Inspiring Celebrities Who Went From Penniless to Prosperous

It's easy to stop thinking of celebrities as real people once they're famous. It seems like they have everything they want right? It's not like they were born that way however, and many of them struggled for a long time before they struck it rich with their dreams.

Here are 19 inspiring celebrities who went from penniless to prosperous. Enjoy! And don't forget to follow your dreams (and check out the sources at the bottom for more too!).

Jim Carrey


As a young boy in Canada, Carrey's father lost his job and the whole family was forced to relocate themselves into a camper van parked on their relatives lawn. Together they all took jobs as janitors and security guards, and Carrey would often have to work a full shift after school to make ends meet.

At 19 years, Jim Carrey moved to Hollywood to follow his dreams. After repeatedly being turned down he was broke and depressed and on the edge of giving up. He drove all the way up to the Hollywood hills where he could see the city and thought long and hard about his dream. To make himself feel better, he tried writing himself a fake $10 Million dollar cheque for "acting services rendered," he post-dated it 10 years and kept it in his wallet.

The cheque remained there until it deteriorated but Carrey eventually made it: he earned millions for Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. When his father passed away, Carrey slipped the cheque in the casket to be buried with him.


Nicki Minaj


Nicki Minaj was born in the St. James district of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. When her family moved to the US, they settled in poverty stricken Queens, New York. As determined and fierce as she is now, Nicki knew she wanted to achieve her dreams. She even used to pray every night before bed to be rich so that she could take care of her mother.

On her past, the rapper has stated: "I never want to go back to being poor. Once you have a taste of that you will always be driven. I know what that felt like and I don't want to feel it ever again. So yeah, I mean my childhood was crazy, but it got me to the point where I had so much faith in whatever I was doing. I just always feel where there's a will there's a way and I live my entire life that way now."


Leonardo DiCaprio


While he might seem like an untouchable now, Leo actually grew up in a pretty violent part of Los Angeles. He saw drug and prostitution rings operating around his neighbourhood and told the press after his Oscar win that he was beat up almost everyday at his public school.

He attributes his success to his wonderful mother Iremelin, who supported her son's dreams by driving him to acting practice and auditions wherever they could find them. He finally caught his big break in 1993, starring with Johnny Depp in What's Eating Gilbert Grape.


Tom Cruise


Tom Cruise had a rough childhood living in Syracuse, New York. His father, Thomas Cruise, was routinely abusive, and abandoned his family to poverty when Tom was only twelve years old.

Still, the actor persevered and hit his success relatively early. With the birth of his daughter Suri, he's stated that he's strived to give her the kind of childhood he didn't get to have.


Mariah Carey


Mariah's early childhood was marked by her parents' difficult relationships. As a member of an interracial family, she faced a lot of adversity including racial insults and even violence: Crosses being burnt on their lawn, their dogs poisoned, their car blown up, and a shot fired through the kitchen window during mealtime.

But still, she had a natural talent that she was determined to share with the world. Working multiple jobs and training for beauty school as a backup, she finally had her break through with her self-titled debut album in 1990. 'Mariah' stayed at the top of the charts for 22 weeks.


Mark Wahlberg


Wahlberg was born to a large family in Boston. At the age of 16 he dropped out of school to join a gang and became caught up in crime.

The tipping point came when he assaulted two men unprovoked, a crime for which he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years in prison.On his time in prison, Wahlberg has stated: "As soon as I began that life of crime, there was always a voice in my head telling me I was going to end up in jail. Three of my brothers had done time. My sister went to prison so many times I lost count. Finally I was there, locked up with the kind of guys I'd always wanted to be like. Now I'd earned my stripes and I was just like them and I realized it wasn't what I wanted at all. I'd ended up in the worst place I could possibly imagine and I never wanted to go back.

He atoned with the help of his priest, and would later go on to join his brother Donnie in success.

Demi Moore


Despite her effortless glamour, Demi Moore knows what it's like to live without it. She described her early life as being unstable and says she moved over 30 times throughout her childhood. Her father figure committed suicide and her mother was a recurring alcoholic.

She turned her life around after her role in St. Elmo's Fire. Since then, the actress has managed to patch up her relationship with her daughters and overcome her demons.


