An 'unforgiving' mum and a tell-all book: Jennifer Aniston's complicated family history.

Jennifer Aniston is often in the headlines for a number of reasons - whether it's her new comments on fertility, her magazine covers, her days on Friends and even her former relationships.

But another aspect of Aniston's life that is just as intriguing is her upbringing and periods of estrangement with her parents - something she has opened up about before.

And just this week, it was confirmed that Aniston's dad - Emmy-winning actor John Aniston - died aged 89. 

Aniston had a complicated relationship with her dad - only slightly less complicated than the one she had with her mum. It all dates back to what she describes as her "challenging upbringing".

When Aniston was born in 1969, her dad was a struggling actor in Los Angeles, working as a door-to-door salesman to make money for the family. Her mum, Nancy Dow, was a model who'd also had a few acting roles, including in The Beverly Hillbillies, but quit the business because she didn't think she was any good. Dow's own parents had split when she was a child.

"My mum's mother left the family when my mother was about 12, which was an odd thing at that time," Aniston told Rolling Stone in 1999.

When Aniston was five, her father moved the family to Greece - the country of his birth - so that he could study medicine. But a year later, his agent urged him to return to the US to audition for a role on a soap called Love Of Life. He got it, and the family moved to New York.

Aniston was nine when her parents split up. 


It came as a complete shock when her mother told her that her father had left.

A young Jennifer Aniston with her father, and her mother. Image: Getty.

"I went to a birthday party, and when I came back, she said, 'Your father's not going to be around here for a little while'," she told Rolling Stone.

Dow later recalled the moment. "I watched a tear roll down Jennifer's cheek as confidence faded from her once-trusting eyes," she told National Post in 2000.


Months later, Dow told her daughter that her father was with someone else and wouldn't be coming back. It was one of his co-stars from Love Of Life, Sherry Rooney, who he went on to marry and have a child with.

Aniston went a full year without hearing from her father. Then one day he called and took her out to dinner and a show. She started seeing him on weekends and did "everything to please" him so that he wouldn't leave again. She told Rolling Stone that her dad leaving was the most "painful" time of her life, and the lesson she learned from her childhood was "that I will never depend on a man as much as my mum depended on my father".

Because Aniston's older half-brother John moved to Los Angeles after her father left, it was just her and her mother living together for many years. Aniston said Dow was "very critical" of her.

"Because she was a model, she was gorgeous, stunning," she told The Hollywood Reporter in 2015. "I wasn't. I never was."

Dow would constantly give her daughter advice on how to make more of her features, such as how to make her "tiny" lips look bigger. Looking back, Aniston said her mother wasn't criticising her to be hurtful.

"My mum said those things because she really loved me," she told Elle in 2018. "It wasn't her trying to be a b*tch or knowing she would be making some deep wounds that I would then spend a lot of money to undo. She did it because that was what she grew up with. 'You want to be happy. It's hard for big girls'."


Aniston says she also struggled with her mother's unforgiving nature and her temper.

"I can't tolerate that. If I get upset, I will discuss. I will never scream and get hysterical like that."

Jennifer Aniston's parents, John Aniston and Nancy Dow. Image: Getty.

By 1985, Aniston's father was starring as Victor Kiriakis in Days Of Our Lives. Aniston followed him into acting, and in 1994, scored the role that would make her world-famous: Rachel Green in Friends. The media were keen to run anything they could get on her, and in 1996, Dow agreed to a TV interview where she was asked questions about her daughter. She later claimed she was "deceived" by the interviewer, but Aniston was not happy when she saw her mother talking about her on TV.


Dow received a call from Aniston a few days later, and told the National Post it ended with the words, "I will never forgive you!"

Three years after that call, Dow published a tell-all book, From Mother And Daughter To Friends: A Memoir. It included details such as Aniston seeing a psychiatrist for help in dealing with "boyfriend problems and some old issues with Dad". Dow claimed writing the book was "therapy".

"You spend all this time raising a child, with a lot of good intentions, and you feel you have failed," she said. "It makes you feel very ashamed."

Aniston reportedly didn't speak to her mother for 15 years. She left her off the guest list for her wedding to Brad Pitt. In a Vanity Fair interview in 2005, she defended her decision to distance herself from Dow.

Watch: Jennifer Aniston dealt with 'Friends' end with divorce and therapy. Post continues below.

Video via The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

"I feel pretty good about the choices I've made. The choice of not speaking to Mum for a while - that's ours. Nobody else has to understand it."

Later in life, Aniston starred in the movie Dumplin' - a Netflix film about a complex relationship between a mother and daughter in the world of pageantry. Aniston said it was a concept she was very familiar with on a personal level.

"She was a model, and she was all about presentation and what she looked like and what I looked like," Aniston told The Sunday Telegraph of her mum. "I did not come out the model child she'd hoped for and it was something that really resonated with me, this little girl just wanting to be seen and wanting to be loved by a mum who was too occupied with things that didn't quite matter."

In 2012, when Aniston received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, it was her father she invited to be by her side. 

In 2015, Aniston told The Hollywood Reporter about her relationship with her mother, which she said was "fine" at the time. A year later, Aniston confirmed in a statement that Dow had died age 79 in 2016. 

As for dad John, they had a complicated relationship later in life as well. Just this week, Aniston announced her dad's death at the age of 89. He had served in the US Navy, and died last Friday, on Veteran's Day (the US equivalent of Remembrance Day).

"Sweet papa... John Anthony Aniston," Jennifer wrote alongside a series of photos of her dad.


"You were one of the most beautiful humans I ever knew. I am so grateful that you went soaring into the heavens in peace - and without pain. And on 11/11 no less! You always had perfect timing. That number will forever hold an even greater meaning for me now."


View this post on Instagram


Christmas with one of my creators. Then and now #TBT Love you, papa ❤️

A post shared by  Jennifer Aniston (@jenniferaniston) on

According to reports, the pair had grown closer amid the pandemic.

Outlets reported that since the pandemic began, Aniston had been on the phone to her dad every day.


"He says she's calling constantly to check on him," the source said. "They obviously can't see each other but they have spoken more in the past few weeks than they ever have. It's like she has realised life is very short and she wants her relationship with John to be the best it can be."

In June this year, John was honoured with a 2022 Daytime Emmys Lifetime Achievement Award for his long-standing role on the soap opera. Though he did not attend the ceremony, his daughter Aniston appeared virtually on the awards stage to accept the achievement on his behalf.

"This is truly a special moment for me," she said. "It's an opportunity to not only pay tribute to a true icon in the daytime television world, but it's also a chance to recognise the lifelong achievements of a great and well-respected actor, who also happens to be my dad. His career is literally the definition of lifetime achievement."

As for how Aniston overcame her challenging childhood and all that resulted from it, she said to Allure this month that she learned a lot. 

"I forgave my mum. I forgave my father. I've forgiven my family," she said. "It's important. It's toxic to have that resentment, that anger. I learned that by watching my mum never let go of it. I remember saying, 'Thank you for showing me what never to be'."

This article was originally published on April 29, 2020, and was updated on November 15, 2022.

Feature Image: Getty.

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