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Celebrities Who Came From Nothing



Celebrities aren’t all just spawns of nepotism. Many of them, like the rest of us, had to work extremely hard to get to where they are today. And scrapping in Hollywood is no walk in the park. In many cases, these celebrities took massive risks and monetary hits for fame’s sake.
This rise from the doldrums of normality is more respectable, considering these stars achieved success based on talent and merit, not just their name. And they’re darn good at what they do, that’s for sure. These are the most famous and successful celebrities who rose from nothing.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold Schwarzenegger wasn’t exactly the most well-off child growing up. It was years before he gained his fame. Arnie was born in an Austrian village in 1947, and his father was an ex-Nazi who verbally and physically abused him. His father much preferred his older son, Meinhard, to young Arnold, and he provoked him to be just as antagonistic to Arnold as he was. Perhaps the abuse was what triggered Arnold to become a strong and fearless bodybuilder. He later refused to attend the funerals of his brother and father. We can all see just what motivation can do to a person!

Oprah Winfrey

It’s hard to believe now, especially since her net worth is estimated at $2.9 billion, but Oprah Winfrey started out at the very bottom. Born to a single teenage mother, she grew up on a tiny farm in Mississippi. Her family was so poor that she was often lacking in things she needed, such as food, clothing, and money. She even had to wear potato sacks as clothing while she lived with her grandmother, who was so poor that they were all she could afford. She has spoken about how she was sexually abused by family members when she was 9 years old. Her family members shuffled her from place to place, but everywhere she went she struggled to thrive. Ultimately she went on to become the first black woman billionaire in the world–talk about starting from the ground up!

Dolly Parton

When asked, Dolly has always described her childhood financial situation as “dirt poor.” She was born in Sevier County, Tennessee, and was the fourth of twelve children–who all lived in a one-room cabin. Her family was so poor that her father paid the doctor who delivered Dolly with a bag of oatmeal! Dolly rose to fame and wealth with the help of music; she started playing guitar when she was seven years old, and her music career took off from there. She played small shows, singing on local radio and television programs, which eventually led to her songwriting fortune that jump started her fame. Now, she is a country music superstar and holds the title of the most honored female country performer of all time.

Nicki Minaj

Looking at her now, it’s hard to imagine Nicki Minaj ever being poor. The rap diva lived in South Jamaica, Queens, New York starting when she was 5 years old. Her father was a drug and alcohol addict who actually burned down their house while Nicki was a child. She would dream about becoming rich and famous so that she could financially support her mother. Looks like her dreams came true–but it wasn’t easy. She worked many different low-brow jobs (waitressing, customer service), and moved past a failed acting career before she finally got it right. Now she’s the Nicki Minaj we know today–pink wigs, Range Rovers, and multiple music awards!

Jim Carrey

Goofball actor and comedian Jim Carrey was born in Ontario, Canada with three older siblings. Even though he grew up in a lower-middle-class family, his situation changed when his father lost his job. Their home was repossessed and Jim had to live with his family in their van for awhile. He dropped out of high school at age 15 and got a full-time job to help support his family. He worked as a janitor and a security guard, and eventually moved to Los Angeles to begin his comedy career. Jim is now earning around $20 million per film, and his net worth is estimated to be about $150 million. Now THAT’S a turnaround!

Sarah Jessica Parker

It’s true, Sarah Jessica Parker came from some serious poverty. One of eight siblings, she grew up in Nelsonville, Ohio, where her family relied on social welfare to survive. She was a child of divorce, and her mother, father, and stepfather all struggled to support such a large family. She experienced debt collectors, shut off electricity, and embarrassing moments of being singled out to collect a welfare lunch ticket in school. Eventually Sarah’s talent landed her a Broadway role when she was 11, and her success took off from there. She is now worth over $90 million.

Celine Dion

Celine Dion may be the ultimate picture of a rich and glamorous singer now, but it wasn’t always so. She was one of 14 siblings, and though she doesn’t describe her own childhood family as being “poor,” it’s certainly difficult to be well-off and comfortable in a family with that many children, especially when the breadwinners’ jobs were homemaker and butcher. From Charlemagne, Quebec, Canada, Celine states that her family was never lacking in one thing: love. However, love isn’t necessarily enough to get a 16-member family through the hard times financially. But as we know, she ultimately rose above the odds and became a ridiculously successful singer who is surrounded by permanent luxury and a fortune of over $800 million.

Leonardo DiCaprio

He might have been born in Hollywood, CA, but Leonardo DiCaprio’s big break didn’t come because of that coincidence. His early poverty-stricken environment meant that he was surrounded by drug addicts and prostitutes, which exposed him to a darker side of the world at a very young age. Leo has said that his experience with that motivated him to create a better life for himself, as he didn’t want that kind of life. Now he is one of the most respected and talented actors in Hollywood, and is worth more than $200 million. He is a positive example and inspiration for any child born into poverty or shady neighborhoods that they can become whatever they set their minds to.

