Bruce Charles Heezen was born on April 11, 1924 in Vinton, Iowa, United States. His father, Charles Christian Heezen, managed farm properties for an insurance company, then acquired his own farm near Muscatine, Iowa, on which he raised turkeys. His mother, Esther Christine Shirding, had taught dramatics in high school before their marriage and had considerable artistic talent. Heezen was their only child. He helped his father on the turkey farm (thereby acquiring a lifelong distaste for the product) and showed an early interest in science.