Before they were famous, a lot of stars had to struggle their way to the top! Here is a list of celebs who were down and out before their big, lucky breaks.
Before her pop song success and her recent legal troubles, Kesha was just another young woman trying to make it as a singer in Hollywood. Although she had perfect grades in high school and was offered a college scholarship, she dropped out just before graduating to pursue a career in music.
She traveled from Nashville to her native Los Angeles, where she lived out of her car while she was working. Of that time in her life, Kesha has said, “I drove out to Hollywood in my dead grandpa’s Lincoln town car, and just lived in my car for a little bit… Well, just, like, here and there.”
Comedic actor Jim Carrey was on the way to a career breakthrough in the ’90s after he was cast in a regular role on In Living Color. But growing up was a completely different story. During school, Carrey struggled with dyslexia but overcame it by developing a great memory and making friends by being the class clown.
However, his family struggled with poverty, living in rough neighborhoods. To help out, Carrey took on a job working at a local factory while he was in the 10th grade. He would work eight-hour night shifts before going to school, which made his education even more difficult, leading to his dropping out at age 16. At one point, he and his family lived out of an old Volkswagen camper for almost a year.
Despite her parent’s divorce and witnessing her father’s abuse towards her mother, actress Halle Berry did everything she could to live the life of a normal teenager. A high school cheerleader, honor student, and prom queen, Berry would go on to compete in pageants during her stint in community college. She was Miss Teen All-American and Miss Ohio USA in 1985 and 1986, respectively.
But after her pageant days, Berry decided to go to Chicago and New York to pursue a career in modeling and acting. During that time, she was on her own and had to live in homeless shelters and at a YMCA. Of that time, she said, “It taught me how to take care of myself and that I could live through any situation, even if it meant going to a shelter for a small stint, or living within my means, which were meager. I became a person who knows that I will always make my own way.”
Before he found success as 007, Daniel Craig was an aspiring actor from Cheshire, England. He was introduced to the theater at a young age, having frequently attended Everyman Theatre at the Liverpool City Centre with his mother, who was an art teacher. He began acting at the age of six and would apply to multiple acting schools before being accepted to National Youth Theatre at age 16.
He moved to London to attend acting school and worked part-time as a waiter in restaurants to get by. At some points, he had to sleep on park benches because his means were so meager.
Before he was a successful talk-show and game-show host, Steve Harvey was a stand-up comedian trying to make it in the ’80s. After splitting from his first wife, he would send most of his earnings back to his two children and money became so tight that he found himself homeless after some of his gigs fell through.
In an interview with People, Harvey recounted the time he had to live out of his 1976 Ford Tempo: “I had nowhere to go. It was so disheartening. A week is really the maximum you can do. This was three years! It was rock bottom.” When his gigs wouldn’t put him up in a hotel, Harvey had to shower at gas stations or community pools and used an Igloo cooler as a makeshift refrigerator in his car.
Singer-songwriter Jewel fell on hard times when she was trying to pursue music. In her young adult years, she lived out of her car while traveling across the country, doing street performances and small gigs along the way. She eventually ended up in San Diego, where she was known to be homeless at one point.
After being propositioned by her boss and refusing to sleep with him, she got fired from her job and was no longer able to pay rent. While she was homeless, she says she nearly died in a hospital parking lot after the emergency room turned her away due to lack of insurance. At one point, her car got stolen and it was even more difficult for her to find a job without an address and not much of an education.
Morgan Freeman is one of the most revered actors of his time, but before he made a breakthrough with his role in Driving Miss Daisy, Freeman was literally a starving artist. After serving four years in the U.S. Air Force, Freeman moved to Los Angeles and went to the Screen Actors Guild to join the union. However, he was unable to join because he didn’t have a job and he couldn’t get a job because he wasn’t part of the union.
Stuck in that situation, Freeman relentlessly searched for a job with no success. He eventually ran out of the money that he came to Los Angeles with and ended up going for days without proper meals.
Chrissy Metz became a breakthrough actress after the premiere of NBC’s This is Us, but for the new coming actress, success didn’t come so easily. In an interview with Glamour, she recounted everything that happened up until she booked a part in This is Us, at which point she only had 81 cents in her bank account.
She thought her breakthrough would come when she was cast as Ima Wiggles in American Horror Story, but she was mistaken. “When it wrapped,” she says, “there was… nothing. I almost moved back to Florida, but my mom said, ‘You can either be miserable here and not pursue your dreams, or you can be miserable in LA and at least pursue what you want.’ So I stayed.”
Heartthrob actor George Clooney couldn’t always get by on his good looks. After leaving college, he sold women’s shoes, was a door-to-door insurance salesman, worked construction, cut tobacco, and even tried out for the Cincinnati Reds. He eventually came to Los Angeles to become an actor.
He rode to auditions on a bicycle and was living in a friend’s closet for a year. At some point he was so broke that he couldn’t go out with friends for a hamburger. After several small roles on different shows, Clooney eventually made a breakthrough in the early ’90s as Dr. Doug Ross on ER.
Tyler Perry is now one of the most successful filmmakers of his time for making movies that people can easily relate to, but growing up was a different story. Suffering from multiple counts of abuse, he often found refuge in going to church with his mother on Sundays. As he grew older, he took up writing to come to terms with everything he endured growing up. Perry eventually wrote I Know I’ve Been Changed, which was about adults forgiving their abusers.
He decided to turn it into a play and spent all of his savings to fund the production. Unfortunately, only 30 people showed up to the first showing and he ended up broke. He then had to live on the streets and had to save more money taking jobs in construction and working as a used-car salesman.
