17 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!).

1. Jim Carrey

As a young boy in Canada, Carreys 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.

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2. 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 dont 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 theres a will theres a way and I live my entire life that way now.

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3. 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. (Story continues...)


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

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4. 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.

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5. 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.

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6. Mark Whalberg

Whalberg 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. (Story continues...)

On his time in prison, Whalberg 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 Id always wanted to be like. Now Id earned my stripes and I was just like them and I realized it wasnt what I wanted at all. Id ended up in the worst place I could possibly imagine and I never wanted to go back.

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

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7. 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 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.

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8. 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.

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9. 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.'' (Story continues...)


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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.

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10. 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.

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11. 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.

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12. 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 he wanted to be the Rockefeller he is now. (Story continues...)

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.

13. Stephen King

It's not surprise that the master of the macabre has seen his 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.

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14. Eminem

Marshall Mathers grew up as an outsider in his extremely poor Detroit neighbourhood. A white kid in a predominantly black area, 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 stylings, 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 2000's.

15. 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. (Story continues...)


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Even when she managed to finish the book it was far from an immediate success. Rejected from 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.

16. Hilary Swank

Hilary Swank is known for playing challenging, struggling 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 gambled their chances by moving her daughter to California and encouraging 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 from ever since.

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17. 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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