Celebrities Who Were Once Broke

Oprah Winfrey

These days, the media mogul is often clad in designer gear. She exudes luxury and class. However, her childhood was far from the picture perfect life we see today. Back then, she had a wardrobe composed of potato sacks, and they moved around so much that they might have had a moving company discount for being regulars. To say the least, she had a rough start in life, but Oprah was not the type to give up.

Fortunately, things eventually turned around for her. She was able to attend university and persevered in order to achieve her goals. Oprah attended Tennessee State University on a full scholarship, where she received her degree in speech communications and performing arts. Decades since, she is a famous star of the talk show Oprah Winfrey Show. Winfrey is also No. 10 on the Forbes list of the richest self-made women in the United States.

Mark Wahlberg

Mark Wahlberg is one of Hollywood’s most bankable actors today, but even this guy didn’t always have it easy. He grew up in a broken home and spent most of his youth causing trouble. Mark got into fights, did illegal things, and was almost sent to the slammer once. Surprised? Well, you’re not alone! It’s safe to say that he was plenty angry back then and didn’t have the same purpose he has now. The actor had a lot of growing up to do, but the painful process was worth it.

He was able to establish a fairly successful rapping career, did amazingly as a model, and eventually made his way into being an actor. These days, when he’s not busy making movies, Mark is making investments in various businesses.

Mariah Carey

Surprised to see her on our list? While Mariah is known for living luxuriously, often seen toting around designer bags and walking in expensive heels, she had humble beginnings, too. In fact, she worked as a waitress for quite a while and didn’t even have a proper bed to sleep in! Despite her situation, the talented singer-songwriter, never stopped chasing her dream. She had always been writing on the side and honed her voice as much as she could.

She also experienced rejections before her demo tape landed in Sony’s offices. That was the turning point she needed in life and in just a few months, she was signed with the popular label. Mariah Carey is one of the 15 best-selling music artists of all time and has sold 200 million albums worldwide so far. Mariah hasn’t looked back since, though we all know her experiences helped shape who she is to a degree.

Jim Carrey

He may have gotten his start playing comic relief characters, but these days? Jim Carrey is one of the most recognized actors, not just in Hollywood, but around the world as well. We bet you can easily name a lot of his movies right off the top of your head. That’s how much of an impact he has had in the industry. Prior to all this success, however, he was a struggling actor. Only a handful of people can really make it in the industry, after all.

Imagine not having anything to your name and needing loans just to survive. In an interview with Oprah, he told her that he once envisioned himself receiving $10,000,000 for starring in a movie. Years later, he achieved that through the high-successful, Dumb and Dumber. In the late 1990s and late 2000s, Jim was one of the highest paid artists in the world.

Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise was born in Syracuse, New York. His mother worked as a special education teacher while his father was an electrical engineer. The actor had always been open about his childhood and growing up in poverty. They moved to Ottawa in 1971, where Tom got his first shot at theater, under the mentorship of George Steinburg. Acting was not something he planned on pursuing, however.

He attended 15 schools in 14 years, and initially aspired to become a priest. Tom even played varsity football before getting kicked off the team! This led to him going back into theatre and rekindling his love of acting. From bit parts, he slowly made his way up to receiving major film credit. These days? He no longer worries about getting roles. After all, Tom produces the movies himself. Tom Cruise, who has appeared in dozens of big movies over the past three decades, is now widely regarded as one of the biggest stars in Hollywood.

Steve Harvey

When we speak of Steve Harvey, what comes to mind are the numerous hosting jobs he has held over the years. The comedian and TV-personality hosts The Steve Harvey Morning Show, Celebrity Family Feud, and Family Feud. Since 2015, he has also hosted the Miss Universe Competition. Steve has won a number of recognitions for his work, but before the Emmy Awards and the success he enjoys now, he had to start from the flooring.

Steve worked as a carpet cleaner, an insurance salesman, a mailman, and even a boxer, before he hit it big as a stand-up comedian. He had been homeless and showered at gas stations. He didn’t intend to be a comedian at first, but once he discovered the art of comedy, he never looked back. He has multiple mansions and cars to his name -all earned through talent and hard work.

