and he nipped out to get The Times because it had a feature on Business Studies and that’s what he was studying in Bristol. He went out with his sister Annabel and it was a beautiful sunny morning. The doorbell rang, I went, and there was a policeman there. It’s very strange but I knew something had happened. He said, 'I’m afraid to say your son has died and Annabel is in High Wycombe Hospital.'"

At a campaign with Child Bereavement UK, Mary spoke openly about the death of her late son. "If I could have one more minute with William, what would I say to him?" she asked, "I would thank him. I would thank him for being a brilliant son."

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Bob Geldof

Peaches Geldof was only 25 years old when she died of a heroin overdose in 2013, leaving behind her husband Thomas Cohen and their two children Astala Dylan Willow and Phaedra Bloom Forever. She died the same way as her mother Paula Yates in 2000 aged 41. Her father Bob Geldof was devastated by the tragic news, and admitted in an interview that he blamed himself.

Speaking to ITV news, he said: "You blame yourself. You’re the father who is responsible and clearly failed. " He added: "For anybody watching who has a dead kid and you’re a parent: you go back, you go back, you go back, you go back, you go over, you go over. What could you have done? You do as much as you can."

The dad-of-four continued: "When Paula died and Peaches a few months ago… the ability to try and understand, although it is incomprehensible with the immensity of the grief, is there. But it takes a long while for it to filter through from the filth to get to the front so you can itemise. I am not there with Peaches yet. It is all too soon, all too sudden. Too unexpected.”

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Shirley Ballas

Strictly Come Dancing judge Shirley Ballas has previously opened up in interviews about the guilt she felt when her brother David took his own life in 2003, aged just 44. Shirley and her son Mark set up the charity, The Ballas Foundation, to raise awareness of how to prevent suicide and erase the stigma of mental illness following David’s death.

A blog post on the website outlines the tragedy: "The family was not only left with overwhelming grief, but guilt. You keep thinking maybe you could have done something." The star also spoke to The Sun in 2017 to explain that she was raised by a single mother in Merseyside, after her father walked out when she was two years old. The English ballroom dancer went on to explain: "He was my father and he was everything and anything you would ever need in a brother. In later years we talked every day at 4pm. He was two years older than I was and an amazing, amazing man."

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George Shelley

In 2017, George Shelley's sister Harriet tragically died after being involved in a car accident in Bristol. The X Factor star appeared on the BBC Three Learning to Grieve documentary, revealing that he became agoraphobic and was put on anti-depressants following the death of his sibling. His sister suffered fatal head injuries after running out into the road between two tour buses. When asked if George had ever contemplated suicide, he replied: "I mean, I was in a... I don't want to say the words because I don't even want to think that myself, but I wasn't well and that's the truth of it."

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Jason Watkins

Jason made a heartbreaking appearance on Loose Women in 2019 to talk about the tragic death of his two-year-old daughter, Maude. The BAFTA winner sat down with the panel to talk about his devastating loss, and also raise awareness of sepsis. At first, Jason and his wife Clara Francis, believed she had the flu – and when that didn't clear up they took her to the GP, and later twice to A&E. Jason recalled that on New Year's Eve 2010, the family were sent home from hospital, and Clara put Maude down to bed. The next morning, the couple's other daughter came in to tell them she couldn't wake her sibling.

Speaking about her for the charity Child Bereavement UK, he said: "If I were to have another minute with her I think I'd say, I'd remind her of all of the wonderful things she'd given us and the wonderful things we did, and as much as I could in that minute, all of the wonderful feelings and the joy, and that she won't be forgotten and that's handed all of her beauty to her sister and to us, and we'll never forget her.

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Liam Neeson

Liam Neeson lost his wife Natasha Richardson in 2009 in a skiing accident. Speaking in 2014 in an interview with Anderson Cooper, aired on CBS show 60 Minutes, the actor explained: “[Her death] was never real. It still kind of isn’t. There’s periods now in our New York residence when I hear the door opening, especially the first couple of years… Anytime I hear that door opening, I still think I’m going to hear her." The star was struck with continual grief, explaining on the show: "It hits you. It’s like a wave. You just get this profound feeling of instability. The Earth isn’t stable anymore and then it passes and it becomes more infrequent, but I still get it sometimes."

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Rio Ferdinand

Rio Ferdinand was left devastated when his wife Rebecca passed away in 2015 at the age of 34. The former fitness trainer sadly lost her life to breast cancer, leaving behind their three children. The footballer's wife was diagnosed in 2014 and received treatment shortly after. In a heartbreaking statement following the death, Rio explained: “Rebecca, my wonderful wife, passed away peacefully after a short battle with cancer at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London. She was a fantastic loving mother to our three beautiful children. She will be missed as a wife, sister, aunt, daughter and granddaughter. She will live on in our memory, as a guide and inspiration.”

In 2017, the former England captain starred in a BBC documentary that explored the impact on parents, with Rio explaining he felt “extreme guilt” that the mother of his three children had died instead of him.

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Rob Delaney

Rob has been candid about dealing with his grief following the awful death of his two-year-old son, Henry, from a brain tumour. Speaking to the Independent about how speaking about grief can help, he said: "I tell people, I'm a balloon that is filled almost to the point of bursting, and when you bring up my dead son, it's like you've let a little out. It's like a gift. I'm an ambassador from the… other side now, and I feel a bit of a responsibility, being in the public eye, to show people what grief looks like. It's just so weird to me how we deny grief, how we shut it out."

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Davina McCall

Davina McCall lost her half-sister Caroline to lung cancer in 2012. The former Big Brother presenter appeared in a pre-recorded video on Celebrity Bake Off 2019, where she recalled Caroline's death. "I was so confused, because I was convinced, she'd had a stroke, I was convinced," she said. "And they came back in and they said, 'I'm afraid it's not good news, you have tumours in both lungs. The primary cancer is lung cancer.'"

Davina explained in the clip that coping with the grief following the death was difficult: "How do I move on? I do move on. Life goes on. She lives on with my children. We celebrate her birthday - we try to forget the day she died." In the days leading up to her late sister's death, the star explained: "I slept on her floor next to her bed holding her hand and I could hear her breathing. I closed my eyes and I heard her breathing differently. I opened my eyes and thought, I think she's going."

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