Not every celebrity is a second or third generation descendant of Hollywood royalty. Many started life at the lowest rungs of poverty and crime only to later find fame and fortune through talent and hard work. Here are 15 Hollywood superstars who started life at the bottom and wound up on top.
Boston native Mark Wahlberg resorted to a life of crime at an early age. He racked up around twenty five run-ins with the Boston PD from ages 15 to 21 and was eventually arrested for attempted murder. He served 45 days in a correctional facility for the offense. With the help of his parish priest, Wahlberg walked away from his criminal career after serving his time.
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As a baby, Leonardo DiCaprio’s parents divorced, leaving him to be raised solely by his mother. Though he pursued a career in acting at a young age, his mother struggled to support him, often holding down multiple jobs at once. DiCaprio lived in several of the rougher parts of Eastern Los Angeles throughout his childhood. During this time he found the willpower to avoid the pratfalls of crime and drug abuse that took many people in his neighborhoods. He would eventually earn a spot on the TV adaptation of Parenthood in 1993, thus putting his career on track.
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Murphy grew up in the projects of Brooklyn. After his father passed away, his mother became ill, forcing he and his brother to go into foster care. Murphy would develop his quick wit and performing skills while adapting to this turbulent foster lifestyle. He began his career in comedy at the age of 15. Despite his vast success, Murphy has often attributed some of his questionable career decisions to growing up poor, stating “I grew up in the projects and you don’t turn down money there.”
Before being launched into a career as a superstar singer and heartthrob, Justin Bieber claims to have grown up below the poverty line. After his father walked out on his family, Bieber claims he and his mother were forced to live in a rat infested house without the money even for a bed of his own. With this struggle in mind, the celebrity has cited a childhood obsession with Charles Dickinson’s famous fictional character Oliver Twist.
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Moore grew up the daughter of an alcoholic, bipolar mother who raised Demi alongside a similarly alcoholic, physically abusive stepfather. The latter parent’s struggle with addiction caused him to be unable to keep a job, forcing Moore’s family to move constantly. After surviving a turbulent youth, Moore moved to L.A. as a teen to pursue an acting career.
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Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson has documented his own rags-to-riches story thoroughly in music and film, but here are the broad strokes: Jackson was born to a cocaine dealing mother in Queens, New York. Following her tragic death when he was only eight, Jackson descended into a similar life as a drug dealer. After serving six months in prison for dealing, Jackson would emerge from prison intent on conquering the rap game rather than the drug world. His saga would climax after being shot nine-times, point blank in a drive by shooting. After surviving the attack, he would release an independent tape that caught the attention of Eminem, who signed him promptly.
Sarah Jessica Parker
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Sarah Jessica Parker’s childhood was marked by poverty and a struggle to keep food on the table. Her stepfather had trouble keeping a job and she was ostracized by her childhood peers for being poor. As a teen, Parker would use her talents as an entertainer to earn money for her family and eventually broke out as an actress in the early 1980s.
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When Jim Carrey was 12, his father was fired from his job, forcing his family into poverty. He’s gone on record about his struggle during this time to balance his school work with a full-time job of his own. This lifestyle forced him to quit high school at the age of 16 to support his family. Later, his family’s financial crisis stabilized and Carrey went after a career in comedy.
Hilary Swank grew up in a trailer park and was raised by blue collar parents. Her father left when she was 8. While she and her mother struggled to make ends meet, Swank was ostracized by her peers for living in a trailer park. Eventually, her mom lost her job and the pair moved to Los Angeles. While living out of their car, Swank and her mother worked together to get her acting career off the ground and, based on her Academy Award wins, things worked out eventually.
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Chris Rock spent much of his childhood in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. His mother was a teacher and his father was a truck driver. As a child he would be bussed out of his rough neighborhood into a predominately white school district where he was subject to race-based bullying. He would eventually be pulled out of the school for it and then drop out of high school altogether. He worked a series of menial jobs to support himself as he began his comedy career in the 1980s. Later, he would use these experiences as both stand-up fodder and the basis for his successful sitcom Everybody Hates Chris.
Comedian Adam Carolla has vast amounts of material about being raised by apathetic parents who refused to work for a living. His father was a therapist and his mother never put her Master’s degree in culture studies to use. Both Carolla parents struggled with depression and refused to work. This lack of initiative influenced Carolla to decline college scholarships and led to about ten years of adulthood working menial jobs in and around Van Nuys, California. He would later enlist in comedy classes and, while working a part time job as an amateur boxing trainer, met radio personality Jimmy Kimmell. The two struck a partnership that would establish Carolla as a major comedic talent in radio and television.
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His father would walk out on him before he was born, leaving Stephen King to be raised by a single mother who often worked multiple jobs to support herself and her two sons. She would motivate her son to finish high school and graduate from college with a degree in education. Soon after marrying, King found himself in a situation similar to his mother’s as he struggled to support his own family as a teacher. After living paycheck-to-paycheck, King eventually sold his first novel, Carrie, in 1974.
In a story similar to King’s, Rowling’s rags-to-riches tale has been well documented. Following a failed marriage rife with domestic abuse, Rowling found herself a single mother with no job and suffering from deep depression. Rowling finished her first novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, while on social security and taking care of her baby. The book would eventually be published after being rejected twelve times and spawned the most successful literary franchise in history.
Oprah Winfrey was born to an unwed, teenage mother in rural Mississippi. The first six years of her childhood were spent being raised by her grandmother, who was so destitute Winfrey was often forced to wear dresses made from potato sacks. Later, she would live with her mother in Milwaukee, who tried to support them both as a housekeeper. She wound up being sent to live with her father in Tennessee. After suffering years of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of various friends and family, Oprah became a runaway. She ended pregnant at 14 only to lose the baby. She would return home as a teenager to enroll in an Upward Bound program that got her transferred to a posh suburban high school. She got a scholarship to the University of Tennessee, graduated with a degree in communications, and began a career in broadcasting as an adult.
Also from Bed-Stuy, Sean “Jay-Z” Carter grew in a climate of drugs and crime. At the age of 13, he would shoot his own brother in the shoulder over a dispute. He attended the same Brooklyn high school as Biggie Smalls and Busta Rhymes, but never ended up graduating. Much of his music is dedicated to claims of working as a crack dealer throughout of his youth. He has admitted in interviews to idolizing neighborhood dealers during this time. After miraculously surviving being shot three times (no bullet hit), Jay-Z decided to put his aspirations as a rapper in the forefront and left dealing behind permanently.