Sarah Jessica Parker

We know Sarah Jessica Parker best for her role as Carrie Bradshaw and for her sense of style. The actress and producer has found much success in her career, but her current life is a far-cry from what her childhood was like. Sarah grew up in relative poverty. Her parents divorced when she was very young, and she was raised by her mother and stepfather. She contributes to her family income by dancing and singing. The family even had to forgo birthdays and Christmases due to the lack of money. Their electricity was often shut off despite her parents effort to provide for the family.

She is one of eight children. Her mother was a nursery-school operator and teacher while her father is a journalist and entrepreneur. Despite their financial status, she was able to train in ballet through a public institution. This led to various opportunities; from making her Broadway debut at 11 years old to where she is today.

Chris Pratt

Chris Pratt could have been a wrestler had he not been discovered by a director. He was part of a high school wrestling team and had even won a state tournament before. Acting was never part of his plans, but when asked by his coach about what he wanted to do with his life, Chris replied that while he wasn’t sure—he knew that he would be famous and earn a lot of money. Chris went through a lot in his journey to stardom.

He had been homeless in Hawaii and waited tables at Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, where he was discovered by Rae Dawn Chong. She gave him his first acting credit and the actor has not looked back since. Pratt has been recognized as one of the richest actors in Hollywood after being named in the Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014 and Jurassic World in 2015. These films have made a lot of money at the global box office.

James Cameron

Before James Cameron became the director we know him today, he was studying for a degree in Physics at the California State University. He dropped out later on, in order to focus more on his screenplays. However, James wasn’t immediately successful. In fact, in order to make ends meet, he worked as a truck driver for a period of time! We wonder where he would have ended up if The Terminator wasn’t as successful as it had been.

He was barely able to keep up with his living expenses and had to live in his car for a while, until the breakthrough he was hoping for happened. Not only did it help get him out of homelessness, it was the start of his brilliant filmmaking career.

Dr. Phil

Philip Calvin McGraw, better known by today’s audience as Dr. Phil, has been dishing out valuable advice on TV for years. Dr. Phil started with small appearances as a guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show, but soon won people over with his wit and genuine personality. Much like others on our list, Dr. Phil didn’t come from a privileged background. There was a period during his youth when he had to live in a car with his father.

His greatest asset back then was his height—it allowed him to receive university athletic scholarships, which was how he earned his psychology degree at the University of North Texas. He had a private practice for a while, but it was his TV career that later brought him a significant amount of wealth. After being welcomed on Oprah Winfrey’s show, Dr. Phil decided to launch his own talk show. In the show, he offers advice in the form of “life strategies” based on his experience as a clinical and forensic psychologist.

Daniel Craig

Daniel Craig is currently one of Hollywood’s biggest action stars, with thanks to his turn as James Bond. Through the role, he has managed to establish himself as a bankable actor and a versatile one, at that. His interest in acting started during his teens, when he met his mother’s friends who were all theater actors. When he turned 16, he went on to join the National Youth Theater. Daniel graduated from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Not a bad start, right? Well, he couldn’t really get a lot of roles at the beginning. Before the investments, big houses and fancy cars, he used to wait tables and even slept on park benches! If experience makes a man, then there’s no doubt that Daniel Craig has definitely made it. Daniel started a prolific stage career before graduation, playing some little-known roles. Three years later, he became famous for his British Mini-series Our Friends in the North.

Demi Moore

Demi Moore gets credit for being one of the highest-paid actresses in history after receiving a $12.5 million paycheck to star in the film, Striptease. While this might make it seem like the actress has had a cushy life as an actress, getting to that level of success wasn’t an easy. In fact, she had quite a rough childhood, which not many people know about. She had strabismus as a child and grew up in a rather complicated family situation. Nonetheless, she persevered.

After Moore left high school, she worked in many jobs, such as a masked girl and a debt collection company. Moore later took a drama class and decided that acting was something she wanted to focus on. She signed with a modeling agency, which led to many opportunities. It wasn’t a paved path for the actress, but she eventually found her niche in Hollywood. The film Ghost made her a household name and helped secure her spot in the highly-competitive industry.

Celine Dion

Just the mere sound of Celine Dion’s voice can send chills down your spine. She’s one of the world’s most popular singers, with a reach that spans the globe. She has sold 220 million albums worldwide. It wasn’t always roses for her, however. Celine is the youngest of 14 children and their family struggled a lot. Getting enough food and clothes for everyone was something her parents had to work hard for.

