Rags to Riches: 15 Celebs Who Were Born Poor And Built Their Own Empires

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It’s no secret that celebrities get some pretty insane paychecks. From their rate for movies to their rate for stage performances, they make major bank. However, that kind of success doesn’t just come overnight. Most celebrities spend quite a few years trying to get their big breaks. Obviously, some reach superstardom at a younger age — it depends on when you start. However, it’s not usually something that happens overnight.

There are many celebrities who come from relatively wealthy backgrounds. They have a bit more security when it comes to pursuing their dream. And, they know they always have something to come back to if things don’t quite work out. While it’s impressive when they make it in Hollywood, it’s not quite as impressive as someone who started out with nothing.

There are a lot of celebrities who come to the entertainment industry with a big dream, and are determined to make it come true. Perhaps they want to sing on stage in front of thousands, or be in a movie that wins awards. Whatever that dream, they’re willing to do anything to make it happen. They’re willing to be the hardest worker in the room, always. So, they usually end up being successful and completely transforming their lives.

Here are 15 celebrities who were born and raised without much money. They worked hard and ended up making their dream come true — now, they’re all at the helm of their own empires in the entertainment industry.



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I mean, you literally cannot talk about a rags to riches story in Hollywood without bringing up Oprah. The talk show queen turned lifestyle mogul grew up in rural Mississippi in severe, severe poverty. She didn’t have any plumbing indoors when she was growing up, and faced some major hardships.

However, she didn’t let her circumstances get her down. As a new high school graduate, she managed to snag a job at a radio station. She continued working super hard, in a variety of media jobs, before finally figuring out she was meant to be in front of the camera.

Then, rather than just being another reporter on someone’s network, she launched her own show. We think you all know how that went — she became a talk show queen, and is now insanely wealthy.


Dolly Parton

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Dolly Parton is a straight up country queen. She has countless fans around the world who love her music. And, she loves to give back — she’s involved with a ton of charitable ventures.

While her life is pretty amazing now, she didn’t always have it easy. Growing up, Parton was one of 12 siblings — talk about a big family! She was raised in a rural setting in Tennessee. And, her house was definitely less than glam — the beds were made of straw, and there was no gas, electricity, or running water.

Parton was determined to make it out of that environment. By the time she was 12, she was performing on local television. She ended up launching a successful music career and the rest is history. Now, she can probably barely find enough space in her home to put all her awards!


Selena Gomez

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There are some celebrities who get into the industry because they want to be in the spotlight. And then, there are some who get into the industry because their families need money. In Selena Gomez’ case, it was likely a combination of the two.

Gomez got her start at quite a young age, appearing on shows like Barney and Friends. While she likely enjoyed it, she may have been motivated to go to auditions because her mother needed some help providing for the family.

You see, Gomez’ mother had her when she was just 16, and worked a ton of minimum wage jobs to try to make ends meet. Once Gomez herself started booking big jobs, her family didn’t really have to worry about money anymore.


Halle Berry

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Halle Berry always seems so glamorous. And, she’s been in the industry for quite a while. It’s easy to assume that she grew up in the lap of luxury and managed to make it in Hollywood because of how gorgeous she was.

However, it turns out Berry is a whole lot tougher than you may have given her credit for. She was raised in Cleveland by a single mother, and they definitely didn’t have a lot of money. When she decided she wanted to become an actress, that wasn’t an easy path at all. In fact, for a while she was living in a homeless shelter in New York City when she couldn’t afford to make ends meet.

Luckily, she’s reached a point in her career where she’s financially a lot more comfortable.


Jim Carrey

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Jim Carrey has taken a bit of a step away from Hollywood lately. However, there was a time when you couldn’t go to a movie theatre without spotting another one of his comedies on the big screen. He definitely made a name for himself in Hollywood.

It wasn’t always easy, though. Growing up, his family often struggled. He even ended up homeless for a period when he was around 12, after his father lost his job. The family lived in a van until they could figure out how to get back on their feet.

Carrey definitely doesn’t take his success in the industry for granted. Not with experiences like that under his belt.


J.K. Rowling

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There are very, very few authors who end up becoming legitimate celebrities. Even if they have huge hit books, the average person doesn’t know who they are walking down the street. J.K. Rowling is one of the few exceptions. The British author who created the Harry Potter series is known around the world.

She has a pretty amazing story. As she said in an interview with Daily Mail back in 2013, before she penned the first Potter book, she was “as poor as it’s possible to be.” She was raising her daughter on welfare and trying desperately to make ends meet.

Now, that’s not something she ever has to worry about. In fact, the only reason she’s a millionaire rather than a billionaire is because she’s constantly donating money to charity!


Shia LaBeouf

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While he’s gotten a bit more controversial as he grows up, many people remember Shia LaBeouf as a goofy tween on the Disney Channel. He starred in shows like Even Stevens, showing off his comedic skills. And, the reason he became an actor is largely because of his family’s poverty.

He spilled a bit about his past to Parade, saying that “my dad and my mom were both artists who never found an audience for their artwork. And so I lived in poverty. Now that I’m not poor, I know that’s what it was.”

