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- Before these stars graced red carpets, stages, and film screens across the country, they were homeless.
- These inspiring rags-to-riches stories go to show that even the direst of situations can turn around.
- Here are 20 incredible stories of rich and famous people who were once homeless and turned misfortune into great success.
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Rags-to-riches stories don’t just happen in the movies.
Some of the world’s richest and most successful people didn’t start off that way – they spent nights sleeping on the streets, in their cars, or on friends’ couches. Some of these celebrities struggled with addiction or trying to make it on their own while pursuing their dreams.
Fast-forward to today, many hold Oscar, Grammy, and Emmy award titles and have earned the respect and admiration of their industry peers and fans across the world.
Here are 20 incredible stories of people who turned misfortune into great success.
Vivian Giang and Natalie Walters contributed to earlier versions of this story.
‘Jurassic World’ star Chris Pratt lived out of a van in Maui, Hawaii
Pratt, aka Burt Macklin, has been turning heads with his transition from lovable funny guy Andy Dwyer on “Parks and Recreation” to action hero Owen Grady in “Jurassic World.”
But that’s not the only major transition the actor’s gone through.
At age 19, Pratt accepted a one-way ticket to Maui, Hawaii, from a friend and set up a humble abode in a flea and mice-infested van – a setup that he told The Independent was “pretty awesome.”
“We just drank and smoked weed and worked minimal hours, 15-20 hours per week, just enough to cover gas, food, and fishing supplies,” Pratt said. “You know it was a charming time.”
That same year, actress Rae Dawn Chong met Pratt when he was waiting tables at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company in Maui, took note of his good looks, and cast him in her directorial debut, “Cursed Part III.” (Pratt is seen holding the script in the above photo.)
“The moment she told me she was bringing me to LA, I knew,” he said. “I was like, ‘This is what I’m going to do with the rest of my life.'”
Director James Cameron lived out of his car before selling the rights to ‘The Terminator’ for $1
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When Cameron was writing “The Terminator,” he was “barely making ends meet, even living in his car for a time,” according to IGN.
But his main concern at the time wasn’t money. He was determined to direct his screenplay despite his limited experience.
When he pitched “The Terminator” at meetings, the production companies said they liked the script, but they didn’t like the idea of him being in charge.
Cameron persevered and partnered with producer Gale Anne Hurd, who bought the rights to the screenplay for $1 and named Cameron the director.
The film went on to make $77 million worldwide.
Comedian Jim Carrey once lived out of a VW camper van and in a tent on his sister’s front lawn
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According to the biography “Jim Carrey,” the comedian dropped out of high school and lived in a VW bus with his family parked in different places throughout Canada. They eventually moved into a tent on his older sister’s lawn and parked the van in the driveway.
Carrey said it was during these tough financial times growing up when he developed a sense of humor.
Oscar-winner Halle Berry once stayed in a homeless shelter in her early 20s
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When she first moved to New York to become an actress at age 21, Berry ran out of money, and her mother decided the best thing would be to not send her daughter more cash, People reports.
During this period, the actress said she stayed in a homeless shelter.
In an interview with Reader’s Digest, 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, or living within my means, which were meager. I became a person who knows that I will always make my own way.
Talk show host Dr. Phil once lived in a car with his father
- Getty Images/Cooper Neill
According to BusinessPundit, when Phil McGraw, aka Dr. Phil, was 12 years old, he was homeless and living in a car in Kansas City with his father, who was interning as a psychologist.
McGraw later went on to obtain his own bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D., and he joined his father’s psychology practice in Texas.
In the 1990s, Oprah Winfrey invited McGraw to appear on her show. He later became a regular on “Oprah” and eventually launched his own syndicated advice program.
Personal finance guru Suze Orman lived out of her van for a few months in 1973
- Wikimedia Commons
The well-known Emmy-winning financial adviser, who has published numerous New York Times bestsellers, could not afford to move out of her van when she first moved to Berkeley, California, in the 1970s, according to The Huffington Post.
For two months, Orman and a friend took a job clearing trees for $3.50 an hour and lived out of Orman’s van. Today she is a multimillionaire.
Daniel Craig, aka James Bond, once had to sleep on park benches in London
- Getty Images/Stuart Wilson
Craig now has several critically acclaimed movies on his resume, but The Independent reported that the 007 actor waited tables and even slept on park benches early in his career as an actor.
Singer Ella Fitzgerald was homeless before becoming the ‘Queen of Jazz’
- Wikimedia Commons
She would go on to sing for President Ronald Reagan in 1981, but before becoming “arguably the finest female jazz singer of all time,” Fitzgerald was a homeless teenage runaway until debuting at the Apollo Theater in 1934.
Her voice quickly won her fame, and she went on to win 13 Grammy Awards and receive medals from presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
She died in 1996, and her face appeared on a US postal stamp in 2007.
Millionaire Chris Gardner, who inspired the movie ‘The Pursuit of Happyness,’ was homeless with a young son while he took part in a finance training program
- Getty Images/Duane Prokop
Aside from a movie based on his life starring Will Smith, Gardner also has two New York Times bestselling books under his belt: his autobiography “The Pursuit of Happyness” and “Start Where You Are: Life Lessons in Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be.”
But before his story was shared with the world, Gardner was living on the streets with his young son. At the time, he was trying to pursue a career in finance despite not having any experience in it, or even a college degree. He received a spot in the Dean Witter Reynolds training program but could not afford to live off of the small salary, and his wife eventually left him.
Today Gardner is a motivational speaker and CEO of Gardner Rich LLC with offices in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco.
After being fired, Jewel was homeless for a year
Multi-platinum singer Jewel once lived on the streets after her boss fired her because she wouldn’t sleep with him, she writes on her website.
