17 Celebs Who Were Totally Broke Before They Got Famous

Stars shine brightest in the dark.

By nature, celebrities are famous for their rich and glamorous lifestyle, but many of them didn’t always live this way.

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At their core, celebrities are regular people like you and me, and many of them went through a lot of struggle before becoming household names. So let’s open up our Hollywood history books and take a look at 18 celebs who were totally broke before they became famous.


Mila Kunis

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Born in Ukraine, Kunis fled to the US with her family when the Soviet Union fell. She and her family were so deficient in food that she claims she had to eat “ketchup soup” as a child. Although she lied about her age to put on her breakthrough role That show from the 70syou can’t really blame her after all she’s been through.


Morgan Freeman

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Freeman was raised by his paternal grandmother in Charleston, Mississippi, but had moved to multiple cities in his youth. Although he was offered a acting scholarship to Jackson State University, Freeman decided to enlist in the Air Force, which had just been desegregated at the time. He then left the service in ’59 and began taking acting and dancing lessons and participated in many different productions. But he had just gotten his breakthrough role in Street smart when he was 50 years old.


Tom Cruise

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Growing up, Cruise lived on the brink of poverty with his abusive father, who could barely keep a job. His mother ended up having to work three jobs to support Cruise and his three sisters. By the time he was 12, Cruise’s parents had divorced and he had attended 15 different schools, all of which had been a struggle due to constant bullying and Cruise’s dyslexia.


Selena Gomez

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This triple-threat entertainer remains one of the biggest celebrities in the world, but you’ll be surprised by the life she comes from. Gomez’ mother had given birth to her when she was just 16, and she struggled to support them both. Gomez claims that they often ate spaghetti from the store for dinner and that they had to find quarters to pay for gas.


Jim Carrey

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While Jim Carrey may be a comedian, his childhood was no laughing matter. During his childhood, Carrey’s family became homeless and had to live in a tent near Lake Ontario. They all became janitors and guards in exchange for housing across from the tire factory where they worked. Carrey started his comedy career when he was a teenager, and despite their poverty, his family supported him as he struggled to make it big.


Demi Moore

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Although Moore was once the highest paid actress in movie history, she had to make a long and arduous climb to reach this celebrity status. She spent her childhood moving to different cities with her family. Her mother, a suicidal alcoholic, dragged her to bars when she was a teenager and had a man abuse her for $500. Then she dropped out of school at the age of 16 to continue her acting career, which took off after she starred in St. Elmo’s Fire and About last night


Chris Pratt

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Before being cast in nearly every major Hollywood blockbuster, Pratt had dropped out of college and became a discounted ticket salesman/stripper. He then lived out of a tent in Maui and spent his days working, drinking and smoking weed. It actually doesn’t sound that different from his breakthrough character on Parks and Recreation


Samuel L. Jackson

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Jackson was raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee, by his factory worker mother and his grandparents, and had attended many segregated schools. After the murder of MLK, Jackson started fighting for equal rights and was even arrested for taking several people hostage and demanding reform of their university. He eventually met members of the Black Power movement, but was sent to Los Angeles by his mother after the FBI warned her about the group.


Johnny Cash

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Cash grew up during the Great Depression, harvesting cotton on his family’s farm in Dyess, Arkansas. When he was 12, Cash’s older brother was maimed by an open table saw that nearly cut him in half and died about a week later, changing Cash forever. After serving in the Air Force, Cash sold devices before landing a recording contract with Sun Records.


Halle Berry

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After moving to New York to act, Berry ended up in a homeless shelter before being cast in the spin-off of Who is the boss?, living dolls† But while he was on the sitcom, Berry fell into a diabetic coma. She later moved to LA where she starred in movies like tropical feverStrictly businessand Boomerang† But after later starring in HBO’s Introducing Dorthy DandridgeBerry became the first African-American woman to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress.


Michael Caine

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This famous playwright may be known for his many roles and British accent, but Caine’s early years could be a movie in its own right. Caine grew up impoverished in Southwark, London, during World War II, and was sent to another family in Norfolk to escape the Blitz. But while in this new home, he and another boy were locked in a closet with nothing but water while their caretakers left for the weekend. Later in life, Caine served in the Korean War for two years before returning home and continuing to act.


Mark Wahlberg

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As a teenager growing up on the streets of Boston, Wahlberg used and sold drugs and was involved in many violent fights, some of which were hate crimes, and one of them put him in jail for attempted murder. But at some point during his hip-hop career, Wahlberg changed his ways and became one of Hollywood’s best-loved and highest-paid actors.


Sylvester Stallone

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Like rockyStallone’s life was an underdog story. Stallone ended up sleeping in the Port Authority bus terminal for three weeks, and he’d even starred in a softcore porn movie trying to make ends meet. But after a lot of odd jobs and small acting roles, Sylvester finally hit gold when his script for rocky was picked up.


Hilary Swank

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Swank spent her childhood in a trailer park with her parents, and she moved to LA with her mother to begin her acting career when she was a teenager. Swank lived out of their car and soon dropped out of her new high school to focus more on acting, and after a few TV sitcom roles, Swank rose to fame for starring in films like Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992) and The next karate kid


Leonardo DiCaprio

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This Oscar-winning actor wasn’t always the glitz and glamor image you see today. His mother grew up in East Hollywood and worked as a secretary, while his father wrote and sold underground comics. DiCaprio claims he saw crime and violence around every corner of where he lived, calling it a scene from… Cab driver.


Joaquin Phoenix

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As a child, Joaquin and his family were part of the religious sect, the Children of God, and had traveled as missionaries through South America and Puerto Rico. They eventually left the cult and moved to Los Angeles after Joaquin’s father was unable to work. But after his mother met talent agent Iris Burton, he and his siblings started getting small roles on TV.


Oprah Winfrey

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Oprah is one of the most influential women in the world right now, but she went through a lot before she became the icon she is today. Born into poverty to a single teenage mother, she was abused as a child and teenager, and at age 14 became pregnant with a child who died after being born prematurely. She then began working for TV and radio in Nashville, leading to her own talk show in Chicago, which grew in popularity over time and eventually The Oprah Winfrey Show

What do you think of this list? Are there any other celebrities with rags-to-riches stories that I missed? Let me know in the comments below.

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