When we see our favorite stars lighting up the big screen or strutting down the red carpet, it’s easy to forget that before all the glitz and glamour, celebrities started out as regular single-celled organisms, struggling to metabolize energy in the primordial soup of ancient seas. For most, it took billions of years of hard work and reincarnation to get where they are now. And while some celebs took conventional paths to stardom, others made a few odd detours along the way. We promise, once you read our list of celebrities’ shocking former lives, you’ll never look at these icons the same way again:
1. Helen Hunt
In 2000, Helen Hunt had Mel Gibson wondering What Women Want. But in the late Cretaceous period, all Helen wanted was to grasp the head of her mate between her spiked forelegs and crush his skull with her mandibles. Feeling her partner’s flesh become nutrients inside her, as his hot fertile sperm gushed over her egg sack, Helen experienced a sense of well-being that she would have described as As Good as it Gets.
2. Taye Diggs
Long before he was helping Stella Get Her Groove Back, Taye Diggs was a middle-aged fishermen living off the coast of Southern China in the last days of the Ming Dynasty. Living on a junk ship made from softwoods, Diggs (or “Li Wan” as he was known then) lived a simple life, netting enough crabs and codfish to support a wife, and three children. One day in the summer of his thirty-second year, Taye Diggs’ ship was overtaken by Portuguese raiders, who broke his arms and abducted his eldest daughter. For years after, he would hear her terrified screams almost nightly.
In one dream, Diggs would bolt from his bed to the ship’s bow, where he’d look down to find his first-born child gasping and flailing in the moonlit water. Taye Diggs would reach down to grab her hands, but as soon as he got hold of her, she’d become heavy as stone, dragging him down into the water, down and down, to parts of the sea the moonlight never reached. In another dream, he’d discover her in the hull of a raider’s ship, her limbs tied to bedposts, and he would stab the swarthy man looming over her until the whole world turned to blood. But even in his wildest dreams, Diggs never imagined that he would one day star as Dr. Sam Bennet in ABC’s Private Practice.
3. Jon Bon Jovi
In 1986, Jon Bon Jovi may have been “Living on a Prayer,” but in 1896, he was living as a Yorkshire terrier in a clothing mill in Northern England. There, young Jon distinguished himself as an excellent hunter of rats, earning the esteem of the mill’s Scottish laborers, who kept him fed through a harsh winter that claimed four of his siblings.
That January, a 19 year-old worker named Thomas Murdoch had his hand crushed in a spinning mule. Murdoch spent most of the following afternoon seated on the floor of the mill, running his remaining fingers through Jon Bon Jovi’s matted fur, while weeping at the pulsing pain in his left hand. Through choked sobs, the boy whispered that his life was now worth less than a dog’s. Bon Jovi found the whimpering noises unsettling in an abstract way, but it was so nice to have a warm hand scratching gently at a belly filled with rats.
4. Lana Del Rey
A lot of people know that Lana Del Rey released her first EP in 2008, under the name “Lizzy Grant.” But did you know she also used to be a field of corn?
For the first three decades of the 20th century, Lana’s spirit was reborn every spring through 100 acres of bright green stalks. Back then, the death-obsessed songstress felt no anxiety about her own mortality, though like all corn, she was deeply aware of it. Del Rey found solace in the notion of eternal return, in the understanding that each fall’s withering was but one phase in a cycle that promised spring’s infinite recurrence.
The Howard family had lived on Del Rey’s farm for over a century. In 1932, Mary Howard began to suffer the symptoms of a degenerative muscle disease for which there was no cure. Much like Lana, Mary found solace in her protracted withering by understanding herself as one link in a chain of generations. She watched her sons grow into men and imagined the simple joys of their rural childhood reproduced through an endless succession of future children. In October of ‘36, when her first granddaughter was dead of malnutrition and there were still no signs of rain, Mary convinced her sons to provide her a fatal dose of laudanum. Months earlier, as her last living roots coughed up dust, Lana Del Rey conceived the title of her debut album.
5. Kevin James
Kevin James was born on the floor of a forest in Northern Spain, in the last decade of the 18th century. His mother was a 24 year-old Basque woman with a cleft lip and no husband. She lived in a small house with her widowed stepfather, who’d been drunk every day since he he’d raped her. For all her terrified sorrow and exhaustion, there was also the relief of one fewer unspeakable reality to carry with her, as she walked away from the dirt where he lay wailing.
Back then, leaves scratched Kevin James’ wet body as he shivered. Sunlight stung his eyes, birdsong and the rustling of tree branches vibrated against his eardrums. Two hundred years before his breakout appearance on Everybody Loves Raymond, Kevin’s world was an inferno of unintelligible information. All of which receded as his thirst and hunger grew, over four days that felt like centuries, until he found himself somehow above his own convulsing body, rising to a point outside of Spain and space and time, from where he understood the horror of his life as the horror of all life, as the terrifying vulnerability of being a creature with a stomach and a nervous system and a conscious mind shaped by the cruel combination of a desire for significance and awareness of mortality, alone at the hollow center of the self, in the silence that follows another failed one-liner, a creature who waits tables and donates sperm and keeps trying only because making people laugh helps him to forget the things that happy people can’t remember, who sweats bullets in Jay Leno’s green room while whispering observations about how god damn fat he is, who watches his sitcom debut at a bar in his hometown of Mineola surrounded by friends and family who make him feel like the one that Everybody Loves, a creature who stops for the young blonde woman from the E-Channel outside the premier of Paul Blart: Mall Cop, savoring the warmth of an April evening, of his wife’s hand against his back, of living the kind of life that other people die for, as his tiny heart stopped beating, Kevin James felt himself dissipate in waves of unexpected gratitude and said a silent prayer for every fly writhing on a web, every canary coughing in a coal mine, every failed novelist clicking refresh again and again on a porn clip that only ever buffers, a prayer he’d echo centuries later, telling ‘E’ that he was proof that anyone could make it, as long as they believed.