18 celebrities who came from nothing

    Leonardo DiCaprio.

    Laurent KOFFEL/Getty Images

    Many celebrities had a tough beginning financially. 
    They worked hard to get where they are today and have spoken about their struggles.
    Here we look at 18 celebrities who went from rags to riches.

    It’s hard not to get jealous of the fabulous lives celebrities lead.

    They’ve got the fame, they’ve got the looks, and they’ve got the fortune. They never have to worry about looming rent or bills. Instead, they jet off in private planes to their favorite exotic locations to play on their yachts. 

    Despite the millions they may have now, many of the richest celebrities grew up with nothing.

    Their rags-to-riches stories prove that with hard work, persistence, talent, and a lot of luck, you really can end up in a better place than where you started. 

    Check out these “started from the bottom” stories about 18 of your favorite celebrities.

    This article was originally published in March 2017. Amy Daire contributed to a previous version of this story.

    Oprah Winfrey is worth billions, but before her big break things were difficult.Oprah Winfrey.

    Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

    The billionaire media mogul had a rougher start than most. She grew up wearing potato sacks because her family couldn’t afford clothing, was shuffled between family members living in boarding houses and on rural farms, and had to deal with both sexual abuse and teen pregnancy.

    She fled those terrible conditions to move in with her dad in Tennessee, where she became a model student and a popular peer. The rest is history. 

    “I know what it means to be poor,” she said in a 2013 video clip from “MAKERS.” “I know what it feels like to be abandoned. I know what it feels like to not be wanted. I know what it feels like to not be loved … and yet have inside yourself a yearning, a passion, a desire, a hope for something better.”

    Despite her rocky start, her hopes and dreams turned into reality. Now she’s one of the richest people in the world and has everything you could ever dream of owning.

    Oscar-winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio wasn’t always rich.Leonardo DiCaprio.

    Frazer Harrison / Getty

    He’s been in countless memorable movies, but before he started spending big bucks on yachts and celeb-filled vacations, he was just trying to make sure his parents could make ends meet. 

    His family grew up in the rougher parts of East Hollywood, where his mother worked as a secretary and his father sold comic books underground. Neither made much money. 

    “Money was always on my mind when I was growing up,” he said to Telegraph magazine in an interview in 2016. “So I was always wondering how we were going to afford this and that. Acting seemed to be a shortcut out of the mess.”

    DiCaprio became a superstar when he starred in “Titanic” in 1997, the highest-grossing movie ever at the time. He finally won a best actor Oscar for “The Revenant” in 2016.

    Demi Moore left the trailer park and is now worth millions.Demi Moore.

    Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX/IPx/AP

    The self-proclaimed “trailer park kid” moved from place to place with her alcoholic parents throughout her entire childhood. She dropped out of school and moved out of the home she said was abusive at 16.

    She worked as a debt collector and model before landing a supporting role in 1981’s “Choices” and making all the risks worth it. 

    “We weren’t dirt poor, but we didn’t have a lot of money,” she explained to The Guardian during an interview in 2007. “I entered this career having no background or connection to acting. I had so little I had nothing to lose and everything to gain by taking the risk.”

    Hilary Swank caught her biggest break in “Boys Don’t Cry.” Almost 25 years later, she’s well out of the poverty she grew up in.Hilary Swank at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

    Arthur Mola/Invision/AP

    Swank also starred in “Million Dollar Baby” and “Freedom Writers,” films that surely helped her rise to the big bucks, but before her name was ever in lights she was living in a trailer park just like Moore. When her mother lost her job, the two of them moved to California and lived out of a car

    The two-time Oscar-winning actor has been very open about her childhood and was even criticized for romanticizing poverty. Her second Academy Award acceptance speech might have contributed to those harsh opinions.  

    “I don’t know what I did in this life to deserve this. I’m just a girl from a trailer park who had a dream,” she said on stage in 2001. “I never thought this would ever happen.”

    Nicki Minaj always wanted to make enough money to support her mother. She can now.Nicki Minaj.

    Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

    The rapper and singer has stepped it up from her earlier lifestyle. She grew up in a turbulent home with a drug-addicted father who would sell their things for drug money and set their house on fire with her mom still inside. 

    “When I first came to America,” she said to Rolling Stone in 2010, “I would go in my room and kneel down at the foot of my bed and pray that god would make me rich so that I could take care of my mother.”

    She’s got more than enough money and power to do that now, thanks in part to the fact that she worked hard and stayed out of trouble herself. 

    “At one point you had to sell a few kilos to be considered a credible rapper,” she also said in the interview. “But now it’s like Drake and I are embracing the fact that we went to school, we love acting, we love theater, and that’s OK — and it’s especially good for the Black community to know that’s OK, that’s embraced.”

    Minaj has paid her wealth forward, too. In 2017, she revealed that she’d been donating money and infrastructure equipment to a rural village in India for years.

    It didn’t take long for Justin Bieber to go from a struggling teenager to rich and famous.Justin Bieber.