Leighton Meester


Gossip Girl star Leighton Meester had an unorthodox start in life to be sure. She was born in a federal prison while her mother was serving time.

However, she was quickly able to rise out of her circumstances when she became a model at the age of ten. She had to grow up quickly in that lifestyle, and has become an intelligent and accomplished young actress since then.


Sarah Jessica Parker


Sarah Jessica Parker might be known best for her shopaholic character on Sex and the City, but she spent most of her childhood watching her parents struggling to make ends meet.

"We didn't have electricity sometimes. We didn't have Christmases sometimes, or we didn't have birthdays sometimes, or the bill collectors came, or the phone company would call and say, 'We're shutting your phones off.' And we were all old enough to either get the calls, or watch my mother's reactions or watch my parents shuffling the money around.''

For all their troubles however, she credits her success to a loving family who supported her big dreams. Her early life taught her an important lesson in financial responsibility, and by all accounts the actress has been very smart with her money.


Justin Bieber


Despite being catapulted to fame in his teens, Justin's childhood was less than perfect. His parents nasty divorce after his father was jailed resulted in him growing up in a blue-collar part of Stratford, Ontario.

Without much to entertain himself with, Bieber used anything he could to make music around the house. He discovered that music would be his way to escape the cycle, and became one of the first celebrities to have their career launched from viral internet success.


Celine Dion


Born to a rural family in Quebec, Canada. Celine was part of a huge family that had little to support themselves on. Her father only earned $160 a week for their family of sixteen.

They had each other though, and the close knit family shared a common passion for music. Inspiring and encouraging her career, Celine's family helped her to become a star in francophone music. From there she was able to break into the mainstream while always looking out for her family.


Jay Z


You don't need this list to know about Jay Z's rough childhood. He's managed to turn his struggles and demons into the core of his artistry. Raised in a troubled part of Brooklyn, young Shawn Carter knew that he had to make a choice if he wanted to be the Rockefeller he is now.He turned to rap at a young age to express his problems, making music about the kind of life he would have fallen into if he didn't have an outlet. He was mentored by older rapper and inspiration for his stage name Jaz-O, who helped him get his break on MTV Raps.

Stephen King


It's not a surprise that the master of the macabre has seen a fair share of hardship throughout his life. Early into his marriage with Tabitha King he was unable to find teaching work and had little payoff with his writing.

However, his persistence and drive to keep writing is the secret behind his success. Sitting down to write every day, treating it like a job and never stopping. Eventually he hit it big, earning $200,000 for his Carrie manuscript and becoming one of the most defining American authors of all time.




Marshall Mathers grew up as an outsider in his extremely poor Detroit neighbourhood. A white kid in a predominantly black area, the young man who would become Eminem embraced the anger and frustration that created hip-hop.

By infusing the rap he grew up listening to with his own outrageous personality and musical style, he was able to catch the ear of Dr. Dre. With similar backgrounds, the two formed a musical partnership that shot Eminem straight to the top as one of the most influential rappers of the 2000s.

J.K. Rowling


While she's one of the wealthiest and most beloved authors on the planet right now, the life of J.K. Rowling before Harry Potter wasn't very magical to say the least. Fraught with depression and dependent on welfare to support her and her daughter, Rowling almost gave up halfway through writing Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone when her mother died.

Even when she managed to finish the book it was far from an immediate success. Rejected by countless publishers, she was eventually picked up by Bloomsbury Publishing. Harry Potter would go on to become one of the most successful franchises of all time and Rowling's current net worth is estimated at around $1 billion.

Hilary Swank


Hilary Swank is known for playing challenging characters and the actress' real life experience with poverty is part of the reason she's found so much success with these roles.

Growing up in a low-income family, her mother took a gamble by moving her daughter to California and encouraging her to follow her dreams. While they were living out of their car, Swank was able to grab a foothold in the industry that she's been tenaciously climbing ever since.


Oprah Winfrey


Perhaps the most polemic shift in status on this list, Oprah went from being forced to wear potato sacks instead of clothes to being the victorious media mogul we know today.

She overcame the crushing poverty of her rural farming family and worked through healing from a sexual assault at the age of nine, becoming a news anchor before she was even twenty years old.