Leighton Meester

Actress and singer Leighton Meester had a rough time from the get-go. She was born while her mother was serving time in a Texas prison for smuggling drugs into the U.S. from Jamaica. Her mother was granted 12 weeks in a halfway house with baby Leighton to nurse her after she was born, but then was required to go back to serve the rest of her time in prison. Leighton’s grandmother took care of her during that time, until her mother was released ten years later. From there she moved with her mother to New York City, where she began her climb to fame, beginning with modeling. Now her net worth is estimated at $5 million. She definitely proved that you can become whatever you aspire to be, no matter what your upbringing looked like.

J.K. Rowling

Yes, the infamous author of the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling, was once a single mother living on welfare in the U.K. while she was writing her first manuscript. Unable to even afford a typewriter, she wrote her manuscripts by hand in cafes with her baby by her side. She was so poor that there were times she had to sacrifice her own meals to be able to feed the baby. Rowling’s own literary agent once said to her, “You do realize you will never make a fortune out of writing children’s books?” She sure proved her wrong! Seven books, eight films, and a theme park later, she’s laughing all the way to the bank. The Harry Potter series was officially named the best-selling book series in history, and J.K. Rowling is now at an estimated net worth of $1 billion.

Mark Wahlberg

Marky Mark had a difficult start in life. He began as a common street rat, dropping out of school at age 14 and getting hooked on drugs like cocaine soon after. He served jail time for assault, but was able to turn his life around and land a record deal. Eventually he became the big shot actor we know and love today, with an estimated net worth of $165 million. Not bad for a street rat!

Shania Twain

Shania Twain, country music superstar, came from quite humble beginnings. Born in Windsor, Ontario, her family struggled to provide food for Shania and her siblings after her parents divorced when she was two. They moved to Timmins, Ontario, where she learned to hunt and chop wood to help out with the food supply. Her mother and stepfather had a very violent relationship, and it eventually drove them to run away from him and take refuge in a homeless shelter. They ended up returning to the stepfather two years later. Shania’s mother and step dad were killed in a car accident when she was 21, which forced her to raise her siblings on her own. She made money by singing in bars and picking up small gigs, eventually working her way to the top. She now has a net worth of $350 million.

Mariah Carey

Mariah Carey is yet another child of divorce, and she grew up with very little money. Her mother struggled to provide for her, and Mariah ended up taking several different jobs at once just to make ends meet and eat enough food. She was eventually discovered by an executive from Columbia records at a party, which jump started her successful music career. She went on to become Columbia’s highest-selling act and one of the highest-selling female artists ever. Her net worth is estimated at $500 million.

Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise was raised in poverty, with a physically abusive and dominant father. He has said that he learned a lot about dominant people from his father, and how to handle situations with them. His mother left his father when Tom was 11, and his dad died of cancer later that year. Despite his rough childhood, he rose above and became a successful and talented actor. His net worth is now estimated at $270 million.

Hilary Swank

Hilary Swank is one of the chance success stories that comes from making it big in one swift move. She grew up in a trailer park in Washington. Her father walked out on his family when Hilary was young, leaving her mother a single parent to two children. Hilary dropped out of high school when she was 15, and her mother lost her job around the same time. Her mom, who was always supportive of Hilary’s desire to become an actress, packed them up and moved out to California so Hilary could pursue her dreams. They lived in their family car and slept on friends’ living room floors until Hilary got her big break and was able to support them financially. Now, she’s estimated at a net worth of $40 million.

Demi Moore

Demi Moore had a rough upbringing, particularly with her childhood. Her father abandoned her mother before she was born, and her mother remarried and became an alcoholic with Demi’s stepfather. Her stepfather committed suicide after separating from her mother, and her mother soon fell into a life of crime, with arrests for drunk driving and arson. Demi dropped out of high school at age 16 and moved out, starting her modeling career that gave her a leg-up into the world of riches and fame. Her net worth is now estimated at $150 million.

Justin Bieber

Born to a young single mother in Canada, the Biebs wasn’t always drag racing in Lambos. The house he grew up in was infested with rats, and he slept on a pull-out couch because they couldn’t afford a real bed. The fridge was hardly ever stocked, and he lived off of macaroni and cheese more often than not. Maybe those conditions are what drove him to pursue his dream so hard, and eventually got him noticed by people in power. Today, his net worth is estimated to be $65 million. Strong turnaround!

Halle Berry

Halle Berry had some seriously bad beginnings, but those didn’t deter her from working her way up to a net worth of around $80 million! She had a physically abusive father who abandoned Berry and her family when she was only four years old, leaving her mother to raise her and her sister by herself. The neighborhood they lived in was plagued with racism and poverty. Halle moved to New York to pursue a modeling career when she was old enough, but had to stay in homeless shelters while she was trying to break into the industry. Since then, she has become the talented actress and fashion model we know and love today. She certainly made it happen for herself!

