It’s always sad when parents and children fall out, and it seems that’s exactly what has happened with comedienne Rosie O’Donnell and her 20-year-old daughter Chelsea. Tension has been brewing between them for years, but now their private lives are suddenly on display for all for see, and it doesn’t remotely make for easy reading. All sorts of unpleasant secrets about both of them have apparently been revealed to the world. How did they end up in such an unhappy position?
The first three of Rosie O’Donnell’s children were adopted. First came Parker, then Chelsea, then Blake. Then, in 2002, O’Donnell came out as gay, and thanks to laws in Florida at the time stopping homosexual people from adopting children, Rosie’s life suddenly got harder. Her fourth child, Vivienne, was born to O’Donnell’s partner Kelli Carpenter via artificial insemination. She couldn’t adopt any more kids.
The TV star became a major spokesperson for a change in the law. She started campaigning against the practice of removing foster children from gay couples, loudly and with rightful anger. “My Lord, if somebody came to me now and said … ‘We’re going to take [your child] now because you’re gay,’ my world would collapse,” she told ABC News.
Eventually, the laws did change – Florida’s ban on same-sex adoption was lifted in 2010 – and O’Donnell moved on with her life. By 2012, she had split with Carpenter and married new partner, Michelle Rounds. The couple went on to adopt another baby girl. But the relationship didn’t last. In February 2015, after only two years of being wed, O’Donnell and Rounds started divorce proceedings.
That year, 2015, was a very, very bad year for O’Donnell. In the midst of her marriage collapsing, her relationship with Chelsea came under scrutiny. During March of that year, a bombshell hit. Chelsea’s birth mother, Deanna Micoley, went to the National Enquirer and accused Rosie O’Donnell of having “stolen” her daughter from her as a baby.
Micoley claimed that when she signed the adoption papers, she was addicted to drugs and unable to take responsibility for her actions. “I believe Rosie O’Donnell knew that I was in no condition to sign away my parental rights to my daughter,” she told the Enquirer. “She did the worst thing one woman can do to another woman — take her child.”
The entertainer and her spokespeople were quick to deny the claims, of course. A representative informed the Enquirer that O’Donnell “encouraged and supported Chelsea’s desire to communicate with her birth mother.” But things shortly afterwards got much worse. In August, the 17-year-old Chelsea ran away from home and was reported missing.
O’Donnell took to Twitter to plead for her daughter’s return, claiming that Chelsea was mentally ill and had ceased taking her medication. The teenager was found a week later, staying with a 25-year-old man named Steven Sheerer. He was reportedly a former heroin addict who had met Chelsea through Tinder, thinking she was 19.
But, though Chelsea was safely returned to O’Donnell, soon afterwards she went to stay with Micoley. Then she went to the Daily Mail with her side of the story. She claimed that her adoptive mother had thrown her out, but she had been planning to leave as soon as she turned 18 anyway. She said she had been “pretty much raised by nannies” and O’Donnell had played little part in her upbringing.
She also claimed that she wasn’t mentally ill, and that was a “hurtful” untruth O’Donnell had spread. But a few days later, during a comedy show in New York, the celebrity continued her assertions about Chelsea. “My daughter has been in the news. It’s been in the news, but it’s not news to the family,” she reportedly said. “It’s been a decade long. As Mom, my wish is for love and peace and wait until it’s done.”
For a while it seemed like O’Donnell might get her wish. Over the next year, mother and daughter seemed to make amends. In August 2016, a year after Chelsea first ran away, O’Donnell posted a photo of the two of them on her Instagram. “Chelsea and me – what a difference a year makes,” she wrote in a caption. “#hopelives.” But unfortunately, it still wasn’t a happy ending.
In October 2016, Chelsea got married in secret to Nicholas Alliegro, a plumber several years her senior. And a few months after that, it became clear to all that the relationship between she and her mother had completely broken down again. “She was upset that we got married without telling her, which I totally understand,” Chelsea told Inside Edition. She added that she did wish to one day reconcile with her mom.
But it was all downhill from there – and in the most public, painful way possible. In September 2017, Chelsea spoke to the Daily Mail again, and revealed that she was pregnant. “It’s very exciting and I’m looking forward to it. But Rosie will not be in my child’s life — and no, I do not feel sad about that to be honest,” she told the tabloid.
Something else was brought up in the article too, and it was something far, far less hopeful than a pregnancy. Michelle Rounds, O’Donnell’s ex-wife, had committed suicide mere days previously. News of her death had made the media, but the circumstances were only beginning to come out. Chelsea also claimed that O’Donnell had kept her from speaking to Rounds, a person she was close to, after the divorce.
Rosie O’Donnell reacted very badly indeed to the interview – some might say she was at breaking point over it. She started posting tweet after tweet, some of them downright incomprehensible. “Michelle’s death = money 4 Chelsea,” one of them read. “protecting ur family, not words I would use to describe u,” read another, most likely directed at her daughter.
Most worrying was a tweet, accompanied by a photo, where she heavily implied that Chelsea’s new husband had abused her. It showed Chelsea in an Apple store, not looking at the camera. “Was this b4 nick was arrested for beating u up?” O’Donnell asked in her caption. People commented beneath it, and all over her Twitter account, asking if it was necessary to air all this so publicly.
“I don’t like #RosieODonnell, but it makes me sad to see her breakdown tonight. Bad decisions made tonight can cause damage forever,” one person tweeted directly to her. Rosie responded: “Oh honey I am not breaking down I am standing up to tabloid bullshit to my vengeful child to the endlessness of this insanity.”
The role of the tabloids in her difficulties was a major sticking point throughout all of O’Donnell’s tweets. She was especially angry with Martin Gould, the reporter who had interviewed Chelsea for the Daily Mail. In her messages she called him a “predatory, old creepy man” and posted a picture of him which she captioned “GONNA FIND U MARTIN GOULD…U COWARDLY OLD S***.”
Gradually, Rosie’s Twitter returned to normal and she held off tweeting any more about her estranged daughter. Recently, she has had more sedate and slightly more hopeful comments to give on the matter. “[Chelsea] doesn’t always have the ability to make the right decisions in the moment. And a lot of people in the press have a predatory instinct against her,” she told E! on the red carpet for her new comedy SMILF.
“To say it’s not painful is a lie,” she went on. But there was perhaps a little light at the end of the tunnel. “I love her and I will always love her.” It remains to be seen whether or not mother and daughter will ever make up, or if O’Donnell’s series of tweets will forever be a testament to their shattered relationship. But there’s at least a little hope.