Chances are you know someone whose life has been touched by adoption. Each year, about 135,000 children are adopted by families in the U.S. In honor of World Adoption Day and National Adoption Day both taking place this week, here are 12 people who grew up to become famous figures after finding their permanent homes.
1. GERALD FORD
The 38th President of the United States was born in 1913 and named Leslie Lynch King Jr. after his biological father, but his parents separated soon after his birth. His mother remarried when her son was 2, and legally changed his name to reflect that of his new father: Gerald Rudolph Ford Jr. He was adopted and was a preteen when he found out Ford Sr. wasn’t his birth father. "It didn't make a big impression on me at the time," Ford once said. "I didn't understand exactly what a stepfather was. Dad and I had the closest, most intimate relationship. We acted alike. We had the same interests. I thought we looked alike." He finally met his biological father, who came looking for him when he was in high school, but felt that his true bond was with his stepfather, the only father he actually knew.
2. STEVE JOBS
The Apple visionary was born in 1955 to an unmarried couple from the Midwest. His biological mother's family didn’t approve of their relationship (his biological father was a Syrian Muslim immigrant), so she moved to San Francisco, had her baby in secret, and put him up for adoption. Paul and Clara Jobs adopted Steve, but only after they signed a pledge that his birth mother insisted on—that the child would attend college. Jobs never met his biological father, and he frequently corrected anyone who didn't refer to Paul and Clara as his "real parents." "They were my real parents," he said. "1000 percent."
3. SARAH MCLACHLAN
When Sarah McLachlan—the Canadian singer famous for her hit songs like "Angel" and founding Lilith Fair—was about 9 years old, she was told that she'd been adopted shortly after she was born. She's said it never bothered her because she loved her parents and was too young to fully understand. Her birth mother was a 19-year-old artist in Nova Scotia who would have struggled to raise her child, and though McLachlan did eventually meet her, she's said she is glad that they both had the opportunity to go on and live their dreams.
4. DARRYL MCDANIELS
One of the founding members of hip hop group Run–D.M.C., Darryl McDaniels was adopted as a baby—but he didn’t find out until he was 35. While writing his autobiography, he called his parents to ask them for details about the day he was born. They revealed to him that they had adopted him when he was just 1 month old. (His wife had always teased him that he didn’t look like anyone in his family, and suddenly they knew why.) The revelation deeply affected him; he had already struggled with some depression in his life, had recently lost his dear friend and bandmate Jam Master Jay, and McDaniels was drinking heavily and even considered suicide (he actually credits Sarah McLachlan's song "Angel" with getting him through his darkest days). He worked to get through it, and documented his search for his birth mother in a VH1 documentary, DMC: My Adoption Journey, in 2006. They were reunited when he was 41.
5. DAVE THOMAS
Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy’s, was adopted as a baby. He was raised mainly by his adoptive father and grandmother after losing his adoptive mother at 5 and two stepmothers before he was 10. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush asked him to spearhead a national campaign to encourage people to adopt or foster children, and to help businesses understand the importance of offering adoption benefits. Two years later he created the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, dedicated to increasing the number of children placed each year. He testified before Congress in support of adoption tax credits and helped in the creation of an adoption postage stamp that was issued by the U.S. Postal Service in 2000.
6. FAITH HILL
The country singer knew she was adopted from a young age but was told she had been given up because her birth mother had an affair with a married man who wouldn’t leave his wife for her. In reality, the couple did get married and had another child whom they kept. Hill learned the truth when she tracked down her birth mom shortly after she moved to Nashville to pursue a career as a singer. She says that despite loving her family and being happy she was adopted, there was a feeling that something was missing from her life. "I was adopted into this incredible home, a loving, positive environment, yet I had this yearning, this kind of darkness that was also inside me," she has said. She was awed by her first meeting with her biological mother, who looked just like her.
7. JAMIE FOXX
The Academy Award-winning actor is actually a second-generation adoptee; his mother was adopted as well. He was officially adopted by his maternal grandparents after his parents decided they couldn’t handle having a child when he was 7 months old. His grandmother was 60 when she took him in, and he publicly thanked her in his 2005 Oscar acceptance speech. In 2003 he appeared on "A Home for the Holidays," a Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption CBS special where he shared his adoption story and encouraged others to adopt or foster as well.
8. DEBBIE HARRY
The Blondie singer was born in 1945 and adopted when she was 3 months old. Her parents told her when she was 4 and she says that they did it in a way that made her feel "quite special." When she was a teenager she used to fantasize that her birth mother was Marilyn Monroe. Harry says that she thinks her being adopted might be why she is so adventurous, since she felt it didn’t give her any limitations. "I sometimes attribute my, uh, adventurous nature to that... I have an open mind about things," Harry has said. "It didn't present me with any borders."
9. GEORGE WASHINGTON CARVER
The famous African-American scientist was born into slavery in Missouri shortly before the end of the Civil War, although the exact year and date are unknown. He was one of many children born to the only two slaves owned by the Carver family, who were farmers. Almost immediately after his birth, he, his mother, and a sister were kidnapped by raiders. But the Carvers sent someone to look for them and only the infant George was recovered. Once slavery was abolished, they raised him and one of his brothers, James, as their own.
10. RAY LIOTTA
The Goodfellas actor was born in 1954, and given up for adoption at 6 months old, after his unmarried birth parents realized they couldn’t afford to raise him. His adoptive parents told him about it when he was very young, and he even did a presentation on being adopted as a kindergartner. But when Liotta got older and was going to have a child of his own, he worried about what genetic traits they might inherit, so he sought to find his birth mother. "I found my birth mother and found out I have, not an identical twin, but a half brother, five half sisters and a full sister that I didn’t know about until 15 years ago," he said in 2014. When his biological mom found out the son she gave up was now a famous actor he said she had "a whole different bounce to her voice." But Liotta remains grateful that he was adopted, though he admits that he struggled with feelings of being given up at times.
11. FRANCES MCDORMAND
McDormand, the Oscar-winning Fargo actress, was adopted by a minister and his wife as an infant. She doesn’t know who her biological mother was, though she was given the opportunity to meet her when she was 18; ultimately she did correspond with her, but decided not to pursue a relationship. McDormand has discussed her adoption and how angry the knowledge of her abandonment makes her feel, but she has also said, "It’s subjective, and every adopted person comes to it differently." And that also includes her own son—she and husband Joel Coen chose to adopt their child, Pedro, from Paraguay. "And my son will deal with it in his own way," she said.
12. KEEGAN-MICHAEL KEY
The actor and comedian—and one-half of comedy duo Key & Peele—was born to a white woman and her married black co-worker; he was adopted as a baby by another biracial couple. In 1996, at age 25, he found his birth mother. He calls it one of "the most unexpected and crucial and significant and foundational things" that happened in his life. He also says it is the reason he now has such a strong faith. When he met her, he listened to her life story and how she came to give him up for adoption, and then he says he suddenly found himself crying and accepting Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. "So, that was pretty unexpected," he said. "It's one of the touchstones in both my spiritual and personal life."
All images via Getty unless otherwise noted.