Julia Roberts has lots of famous connections. She was married to country singer Lyle Lovett, for one thing, plus her brother, Eric, and niece Emma are both Hollywood stars in their own right. But you might not know that the Pretty Woman star also has ties to another very influential figure: Martin Luther King Jr. In fact, the civil rights activist and his wife paid for Julia Roberts’ birth — and for a very poignant reason.
A star is born
When Julia Roberts was born in Georgia in 1967, it was a very special day.
Her parents, Betty Lou and Walter, could never have imagined that their newborn baby would grow up to become a world-famous superstar — and neither could Martin Luther King Jr., who ended up footing their hospital bill.
Roberts was born four years after Martin Luther King Jr. had delivered his iconic “I Have A Dream” speech.
By this point, the civil rights activist was busy focusing his attention toward bigger cities in the United States, such as Los Angeles and Chicago. But not everyone in the Black movement approved of his methods.
King was renowned for a pacifist and patient approach, which was attractive to white Americans. But some Black militants criticized his lack of urgency and his unwillingness to take a harder stance.
As a result, King Jr. started to vocalize his opposition to the Vietnam War, pointing out its links with the poorest communities.
Yes, King believed that the United States’ military action in Vietnam discriminated against the underprivileged. He subsequently founded a multi-racial coalition in a bid to fix the financial and job issues that this group of people faced.
King showed this kind of generosity wherever he went — to all kinds of people. And in 1967 those people included Julia Roberts’ parents.
Roberts’ mother, Betty, and her father, Walter, were also in the acting business, so she was perhaps always destined for a career in the showbiz world. Before they divorced in the early 1970s, they co-founded a workshop for wannabe thespians and writers.
And that’s how they came to cross paths with Martin Luther King Jr.
Roberts, who had originally thought about becoming a veterarian, went on to share her parents’ love of the dramatic arts — as did her siblings. She would eventually relocate to the Big Apple with her sister, Lisa, to pursue a career in acting.
And after bagging her first major role in 1988’s Mystic Pizza, Roberts never looked back. Fast-forward to 2022, and she’s one of the most famous people on the planet. And that’s why people were stunned to discover her unlikely connection to Martin Luther King Jr.
Paying the bill
Roberts revealed all during a 2022 History Channel event dubbed HISTORYTalks. The Erin Brockovich star confirmed the little-known fact that Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta, also a staunch activist, had paid for her birth.
And it turned out that her family’s connection to the Kings went way back before she was even born.
The King and Roberts families first crossed paths at the Roberts’ Atlanta theater school. It was the only mixed-race school of its kind in the area.
Roberts explained, “One day, Coretta Scott King called my mother and asked if her kids could be part of the school because they were having a hard time finding a place that would accept her kids.”
Roberts’ mom had no problem agreeing to allow the Kings’ kids to try out their acting skills.
Gayle King, no relation to Martin Luther King Jr., was interviewing Roberts for the History Channel event, and she acknowledged how unusual it would have been at the time to see kids of all colors attending such a class.
Laying the groundwork
During her chat with the My Best Friend’s Wedding star, Gayle King expressed her admiration for how the Roberts family had put their heads above the parapet at such a divisive time.
Addressing Roberts, she said, “I think that’s extraordinary. And it sort of lays the groundwork for who you are.”
Expressing their gratitude
Martin Luther and Coretta wanted to do something in return to express their gratitude to the Roberts family. The perfect opportunity came when Julia Roberts was born on October 28, 1967.
As it turned out, the Roberts were struggling at the time; they were broke and couldn’t take care of the hospital bill when their youngest child was born. So, Martin Luther and Coretta decided to foot the bill. Julia Roberts explained, “They helped us out of a jam.” Her remarkable story later went viral on social media, alerting one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s children to offer her own thoughts.
Generosity and influence
Bernice King tweeted, “Grateful that Julia Roberts shared this story with Gayle King and that so many people have been awed by it. I know the story well.
But it is moving for me to be reminded of my parents’ generosity and influence.” This wasn’t the first time that a member of the King family had spoken about their connection to the Roberts, either.
