It’s not unusual for someone to dream of a moment that changes their life forever, taking them from a struggling employee at a tedious job to a wealthy superstar who seems to have it all. While the number of millionaires in the United States continues to climb, the reality is that for most of us, the only way to get to major financial security is years of hard work, wise investments and maybe a little luck.
However, plenty of hopeful and talented people make it to the top after starting at the bottom. Some seem to be at the right place at the right time, while others strain, strive and sweat for years on end before they reach celebrity status. We’ve rounded up the stories of several top celebs who knew poverty long before they realized prosperity.
As a child, Halle Berry lived in an inner-city neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio, where she faced racism at school. Her father abandoned her family, leaving her mother to raise Berry and her sister on her own. When she moved to New York to pursue modeling and acting without any financial support, which led to the star living in a homeless shelter for some time. Berry now has an estimated net worth of $80 million.
When Justin Bieber was born, the singer’s mother was an unmarried 18-year-old. The little family lived in low-income housing in Ontario, Canada, where Justin taught himself to play multiple instruments and displayed a talent for singing. His mom began recording him and posting videos on YouTube, where a marketing executive discovered him. Bieber continues to rack up hundreds of millions of dollars from music sales, concert tours and endorsements.
Before starring in his own sitcom and taking over for the beloved Bob Barker on “The Price Is Right,” Drew Carey had some tough times. Suffering from depression and following a suicide attempt, Carey hopped a bus from Ohio and wound up in Las Vegas, where he was homeless. During that time, he’s said he donated his plasma in order to make $40. Carey now has an estimated net worth of $165 million.
Known as a diva with a penchant for a lavish lifestyle, Mariah Carey didn’t always live large. As a young woman trying to break into the music business, she sometimes slept on the floor of a studio, was frequently broke and had no food. The songstress doesn’t have to worry about going hungry anymore, as she is reportedly worth more than $500 million today.
The youngest of four children, Jim Carrey was 12 years old when his accountant father lost his job and was unable to get another comparable position. The formerly middle-class family lived in a van for nearly a year and even stayed in a tent in a relative’s backyard. If he chooses to camp out now, the actor and comedian can do so in comfort, as he has earned hundreds of millions throughout his movie career. Heck, in 2009 alone, he made about $30 million by exchanging his salary for the film “Yes Man” for an ownership stake in it.
“American Idol’s” first winner grew up in Burleson, Texas, in a modest home. Clarkson told CBS that her family lived “pre-paycheck to pre-paycheck” and her own goal was not having to worry about things such as eviction notices. The mother of two now lives in a multi-million dollar home, having earned millions through record deals, music sales and high-profile gigs like being a judge on “The Voice.”
Growing up in Liverpool, England, Daniel Craig struggled academically and was rejected by several drama schools, but refused to give up on his dreams of an acting career. An initial lack of well-paying acting jobs resulted in the James Bond star crashing on friends’ couches and even sleeping on park benches on occasion. Craig can now sleep comfortably, earning nearly $50 million for his role in the 2015 Bond flick “Spectre” and nearly $65 million for the upcoming 25th film in the franchise.
Growing up in New York, Tom Cruise lived in an impoverished home where he was abused and intimidated by his father. Eventually, his mother left her husband. She and her children moved to Canada to live with her parents when Cruise was a kid, which provided stability. Thanks to his roles in more than 40 movies, Cruise now has an estimated net worth of more than $500 million.
As a child, Leonardo DiCaprio pleaded with his mother to take him to auditions, looking for a way out of the bad neighborhood where they lived in Los Angeles. The actor grew up extremely poor and witnessed prostitution, drugs and violence traveling to and from school. In 1993, he landed a major role in “This Boy’s Life” with Robert DeNiro and now has a net worth of some $230 million.
The former Disney star’s mother was just 16 when Selena Gomez was born, and her parents divorced by the time she was five years old. The little family struggled financially and Gomez’s mom worked multiple jobs to pay the bills. After nabbing her first professional gig on “Barney & Friends” at age 7, the actress/singer quickly climbed the ladder to fame and a reported net worth of approximately $50 million.
Born Clifford Joseph Harris Jr., rapper T. I. was primarily raised by his grandparents in a poor area of Atlanta. As a teenager, he dropped out of high school and began selling drugs before breaking into the music industry. He has since become one of the highest-paid artists in hip-hop, earning $6 million in 2015 alone.
Life wasn’t always easy or glamorous for this “Avengers” actress. Scarlett Johansson was one of four children raised in low-income housing and receiving government assistance. Johansson is currently at the top of the list of highest-paid female film stars, earning $40.5 million for the first half of 2018 alone.