From there she transcended her onscreen talent to found the Harpo network, launching with her famous talk show to become the queen of daytime TV. Oprah's unprecedented success and rough upbringing inspired her to take up a plethora of causes, championing for the under-privileged all over the world.


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The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood's searing novel, was written at the height of the Reagan administration and satirized political, social, and religious trends of the 1980s. It's also a hit television series on Hulu that returns on June 5.

While we still have a long way to go before we can find out what's next for June/Offred in the Republic of Gilead, we can, at the very least, regale you with some cool facts about one of the most enduring stories of the last three decades.

The Trailer for Season 3 Plays Off a Slogan from the Reagan Era

Perhaps the best thing that came out of the Super Bowl––aside from the memes haggling Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine, that is––was the trailer for the third season of the Hulu series.

The trailer lampoons former President Ronald Regan's 1984 "Morning in America" political campaign television commercial.

"It's morning again in America," you hear over a soundtrack and images that resound with boundless optimism. Things turn dark from there. Soon the camera freezes on Elisabeth Moss's face: "Wake up, America," she says.

Margaret Atwood's Follow-Up Will Be Released Later This Year

Margaret Atwood will release a sequel to The Handmaid's Tale titled The Testaments in September 2019. The Testaments is unconnected to Hulu's adaptation and will feature the testimonials of three female narrators from Gilead.

This literary device keeps with the metafictional epilogue that follows Offred's story in the original novel. The novel ends much in the way Season 1 ends: with Offred entering the van at Nick's insistence. The epilogue explains how the events of the novel were recorded onto cassette tapes after the beginning of what scholars have come to describe as "The Gilead Period." An interview with a noted academic implies that a more equitable society, one with full rights for women and freedom of religion restored, emerged following the collapse of the Republic of Gilead.

Serena Joy Waterford Is Likely Based On A Noted Conservative Activist

As the series goes on, we learn more about Serena Joy Waterford (Yvonne Strahovski) and her beginnings.

Serena was a conservative activist who, along with her husband Fred, spearheaded the Puritan movement that ultimately gave rise to Gilead. Inspired by women whom she perceives to have "abandoned" their families in the name of female autonomy, Serena Joy delivers impassioned speeches at venues around the nation calling for policies that would place women back in the home. She even wrote a bestselling book, A Woman's Place, that served as the vessel for much of her conservative dogma and inspired many of the Commander's Wives who become her friends and neighbors.

Serena was likely based on conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly, who established herself over many years as one of the fiercest antifeminist and anti-abortion advocates in the United States. Schlafly was also a vociferous opponent of the Equal Rights Amendment, which she considered an attack against traditional gender roles.

The 1990 Film Adaptation Had a Messy Production

A film version of The Handmaid's Tale was released in 1990. It starred Natasha Richardson as Offred, Faye Dunaway as Serena Joy, Robert Duvall as Commander Waterford, Aidan Quinn as Nick, Victoria Tennant as Aunt Lydia, and Elizabeth McGovern as Moira.

The film was not well received and had a messy production. Director Volker Schlöndorff replaced original director Karel Reisz amid internal bickering over a screenplay by Harold Pinter. Schlöndorff asked for rewrites, and Pinter, who was reluctant to do them, directed him to author Margaret Atwood, who was one of several who ended up making changes to Pinter's screenplay.

Pinter told his biographer years later [as quoted in Harold Printer, p. 304] that:

It became … a hotchpotch. The whole thing fell between several shoots. I worked with Karel Reisz on it for about a year. There are big public scenes in the story and Karel wanted to do them with thousands of people. The film company wouldn't sanction that so he withdrew. At which point Volker Schlondorff came into it as director. He wanted to work with me on the script, but I said I was absolutely exhausted. I more or less said, 'Do what you like. There's the script. Why not go back to the original author if you want to fiddle about?' He did go to the original author. And then the actors came into it. I left my name on the film because there was enough there to warrant it—just about. But it's not mine'.

Star Natasha Richardson reportedly felt "cast adrift" when much of Offred's interior monologue was sacrificed as a result of cuts made to the screenplay.