In 2001 Yolanda — Martin Luther and Coretta’s eldest — reminisced to NPR about her time at the Atlanta theater school run by Julia’s parents. And she recalled how Walter was a slightly imposing figure.
Yolanda said, “I loved him. But I was also a little intimidated by him, too. He taught me so much, and he and Mrs. Roberts, about the work, and just about living and being really open, grabbing life and making the best of it.”
And Yolanda also got to meet the baby whose birth her parents paid for. Yes, the activist talked about seeing a very young Julia during the workshops she attended toward the end of the 1960s.
Yolanda added, “All of these Black kids and white kids getting along, no problems. We had no problems whatsoever, racial problems.”
Closing its doors
Sadly, Walter and Betty’s inclusive acting school was forced to close its doors in the 1970s due to a lack of funds. The couple’s personal life also imploded not long after, when they ultimately headed for the divorce courts.
By the end of the decade Walter had passed away, too.
Breaking the internet
Although the unlikely bond between the Roberts and King families wasn’t exactly a secret, it wasn’t common knowledge, either. That’s why one Twitter user nearly broke the internet when he casually revealed this nugget of information.
It was only when another user posted a video clip of Roberts’ confirming the fact that all the disbelief died down.
One shocked social media user responded, “For me, it’s surreal to think that Dr. King was alive when Julia was born."
They continued, "I know that it wasn’t that long ago, logically, of course, but learning about him as a kid made it seem like ‘ancient’ history. And Julia is anything but.”
But not everyone was impressed by this little-known fact. Another Twitter user posted, “Very cringe that they took money from a Black family who didn’t even have jobs and relied on donations because they were doing movement work."
They continued, "I hope the family supported the civil rights movement in some way.”
Paying it forward
Well, according to a friend of the Roberts family, the Runaway Bride star has been inspired by the Kings to pay it forward. Referring to the birth payment a source allegedly told website ContactMusic, “Julia was touched and surprised when she found out."
They continued, "Coretta is one of the reasons Julia uses her millions to help charities working with young children and projects to save the environment.”
And in 1990 Roberts made headlines for calling a town in South Carolina a “living hell” after one restaurant in the area denied her Black friend service. Yolanda later told TV network CNN.
“I can see her doing that," she said. "I can see it pouring forth from her, and rightfully so.”
When the Roberts’ hospital bill was paid for by the Kings, they already had an 11-year-old child, and they were struggling to make ends meet. Julia’s older brother, Eric, also went into the acting world.
He isn’t quite the household name she is, but he still has a filmography a mile long. But Julia and Eric’s relationship wasn’t always plain sailing.
Life seemingly imitates art when it comes to Julia’s relationship with Eric, and we’re not talking about one of the former’s classic rom-coms! No, their history is more like a serious drama — full of ups and downs.
The reason for this apparently dates back to Eric’s personal struggles.
Once upon a time, Eric and and his sister were virtually joined at the hip. Though his downward spiral caused a rift in the family that almost destroyed his relationship with Julia.
But what could have been so bad that it threatened such a close bond?
Starting In Soaps
It helps to know a bit more about Eric before we delve into the more difficult part of his life. He’s actually been in the business for a long time.
Eric’s breakthrough role came in 1976 after being cast as Ted Bancroft in the soap Another World. And since then, he’s been all over the schedule.
All Over The Industry
Eric’s done everything from voice acting to starring in TV movies and films, so you’ve probably seen him somewhere. Younger viewers might recognize him as Maroni from 2008’s The Dark Knight.
He was also Jimmy ‘The Butcher’ Figgis in hit comedy TV series Brooklyn Nine-Nine. That doesn’t even scratch the surface, though.
During his tenure in Hollywood, Eric’s won 36 awards and been nominated for a further 21. They include an Oscar for the movie Runaway Train and three Golden Globe nominations.
And he was doing movies long before his superstar sister became famous.
Following Her Brother
Eric was already working in Hollywood when Julia finished high school in Georgia. At that point, she was feeling that there weren’t a lot of career options in Georgia, as she told The New York Times in 1990.
So, she decided to go down the same road as her older brother.
