According to the United States Census Bureau, there were 45.3 million people in poverty in 2013. That’s about 14.5%. When you’re in that kind of situtaion, it can get easy to think that you’ll always be poor and won’t ever find a way out of it. Luckily, that’s not the case. Just because you’re born into a bad situation, that doesn’t mean you’ll be poor for the rest of your life. There are even wildly successful celebrities that have done just that–they grew up poor but have amassed large fortunes as adults.
These celebrities beat the odds and became successful despite their meager origins. They’re now making a great living as musicians, authors, actors and TV hosts. Read on for our list of 15 successful celebrities who grew up poor. Perhaps you could find some inspiration of your own within this list!
15. Leighton Meester: Estimated Net Worth Of $5 Million
While this young up-and-coming actress and singer has only been in the business since 1999, she made a name for herself on the hit CW show Gossip Girl. Before she won the 2010 Teen Choice Award for Choice TV Actress in a Drama, she had to contend with a troubled childhood. Leighton’s mother was pregnant with her while in prison and had to give birth to her in a hospital and nursed her in a halfway house before returning to the prison, according to Us Weekly. Despite that, Leighton has positive feelings when it comes to her upbringing and her parents.
14. Jewel: Estimated Net Worth Of $30 Million
While all of the celebrities on this list grew up poor, few can say that they didn’t even have indoor plumbing. But that was the case for MTV Video Music Award-winning singer, Jewel. She grew up with her father in a small Alaskan town. Her house was so rustic, they didn’t even have indoor plumbing and used an outhouse instead, according to React. Whenever they needed money, they’d sing for patrons in local bars. Even after moving out of Alaska, her financial problems weren’t over. She said in an interview with Songwriter Universe, “I just was closing this period of my life where I was living in a car and scrambling my whole life to then signing a six-record deal with Atlantic.” It paid off! She’s sold over 27 million albums worldwide.
13. Hilary Swank: Estimated Net Worth Of $40 Million
Before earning two Academy Awards and her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Hilary Swank had to contend with a poor childhood. Though the first few years of her life seemed average, her family moved into a Bellingham, Washington trailer park when she was only six. Later, at 16, she moved to LA with her mother where they lived in her car, according to an interview with Hilary in the Times Leader. These childhood hardships helped her connect to the characters in the movie Freedom Writers.
12. Sarah Jessica Parker: Estimated Net Worth Of $90 Million
The Emmy Award-winning actress, Sarah Jessica Parker, dealt with the effects of poverty at a young age. Even though her mom would have a steady job, it was still a struggle since Sarah was one of eight children in the house. Sarah told The New York Times, “We were on welfare. I remember being poor. There was no great way to hide it. We didn’t have electricity sometimes.” That didn’t keep her mom from encouraging Sarah’s love of dance. She was able to scrape up enough money to send her to singing and ballet lessons. Those lessons paid off and now she’s a successful actress and producer.
11. Jim Carrey: Estimated Net Worth Of $150 Million
Most people know Jim Carrey from his comedic roles in movies like Dumb & Dumber, The Mask, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Yes Man. Before all of that, he went through a bit of a rough childhood. While his first few years were happy, things changed as a teenager when his father lost his job. He said on Inside the Actors Studio, “When he lost his job that’s when everything fell apart. We went from ‘lower middle class’ to ‘poor.’ We were living out of a van. I quit school at age 15 to begin working to help support my family as a janitor.” Despite that, Jim went on to have a successful career in the entertainment industry. He’s won many awards, including two Golden Globes.
10. Demi Moore: Estimated Net Worth Of $150 Million
Demi Moore had quite the childhood. Her biological father walked out on the family before Demi was even born. Her mother remarried shortly afterward, but her stepfather had trouble holding a job and her mother battled problems with addiction, according to Fox News. Demi’s childhood growing up in Roswell, New Mexico was meager. Still, that didn’t stop her from becoming a prominent actor and earning several awards, including a 1996 People’s Choice Award for Favorite Actress in a Dramatic Motion Picture for her role in The Scarlet Letter.
9. Eminem: Estimated Net Worth Of $160 Million
Eminem had to work hard to get to where he is now. Long before he won over 150 awards, including an Oscar, he grew up moving back and forth between Missouri and Michigan with his single mom. Eventually, the pair settled in Detroit, Michigan, living in a lower-middle class neighborhood. Even though they finally had a steady home to live in, things weren’t that great for Eminem. He got bullied quite a bit in school and even got a concussion because of it, according to the New York Daily News. While his mom sued the school because of the incident, the case was eventually dropped. Still, the rapper channels this history into his music, writing about the bullying incident in his song, “Brain Damage.”