    Reuters/Mario Anzuoni

    The 30-year-old stepped onto the scene in 2009 with his hit “One Time.” Just before it was released, he was living in Canada with his single mother, who wasn’t exactly making the money that Bieber is used to these days. 

    “I remember being poor and being teased by other kids,” he said in an interview with Clique TV in 2015. “I remember sitting in restaurants with my mother and she’d make me order water instead of soda. I remember so badly wanting to order a soda. And I also remember that when I got my first big paycheck, I was so glad to be able to use that money to take care of my mother.”

    Mariah Carey’s millions came from loads of hard work.Mariah Carey.

    Mark Davis/Getty Images

    Before the singer had hits like “Without You,” “We Belong Together,” and “Touch My Body” she was waiting tables. 

    “I moved to Manhattan alone as a teenage girl. It was an exciting time for me, even though I had nothing,” she said on her show “Mariah’s World.” “I lived, like, on a mattress on the floor. I was writing my songs and being a horrible waitress. My demo tape ended up at Sony and they signed it away.”

    Since then, she’s reportedly earned millions off of “All I Want For Christmas Is You” alone.

    Jennifer Lopez wasn’t always a pop megastar.Jennifer Lopez.

    John Sciulli/Getty Images

    There was a time when Jennifer Lopez was just Jenny from the block. She grew up in the Bronx, walking around with holes in her shoes

    Once she decided to drop out of college and pursue singing, she even became homeless for a while. She told Extra in 2013 that she spent those days couch surfing in dance studios.

    “I was like, ‘Can I sleep here when everyone goes on home … on the couch?'” she said. “Now that I think back on it, and thinking about being 18 and one of my kids being 18 and doing that, I would’ve had a heart attack.”

    Mark Wahlberg’s wealth didn’t come as easily as some might expect.Mark Wahlberg.

    Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Netflix

    Before he broke out as Marky Mark and started getting cast in Hollywood blockbusters, Wahlberg was getting into trouble in Boston. 

    The actor came from a broken home and spent his teenage years dealing drugs, feeding his cocaine addiction, and getting into fights. One of those fights landed him in jail for attempted murder. 

    “As soon as I began that life of crime, there was always a voice in my head telling me I was going to end up in jail,” Wahlberg wrote to a judge in documents obtained by The Daily Beast in 2017. “Three of my brothers had done time. My sister went to prison so many times I lost count. Finally I was there, locked up with the kind of guys I’d always wanted to be like. Now I’d earned my stripes and I was just like them, and I realized it wasn’t what I wanted at all. I’d ended up in the worst place I could possibly imagine and I never wanted to go back. First of all, I had to learn to stay on the straight and narrow.”

    Since then he’s turned his life around and is now one of the biggest movie stars in the world.

    Jim Carrey made $20 million per film at his peak, but he was actually homeless at an earlier point in his life.Jim Carrey.

    Getty Images

    When Carrey was just 12, his father lost his job, leaving the four kids and their stay-at-home mom in quite a tight squeeze.

    “My father lost his job when he was 51 and that was the real ‘wow,’ the kick in the guts,” he said to James Lipton on “Inside The Actor’s Studio.” “We lived in a van for a while, and we worked all together as security guards and janitors.”

    Carrey worked in a factory after school to help out, but his days of doing dirty work are long gone.

    He reportedly made $20 million per movie in the 1990s, and is now recognized around the world as one of the most talented comedians of all time.

    Jay Z is hip-hop’s first billionaire, but his beginnings were much more humble.Jay-Z.


    Beyoncé’s husband grew up in the projects in Brooklyn, where the hope of becoming a billionaire was just a pipe dream. He spent his high school years selling drugs, something many of his peers were also doing at the time. 

    “We were living in a tough situation, but my mother managed; she juggled. Sometimes we’d pay the light bill, sometimes we paid the phone, sometimes the gas went off,” he explained to Vanity Fair in an in-depth interview in 2013. “We weren’t starving—we were eating, we were okay. But it was things like you didn’t want to be embarrassed when you went to school; you didn’t want to have dirty sneakers or wear the same clothes over again. And crack was everywhere — it was inescapable.”

    He ended up walking away from it all to focus solely on music, which he was juggling with dealing at the time.

    Leighton Meester has millions, but after hearing her backstory, you’ll be even more amazed.Leighton Meester.

    Getty/Jamie McCarthy

    Meester didn’t have a lot of experience to go off of for her role as the queen bee on “Gossip Girl.” The first few years of her life were far from glamorous.

    The actress was born in a prison while her mother was serving time for smuggling drugs. Meester spent her childhood in Florida with her grandmother until her mom got out and the two reunited.

    When she was 10, they moved to New York so that Meester could model and then packed up again four years later to head to Los Angeles where she started auditioning for roles and taking acting classes.

    “I couldn’t relate to kid stuff. ‘Jimmy doesn’t like me!’ Who cares? I was worried we didn’t have gas money or food. Those were my concerns,” she said in an interview with Marie Claire in 2012.

    Chris Pratt lived in a van before he was famous.Chris Pratt.