Heading To The Big City
Julia revealed, “I had convinced myself that I had three choices: I could get married, I could go to college, or I could move to New York. Nobody was asking to get married and I didn’t want to go away to school, so I moved.”
And thanks to her brother, Julia apparently already had connections.
Taking The Credit
Julia’s breakthrough role came in 1988 with Mystic Pizza. And Eric claims that he was responsible for her getting the part. Eric actually takes credit for getting both Julia and his daughter Emma into movies.
He said as much in a 2018 interview with Vanity Fair, claiming, “If it wasn’t for me, there would be no Julia Roberts and no Emma Roberts as celebrities, as actresses, and I’m very proud of that.”
How did that come about, then?
Well, Eric alleged, “When Julia first came to New York, I went into William Morris and I said, ‘Which one of you is going to sign my sister Julia?’ And I am so proud that everybody knows I was first, because I was first by a long shot.”
As for Emma, she spent a lot of time around her famous aunt Julia on set. In fact, that’s reportedly how she became passionate about movies.
The actress scored her first film role in the 2001 film Blow at just nine years old. But it was a TV series that really cemented Emma’s career.
Nickelodeon cast the young actress as Addie Singer, who was center stage in its series Unfabulous. The part kick-started Emma’s rise to stardom and she received several award nominations for it.
The young actor’s future roles would be significantly different in tone, though. Emma’s actually most famous for her roles in a number of horror shows.
Troubled Personal Life
Fans will have likely seen Emma in a number of ghoulish TV series in recent years. The youngster played Chanel Oberlin in Scream Queens and several characters in the more recent anthology American Horror Story.
So, clearly Emma has enjoyed a successful career in the acting business alongside Julia and Eric. Sadly, though, the relationship between her father and auntie has been less fruitful.
Eric told Vanity Fair that his estrangement to Julia started when they were younger. Their parents had a “very emotional, very loud” relationship which ended in a divorce when Eric was 15.
Julia and her sister went to Georgia with their mother, while Eric ended up in Atlanta with his father.
A Bad Stutter
The split must have been hard on the young boy, and to make things more difficult, he also had a speech impediment. Eric described having “horrible stuttering."
He said, "Not just once or twice but every time I opened my mouth. For years, the whole class found it amusing... They would laugh, and it killed me.”
Finding The Cure
Yet those familiar with Eric’s work won’t pick up a hint of his stutter, so what happened to it? Apparently, he discovered that learning lines prevented his speech impediment.
So, Eric delved into acting and spent some time as the self-proclaimed “world’s worst soap actor” before getting his big break.
Eric’s troubled past wasn’t the only obstacle he faced in his younger years, though. In 1981 his wild lifestyle resulted in a serious car accident which almost ended his career.
The actor told Vanity Fair, “I was in a coma. My speech was very retarded. I had to learn how to walk again and talk again. It was really hard.”
But nothing could keep Eric away from the cameras and stage. He soon clawed his way back to health and began working again.
In the years that followed, he made a life with the actress Kelly Cunningham, and they would go on to welcome their child Emma Roberts in 1991.
Struggling With Addiction
Unfortunately, having a child didn’t keep Eric and Kelly together, and they split up while Emma was still a baby. The issue that caused a wedge between them was actually something Eric had struggled with for much of his life.
You see, the actor had a problem with substance abuse.
First, there was Eric’s reliance on marijuana. The actor confessed to Vanity Fair that he was high for some of the most monumental moments of his early career.
Eric admitted, “I would go to meetings with people that mattered – like Oliver Stone and Sean Penn – and I would go stoned.” As you can imagine, there were repercussions.
Eric continued, “Woody Allen. I met him very stoned, and he dismissed me, as well he should have.
I did that for about ten years. The whole point being I was asking for help, saying, ‘You see where I’m at ‒ now help me, because I’m worth helping.’ I get it now. I just didn’t get it when I should have.”
Though things later got worse for Eric. Hollywood was experiencing something of a cocaine boom at the time, and the actor got hooked on it.
Eric alleged, “You’d arrive [on the set] in the morning, and they’d send you to the prop truck, where there’d be bowls of cocaine.”