To help out her family, she recorded a demo and sent it to different companies. It was René Angélil who really believed in her has an artist. He was so moved that he even took out a mortgage on his house just to fund her debut album! Clearly, the risk paid off. The two even ended up together and were married for 21 years.

Michael Oher

Finding success isn’t always a lonely journey. You never know if the next person you’ll meet would change your life forever. Take Michael Oher’s life for example. It was the basis for the film, The Blind Side, which has inspired many since its release. The former football player grew up in a difficult household, which took a toll on him as a teen. He went from foster home to foster home, not really finding the support he needed. Well, that was until he met Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy.

The family adopted him and provided everything he needed to move forward from what he had experienced. With his hard work and their faith in him, Michael was able to succeed. He even graduated with a criminal justice degree! In 2009, he was chosen 23rd in the first round of the draft by Baltimore Ravens, becoming the first draft of the National Football League (NFL).

Halle Berry

It’s safe to say that Halle Berry’s success is one that she fought hard for. The actress is the first woman of African-American descent to win a Best Actress trophy, with thanks to her amazing performance in Monster’s Ball. It was a milestone in her career and in her life, given everything she had been through before that moment. She made her first major salary in 1996, when she made $1 million in Executive Decision.

Halle had it rough. She experienced staying in homeless shelters and having nothing to her name. At one point, she was even refused financial help. The actress worked her way out of the situation she found herself in—becoming stronger in the process. Now that she has multiple homes to choose from, the only thing Halle has to worry about is getting home security systems for each one.

Leonardo DiCaprio

If there’s one actor who epitomizes the life of luxury celebs are famous for, it would have to be Leonardo DiCaprio. He has fast cars, owns multiple houses, dates models, and even has his own island. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, too. We’re sure his parents are more than proud of what their son has achieved. His mother was a secretary, while his father was a comic book seller. Back then, Leo saw acting as an easy way to make money and support his family.

He found commercial success in Romeo and Juliet, but it was Titanic that pushed his career to a higher degree. His hard work isn’t solely for his own gain, though. Leo is also a generous philanthropist who supports various causes worldwide. So far, his foundation has raised more than $80 million for various reasons.

Ralph Lauren

His name is a brand in itself, and is one of the biggest in the world. This is why it might surprise you to learn that Ralph Lauren’s upbringing is far from the lifestyle that his brand embodies. His parents were Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants and he grew up a lower-middle class citizen in New York. Did you know that he had served in the U.S. Army and later found work as a sales assistant for a tie company?

His creativity paired with his business-savvy helped him rise to the top. Ralph is one of the richest people in America, with a multi-billion net worth to his name. Lauren owns several properties, including a 17000 acre ranch in Colorado and a 17000 square foot estate in Bedford, New York. We sure hope he has a great financial advisor to help him plan out what to invest in next!

Jennifer Lopez

There is no denying the impact Jennifer Lopez has had on the industry. Not only as a recording artist, but also an actress, fashion designer, and business woman. You might remember her appearance in the successful film, Anaconda, but this isn’t her first venture in the spotlight. She started out in 1997 as a Fly Girl for the show In Living Color!

In Hollywood, she is one of the highest-paid Latin actresses, with credit to the blockbusters she has starred in. Did you know that as a child, she lived with her family in a small apartment in Castle Hill? In fact, his parents thought she wanted to be a star is a truly stupid idea, because no Latino did. We wonder if she ever imagined a future where that apartment would be of similar size to her closet, and that she’d have fans around the world.

Hilary Swank

The actress grew up in Nebraska, to parents who worked average jobs. Her mother was a secretary and dancer, while her father was a Chief Master Sergeant in the Oregon Air National Guard before becoming a traveling salesman. Early on, it seemed as if Hilary was set for a life in sports. She even ranked fifth in a state championships for gymnastics. The actress had always loved the stage, however, and even appeared in a production of The Jungle Book at only nine years old!

