20 rags to riches stories that will blow your mind

These millionaires and billionaires came from next to nothing.

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These millionaires and billionaires came from next to nothing.
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Stefania D’Alessandro / Contributor / Getty Images

  • Before they became some of the richest people in the world, these celebrities and entrepreneurs endured hardship and struggles.
  • Some of the biggest names in Hollywood grew up in shady parts of LA, while others survived by sleeping in homeless shelters or under bridges.
  • These surprising rags to riches stories will show you exactly how one can go from humble origins to Forbes’ list of richest people in the world.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Despite being some of the most recognizable names in Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and beyond, these millionaires and billionaires weren’t always living the high life. From the seedy streets of LA to the Bayview projects, these celebrities and entrepreneurs made it big after coming from nothing.

Read more: 15 inspirational rags-to-riches stories

Here are 20 of the most inspiring (and downright wild) rags to riches stories:


Halle Berry slept in a homeless shelter

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Halle Berry.
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Gabe Ginsberg / Contributor / Getty Images

Years before Halle Berry won an Oscar, she slept in a homeless shelter. A struggling actress desperately wanting to make it in Hollywood, the star sought out cheaper housing alternatives. She says, however, that her struggles during her early acting career made her stronger in the end.

In an interview with People, Berry said, “It taught me how to take care of myself and that I could live through any situation, even if it meant going to a shelter for a small stint.”

Halle Berry now has a reported net worth of $80 million.

Source: MSN


Sarah Jessica Parker’s family couldn’t afford electricity or birthday presents

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Sarah Jessica Parker.
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James Devaney / Contributor / Getty Images

Long before Sarah Jessica Parker landed the iconic role of New York writer Carrie Bradshaw on HBO’s Sex and the City, she was just a small-town girl from Nelsonville, Ohio. According to an article by Finances Online, SJP went through a point in her life where her family rarely celebrated birthdays, holidays, or other family occasions. One of nine children, Parker remembered times when the family couldn’t afford to pay for electricity or their phone bill.

Sarah Jessica Parker landed her first Broadway role at age 11, and soon after moved to Hollywood in 1981 to appear on the TV show Square Pegs. She now stars in Divorce, with multiple movie titles also under her belt.

The New York-based actress is reportedly worth more than $100 million.

Source: Finances Online


Ed Sheeran dropped out of school and slept in subway stations

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Ed Sheeran.
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Jeff Spicer / Stringer / Getty Images

Ed Sheeran is now one of the biggest names in music, but he started off as a struggling artist in London’s bustling music scene. Sheeran dropped out of school at age 16, when he moved to the metropolitan area to attend music school and play local gigs. The singer would often spend nights sleeping in the London Underground train stations or on top of heating vents outside Buckingham Palace.

Once, while playing a gig at a local homeless shelter, he met a drug-addicted prostitute named Angel. Sheeran was so moved by her story that he dedicated his song “The A Team” to her. This song would become one of Sheeran’s first breakout singles, catapulting him into the spotlight.

Sheeran now sells out stadiums across the globe and has a net worth of $110 million.

Source: CapitalFM


Leonardo DiCaprio comes from a drug-torn town outside of Los Angeles

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Leonardo DiCaprio.
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Albert L. Ortega / Contributor / Getty Images

Before Leonardo DiCaprio was one of the biggest names in Hollywood, with box-office smashes like Titanic, The Revenant, and The Wolf of Wall Street under his belt, he was a poor kid growing up on the outskirts of LA. The actor claims he saw great poverty, drug use, and violence at a young age, which now allows him to portray the darker side of humanity in his films.

Following slight backlash for his role in The Wolf of Wall Street, which critics said glamorized drug use, prostitution, and other “amoral” acts, DiCaprio defended the role by comparing it with his own childhood. In an interview with The Times, he said, “Who am I to talk about this? It goes back to that neighborhood. It came from the fact that I grew up very poor, and I got to see the other side of the spectrum.”

DiCaprio’s estimated net worth is upwards of $245 million.