Eric said it wasn’t just actors taking the drug, either. During his interview with Vanity Fair, he claimed, “Everybody from executives to craft service was doing cocaine.
I was doing it to the point where my wife said, ‘It’s me or the coke.’ I did all the psychotropics.”
Landing In Jail
“I got myself arrested [in 1987 for possession of pot and cocaine and resisting arrest],” Eric elaborated. That isn’t even the worst thing that happened as a result of his addictions, either.
Remember the car accident Eric had? That was due to cocaine, too. The actor was apparently high when he crashed.
Battling For Custody
After his arrest, Eric steered away from cocaine. He said, “I went back to pot. I’ve been a pothead all my life, with several sober breaks I refer to as binge sobriety.”
The substance abuse was at the heart of Eric’s split with Rebecca, and a legal battle for the custody of Emma ensued.
Taking The Other Side
Eric’s personal relationships were already frayed, but they got worse during the court case. Julia surprised many by choosing to lend financial aid to Rebecca against her own brother.
But looking back, Eric completely understands her decision. His addiction had apparently put strain on the family long before that.
Eric spoke openly about his family history with Vanity Fair. He said, “I wouldn’t characterize it as a falling-out. I was crazy about my sisters. Loved them, adored them."
He continued, "They were precious to me, and we had times of great closeness.” Sadly, they couldn’t help Eric with his addiction, though.
Difficult To Be Around
The actor continued, “We all felt very protective of each other. But the hardest person to protect yourself from is yourself. I was exhausting to be around."
"Complainy, blamey, unable to enjoy enjoyment," he said. "Everyone in my world needed a break sometimes, and that must have included Julia.”
Amending His Relationships
These days, however, Eric is turning his life around. The actor’s career is as strong as ever and his personal relationships seem to be healthy again.
And in recent years, he’s even become close to both Julia and Emma once more.
Welcoming His Nephews
The relationship between the siblings first showed signs of healing back in 2004, according to E! Online.
That year, Julia and her husband Danny Moder welcomed twins into the world. While Eric’s sister was still in hospital, he and his wife Eliza stopped by to deliver gifts for the family.
Julia and Danny didn’t leave their relations out in the cold, though. Eric said, “Instead, I was ushered into their room and was immediately awash in brotherly and uncle-ly love.”
Things have apparently been much better between the siblings ever since. As for Emma, Eric was full of praise for his daughter during an interview with Us Weekly in 2021.
Mature Beyond Her Years
Asked whether he was proud of his daughter’s acting achievements, Eric responded, “Of course I am. [Emma has a] quiet dignity about the whole [fame] situation. It’s just nice to watch her be a grown up.”
He remarked how in their business you “have to find real maturity and real dignity. And she has both, I’m very proud of that.”
Like Aunt Like Niece
Eric also revealed how the family resemblance between Emma and Julia amazes him – especially when they’re together. The actor explained, “They look so much alike."
He continued, "I look at pictures of them when they’re side-by-side and they’re both such Roberts, you know? It’s truly cool to look at them, I love seeing them together.”
Also, it seems that Eric is experiencing another boom in his career right now, and he’s taking it in his stride. He told Us Weekly that it’s just how the business goes.
Eric stated, “I’ve had three comebacks in my career already. It comes and goes, it ebbs and flows.”
That said, you wouldn’t think there had been any ebbs in Eric’s career if you look at his film credits! According to Screen Rant, between himself, Julia and Emma they have 604 acting credits, 497 of which can be attributed to Eric.
That’s an astonishing amount, although it’s arguable that not all of his roles are held in high regard.
Cranking Out The Credits
So what drives Eric? Well, he told Vanity Fair, “I start making a bunch of B movies ‒ bam bam bam bam bam bam ‒ one after the other, and then suddenly two, three years have passed, and [I’ve] made like 30 films in two, three years."
"Now, in the past two years, I’ve made around 70 movies,” he finished.
No Signs Of Stopping
The actor continued, “I started having fun at the craft. I’m a groupie for it! I can do it every day, all day. And so suddenly it’s like 250 movies."
He said, "And I realize, I went from being a joke that’ll do anything to being, ‘Is there anything he can’t do?’”