Though she experienced setbacks in life, after her parents divorced, Hilary Swan moved to Los Angeles with her mother when she was 15. They lived in the car until Hillary’s mother made enough money to rent. This period inspired Hilary to become a successful actress. Hilary made it in Hollywood. Unsurprisingly, she gives much of the credit to her mother, for inspiring her career and life.

Dolly Parton

Oh, Dolly! She’s one of country music’s most iconic singers, with thanks to her music and her colorful personality. Dolly Rebecca Parton was born in a humble home. Her mother was a homemaker, while her father was a carpenter and share-cropper. She often described her early life as dirt poor and the family lived on the banks of Little Pigeon River in Pittman Center, Tennessee in a one room cabin. Dolly is the fourth child out of twelve children.

The poverty she experienced served as inspiration for many of her songs. Perhaps it is also one of the reasons why she’s so relatable, despite being one of the wealthiest artists now. Aside from hit records, she also manages various investments, including her own record label. In her career, as a solo singer alone, she has sold more than 100 million albums. Through philanthropy and entrepreneurial efforts, Dolly invested most of her fortune in Tennessee.

Angelina Jolie

Despite being the daughter of Jon Voight, one of the industry’s finest actors, Angelina Jolie grew up in a humble household. Her mother worked hard for what they had and even put her own dreams on hold in order to raise Angelina. The actress was enrolled in an expensive school during her youth, Julie spent her time at Beverly Hills High School, where she felt isolated from wealthy classmates as her family survived on her mother’s meager income. She was bullied by other teenagers because she was very thin with glasses and braces.

When she finally made her way into the industry, Angelina was received with open arms. However, she was initially typecast in certain roles, and was more famous for being Voight’s daughter. Fortunately, she received projects and acting credit that really showed off her talent. Since then, she has picked up countless accolades, both as an actress and as a humanitarian.

Demi Lovato

As a Disney channel teen star, Demi Lovato didn’t just achieve fame, she also earned a significant amount of wealth. She has taken on a number of different roles throughout the years, with the most memorable being Mitchie Torres in the widely-successful TV-film Camp Rock. Since graduating from Disney, she has also established herself as a force to be reckoned with in music. With her powerful singing voice and undeniable stage presence, Demi found success quite easily.

However, she had to face a lot of struggles before getting there. She came from an unstable family background and had to overcome issues of her own. At timberline knolls hospital in Illinois, she was treated for bulimia and self abuse. During treatment, she was also found to have bipolar disorder. Fortunately, all of that is behind her now and she can live without worry thanks to her investments.

Leighton Meester

Her role in the CW’s Gossip Girl was well-loved by many and established her as one of the biggest breakout stars of the show. Leighton Meester played the role of Blair Waldorf, bringing to life the all-too privileged and style-savvy New Yorker. Her own upbringing, however, is quite far from her fictional counterpart’s. Leighton was born in Fort Worth, Texas.

Her mother worked as a writer and her father was a real estate broker. They were both incarcerated while she was growing up.  Her parents divorced when she was six. The actress was raised in a normal household, though it is a degree humbler compared to her life now. She slowly worked her way up as an actress, modeling and even releasing songs on the side. After Gossip Girl she went on to bigger and better projects.

Chris Gardner

You might recognize his name as the author behind The Pursuit of Happyness. The book has since been translated into over 40 different languages and was even adapted into a film starring Will Smith and his real-life son, Jaden. His story is one that many can relate with, which is why his rise to the top is also incredibly inspiring. Gardner was born into a family of abuse and crime. He was eventually sent to the foster care system.

In his youth, he decided to grow up to avoid abuse, illiteracy, fear and powerlessness at all costs. Gardner had been a homeless veteran and was trying to pursue a career in finances. However, he did not have the experience or a college degree to his name. As you might already know, he overcame even the biggest hurdles and turned himself into a success. These days, he travels as a motivational speaker and is the CEO of his own company.


Jewel has never been shy about sharing her early beginnings. The award-wining singer-songwriter had once been homeless. This was after she refused her boss’ advances and he withheld her paycheck so she wasn’t able to pay off her rent. Then another streak of bad luck struck, after her car got stolen while she was at her new job. Jewel ended up living in the streets, and likely needed loans to get by, until she managed to get herself out of that situation.