    Chris PizzelloInvision/AP

    Before he was the star of “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Jurassic World” franchises, Pratt was a college dropout who lived out of a van in Hawaii.

    Pratt said he was pretty fortunate. As he describes it, he lived a life of low ambition rather than misfortune.

    “We just drank and smoked weed and worked minimal hours, 15 to 20 hours per week, just enough to cover gas, food and fishing supplies,” he told The Independent in 2014. “You know, it was a charming time.”

    Sarah Jessica Parker has millions, but she grew up with much, much less.Sarah Jessica Parker.

    Jamie McCarthy/GettyImages

    The “Sex and the City” star’s family grew up on Roosevelt Island in New York so that the kids could pick up theater gigs, but Parker and her siblings saw very little of those earnings. Instead of being placed in a trust for her when she was older, it went to the family’s bills.

    ”I remember being poor. There was no great way to hide it,” she said while discussing money with “The New York Times” in 2000. “We didn’t have electricity sometimes. We didn’t have Christmases sometimes, or we didn’t have birthdays sometimes, or the bill collectors came, or the phone company would call and say, ‘We’re shutting your phones off.'”


    Jane Seymour was “penniless” before taking “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman,” which changed her life.Jane Seymour.


    Jane Seymour has been everything from a Bond girl to an aggressive cougar in “The Wedding Crashers,” but there was a time when she was dead broke. Then “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” came along.

    “I was literally penniless, homeless, owing more money than you can imagine without knowing it to two banks and the FDIC,” she recalled to Business Insider in 2024. “I had called my agent the day before the shoot of this thing and said, ‘Please, I will do anything. I need to put food on the table if I can find one job, for my children.’ It’s that bad.”

    Her agent got to work and landed her the role by the next morning. Originally supposed to be just a TV “Movie of the Week,” once made into a series “Dr. Quinn” went on to run for six seasons through the 1990s and air in over 100 countries.

    Seymour went from homeless to a household name in the ’90s.

    “People are still watching it everywhere,” she told BI. “In fact, I’m now starting to watch it because I was too busy making it to watch it then.”

    Walton Goggins had only $300 when he first came to Los Angeles; he has a lot more than that now.Walton Goggins.

    Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty

    Goggins came to LA from Georgia when he was 19. Though he knew he could make it as an actor, he also knew right away it wasn’t going to be easy, so he got to work.

    “I had $300 in my pocket. I had enough to last a month. And the first morning I was in LA I had a job at a health club,” he told BI in 2024.

    “I did that until I decided I was going to start my own business, and I started a valet parking company,” he continued. “I had that for a couple of years. I sold cowboy boots. I became a personal trainer. But along with all of that I was very fortunate to start working as an actor straight away. But I’m conservative, fiscally speaking, so I continued to keep working side jobs and structured my life in a way that I had a job that allowed me to walk away whenever an opportunity to act came up.”

    Finally, Goggins was making enough as an actor that he could finally stop doing the side jobs. Since then he’s entertained us on TV series like “The Shield,” “The Righteous Gemstones,” and “Fallout,” and movies like “The Hateful Eight.”

    Jon Hamm went from having only $5 in his pocket at the start of his career to making $250,000 per episode on “Mad Men.”Jon Hamm.

    Vittorio Celotto/Getty

    Hamm is another actor who had a rough start.

    Things got so bad for the “Fargo” star that in the early days of his career, he had only $5 to his name and owed his landlord nearly a year’s rent.

    “At a certain point, I had owed my landlord here in LA about seven or eight months’ worth of back rent that I somehow talked her into being fine with,” Hamm said in an interview as part of The Hollywood Reporter’s drama actor Emmy roundtable in 2024. “Like, ‘Yeah, I’ll get it to you eventually. Of course I’m good for it.'”

    Hamm found acclaim as ad man Don Draper in the hit series “Mad Men,” which began airing in 2007. By the time its 7 season run was through, he won an Emmy and was earning $250,000 per episode.

    Glen Powell almost went broke waiting for his big break to happen with “Top Gun: Maverick.”Glen Powell.

    Dia Dipasupil/Getty

    Good things happen to those who wait, and that’s certainly the case with Glen Powell.

    After years of trying to make it in the business, he finally landed a role opposite Tom Cruise in “Top Gun: Maverick,” the decades-in-the-making sequel to Cruise’s 1980s classic, “Top Gun.”

    The problem was the pandemic. It kept pushing the release date of the movie. And Powell was running out of money.

    “I’d never made any significant amount of money on a movie, including ‘Top Gun,’ and I was depleting a bank account to a point where my accountant was like, ‘This pandemic cannot last much longer,'” Powell told The Hollywood Reporter in 2024.

    “Tom was already Tom; I was waiting for my life to change,” he said.

    Then the movie finally came out and made over $1 billion. Powell’s life did change. He followed that up with the hit rom-com “Anyone but You” and the upcoming “Twisters.”

    We’re pretty certain Powell is okay with money at the current moment.

    Read the original article on Business Insider


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