Source: Independent


Arnold Schwarzenegger experienced hunger riots in post-World War II Austria

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Arnold Schwarzenegger.
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Stephan Woldron / Contributor / Getty Images

Before he was in The Terminator and later became the Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger lived without plumbing or a phone. Growing up in a post-World War II Austrian town, the actor recalls hunger shortages and riots occurring outside his door regularly.

Now one of the richest action movie stars of all time, Schwarzenegger boasts a net worth of $400 million and a catalog of movies that earned roughly $4.73 billion.

Source: GoBankingRates


Celine Dion grew up in a poor family as one of fourteen children

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Celine Dion.
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Axelle/Bauer-Griffin / Contributor / Getty Images

Celine Dion grew up in Canada as the youngest of fourteen siblings. Her family went through hard times trying to support Dion and her siblings. Eventually, Dion realized her musical abilities and began performing at small local events. She went on to climb to the top of the charts with hits like “My Heart Will Go On” and “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now.”

As her fame rose, so did the star’s net worth. She is currently valued at a whopping $800 million.

Source: ThoughtCatalogue


J.K. Rowling was a single mom struggling to make ends meet before she wrote Harry Potter

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J.K. Rowling.
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Samir Hussein / Contributor / Getty Images

Before the idea for Harry Potter famously came to J.K. Rowling in a dream, the writer was a single mother struggling to pay her rent. Rowling battled depression and other obstacles before becoming one of the most successful female writers in recent history, as well as one of the most beloved British authors of all time.

The author’s net worth currently stands at $1 billion, with seven Harry Potter novels and a hugely-successful resulting movie franchise to thank for it.

Source: Biography


Multi-billionaire Kenny Troutt’s racehorse just won the Triple Crown — but before that, he was the poor son of a bartender

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Kenny Troutt.
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Lexington Herald-Leader / Contributor/ Getty Images

Before he was one of the world’s richest people, Kenny Troutt paid his way through Southern Illinois University by selling insurance on the side while he attended classes. The son of a bartender, Troutt grew up in a poor family. However, after graduating from college, he would go on to found the long-distance phone company Excel Communications. In 1996, twelve years after he founded the company, he took it public.

In 1998, Kenny Troutt sold Excel Communications to Teleglobe in a $3.5 billion deal. He took the money he made from the deal and reinvested the profits in stocks, bonds, and racehorses. He currently owns WinStar Farm in Versailles, Kentucky, which has brought forth a Kentucky Derby winner.

Troutt now has a net worth of $1.4 billion.

Source: Forbes, Paper City Magazine


Oprah Winfrey grew up poor and went to college on a scholarship

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Oprah Winfrey.
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John Medina / Stringer / Getty Images

Oprah Winfrey was born into a poor Mississippi family in 1954, but that didn’t stop her from achieving unparalleled success. After a traumatic upbringing in which she was abused and molested by two family members and a family friend, she ran away from home at the age of 13. At 14, she gave birth – the child died shortly after.

Always an intelligent and driven young woman, Winfrey was awarded a scholarship to Tennessee State University. Following an appearance in a local beauty pageant, she went on to become the first African-American TV correspondent in the state at the young age of 19.

The acclaimed talk show host later moved to Chicago, where she began work on her very own morning show. It would later be widely known as The Oprah Winfrey Show. The show aired for 25 seasons, from 1986 to 2011. Since moving on from her talk show, Winfrey has founded OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network.

Her net worth is calculated to be about $2.6 billion, making her one of the richest black women in the world.

Source: Academy of Achievement


John Paul DeJoria sold Christmas cards and newspapers to help support his family

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John Paul DeJoria.
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Axelle/Bauer-Griffin / Contributor / Getty Images

Before he was the mastermind behind shampoo giant John Paul Mitchell Systems and Patron Tequila, John Paul DeJoria was just a first-generation American trying to make it. After his German and Italian parents divorced when he was two, he turned to selling Christmas cards and newspapers to help support his family – all before he turned 10 years old.

After taking a job in a Redken factory, DeJoria became intrigued in the shampoo industry. He took a $700 loan from the company and invested it into his own brand, John Paul Mitchell Systems. Going door-to-door selling his product, DeJoria slept in his car, hoping his product would capture buyers’ attention. It did – the company is now worth over $900 million annually.

