How ‘NCIS: Los Angeles’ Star LL Cool J Learned His Mother Was Adopted

NCIS: Los Angeles star, LL Cool J, lives a fairly public life. The iconic rapper and actor has been in the spotlight ever since he burst onto the hip hop scene. Having grown up with two steadfast grandparents, it came as a shock to learn his mother was adopted. Here’s how LL Cool J found out the truth.

LL Cool J’s childhood was rough

LL Cool J
LL Cool J | Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

LL Cool J — James Todd Smith — previously wrote about his difficult childhood in his 1998 autobiography I Make My Own Rules. He’s given numerous interviews about his life, including all the heartbreaking details.

In a nutshell, LL Cool J grew up with his mother’s abusive boyfriend, Roscoe. The events, along with his parents’ separation, scarred LL Cool J to the bone. It’s enough that led him to live with his maternal grandparents, Eugene Griffith, a jazz musician who gave LL his first guitar, and Ellen Hightower.

In the beginning, his mother, Ondrea, also lived in the home after the initial split from LL Cool J’s father but left at some point.

During an appearance on Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr., LL Cool J said his grandparents, “embraced me, they built me up. They made me believe in myself.”

How did LL Cool J learn his mother was adopted?

During the episode of Finding Your Roots, Henry Louis Gates Jr. helped uncover LL Cool J’s roots. The trail led to Ondrea’s adoption in 1947.

This then pointed toward her birth parents’ identity and the sordid family history. This includes his relation to 1930s champion boxer, John Henry Lewis, and an 1882 accidental shooting that claimed the life of his maternal great-great-grandmother.

The star also learned that his grandfather and mother were wounded in a shooting involving his father. It’s something eerily similar to his childhood

“This doesn’t change how I feel about the people that raised me,” LL Cool J, said of the grandparents who raised him. “I have more love and respect for them than I ever did.”

Ondrea appeared in the episode. She understands her adoptive parents “had their reasons” for not disclosing she was adopted. LL Cool J was given the news via phone before cameras became involved.

The process to uncover LL Cool J’s roots took ‘hundreds of hours’

View this post on Instagram

Haaaa big mood #flashbackFriday

A post shared by LLCOOLJ (@llcoolj) on

The process to uncover someone’s DNA history is complicated. For LL Cool J, his mother genetically matched a woman other than his grandmother, Ellen.

They tested cousins and nieces, but no one shared enough DNA that matched Ondrea. However, researchers found her biological father’s name, Nathaniel Christie Lewis, a professional boxer.

Ondrea’s birth certificate didn’t name parents and was issued a year post-birth, according to the show. They found a connection through the original birth record which “belonged to an Ondra Jolly, born to a woman named Ethel Mae Jolly,” the show revealed.

From there, genetic genealogy consultant, CeCe Moore, spent “hundreds of hours” sorting DNA evidence, she said on Facebook.

Fans commented on the post, saying it was their favorite episode due to the extensive research involved. LL Cool J may have uncovered a family secret not meant to be exposed, but hopefully, it helped him feel a little more connected to his place in the world.