The Film and TV Series Aren't The Only Adaptations of This Seminal Work

There are several different adaptations of Atwood's seminal work, including, but not limited to:

  • an audiobook read by Homeland actress Claire Danes that won the 2013 Audie Award for Fiction
  • a concept album by Canadian band Lakes of Canada
  • a radio adaptation produced in 2000 for BBC Radio 4
  • an operatic adaptation that premiered in 2000 and was the opening production of the 2004–2005 season of the Canadian Opera Company.

Elisabeth Moss, the Star of the Hulu Series, is a Scientologist

Between The West Wing, Mad Men, Top of the Lake, and The Handmaid's Tale, Elisabeth Moss has a reputation for starring in critically acclaimed television shows.

Much has been made, however, of her casting as Offred. Moss was born into the Scientologist belief system, which the German government has classified as an "anti-constitutional sect," the French government has classified as a cult, and the American government has allowed individuals to practice freely though not without considerable contention. Moss also identifies as a feminist.

Asked by a fan about the parallels between Gilead and Scientology (namely the belief that "outside forces" are inherently "evil") Moss responded:

"That's actually not true at all about Scientology. Religious freedom and tolerance and understanding the truth and equal rights for every race, religion and creed are extremely important to me. The most important things to me probably. And so Gilead and THT hit me on a very personal level."

An Episode During Season 2 Highlighted President Donald Trump's Border Crisis

Last summer, President Donald Trump and his administration created a crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border when he and Jeff Sessions, his former attorney general, announced their "zero tolerance" family separations policy. The president blamed Democrats for the policy, imploring them to "start thinking about the people devastated by Crime coming from illegal immigration."

As images and stories of children ripped away from their parents at the border began to circulate, the Season 2 episode "The Last Ceremony" showed just how timely the show really is: After Offred is raped by the Waterfords, Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) allows June/Offred (Elisabeth Moss) to visit her daughter, Hannah, in an undisclosed location. June is given 10 minutes with her daughter before a guard forcibly separates them again.

The episode, written well before the crisis was initiated, premiered just as Homeland Security admitted that more than 2,300 children had been separated from their parents.

Another Episode During Season 2 Appeared to Predict Canada-U.S. Relations

The fallout between the United States and Canada during the G7 summit appeared to have reached its peak once President Donald Trump refused to sign a joint statement with America's allies and threatened to escalate a trade war between America's neighbors. He also referred to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as "weak."

The Season 2 episode "Smart Power"––in which Canadian diplomats ban Gilead's representatives from the country and choose to stand with the women imprisoned in the totalitarian nation in a nod to the #MeToo movement––was written and premiered before the G7 blowup, but is no less prophetic.

In Season 2, Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" Becomes an Ode to Female Resilience

"This Woman's Work," a ballad written by singer Kate Bush that is also one of the tracks on her 1989 album The Sensual World, serves as an ode to female power and resistance in the horrifying Season 2 opener, where June and the other handmaids realize they're about to be executed. The women are forced to summon strength at a moment of debilitating weakness. As the camera pans over the bleak environs of Fenway Stadium, Bush starts to sing:

Pray God you can cope
I'll stand outside
This woman's work
This woman's world
Ooooh it's hard on a man
Now his part is over
Now starts the craft of the FatherI
know you've got a little life in you left
I know you've got a lot of strength left
I know you've got a little life in you yet
I know you've got a lot of strength left
I should be crying but I just can't let it show
I should be hoping but I can't stop thinking
All the things we should've said that I never said
All the things we should have done that we never did
All the things we should have given but I didn't
Oh darling make it go
Make it go away

"It was shattering and perfect," said Bruce Miller, who created the Hulu Handmaid's Tale adaptation. "One of the things I really like about the song is that on its face, there's a bit of very interesting lyrical play. It's nice that that's going on while you're watching."

"The Handmaid's Tale" Was the First Streamed Series to Win the Best Drama Series Emmy

Hulu beat out Netflix and Amazon to become the first streaming service to win an Emmy for Best Drama. Unfortunately, because the third season doesn't premiere until June 5, it's ineligible for the 2019 Emmys. Guess we'll see the show back onstage in 2020!

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