When we see celebrities on their social media accounts or photographed on the red carpet, we see them in all their opulent glory. Here they are wearing designer clothes, or flashing multi-carat jewelry. Here they are taking a private jet to some exotic locale, a vacation from their vacation-filled life. Here they are moving into gigantic mansions, worth more than any of us could dream of. Here they are commanding multi-million-dollar paychecks for films or records or TV appearances. It’s easy to assume that celebrities have always had it this way, swimming in a sea of wealth, but that isn’t always the case. In fact, some celebrities have had a very different beginning.
Hard times can create some of the most hard-working people, the ones who crave success and know that they need to put in the time and effort to make it happen. They need to pay their dues and take their lumps before they get rewarded. For these 20 celebrities, they endured a life or a childhood of poverty, broken homes, neglect, and bullying before getting to the place they are today.
From movie stars who went without food because their family couldn’t afford it to households filled with double-digit children and no money to provide for them, these 20 stars are real Cinderella stories.
20 Chris Pratt: Lived In His Van
He’s worth about $40 million now, but it wasn’t that long ago when Chris Pratt dropped out of community college and moved to Maui, where he lived out of his van and waited tables. According to Pratt, it was more a case of low ambition than outright misfortune, unlike others on our list. He said, “We just drank…and worked minimal hours, 15 to 20 per week, just enough to cover gas, food, and fishing supplies.”
It was actually in Maui that he met actress Rae Dawn Chong, who cast him in her directorial debut, Cursed Part 3. It flopped, but Pratt has since helmed two major franchises, Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World!
19 Selena Gomez: Born To A Teen Mom
Selena Gomez had a family dynamic that may sound familiar to a lot of people: Gomez’s mom, Mandy Teefey, was just 16 when she gave birth to the future superstar, and her parents split by the time Gomez was five years old.
To support her daughter as a single mom, Teefey worked multiple jobs to pay the bills. When Gomez was just seven years old, she was cast on Barney and Friends alongside lifetime BFF Demi Lovato, and the taste of the spotlight – as well as her obvious charisma – soon led to more work down the line. Now a triple threat as a singer, actress, and dancer, Gomez is worth about $60 million.
18 Mila Kunis: Ate “Ketchup Soup” As A Kid
Born in the Ukraine, actress and producer Mila Kunis and her family fled to the United States when the Soviet Union collapsed. There, they were faced with extreme poverty, with Kunis telling Daily Mail in 2016 that she would eat “ketchup soup” when food was scarce.
Kunis was just 14 years old when she auditioned for That '70s Show, lying about her age to earn the part. She had done a few commercials prior to landing the role, but it was her role as Jackie Burkhart that really gave her the financial security she had craved. Kunis, owing to her humble upbringing, has publicly vowed not to raise entitled children, despite being worth $65 million.
17 Halle Berry: Lived In A Homeless Shelter
She may be worth $80 million now, but there was a time when Halle Berry was just a teased little kid living in the inner city of Cleveland, Ohio. With her father abandoning the family, Berry’s mother raised her and her sister alone. While times were tough, the actress experienced worse after moving to New York City to pursue modeling and acting. While there, she spent some time in a homeless shelter, something she doesn’t regret.
Speaking to People in 2017, Berry explained, “Giving up was never an option. It was to prove to [my mom] and everybody else. …’You say I can’t, watch me. I’m going to figure this out.’ And shelter life was part of figuring it out.”
16 Daniel Craig: Slept On Park Benches
As the current James Bond, it doesn’t look like there’s much that could keep the secret agent down – including sleeping on park benches.
Actor Daniel Craig wasn’t a good student and struggled academically. The actor was even rejected from multiple drama schools he had applied to. The lack of any career in sight led to Craig crashing on friends’ couches as he worked as a waiter in restaurants to make ends meet. Occasionally, when a couch wasn’t available, Craig even slept on park benches as a struggling actor! Fortunately for him, that part of his life is long behind him and he’s now worth around $95 million!
15 Sarah Jessica Parker: Described Childhood As “Dickensian”
Considering that Sarah Jessica Parker once played Carrie Bradshaw, a woman who managed to finance an opulent New York apartment with a walk-in closet on a one-article-per-month income, it’s kind of surprising to learn that the actress once described her childhood as “Dickensian” to Forbes.
