20 Celebrities You Never Knew Came From Total Poverty

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Everyone loves a rags-to-riches story, especially when it involves a celebrity. There’s something about knowing that with hard work and a dream, one is able to overcome even the most dismal of circumstances. Before they were bright and shiny Hollywood stars, these celebrities came from humble beginnings. Yet with their talent, hard work, and dedication to a shared dream, these silver-screen legends persevered against all odds, rewriting their destinies to include fame, success, and net-worths beyond their wildest dreams. Here are 20 celebrities whose fortunes prove they paved their own way along the walk of fame.


Leonardo Dicaprio is one of Hollywood’s top leading men, but his celebrity status is not one that he inherited. According to Business Insider, the versatile actor was raised by his mother, who worked several jobs to support them. While DiCaprio was only five years old when he began acting, it would take a decade of small sitcom and commercial roles before he would be recognized as one of his generation’s defining talents. Leo earned an Academy Award Nomination at the age of nineteen for his role as an autistic teen in “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.” Since then, he has continued to grace the big screen with complex and diverse leading roles and is now worth over 230 million dollars, according to the Huffington Post.

Oprah’s name is synonymous with success. With a career spanning the decades, Oprah has managed to keep her finger on the pulse of America’s heartbeat, turning everything she touches into gold.  But Oprah’s story did not start out a fairytale; she had to work hard for her happy ending. The Mississippi-born media mogul was born to a single and teenage mother and was raised by her grandmother. Enduring sexual assault as a child and becoming pregnant at only fifteen, only to lose her son in infancy, Oprah had to fight her way out of misfortune. Sent to live with her father, Oprah found her calling when she applied for a radio gig while still in high school. A few years later, she was reporting the evening news for a local station. As we all know, Oprah’s talent and drive paid off. She is said to be worth $2.9 Billion dollars. And while it’s not grammatically correct to capitalize “billion,” it just felt wrong not to.

As a young rapper, Mark Wahlberg got into his share of trouble. According to the Daily News:
The rapper-turned-actor had a cocaine addiction by the age of 13 and a criminal record by 15 after harassing and yelling slurs at black children in his neighborhood. He served 45 days of his two-year sentence after attacking two Vietnamese men, beating one until he was unconscious.
Yikes. Well, it seems that Mark was able to turn things around, as he is now one of Hollywood’s most endearing bad boys. According to Celebrity Net Worth, the dad of four is now worth a whopping $255 million dollars. 

Watching Sarah Jessica Parker walk the red carpet in her signature Manolo Blahnik’s, one would never suspect that she wasn’t born with designer booties on. Yet, her background reveals quite the contrary; SJP walked a mile or ten in some pretty worn hand-me-down sneakers for the first few decades of her life. Her parents divorced when she was only two-years-old, leaving Sarah Jessica’s mother a single mom with four kids. Her mother soon remarried and had four more children with Sarah Jessica’s new stepfather. With seven siblings and only their stepfather’s trucker income supporting them, Sarah Jessica Parker managed to land a role on Broadway at only eleven years old. Her talent would continue to carry her further and further from her humble beginnings, landing her the role of a lifetime on HBO’s Sex and the City, where she will forever remain the style icon and spirit animal of single women everywhere. She is now estimated to be worth $90 million dollars and has one hell of a closet.

It’s a good thing Jim Carrey has a sense of humor as things were not always smooth sailing for the comedian. Forced to drop out of high school to help contribute after his father was laid off, Carrey did his best to help his family make ends meet by working as a janitor and as a security guard. Sadly, it was not enough to prevent the family from losing their home, leaving them to live out of their van. The repeated hardship didn’t stop Carrey from continuing to strive for success. The funny guy struggled to find any real recognition as a comedian, until getting his big break on his first television show, “In Living Color.” Celebrity Net Worth estimates the actor’s net worth to be $150 million dollars.

Before Jewel was a multi-platinum singer-songwriter, she was just a singer-songwriter living out of her car. According to the Daily News, after moving to San Diego from Alaska, where she grew up without indoor plumbing, Jewel performed her way through poverty until she was discovered and signed her first record deal with Atlantic records in 1994.  Turns out he yodeling bohemian ended up saving her own soul and is now worth $30 million.

If you’ve seen “8 Mile,” the film recounting Marshall Mather’s youth you know that he had to freestyle his way out of the Detroit projects. Abandoned by his father, the young rapper faced bullying and poverty until he was discovered by successful rapper and producer, Dr. Dre. Eminem may have failed the ninth grade three times, but this high school dropout is no dummy. His vocal talents proved far more valuable than a high school diploma. According to Bank Rate, he is worth $190 million dollars.

“Gossip Girl,” Leighton Meester is no stranger to hard times. According to Business Insider, she was born in a Texas prison and was raised by her grandmother until her mother’s release from prison. But she didn’t let her past define her. Rather, Leighton gossiped her way straight to the bank where she now has an estimated $5 million dollars to show for herself. Leighton Meester’s success shows us that it’s really not where you come from, but where you’re going. And this Gossip Girl is going places.

Now a family man, Jay Z wasn’t always on the straight and narrow. Growing up in the Brooklyn Projects, the rapper sold drugs and even shot his brother in the arm at the age of twelve. But his talent would eventually transform him from troubled-teen to megastardom. He is said to be worth 610 million and continues to top the charts.