8. Leonardo DiCaprio: Estimated Net Worth Of $220 Million
Leonardo DiCaprio is a household name and one of the most popular A-list actors and Golden Globe-winners of the moment. Despite his immense success, he had meager beginnings. He was raised in Los Angeles, California by his German mother. While she often worked two jobs to support her and her son, it was still a rough road. Leo told The Independent of his childhood home, “[There was a] major prostitution ring on my street corner, crime and violence everywhere. It really was like Taxi Driver in a lot of ways.” He’s proof that you can come from an unsafe place and still find success in life.
7. Tom Cruise: Estimated Net Worth Of $380 Million
There are poor upbringings, and then there are abusive ones. Unfortunately, Tom Cruise had both. In addition to growing up in relative poverty, his father was also an abusive bully. Tom told Parade Magazine of his father, “He was the kind of person where, if something goes wrong, they kick you. It was a great lesson in my life—how he’d lull you in, make you feel safe and then, bang! For me, it was like, ‘There’s something wrong with this guy. Don’t trust him. Be careful around him.'” Luckily, his mother left his father when Tom was in middle school. Perhaps that change helped him out not only as a teenager, but later in life as well. He has since won nearly 30 awards, including three Golden Globes.
6. Stephen King: Estimated Net Worth Of $400 Million
When the famous horror author Stephen King was just a few years old, his father walked out on the family. That left just his mother to make ends meet for Stephen and his older brother. While it was tough then, things got even harder when his mom’s parents fell ill. According to the official biography on his website, his aunts persuaded his mom to take care of their parents full time. Without an income, Stephen’s family had to live with–and borrow money from–relatives. Luckily, with as much success as he’s had for the last few decades, he doesn’t have to worry about where the money will come from anymore. Stephen has published over 50 novels and won dozens of awards.
5. Mariah Carey: Estimated Net Worth Of $510 Million
Though her family was in a good way, financially, when her parents were together, that wasn’t the case when Mariah Carey‘s parents divorced. No longer able to rely on her father’s income as an aeronautical engineer, her mom had a hard time finding the money to give Mariah and her brother Morgan a comfortable life. According to Mariah Carey Revisited, her mom finally earned enough money as an opera singer and vocal coach to move them to a nicer neighborhood. Perhaps that change in address helped Mariah become the successful powerhouse singer that she is now.
4. Jay-Z: Estimated Net Worth Of $550 Million
Jay-Z and his wife Beyonce are seen as hip hop royalty in the music world. But even royals have to come from somewhere. For Jay-Z, his childhood was spent in the housing projects of Brooklyn, New York. Still, that upbringing has stayed with him. In his book, Decoded, he said of his time after his childhood, “My life after childhood has two main stories: the story of the hustler and the story of the rapper, and the two overlap as much as they diverge. I was on the streets for more than half of my life from the time I was thirteen years old…The feelings I had during that part of my life were burned into me like a brand. It was life during wartime.”
3. Sean Combs: Estimated Net Worth Of $700 Million
A true rags-to-riches story, the rapper, record producer and entrepreneur Sean Combs has come a long way. Before he was worth $700 million, owning a record label and the clothing line Sean John, he was born in the projects in Harlem. According to the book Sean Combs (People in the News), his father was an associate of a drug dealer and was shot in his car when Sean was just a kid. Luckily, he didn’t let that upbringing get him down.
2. Celine Dion: Estimated Net Worth Of $800 Million
In recent years, the five-time Grammy Award-winning singer Celine Dion could be found singing her heart out for her own Las Vegas show. Things weren’t always as magical for the Canadian, though. The songstress grew up as the youngest of 14 kids in a poverty-stricken home in Charlemagne, Quebec. She told Vanity Fair of her childhood, “I grew up in a very, very, very small house. We weren’t poor, but we never had money … We were given love and affection and support. What else did we need?” Now she boasts a net worth of $800 million.
1. Oprah Winfrey: Estimated Net Worth Of $2.9 Billion
Oprah Winfrey is by far the most successful person on this list. In fact, she is the richest self-made woman in America, according to Forbes. It may be surprising, then, that she grew up so poor. She was born in Mississippi to single mother Vernita Lee. Her mother soon left and Oprah was raised for several years by her maternal grandmother. According to The Observer, she was so poor in this time that she wore clothes made from potato sacks, which garnered her much negative attention from kids her age. When she was six, she moved to Wisconsin with her mother, but that quickly changed since her mom couldn’t afford to take care of her and her half-sister on the meager living she was making as a made. Again, she was sent away to live with relatives. Despite all of this, as well as sexual abuse she endured starting at age nine, Oprah was still able to carve out an amazing and successful life. She can be held as a good example of people enduring despite their early circumstances.