Chelsea Handler tells jokes for a living, and it seems that practically nothing is off-limits. From divisive politics to her sex life and driving under the influence, Handler has never been shy about tackling any topic, no matter how much hot water she may find herself in afterward. More often than not, though, her bravery has carried her far, establishing the star as one of the most successful comedians of the 21st century.

Most comedians, however, will admit that some things are not laughing matters, and Handler is no different, particularly when the subject turns to Handler’s oldest brother, Chet. Chet was 13 years older than Handler and died when she was just 9 years old. Handler talks about her brother with her trademark candor, if (obviously) not with the same playfulness. It wasn’t until she was an adult that Handler was really able to unpack how much her brother’s death really affected her at such a young age and her relationships going forward.

Chelsea Handler's brother died in a hiking accident

When Chelsea Handler’s brother Chet was 22, he went hiking in Jackson Hole, Wyo. when he fell off a cliff to his death. “The whole family fell apart because everybody retreated into their little corners of grief,” Handler explained while speaking to Martha Steward for Interview Magazine. This ultimately prevented the family from grappling with the grief together. “In a sense, I lost my brother and my father. I had a real chip on my shoulder about trusting men.”

That chip on her shoulder is something that Handler carried with her for a long time. It wasn’t until Handler became enraged following the election of Donald Trump in 2016 that she finally went to therapy and unpacked her brother’s death in the process. “The election represented to me the world being unhinged, which was exactly what happened to me when my brother died when I was 9 years old,” Handler told USA Today. Chet had promised to come back and never did, leading to Handler’s trouble with men as an adult. “I don’t trust men because the most important person in my life lied to me,” she said.

Though it seems that Handler has worked through her grief more than 30 years after the fact, she will never forget him. In 2017, she shared a photo of him on Instagram. Acknowledging that her family was never the same again after his death, she chose to look at the bright side, noting that, “because of that day, I learned how to live and love and laugh.”

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