Many of us at some point in our lives have fallen on hard times. Whether it’s surviving on Top Ramen, taking a payday loan with outrageous interest or applying for SNAP benefits, it’s never fun when the ends don’t meet. For the following celebrities, however, things were much, much worse. From the domestic violence, drug-infested housing projects and homes with no indoor plumbing, somehow, these men and woman beat the odds and changed their situation in life. Some of them are even worth tens of millions of dollars today.
Many people say humble beginnings build character and help you appreciate the little things in life. Let’s take a closer look at these 15 actors, singers, television stars and even an American president who had to fight for everything they’ve got.
In a 2017 interview with People magazine, Berry opened up about how living in a New York City homeless shelter when she first moved to the city to break into acting changed her forever.
“I mean three months later, I was out of my cash. I called my mother and asked her to send me some money, and she said no, and that subsequently led to a year of not speaking to her because I was so upset that she wouldn’t help me.” Of course, this was a turning point for Berry and, while reflecting on this time, she said “That’s probably one of the best things she did for me…She said, ‘If you want to be there, then you work it out.’ And I had to work it out.”
The winner of an Oscar, Emmy and Golden Globe award, Davis grew up in Rhode Island. Born on Aug. 11, 1965, Davis was one of six children and says she grew up in abject poverty and dysfunction. “I grew up in apartments that were condemned and rat-infested, and I just always sort of wanted to be somebody. I just wanted to be good at something,” she said after she won her Academy Award. She’s truly a success story.
Lopez was born on July 24, 1969, in the Bronx, New York. Despite her parents having a good work ethic, her family was poor. She said she always had holes in her shoes when she was a kid. When Lopez turned 18, she wanted to pursue dance full-time, leading to a huge fight with her mother. Lopez slept on a couch in her dance studio before getting her first professional dancing job in Europe. Her net worth is a whopping $360 million dollars.
Originally from Canada, James Eugene Carrey was born on Jan. 17, 1962. He and his three older siblings had a middle-class life until his father lost his job when Carrey was 12 years old. The family was forced to live in a van and take jobs in security and as school janitors. Carrey also worked eight-hour shifts at a factory after school. He began his stand-up comedy career at the age of 15, performing in clubs. He is now worth $150 million.
Oprah Gail Winfrey was born on Jan. 29, 1954, in Kosciusko, Mississippi, a small and impoverished farming town. Her real name is Orpah after a character in the Book of Ruth, but people always pronounced it Oprah, so she kept the new name. Her mother, Vernita Lee, worked as a housemaid. After enduring sexual abuse from several family members and friends of her mother, Winfrey went to live with her father in Nashville. When she was 14, she gave birth to a son prematurely and the boy died. Today, she is worth $3 billion.
Born Shawn Corey Carter on Dec. 4, 1969, in Brooklyn, New York, he is the youngest of four children. His dad left the family when Jay-Z was 11 years old. He grew up in the Marcy Projects, known for being full of crime and drug activity. The lyrics of Jay-Z‘s song, “Murder Marcyville” talk about his struggle to survive and not to succumb to gun violence and crack cocaine addiction. Today, the Marcy Projects are quickly becoming gentrified as the units are no longer designated for low-income families. Jay-Z’s net worth is $110 million.
Demetria “Demi” Guynes was born on Nov. 11, 1962, in Roswell, New Mexico. Both her mother and stepfather were alcoholics. Moore was born cross-eyed and needed two surgeries to correct her condition. She also had kidney disease and was often in the hospital. By her early teens, she and her family had moved over 30 times because her parents had a difficult time keeping their jobs, sinking them into poverty. Her mother, Virginia Guynes, often had trouble with the law, getting charged with arson and drunk driving. Her stepfather killed himself in 1980. Things have changed for the actor, who in addition to her own income, received a $90 million dollar settlement in her divorce from Bruce Willis. She is now worth $150 million.
Dr. Phil McGraw
Born on Sept. 1, 1950, in Vinita, Oklahoma, McGraw grew up with a loving mother, but he didn’t see her much because she worked all the time. His father was an alcoholic who binge-drank every night with business customers he had to entertain. Eventually, his dad got sober, but it came at a price. In an interview with AddictionInfo, McGraw said, “When he quit, we traded alcoholism for being dirt-poor. We lived with my older sister, who was married and had an 1,100-square-foot house.” McGraw also says he and his dad worked paper routes to earn money for food.
Eilleen Regina Edwards, better known as Shania Twain, was born on Aug. 28, 1965, in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Her parents divorced when she was young, but her mother remarried and Eileen was given the last name Twain after her stepfather. The family had little money and resorted to eating mayonnaise sandwiches. When her parents died in a car crash in 1987, Twain had to support her three younger siblings by singing in nightclubs. After sending a demo tape to a record label in Nashville, she changed her first name to Shania and began her now-lucrative career.
On July 6, 1975, Curtis James Jackson III was born in Queens, New York. His mother was a drug dealer and perished in a mysterious fire when he was only 8 years old. He aspired to be a boxer, but started selling drugs when he was 12, which eventually landed him in a boot camp-style jail. He chose 50 Cent as his rap name after reading about a Brooklyn gangster with the same name.
Jewel Kilcher was born May 23, 1974, in Utah, but raised in Homer, Alaska. The home where she lived with her father had no indoor plumbing. She learned to yodel and began performing in nightclubs with her father. When she got older, she traveled around the country singing in clubs and living in her car until she struck it rich.
It’s hard to believe this two-time Oscar-winning actress grew up in a trailer park in Washington, then lived out of a car with her mother when they first came to Hollywood. Born on July 30, 1974, Swank says people shunned her for being poor when she attended South Pasadena High School and she dropped out. Though she only made $75 a day when she made Boys Don’t Cry, her net worth is now valued at $40 million.
James Earl Carter Jr. was born on Oct. 1, 1924, in rural Georgia just before the Great Depression that devastated families all over America beginning in 1929. Carter was the first American president to be born in a hospital; however, his modest home didn’t have electricity or indoor plumbing. A hard worker, Carter would take produce from his family’s farm into town on a wagon to sell it. His ability to save money turned things around for him when at 13, he was able to purchase five homes for very little money. He rented out the homes and things got better from there.
Thomas Cruise Mapother IV was born on July 3, 1962, in Syracuse, New York. His father bullied Cruise and often beat him. After his mom left his father, she struggled to support her family as a special education teacher. They moved often, and as a result, Cruise attended 15 schools in 14 years. He also suffered from dyslexia. First wanting to be a priest, Cruise eventually dropped out of high school to pursue acting.
Grant was born Archibald Alec Leach on Jan. 18, 1904. His father worked as a tailor’s presser at a clothes factory and was an alcoholic. His mother worked as a seamstress and suffered extreme depression after her oldest son died. Grant’s father had her committed to a psychiatric ward when Grant was only 9, telling his son that she had gone on a long vacation. Eventually, he told Grant that she died. When Grant was 10, his father remarried and abandoned him. Grant often had to sleep on the streets. When Grant was 31, his father confessed that his mother was still alive. Grant made arrangements for his mother to leave the institution in June 1935. Grant went on to star in four Alfred Hitchcock films and earn two Oscar nominations.
Billy Bob Thornton
Billy Bob Thornton was born was born on Aug. 4, 1955, in Arkansas, where he was shuttled around between family members. At one point, he lived in a shack that had no electricity or plumbing. They ate whatever his grandfather could hunt and kill. In and out of trouble as a kid, he burned down a barn while being careless when smoking. His mother was a psychic who predicted Thornton would become an actor.
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