DeJoria has a net worth of $2.6 billion.

Source: Forbes


Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz grew up in the projects of Canarsie, Brooklyn

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Howard Schultz.
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Owen Hoffmann / Contributor / Getty Images

Schultz grew up the son of a truck driver who barely made enough money to make ends meet. Despite growing up in a poor family, he was athletically talented and earned a football scholarship to the University of Northern Michigan. After graduating with a degree in communications, Schultz worked for Xerox.

However, everything changed when he stumbled upon a small coffee shop called Starbucks. He loved the coffee so much that he went on to become their chief executive in 1987 after leaving Xerox. With Schultz’s help, Starbucks soon grew from a small coffee company with 60 stores to a money-making giant with over 16,000 outlets worldwide.

Howard Schultz’s current net worth is $4.1 billion.

Source: Mirror News


Forever 21 founder Do Won Chang worked as a janitor before he hit it big

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Do Won Chang.
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Alberto E. Rodriguez / Contributor / Getty Images

In 1981, Jin Sook and Do Won “Don” Chang emigrated from South Korea to Los Angeles in pursuit of success and new opportunities. Penniless, without formal education, and speaking in broken English, the Changs struggled at first. Originally going into the coffee business, they soon discovered that was not going to be their ticket to success. For a few years, Don worked as a janitor, pumped gas, and served coffee to make ends meet for him and his family. Everything changed, however, when he made one crucial observation.

“I noticed the people who drove the nicest cars were all in the garment business,” Don told the LA Times in a 2010 interview.

Soon after, he opened a 900-square-foot clothing store called Fashion 21. It would go on to become the fast-fashion retailer Forever 21. Every year, the store brings in roughly $4.4 billion in sales from over 600 stores.

His net worth is now $6.1 billion.

Source: Business Insider


In his high school yearbook, Ralph Lauren answered a question about his future goals with one word: “millionaire.” Today, the fashion giant is worth $7 billion.

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Ralph Lauren.
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Gilbert Carrasquillo / Contributor / Getty Images

Ralph Lauren always dreamed of being rich and successful. In his 1957 DeWitt Clinton High School yearbook, Ralph Lauren reportedly wrote “millionaire” as one of his greatest life goals – little did he know that he would come to surpass that figure tenfold. The youngest son of Jewish immigrants living in the Bronx, Lauren escaped his own reality by entering into a new one. Young Ralph Lipschitz (he would later change his surname to Lauren) loved movies, and some say that Old Hollywood stars continue to inspire his designs.

“He would literally fall into the fantasies of the movies of that era,” Michael Gross, author of “Genuine Authentic: The Real Life of Ralph Lauren,” told Bloomberg. “He truly did project himself into the scenes in which men like Gary Cooper and Cary Grant were playing. He sees the characters that populate his dreams and visions, and that vision – that ability to step into a fantasy world – Ralph brought to the fashion business.”

Ralph Lauren now has a net worth of roughly $7 billion.

Source: Business Insider


Steve Jobs was the child of two immigrants and became a millionaire by age 23

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Steve Jobs.
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Justin Sullivan / Staff / Getty Images

Though Steve Jobs is now exalted as one of the greatest minds in modern history, he came from humble beginnings. Jobs’ young, working-class parents struggled to support him and make ends meet. He was soon taken in by another couple, Paul and Clara Jobs. Jobs was fascinated by computers, even at a young age. However, Jobs never liked formal education.

After dropping out of college after his first semester, he started working at video game manufacturing company Atari. A while later, Jobs created the first-ever Apple machine together with Steve Wozniak. Jobs chased after people to invest in their new venture. Eventually, Intel agreed to fund them.

By age 23, Jobs was worth $1 million. He was the youngest person on Forbes’ list of the country’s richest people at the time – no small feat without inheriting any family wealth. He made $10 million by age 24 and crossed the $100 million mark by the time he was 25.

Before he passed away at the age of 56 in 2011, he was worth $10 billion.