He started doing stand-up when he was just ten years old, and managed to impress enough people with his jokes that he got steady gigs. Now, he doesn’t have to worry about money.


Hilary Swank

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Hilary Swank has become a Hollywood staple at this point. She’s taken on a few roles in rom coms, and fluffier films, but she’s also taken on plenty of really serious, meaty roles. She’s not afraid to tackle tough characters and bring them to life on screen.

We’re betting she never dreamed she’d be walking the red carpet in a designer gown. That’s because she didn’t exactly grow up in the lap of luxury. She spent the first chunk of her life in a trailer park in Washington, where her family struggled financially.

However, she credits her upbringing for a lot. As she told Daily Mail,  “Growing up in a lower-income family, you don’t have the resources to make ends meet, and you have to find creative ways to get by. That infuses your character with a lot of drive and determination.”


Leonardo DiCaprio

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Leonardo DiCaprio seems to have it totally made. He’s constantly dating gorgeous women, he has his pick of roles in great movies, and he’s a superstar. That wasn’t always the case, though — in fact, he had a tough path to stardom.

He grew up in east Hollywood, but it was about as far from the glitz and glam as you could be. His father sold comic books underground and his mother was a secretary, neither earning a ton of money.

As he told Telegraph, “money was always on my mind when I was growing up. So I was always wondering how we were going to afford this and that. Acting seemed to be a shortcut out of the mess.”

He got his start when he was just a kid, and managed to build a hugely successful career.


Justin Bieber

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Many people don’t really think about what Justin Bieber’s life was like before he became a pop star. After all, he became an international star when he was just a tween. Now, he’s worth an unimaginable amount of money.

However, growing up, he was just a kid being raised by a single mom. He discussed his childhood with Clique TV, saying that “I remember being poor and being teased by other kids. I remember sitting in restaurants with my mother and she’d make me order water instead of soda. I remember so badly wanting to order a soda. And I also remember that when I got my first big paycheck I was so glad to be able to use that money to take care of my mother.”


Leighton Meester

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Leighton Meester is best known for playing the posh Blair Waldorf on the show Gossip Girl.  However, her own life growing up was about as far from Upper East Side Manhattan as you can get.

She was actually born in prison — her mother was pregnant when she was arrested, and was serving time in jail for drug-related charges. Meester ended up with her grandmother until her mother was released, then her mother started taking her to auditions.

As Meester told Marie Claire, “I couldn’t relate to kid stuff. ‘Jimmy doesn’t like me!’ Who cares? I was worried we didn’t have gas money or food. Those were my concerns.”

Luckily, Meester’s own daughter won’t have to worry about those types of things as she grows up.


Celine Dion

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Celine Dion is without a doubt one of the most iconic singers of the past century. I mean, the woman has been in the industry for nearly 40 years now, and shows no signs of slowing down!

She got her start as a Francophone artist when she was just a teen. Eventually, she became an international superstar with a Vegas residency that stretched to nearly a decade.

However, she didn’t always have it easy. When she was growing up, she was one of fourteen siblings. And, the entire family was trying to survive off what her dad made, which was less than $200 a week.

Dion ended up getting her big break when she was a teen, and quickly started earning enough money that she didn’t have to worry about the things she did growing up.


Sarah Jessica Parker

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Sarah Jessica Parker is best known for playing Carrie Bradshaw, a journalist who has a penchant for designer clothing and shoes. In real life, Parker had a more humble journey to Hollywood. Though she can easily afford designer gear now, we wonder if her upbringing makes her think twice about spending a ton on her wardrobe.

Before she was in Hollywood, she grew up on Roosevelt Island in poverty. As she told The New York Times, “I remember being poor. There was no great way to hide it. We didn’t have electricity sometimes. We didn’t have Christmases sometimes, or we didn’t have birthdays sometimes, or the bill collectors came.”

Crazy! She got her start in the industry when she was just 16, but for a while her money went to the family’s bills rather than in her own pocket.


Scarlett Johansson

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Scarlett Johansson has built a successful career for herself in the entertainment industry. She’s even become part of the superhero universe, which is pretty much guaranteed success for years to come.

It wasn’t always a walk in the park, though. Johansson grew up in Manhattan in a fairly low-income household. She has spoken before about the fact that her family was on welfare and used food stamps while she was growing up. So, she wasn’t exactly living large on the Upper East Side.

She began auditioning and facing rejection when she was just nine. She stuck to it, though, and ended up getting her big break eventually.


Kate Winslet

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Kate Winslet just has a certain air about her, a regal quality. She seems like she could have easily grown up in luxurious surroundings in the English countryside. However, that wasn’t the case at all.

Winslet has been open about her past, saying that her father worked very hard, but often had to string together several jobs to make ends meet. He was an aspiring actor as well, but didn’t quite attain the level of stardom that Winslet eventually did. They often had car trouble, and Winslet wore plenty of secondhand clothes from charity shops. In fact, the family was actually supported by a charity called The Actor’s Charitable Club.

References: Go Banking Rates, This Is Insider, Woman’s World

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