Sarah Jessica Parker
Before she was Carrie Bradshaw on Sex and the City, Sarah Jessica Parker was the fourth of eight children from Ohio. From a young age, she knew she had to provide for her family financially since her mother was a school teacher and her stepfather was often unemployed. She would bring home money from song and dance performances.
At age 11, she got a part on Broadway in New York City, so her family moved there to support her acting career. Parker and her siblings acted in Broadway plays during this time and she also attended the American Ballet Theater and New York Professional Children’s School. At age 16, she moved to Hollywood and became a star with the sitcom Square Pegs in 1982.
Twain comes from Toronto, Canada, where she grew up the eldest of her three siblings. She was raised by her mother and stepfather, whose relationship grew so tumultuous at one point that Twain urged her mother to go to a homeless shelter for support. From the age of eight, Twain helped support her family by singing in local bars, making at most 20 dollars in the middle of the night.
When she was 21, both of her parents died in a car accident, so Twain took on the responsibility of caring for her siblings until they were able to be on their own. She put off her career and sang at resorts in order to do this. Eventually, she made it to Nashville where she signed with Mercury Nashville Records, which helped start her singing career.
American talk-show host Oprah Winfrey is one of the most successful women in the world and is currently the United States’ first and only multi-billionaire African American person. But before all her unprecedented success, Oprah had a rough upbringing. As a young girl she was raised by her grandmother in rural poverty, but eventually often had to switch between living with her mother Wisconsin and alleged father in Tennessee.
Growing up, she was a victim of sexual abuse and molestation. At age 13, she ran away from home and by 14, she had given birth to a son that died after being born prematurely. She overcame her strife in high school, where she was an honors student and during her senior year, was invited to work part-time at a local black radio station. She worked there through her first two years of college and continued to pursue a career in news.
In the early ’90s, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling had separated from her first husband in Portugal and moved back to England with their infant daughter. As a single mother, Rowling at times found it hard to make ends meet and even ended up on welfare saying that she was as “poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless.”
She would often write in coffee shops and after completing Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone, she had a hard time finding someone to publish it. She barely could afford the typewriter that she wrote it on and didn’t have enough money to make photocopies of it, so she had to manually type out the entire novel multiple times to send out to multiple potential publishers.
Before becoming the “First Lady of Song,” Ella Fitzgerald struggled during childhood. At a young age, Fitzgerald and her mother moved to New York to live with her mother’s boyfriend, Joseph Da Silva, who was abusive towards her. After her mother passed away from a heart attack, Fitzgerald moved in with her aunt but let her grades in school flounder at this time.
Fitzgerald would often skip school and she became involved with mafia-type people, running gambles and becoming a lookout at a local bordello. After getting caught by the police, she was admitted to an orphan asylum and later a school for girls, where she suffered physical abuse. At age 15, she escaped but she was homeless on the streets of New York. After two years in this state, she entered and won an amateur singing contest at the Apollo Theatre and the rest, as they say, is history.
Jennifer Lopez made herself famous by reminding people that despite her fame, she’s still “Jenny from the block.” But what a lot of people don’t know, is that Lopez was actually homeless at one point! She revealed the truth in an interview with W magazine: “My mom and I butted heads. I didn’t want to go to college — I wanted to try dance full-time. So she and I had a break… I started sleeping on the sofa in the dance studio. I was homeless, but I told her, ‘This is what I have to do.'”
Lopez was right to follow her dreams because within a year of being homeless, she got a dancing gig in Europe and then became a Fly Girl for In Living Color shortly after!
From the age of six, actress Hilary Swank grew up in a trailer park in Washington. After her parents divorced when she was 15, she and her mother moved to Los Angeles so that Swank could pursue an acting career. When they got there, Swank and her mother lived out of their car. On occasion, a friend who was selling their house let Swank and her mother spend the night there even though the house was empty. During this time, she also dropped out of high school.
Swank went on to perform small acting gigs but her biggest break was the lead role in the film Boys Don’t Cry, in which she played a transgender male. She was only paid $75/day for her work, earning a total of $3,000 for the entire film, but would later go on to win a Golden Globe and an Oscar for Best Actress for the role.
He may have been the host of Whose Line Is It Anyway?, had his own sitcom, and then hosted The Price Is Right, but it sure was a long time coming for Drew Carey. After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve for six years, Drew Carey ended up in Vegas where he worked as a bank teller and a Denny’s waiter.
Life wasn’t so easy during that time, however, because he didn’t have those jobs yet. He ended up homeless. Carey ended up having to sell plasma for $40 and he even scrounged for spare change just to buy some boxed mac and cheese.
Before he was an Oscar-nominated actor and producer, Mark Wahlberg was an infamous juvenile delinquent. Growing up in a broken home in Boston as the youngest of nine children, Wahlberg became involved in drugs and was addicted to cocaine by age 13. Around this time, he was known to harass his African-American peers by throwing rocks at them and shouting racial remarks.
When he was 16, he attacked two different Vietnamese men on two different occasions, for which he was convicted and charged with attempted murder. Although he was sentenced to two years in prison, he only served 45 days and now holds a permanent criminal record.
Before he was Mad Men‘s main man Don Draper, actor Jon Hamm struggled a lot throughout his life. He lost both his parents by his twenties and after enrolling in college, he became clinically depressed and would spend days in bed. As he struggled through that, he moved to Los Angeles in the early ’90s to pursue acting, but gigs didn’t come so easily, as many aspiring actors come to find out.
Barely scraping by, he became a drama teacher to teens while working as a set decorator for soft-core pornography. He also was a dishwasher in a local Greek restaurant, a job that he says got him out of bed. He says he’s been a waiter for almost as long as he’s been acting, but Hamm is a true testament to the idea that you got to start somewhere!