This was also around the same time she began writing her own songs, and performing them at local coffee shops. Sure, it was a rough start, but the singer persevered and look at her now—she’s still one of the most respected names in music. In 1998, jewel sang the national anthem at the Super Bowl XXXII, she also published her first book, A Night Without Armor, a bestseller for the New York Times.

Shania Twain

The glamorous Shania Twain once had to live in a homeless shelter with her mother and siblings. It was this reality that taught her the value of many things. Her childhood was hard, the relationship between her mother and her stepfather was strained from the beginning, Shania often witnessed the violence between them. In 1979, her mother drove the girl 420 miles to a homeless shelter in Toronto for help. The family slept in a crowded building and on cot-like beds, which were uncomfortable but it was all they could manage. She never once tried to gloss-over her past and is proud of it.

Using her talent for singing, Shania was able to help out the family with what they needed to survive. She worked at a club as a singer and that was where she was scouted by a producer. Shania has achieved great things since then and we’re sure she understands the value of money management based on her own experiences.

Kelly Clarkson

During her early career as a singer, Clarkson had been homeless. She was the youngest of three children in her family, separated from her siblings when her parents divorced. She struggled to find work in Los Angeles and resorted to living in her car after her apartment was damaged by a fire. She went back to Texas, where she auditioned for American Idol. She made it all the way to the top, with credit to the viewers who were smitten by Clarkson’s arresting voice, charisma, and humor.

Since then, she has had multiple hit albums, awards, and is even recognized as an actress. The singer is still one of the most respected vocalists in the industry and continues to impress many. Kelly proves that despite seemingly insurmountable challenges, perseverance always pays off. Given how beautifully her story as turned out, we don’t doubt that one bit.

Natasha Lyonne

It’s clear that many of our favorite celebs have experienced homelessness prior to finding their bit of luck. Natasha Lyonne is no exception. The star of Orange is the New Black and Russian Doll did not lead a cushy life before becoming an actress. In fact, she struggled with a lot of personal issues, including mental and physical disorders.

This is why she deserves much applause for finding the strength and turning her life around. After all, not everyone manages to rise after they fall a number of times. Natasha did not give up and pushed forward.  Lyonne’s involvement in the production of the Israeli children’s film April Fool, this started her interest in acting. Today, she is one of the most sought-after actresses in Hollywood. She has even been given credit for her performance in Netflix’s Russian Doll!

Howard Schultz

Aside from hard work, you also need ingenuity in order to make it big. Just take Howard Schultz as an example. Howard Schultz was born in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up in a poor family. He proved to be an excellent athlete and later won a sports scholarship from the University of northern Michigan, where he graduated with a degree in Communications. This didn’t exactly lead him to a high-paying job, however. After graduation, he went to work as an appliance sales man at Hammarplast.

Like many others, he did the nine to five grind, but was always looking to pursue bigger things. It was after he was hired as a director of retail operations and marketing for Starbucks Coffee Company did he manage to show his mettle. Through the help of a business loan, he established his own coffee company, IL Giornale, and purchased Starbucks from his former bosses.

Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald is given credit as the First Lady of Song and The Queen of Jazz. Before her success, however, she had a rather difficult childhood to overcome. The family struggled financially and even from a young age, Ella needed to work in order to help out her family. This was not enough, however, and there was even a point when she was living in the streets.

It would be years before she got her big break. On November 21, 1934, she made her debut at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, New York, where she performed Connie Boswell’s Judy and My Love. Then, she was a regular performer at the Apollo Theater where she was scouted. When she did step foot into the scene, Ella set the standard for everyone else. Even today, she remains one of the most beloved and respected musical artists of all time.

Drew Carey

Drew Carey is the man who never fails to make us laugh. One might argue that he is capable of removing our worries, just by watching him on TV. However, even this funny man had to go through his fair share of difficulties before finding success in his chosen field. Drew battled with various issues through high school and college. Despite this, and losing his father at a young age, the comedian never gave up on his dream.

Instead, he continued to work on his act and wrote scripts. His perseverance eventually paid off, but even then it was a slowly rise to fame. Nonetheless, every bit of effort and personal investment all paid off big for him. He has since hosted a number of top-billed shows, including The Price is Right, earns $12.5 million a year. That’s enough to make him one of the top 20 TV presenters in the world.

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