Lear was born to an unmarried teenager and relinquished for adoption. Her adoptive mother was cold and cruel and her father, whom she loved, died when she was 10. Her step-father sexually abused her and tried to murder her when she disclosed the abuse.
She married Norman Lear, a television producer (All in the Family), but they divorced after 28 years. She used part of her divorce settlement to found and publish the influential feminist women's magazine, Lear's Magazine, from 1988 to 1993.