Raised in a family of eight children, Parker’s family was one that was dependent on welfare, hand-me-downs, and free school lunches. Holidays and birthdays weren’t celebrated in their home, and the electricity and phone were regularly shut off. Parker, now worth $100 million, is still frugal, but hopes that her children will never have to worry about money as she did.
14 Demi Moore: Grew Up In A Trailer Park
A self-proclaimed “trailer park kid,” actress Demi Moore found herself moving from place to place throughout her childhood, due to the instability brought on by her unfit and volatile parents. Understandably, Moore ended up dropping out of high school and moving out of the family home at the age of 16.
Working as a debt collector and occasional model to scrape by, it wasn’t until 1981 that she landed a supporting role in the movie Choices. The decade launched her into superstardom, as did the early 1990s, and today the former girl from the trailer park is now credited with being worth about $150 million!
13 Jim Carrey: Lived In A Van
Another famous face who came from humble beginnings and is now worth $150 million, we have actor/comedian Jim Carrey! The youngest of four kids, Carrey was 12 when his accountant dad lost his job, which forced the family to live in a van for nearly a year. They once even resigned themselves to camping out in a tent in a relative’s backyard!
To help ease the struggle of his family, Carrey dropped out of high school and took on jobs as a janitor, construction worker, picture frame factory employee, and security guard. Fortunately for the funny guy, those days are long behind him, now that he commands about $20 million a movie!
12 Mark Wahlberg: Did Time
For a guy who has lately made a career playing dad roles, it might be difficult to remember that Mark Wahlberg was once a shirtless rapper with the Funky Bunch – and before that, he found himself behind bars.
The youngest of nine children growing up in the impoverished area of Boston, Wahlberg was only 14 when he decided to ditch his education. Coming from an unstable home life, the actor turned to the dark side and began getting involved with various illegal activities. One of them landed him behind bars for 50 days.
Wahlberg has since turned his life around, become a family man, and is reportedly worth $225 million.
11 Leonardo DiCaprio: Grew Up In A Seedy Neighborhood
Like his Departed co-star Wahlberg, Leonardo DiCaprio also had a rough childhood, except his was spent in California. Surrounded by criminals and other unsavory types, DiCaprio would beg his mother to take him to auditions as a way to escape his life in East Hollywood.
“Money had always been on my mind when I was growing up,” the Oscar winner told The Telegraph in 2016. “So I was always wondering how we were going to afford this and that. Acting seemed like a shortcut out of the mess.”
By 1997, DiCaprio had nabbed the lead role in the highest-grossing film at the time, and has since been estimated to be worth $245 million.
10 Justin Bieber: Lived In A Rat-Infested House
Once upon a time, Justin Bieber wasn’t the internationally recognized superstar he is now, racing around in fancy cars and having an estimated net worth of $265 million. Back when he was a child in Ontario, Bieber was the son of a struggling 18-year-old single mom who was working multiple low-paying jobs to provide low-income, rat-infested housing. Bieber didn’t even have his own room. He slept on a pullout couch.
In an interview with Clique TV, the singer reminisced about his childhood: “I remember being poor and being teased by other kids.” While he’s since been teased on a larger scale, we bet that those gigantic paychecks ease the sting a little.
9 Shania Twain: Went Without Heat In Winter
Another famous person from up North whose beginnings weren’t so rosy, country superstar Shania Twain had to endure a lot throughout her tragic childhood as a daughter in a family of seven.
After her parents split when she was two, money became an issue for the family, and heat would regularly be shut off in the winters. Twain also described a time when she would have to hide the fact that she didn’t have lunch at school from prying teachers and other students, going hungry on a regular basis. At just 8, she began singing in bars for extra cash. She’s now worth $350 million.
8 Sylvester Stallone: Had Only $106 In The Bank
Sometimes, you have to stop waiting around for opportunity to find you and instead go out and grab it for yourself. That’s exactly what Sylvester Stallone did, when he had only $106 in the bank and a baby on the way.
In 1975, in a bid to raise some much-needed cash, the actor hunkered down and wrote a screenplay in just three and a half days. That screenplay ended up being Rocky, and a producer paid Stallone $1 million for the role he had written himself.
