17 Celebs Who Were Totally Broke Before They Became Famous


Stars do shine brightest in the dark.

As per their nature, celebrities are famous for their rich and glamorous lifestyles, 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 had to endure plenty of struggles before they became household names. So let’s open 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 and her family fled to the US as the Soviet Union fell. She and her family had such a shortage of food that she claims that she was forced to eat “ketchup soup” as a child. Though she fibbed about her age to land her breakout role on That ’70s Show, you can’t really blame her after everything she went 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. Though he was offered a drama scholarship at 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 started taking acting and dancing lessons, taking part in many different productions. But he had only 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 verge of poverty with his abusive father, who could barely hold a job. His mother eventually had 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 studied at 15 different schools, which had all 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 came from. Gomez’s mother had given birth to her when she was just 16, and she struggled to support them both. Gomez claims they frequently ate dollar store spaghetti for dinner and had to look for quarters just 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 youth, Carrey’s family became homeless and he was forced to live in a tent by Lake Ontario. They all became janitors and security guards in return for housing across from the tire factory where they worked. Carrey began his comedy career when he was still a teenager, and despite their poverty, his family supported him as he struggled to make it big.


Demi Moore

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Though Moore was once the highest-paid actress in cinema history, she had to make a long and hard climb to reach this celebrity status. She spent her childhood moving to different cities with her family. Her mother, a suicidal alcoholic, used to drag her to bars when she was still a teenager and had let a man sexually assault her for $500. She then dropped out of school at age 16 to pursue 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 getting cast in almost every big blockbuster in Hollywood, Pratt had dropped out of college and became a discount 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 breakout 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 he had attended many segregated schools. Following MLK’s assassination, Jackson began fighting for equal rights and had actually been arrested for holding multiple people hostage, demanding reform at their college. He eventually met with members of the Black Power movement but had been 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 at his family’s farmhouse in Dyess, Arkansas. When he was 12, Cash’s older brother was mangled by an open table saw that almost cut him in half and had died about a week later, deeply changing Cash forever. After serving in the Air Force, Cash sold appliances before scoring a recording contract at Sun Records.


Halle Berry

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After Berry moved to New York to pursue acting, she ended up living in a homeless shelter before being cast in the spin-off of Who’s the Boss?, Living Dolls. But while starring in the sitcom, Berry fell into a diabetic coma. She later moved to LA, where she starred in films such as Jungle Fever, Strictly Business, and Boomerang. But after later starring in HBO’s Introducing Dorthy Dandridge, Berry became the first African-American woman to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress.


Michael Caine

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This renowned thespian might be known for his many roles and British accent, but Caine’s early years could make for a film in itself. Growing up already impoverished in Southwark, London during World War II, Caine was sent to live with another family in Norfolk to escape the Blitz. But while at this new home, he and another boy were locked in a cupboard with nothing but water while their caretakers left for the weekend. Later in life, Caine served in the Korean War for two years before he returned home and continued acting.


Mark Wahlberg

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As a teenager raised on the streets of Boston, Wahlberg used and sold drugs and had gotten into many violent fights, some of them hate crimes and one of them putting him in prison for attempted murder. But at some point during his hip-hop career, Wahlberg changed his ways and became one of Hollywood’s most beloved and highest-paid actors.


Sylvester Stallone

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Just like Rocky, Stallone’s life was an underdog story. Stallone ended up sleeping in the Port Authority Bus Terminal for three weeks, and he had even starred in a softcore pornography film to try and get by. But after many odd jobs and small acting roles, Sylvester finally struck 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 set out with her mother to LA to start her acting career when she was a teenager. Living out of their car, Swank soon dropped out of her new high school to focus more on acting, and after a few TV sitcom roles, Swank became famous 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 picture of glitz and glamour you see today. Growing up in East Hollywood, his mother 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 right out of Taxi Driver.


Joaquin Phoenix

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


Oprah Winfrey

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Oprah is currently one of the most influential women in the world, but she had to endure a lot before she became the icon she is now. She was born into poverty to a single teenage mom, was molested as a child and a teenager, and became pregnant at age 14 with a child who died after being born prematurely. She then started working in TV and radio in Nashville, which led to her getting her own talk show in Chicago which grew more popular as time went on, eventually becoming The Oprah Winfrey Show.

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

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