Source: ScoopWhoop


Lakshmi Mittal grew up in a poor Indian family in Rajasthan

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Lakshmi Mittal.
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Oli Scarff / Staff / Getty Images

Steel industry tycoon Lakshmi Mittal wasn’t always rolling in dough. Rather, he grew up in a poor Indian family near Rajasthan. According to BBC News, Mittal “established the foundations of his fortune over two decades by doing much of his business in the steel industry equivalent of a discount warehouse.” He bought up parts of other steel companies that were going cheap and transformed them into profitable ventures.

Mittal has topped the UK’s Rich List more than five times and has a current net worth of $11.8 billion.

Source: BBC News


Roman Abramovich was an orphan — now he owns the world’s second-largest yacht

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Roman Abramovich.
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Chris Brunskill Ltd / Contributor / Getty Images

Roman Abramovich is known across the globe as a multi-billionaire with stakes in Evraz, Norilsk Nickel, and the UK’s Chelsea soccer team. He also owns the worlds second-largest yacht (which he bought for a cool $400 million in 2010) and has a net worth of $13.3 billion.

However, before he landed on Forbes’ Billionaires list, he was an orphan growing up in Moscow. Always motivated to make something of himself, Abramovich left college to be an entrepreneur. He flipped multiple investments in companies such as oil industry giant Sibneft, Russian Aluminum, and steelmaker Evraz Group to turn huge profits.

Source: Forbes, Hubpages


Leonardo Del Vecchio, whose eyeglasses empire makes Ray-Bans and Oakleys, used to be a factory worker

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Giorgio Armani (left) and Leonardo Del Vecchio.
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Stefania D’Alessandro / Contributor / Getty Images

Now a multi-billionaire, Leonardo Del Vecchio grew up as the child of a widowed mother who struggled to make ends meet. To earn a living, Del Vecchio went to work in a factory making molds for auto parts and eyeglass frames, where he ended up losing part of his finger in an accident. At the young age of 23, he opened his very own molding shop. That eyeglass frame shop would become Luxottica, which now manufactures brands like Ray-Ban and Oakley.

Leonardo Del Vecchio’s current net worth is $21.2 billion

Source: Forbes


Francois Pinault was teased in school for being poor — now he’s the leader behind luxury goods group PPR, which sells brands Gucci and Stella McCartney

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Francois Pinault.
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DAMIEN MEYER / Staff / Getty Images

One noteworthy rags to riches tale is that of Francois Pinault. Pinault dropped out of high school in 1947 after he was teased by his classmates for being poor. He then started working at his family’s timber trading business. Soon, he was buying up smaller firms and flipping them for large payouts, causing others to criticize his “ruthless” work ethic. He went on to start PPR, a luxury goods group that sells brands like Gucci and Stella McCartney.

Once the richest man in France, Francois Pinault’s current net worth is undeniably impressive. He is calculated to be worth $34 billion.

Source: xfinity


Sheldon Adelson delivered newspapers before he became a multi-billionaire

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Sheldon Adelson.
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Sheldon Adelson.Shahar Azran / Contributor / Getty Images

Though Sheldon Adelson now has a net worth of a whopping $37 billion, he came from humble beginnings. Adelson grew up the son of a cab driver in Dorchester, Massachusetts. At the young age of 12, Adelson got his first taste of making money by delivering newspapers around his neighborhood.

A Forbes profile of the billionaire claims that after dropping out of the City College of New York, Adelson “built a fortune running vending machines, selling newspaper ads, helping small businesses go public, developing condos, and hosting trade shows.”

After losing a majority of his money in the recession, Adelson earned most of it back and now owns Las Vegas Sands, the largest casino company in the world.

Source: Inc


Larry Ellison worked odd jobs in California before founding Oracle

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Larry Ellison.
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Justin Sullivan / Staff / Getty Images

As the cofounder of Oracle, Larry Ellison holds an impressive net worth of $71.1 billion. Ellison was born in Brooklyn, NY to a single mother. However, he was raised by his aunt and uncle. After his aunt passed away, the future mogul moved to California and made a living by working odd jobs here and there.

Eventually, he founded a small software development company called Oracle in 1977. It is now one of the largest technology companies in the world.

Source: Inc