Since then, it spawned a franchise that has been revived thanks to Creed, and has Stallone commanding 20 times that initial amount today! Now, he’s worth a whopping $400 million!
7 Jennifer Lopez: Slept At Her Dance Studio
Jennifer Lopez sings about being “Jenny from the block,” and while that might feel like a long time ago, she’s not lying. Growing up, Lopez shared a single bed with her two sisters. Despite her parents wanting her to attend college, Lopez instead chose to pursue dancing, which caused her to leave home at 18. Without any real prospects yet, the singer and actress ended up homeless, even couch surfing in the dance studios she practiced in.
Speaking to Extra, Lopez recalled, “I was like, ‘Can I sleep here when everyone goes home…on the couch?’” The award-winning actress and singer now has a net worth of $400 million.
6 Arnold Schwarzenegger: Grew Up With Hunger Riots
One of the richest action stars of all time, Arnold Schwarzenegger is another member of the $400 million club, thanks to his time as an actor, bodybuilder, and governor. His life wasn’t always so comfortable, however.
Schwarzenegger was born into the devastation that was Austria after World War II, where hungry people rioted in the streets. In a home with no plumbing and no phone, the former “Governator” was forced to engage in fights with his brother for the amusement of their violent father. (This ended up having lasting effects on the actor, who refused to attend the funerals of both men, in the early 1970s.)
5 Dolly Parton: Slept On Beds Of Straw
Dolly Parton, in her decades as a country music icon, has become one of the most beloved figures in music – and worth a staggering $500 million to boot!
We know that her iconic image comes from seeing a woman on a street corner, but, back in Tennessee as one child of 12, Parton was just a young girl sharing a one-room cabin with the rest of her family, sleeping on mattresses stuffed with straw. The place was without gas, running water, or electricity.
The extreme poverty she faced is part of what forced Parton to, at the age of 10, sing on the radio and by 12, appear on local TV.
4 Tom Cruise: Bullied & Impoverished
Before Scientology and multiple Mission Impossible films gifted movie star Tom Cruise with an estimated $550 million net worth, he was just a poor kid living in Syracuse, New York, the son of a volatile father, whom Cruise has since referred to as a “bully and a coward.” At the age of 12, Cruise’s mom moved him and his sisters out of the home and it would be another 10 years before he saw his dad again.
Acting became Cruise’s escape from his home life, and something he pursued, after initially considering becoming a priest. With 48 acting credits to his name, we’d say he made the right choice.
3 Jay-Z: Turned To Bad Activities
Growing up in the projects in Brooklyn, rapper Jay-Z was a far cry from the $900 million mogul he is today. Often detailed in his revealing lyrics, Jay did what he could – including breaking the law – to help his family get by. Speaking to Vanity Fair in 2013, Jay said, “Sometimes we’d pay the light bill, sometimes we paid the phone, sometimes the gas went off. We weren’t starving….But it was 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.”
After some time, the rapper focused solely on his music, rose through the ranks, diversified his investments, and is now reaching billionaire status.
2 J.K. Rowling: Lived On Welfare
Proof that fortune can be found at any time, and success isn’t bestowed only on the young, author J.K. Rowling was a 32-year-old depressed single mother living on welfare when she dreamed up the world of Harry Potter, which has become a defining force of fiction for generations.
Rowling once considered herself “the biggest failure [she] knew” and was “as poor as it’s possible to be” as she wrote the first book during snatches of time spent in cafes in Edinburgh. Now the highest-paid author in the world, Rowling has made countless donations to worthwhile causes and is worth about $1 billion.
1 Oprah: Once Wore Potato Sacks
There may not be a person alive who doesn’t know Oprah’s name, a woman who has become so famous and influential that she only needs a single moniker with which to be identified.
Born to a teenage mother, Oprah was raised by her grandmother. She faced hardship from an early age, including wearing potato sacks and facing violence and extreme poverty.
“I know what it means to be poor,” the mogul said. “I know what it feels like to be abandoned. …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.”
She’s worth about $2.5 billion today.
Sources: thisisinsider, huffingtonpost, etcanada, gobankingrates, vanityfair