Inside NCIS: Los Angeles star LL Cool J's sad family history

The tragedy of his childhood revealed

NCIS: Los Angeles  star, LL Cool J has had a successful career in both television and music since he burst onto the scene in the late '80s. However, in stark comparison, his childhood was far from perfect...

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LL Cool J, real name James Todd Smith, opened up about his childhood in his 1998 autobiography titled I Make My Own Rules - and the contents are heartbreaking. LL was born in Queens, New York in 1968 and was the only child of James and Ondrea Smith. The rapper did not have the easiest start to life, as early on he witnessed his father shoot his mother and grandfather. Thankfully, both of them survived the incident.

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However, things only got worse when LL was four and his mother invited her new boyfriend to live with them. According to LL, the man who Ondrea met while being treated in hospital, quickly began to physically and psychologically abuse young LL. "It was the most horrible experience," LL recalled in his memoir. "I was defenceless and I didn't understand. The pain went so deep."

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LL Cool J is currently starring on NCIS: Los Angeles

Shortly after, Ondrea moved herself and her son in with her parents Eugene Griffith and Ellen Hightower, which was a much more stable and loving environment for the young LL. Eugene was a jazz musician who gave LL his first guitar, and later supported his grandson's ambitions to make it as a rapper by buying him $2,000 worth of DJ equipment, including two turntables, an audio mixer and an amplifier.

LL's grandfather supported his ambitions to become a rapper

Speaking about his grandparents on Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr, LL was full of admiration and gratitude. "They embraced me, they built me up. They made me believe in myself," he said of them.

LL learnt that his mother (pictured) was adopted as a child

However, it was on this show that LL was to make a shocking discovery about his heritage. As the Grammy winner dug into his family history to find out more about his ancestors, he learnt that his mother had been adopted as a child meaning LL was not the biological grandson of Eugene and Ellen.

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Through DNA testing, the series' genetic genealogist was able to discover the identities of LL's biological grandparents and linked the NCIS: LA star to 1930s champion boxer, John Henry Lewis.

"This doesn't change how I feel about the people that raised me," LL Cool J, said of the grandparents who raised him. "I have more love and respect for them than I ever did."

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