Jay Z

Jay Z had a bit of a rough beginning, but not a lot of details have ever really been revealed to the public. He grew up in Brooklyn’s Marcy Housing Projects, and was involved in a crime at 12 when he shot his own brother in the arm for stealing his jewelry. When he was a teenager he sold drugs to make ends meet before becoming the rapper he is today. He now has an estimated net worth of $550 million.

Naomi Watts

English actress Naomi Watts started out with a drug-addicted father who eventually died from a drug overdose. Her mother was hardly any better, a hippie who threatened to send Naomi and her brother to a foster home if they didn’t support her financially. She has since claimed that her childhood was actually full of love, although admittedly sad, but it sounds like there’s probably more to the story. In any case, Naomi came from a difficult childhood and still managed to make it to where she is today. She’s certainly an inspiration!

Kelly Clarkson

We all know she was the first winner of American Idol, but Kelly Clarkson truly came from nothing. She grew up in a cockroach-infested house that was falling apart, and her family hardly had enough money to support her. They used food stamps just to eat. When Kelly was old enough, she moved to LA to pursue her music career, and not long afterwards her apartment caught fire! As a result, she had to live in homeless shelters and in her car for a while. She finally caught her big break when she went on to become one of the most successful American Idol winners. She truly had a lot of bad luck, but she pulled through!


Maybe it’s not surprising if you’ve seen his autobiographical film, 8 Mile, but Eminem definitely started at the bottom (and now he’s here). The only child of a single mother, he ended up in Detroit, under constant financial struggles and bullying issues. He was bullied so badly that he even ended up with a concussion at one point. Today he is one of the most successful rappers in the business. He didn’t give up, and he eventually made it to the top!

David Geffen

David Geffen, though possibly slightly lesser-known than many others on this list, is a very significant person. He is the person responsible for signing Crosby, Stills and Nash, Bob Dylan, Nirvana, starting Geffen Records, and he was a founding member of DreamWorks SKG studio. David grew up in poverty in Brooklyn, in a one-bedroom apartment with his family, sleeping on the couch. He ended up flunking out of college, but he had a strong business sense and musical talent, which ultimately made him a millionaire by the time he was 26 years old.

Selma Blair

Yet another actress who came from nothing is Selma Blair. At 21 years old she was living in a Salvation Army shelter in New York, but it all changed when she landed her first acting role on a children’s TV show, The Adventures of Pete & Pete in 1995. She now lives in a house worth over $1.7 million. How the tides have turned!

Shia LaBeouf

Shia LaBeouf, perhaps surprisingly, also came from poverty. When his mother and father’s fashion company went bankrupt, they were all left with almost nothing. It took them a while to rebuild and piece their family back together. He claims that now that he isn’t poor, he can say for sure that they were indeed poor back then. He now has somewhere around $25 million to his name.

Natalia Vodianova

Russian supermodel Natalia Vodianova grew up in a poor city called Gorky, where she sold fruit with her mother on the street as a teenager to help her severely poor family. Since then, she has modeled for Givenchy, Calvin Klein, Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Jacobs, and Stella McCartney. She’s also walked in over 175 catwalk shows. Today, she has over $15 million to her name. No more selling fruit on the street for her!

Selena Gomez

That’s right, there was a point in young Selena Gomez’s life that she and her mother had to search for quarters just to get gas for their car. Selena grew up with a single mother who gave birth at 16 years old and worked three jobs just to support her daughter. The two would frequently walk to the local dollar store to purchase spaghetti for dinner. And just look at her now! No more dollar store spaghetti anymore!

Sean “P. Diddy” Combs

Puff Daddy was born in Harlem, but moved out of New York City after his father was murdered. His mother then raised him upstate, working multiple jobs to make ends meet for her and her son. Sean caught his big break as a business student at Howard University, landing an internship at Uptown records. He started in the mailroom and worked his own way up to the boardroom. Today, he is at the top of the rap food chain–and owns his own clothing line, fragrance, and restaurant chain. Talk about having it all!

Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson

50 Cent grew up without a father, and his mother was found dead when he was only 8 years old. He was raised by his grandparents and spent the majority of his early adulthood addicted to drugs. At one point he was nearly killed by an unknown assailant when he was shot nine times. Now in addition to his musical career, he owns a multimedia empire, G-Unit, and is also an actor, with movie roles on the way.

Billy Bob Thornton

Billy Bob Thornton was born in Hot Springs, Arkansas, where he grew up in a small shack that had neither electricity nor plumbing. His family was poor, and his first job after high school was laying asphalt for the Arkansas State Transportation Department. His family’s dinner was often whatever they could catch while out fishing or hunting. Billy certainly had his fair share of hardships, but you wouldn’t know it looking at him now!