Famous for his character "The Tramp," the sweet little man with a bowler hat, mustache and cane, Charlie Chaplin was an iconic figure of the silent-film era and one of film's first superstars, elevating the industry in a way few could have ever imagined.
Born Charles Spencer Chaplin in London, England, on April 16, 1889, Charlie Chaplin's rise to fame is a true rags-to-riches story. His father, a notorious drinker, abandoned Chaplin, his mother and his older half-brother, Sydney, not long after Chaplin's birth. That left Chaplin and his brother in the hands of their mother, a vaudevillian and music hall singer who went by the stage name Lily Harley.
Chaplin's mother, who would later suffer severe mental issues and have to be committed to an asylum, was able to support her family for a few years. But in a performance that would introduce her youngest boy to the world of performance, Hannah inexplicably lost her voice in the middle of a show, prompting the stage manager to push the five-year-old Chaplin, whom he'd heard sing, onto the stage to replace her.
Chaplin lit up the audience, wowing them with his natural presence and comedic angle (at one point he imitated his mother's cracking voice). But the episode meant the end for Hannah. Her singing voice never returned and she eventually ran out of money. For a time, Charlie and Sydney had to make a new, temporary home for themselves in London's tough workhouses.