Kate McKinnon told PEOPLE Magazine that before she got her big break on SNL, she was “destitute, unemployed, living in L.A.” which she hates.“Thank god that I got to have that job because I’m not qualified for anything else… I have no skills. I’m bad at most things,” she also said in the interview. ” It’s safe to say that Kate has secured financial stability. Celebrity Net Worth estimates that Kate has over 6 mill in the bank, and we all know that she’s just getting started.  

Demi Moore’s past has its share of ghosts. While some, like Patrick Swayze, are devilishly handsome, others are not quite so appealing. Demi grew up in a trailer park and was raised by her alcoholic mother and stepfather, whose tumultuous relationship exposed Demi to domestic violence and constant relocating. It didn’t take Demi long to fly the coop and begin her career as a young model. She soon began acting and in no time at all became a household name, motivating women everywhere to enroll in pottery classes. Business Insider reports that Demi is worth $200 million dollars. Way to leave them in the dust, Demi.

It’s hard to imagine this leading man as a young poverty-stricken Canadian boy, but that’s how Tom Cruise started off. Raised in a Catholic family, Cruise aspired to be a priest as a young man but discovered his love for acting when he joined Drama in the fourth and fifth grades. It was a good move for Tom. After his parents divorced, Tom was transplanted to the US where he continued to pursue his passion for acting and began appearing in feature films as at only nineteen years old. Since then, Cruise has established himself as Hollywood royalty and is said to be worth 250 million dollars.

Once a single mom suffering from depression, J.K. Rowling wrote her manuscripts in coffee shops. In her Harvard commencement speech the writer said:
An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless.

Selma Blair had the best of intentions when she moved from Michigan to New York to pursue her acting career, but she couldn’t make ends meet and lived at the Salvation Army before landing her naughty role in “Cruel Intentions.” Celebrity Net Worth reports Blair to now be living comfortably, with $14 million dollars to her name.

Hilary Swank’s father left when she was only 6 years old, leaving her and her mother in their Nebraska trailer park. After Swank’s mother lost her job, the two were forced to live in their car. Yet poverty didn’t prevent Hilary from fighting for her dream of acting, so her mother would use all of their change to make calls to agents and auditions. Their persistence paid off when Swank landed a role in Karate Kid 4, but they were not out of the woods just yet. After a stint on “Beverly Hills 90210,” Hilary finally got the opportunity to show her immense talent when she was cast as a transgender teen, Brandon, in “Boys Don’t Cry.” Swank’s raw performance earned her a Golden Globe and an Academy Award.  The Million Dollar Baby went on to win yet another Golden Globe and Academy Award for her stunning work in Eastwood’s boxing masterpiece. According to The Net Worth Portal, Hilary Swank is worth $44 million.

Shania Twain grew up poor and came to know tragedy early in life. Both of her parents were killed in a car crash, leaving Twain to sing at resorts to support her three younger siblings. After many years of struggling, the singer eventually found fame and is estimated to be worth $350 million. 

Born Curtis James Jackson III, 50 Cent grew up in Queens, New York and began dealing drugs at only twelve years old. By the time he was a teen he had an impressive rap sheet. However, 50 Cent eventually channeled his gangsta energy into rapping and after several failed projects the rapper was shot nine times but survived. After recovering, he recorded small projects with friends. Fortunately for 50, Eminem and Dr. Dre came across his work and signed him to their label. 50 Cent continued to get into trouble, only this time financially. Yet, after losing a multi-million dollar lawsuit and filing for bankruptcy the seemingly invincible 50 managed to sell his house and pay off his debts in no time. According to Forbes, the rapper was worth an impressive $155 million before his financial woes. Today, Celebrity Net Worth estimates his fortune to be $20 million dollars. While that’s a pretty steep loss, 50 Cent is not hurting for cash.

This “Baywatch” babe came to Hollywood with a dream of fame and ended up getting cleaned out by a loser boyfriend. Left penniless, Electra had to dance and sing her way out of hard times. With the help and encouragement of the late Prince, Carmen continued to seek stardom and was eventually cast on “Baywatch” as Pamela Anderson’s replacement and soon after landed the lead on  MTV’s hit show “Singled Out.” The sultry star is now worth $16 million and really showed that loser who dumped her.

Before he was running on beaches and calling out for “Adrian,” Stallone was a foster kid. He left his troubled past behind and moved to New York where he worked odd jobs and worked on small films until landing his ticket to fame in 1976 with his role in “Rocky.” The “Italian Stallion” never looked back and is now worth 400 million.  

Celine Dion grew up the youngest of fourteen siblings in a family that struggled to make ends meet. She sang at her father’s piano bar until she was discovered by music manager Rene Angelil, who mortgaged his home to back her first record. He put in all on the line for Celine and as a result, the two found not only fame and fortune, but love. They eventually married and lived happily as man and wife until Rene passed away in 2016. Celine holds fond memories of he childhood despite the poverty she endured, telling Vanity Fair in 2012, “We were given love and affection and support. What else did we need?” According to Forbes, The vocal powerhouse is one of America’s richest female celebrities and is worth $380 million dollars.