Although she is now a busy actress/producer, as well as wife to Ashton Kutcher and a mom of two, Mila Kunis experienced poverty as a child. Born in Ukraine, she came to America with her family at the age of 7. Her family was struggling to make ends meet when she landed her life-changing role on “That ’70s Show” when she was a teen. Forbes now lists her as one of the highest-paid actresses, earning more than $15 million in 2017 alone.
Growing up in the tiny town of Lindale, Texas, singer Miranda Lambert experienced hard times and even homelessness as a child when her parents’ business failed. After becoming a contestant on “Nashville Star,” she quickly became a favorite on the country music scene. Lambert made a reported $28 million in 2015 alone.
“Jenny from the Block” grew up in the Bronx, sharing a single bed with her two sisters. Lopez’s parents wanted her to attend college, but she dreamed of being a dancer, so she left home at 18 and was soon homeless. Her persistence eventually paid off, because the actress, singer, producer and dancer is now one of the most successful entertainers on the planet.
Dr. Phil McGraw
Long before he was asking the “Cash Me Outside” girl, “So, how’s that workin’ for ya?” McGraw endured an impoverished childhood. His father was an alcoholic and, at one point, McGraw had to take a paper route as a kid to help feed his family. His life changed when he met Oprah Winfrey while helping her with a legal case, and made such an impression that he began to appear on her show weekly before starting his own program. He earned a reported $88 million from the show in 2016.
As a child in Trinidad, Nicki Minaj has said she didn’t realize her family was poor. Born Onika Tanya Maraj, the rapper lived with nine other people (and several animals) in a three-bedroom home. By 2013, she was one of the highest-earning hip-hop artists, bringing in an estimated $29 million that year.
Sarah Jessica Parker
Sarah Jessica Parker’s childhood was challenging, as she grew up one of eight children in a family often dependent on welfare, hand-me-downs and free school lunches. However, from her role in the original “Footloose” to “Sex and the City” and beyond, Parker has become a well-known star. At one point during the run of “Sex and the City,” Parker reportedly earned more than $3 million per episode for her portrayal of Carrie Bradshaw as well as producing duties.
With her unique voice, striking appearance and approachable personality, Dolly Parton is a beloved celeb with a most humble upbringing. She and 11 siblings grew up in the hills of Tennessee in a one-room cabin. She was singing on the radio by age 10 and went on to become one of the world’s wealthiest entertainers.
Growing up in New Orleans, Tyler Perry experienced poverty and abuse. As a young man, Perry moved to Atlanta and began writing plays. As a director, producer, writer and actor, he has become a top-earning celebrity, bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars.
After dropping out of community college, Chris Pratt moved to Maui. He worked waiting tables and lived in a van or a tent on the beach, barely getting by. It was there that actress Rae Dawn Chong met him and cast him in her directorial debut. Although the film was a flop, he moved on to bigger things, earning approximately $10 million just for his work in “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.”
J. K. Rowling
Before she conjured up Harry Potter and the Wizarding World, Joanne Rowling was a single mother surviving on welfare. In her 2008 Harvard University commencement speech, Rowling said she was the biggest failure she knew. She has since become one of the world’s wealthiest women, earning more than $1 billion during her writing career.
In 1975, Sylvester Stallone and his pregnant wife had $106 in the bank and no way to pay their rent. In an attempt to raise some cash, Stallone wrote a screenplay in three-and-a-half days. That screenplay was titled, “Rocky” and the producers paid him $1 million for his role, but he reportedly commands 20 times that amount today.
Growing up as the youngest of nine children in a poor section of Boston, Mark Wahlberg dropped out of high school when he was 14. Following an assault conviction and jail time, he was motivated to turn his life around. He became a rapper, model and eventually one of the world’s highest-paid actors, earning $68 million in 2017 alone.
Oprah is a household name, but she certainly wasn’t born with a silver spoon in her mouth. She spent her earliest years with her grandmother, as her own mother was just a teen when Oprah was born. After her grandmother died, she was shuffled around between family members and suffered severe abuse and neglect. At age 64, Oprah became the first black female billionaire on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, which ranks the world’s 500 richest people.
Born Shawn Carter, Jay-Z and his three siblings were raised by their mother in Brooklyn’s Marcy Projects after their father left the family. Although he was a good student, he dropped out of school and began dealing drugs and was arrested at age 16. He also found he had a talent for writing and rapping, participating in rap battles before he was even a teen, which led to a lucrative career. In 2017, he earned a reported $42 million.