“I ended up homeless for a year,” she says. “I kept writing songs, and started singing in a local coffee shop called The Inner Change Cafe. I developed a loyal following. No one knew I was homeless.”
She ended up securing a label and making an album that sold 12 million copies, according to her website.
NFL player Michael Oher’s story of homelessness and struggle in ‘The Blind Side’ was inspirational to the world
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During his childhood and teenage years, Oher was living on the streets while his crack-addicted mother lived in public housing, reported NPR.
He was eventually taken in to live with a wealthy family, played college football at the University of Mississippi, and drafted into the NFL in 2009 for the Baltimore Ravens.
His inspirational story was turned into Michael Lewis’s 2006 book “The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game” and the movie “The Blind Side.”
After butting heads with her mother as a teenager, Jennifer Lopez slept on a sofa for a few months
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W Magazine reported that when Lopez was 18, she wanted to be a dancer while her mother wanted her to go to college, so she moved out and started sleeping on the sofa of her dance studio.
“I was homeless, but I told her, ‘This is what I have to do,'” Lopez told W.
A few months later she landed a job dancing in Europe, and when she got back, she booked “In Living Color” and became a Fly Girl, which proved to be her big break.
Forbes estimates the 46-year-old singer, actress, producer, and designer made $28.5 million in the past year.
Before becoming the greatest magician, Harry Houdini ran away from home at the age of 12
- Wikimedia Commons
At a young age Houdini knew he wanted to be a magician, and he ran away from home by hopping a freight car, according to Appleton Public Library, winding up in Missouri.
A few years later, he moved to New York City with his father, but they were so poor Houdini had to panhandle on the streets.
He began his professional career as a magician at 17.
Talk show host Steve Harvey lived in his 1976 Ford Tempo for three years before his big break
- Getty Images/Moses Robinson
The 58-year-old actor, TV personality, and author told People Magazine that when he was just starting out as a comedian in the late 1980s, “one or two gigs fell through,” and he suddenly found himself homeless.
People reported that Harvey lived in his 1976 Ford Tempo for three years – he would wash up in hotel bathrooms, gas stations, or swimming pool showers – until he was called to appear on “Showtime at the Apollo.”
That gig turned out to be Harvey’s big break.
Academy Award-winning actress Hilary Swank lived in a car with her mother while they saved up for an apartment in Los Angeles
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According to Time, Swank, who grew up in a trailer park, moved to California with her mother as a teenager to pursue a career in acting.
Before landing roles, she and her mom lived in a car and stayed in an empty house for a few months.
Swank told CBS News: “We had a friend who was selling their house. And so they said, ‘You know, there’s no furniture, but you can stay there at night. And then, during the day, you have to leave so we can try and sell it.’ So we got air mattresses. Blew the air mattresses up. Slept on the air mattresses. And left in the morning.”
She went on to win two Oscars by age 30.
Before the age of 10, Charlie Chaplin had to figure out how to make a living on the streets of London
After the early death of Chaplin’s father, his mother was put in a mental hospital, and the young boy and his brother had to try to make a living by themselves, according to CharlieChaplin.com.
As both his parents were in show business, Chaplin and his brother decided to follow suit. Today he is known as one of the greatest actors of the silent film era.
While homeless in Las Vegas, Drew Carey would sell plasma for $40
- Getty Images / Frederick M. Brown
Carey grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and his father died when he was just 8 years old.
According to the Kirkland Reporter, Carey told audience members at a 2010 benefit for the Friends of Youth organization that he was on his way from Ohio to California to see his brother when he ended up homeless in Las Vegas.
He sold plasma for $40 and looked for spare change to buy boxed mac and cheese.
The actor, comedian, game show host, and philanthropist is now a multimillionaire.
Shania Twain slept in a homeless shelter with her mother and siblings
Before going on to win five Grammy awards, Shania Twain was homeless. According to Time, she grew up in an abusive household and spent time in a Toronto homeless shelter, along with her mother and siblings.
Twain writes about this experience in her memoir, “From this Moment On.”
In the 2011 publication, she writes, “Mom got out of the car to use a payphone while we sat and waited in the car, returning a few minutes later with a piece of paper on which she’d scribbled the address of a homeless shelter. That night, we slept in a crowded, sweltering place on cot-like beds spread out along the walls of a series of spacious, open rooms designed for large groups.”
Kelly Clarkson slept in her car before she eventually auditioned for “American Idol”
- Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Music Business Association
Time reports that though Kelly Clarkson is now recognized as one of the biggest success stories from “American Idol,” she was homeless during her early career as a singer. As she struggled to find work as an entertainer in Los Angeles, Clarkson resorted to living in her car after her apartment was damaged in a fire.
The star eventually moved back to her home state of Texas, where she auditioned for “American Idol.” She would go on to become the show’s first winner and her fame would catapult from there.
Natasha Lyonne struggled with addiction and homelessness — now her show “Russian Doll” is up for 13 Emmys
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Natasha Lyonne has starred in fan-favorites like “American Pie” and hit Netflix shows like “Orange Is the New Black” and “Russian Doll”. However, she’s also struggled with addiction and homelessness. According to Ranker, after receiving a DUI in 2001 and being kicked out of her Gramercy Park apartment after complaints from her neighbors, Lyonne was reportedly homeless. Her troubles didn’t stop there – in 2005, the star received treatment for methadone addiction, as well as hepatitis C, a heart infection, and a collapsed lung.
The New York-based actress has since risen to well-deserved fame. “Russian Doll,” the show she co-produced, co-created, co-directed, and starred in, is currently up for 13 Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for Lyonne.
- Read more:
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- The richest man in Hong Kong is funding an entire college class’ tuition for up to 5 years – here’s his incredible rags-to-riches life story
- The incredible story of how Chris Pratt got his big break while living in a Scooby-Doo van in Maui