We all feel the need to identify ourselves with successful people, celebrities that set new trends and make the rules up as they go. Their lives beyond the camera remind us they are people just like everyone of us. They faced hardships, had to make difficult choices, some they might regret and they turned out just fine. You’d be surprised how many of Hollywood’s greatest actors didn’t exactly do what was expected of them. After all, school is just a formality. It is life that teaches us the supreme lesson.
Each year, three million teenagers drop out of high school in the US, which is roughly 8,000 students per day. Around 60% of them spend time in prison. A high school dropout is not eligible for 90% of US jobs. Plus, their median income will be around 40% lower than that of a high school graduate. Some do it in a desperate search for fame and glory, but unfortunately end up pursuing a successful career in crime. These numbers are indeed concerning. Well… not if you are one of the following celebrities.
Abraham Lincoln left school when he was 12 to help at his family’s farm, then became the President of the United States. However, different times call for different measures. We’re all told of the importance of finishing school and getting our diploma. I’m sure these celebrities were told as well, they just chose not to listen. Whether it was their families that gave them a nudge, or they simply helped themselves, they are the living proof that a diploma is not necessarily a barrier.
15. Hilary Swank
She may be proud of her vast collection of well-deserved awards, but a high-school diploma is not among them. Hilary Swank left school at 16. At the age of 18, while her former classmates at South Pasadena High School in California were getting ready for prom night, she was already making her debut in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She simply felt she didn’t fit in.
14. Catherine Zeta-Jones
The beautiful Welsh actress dropped out of Dumbarton House School in Swansea when she was just 15, and moved to London to attend The Arts Educational School and pursue an acting career. Catherine was actually familiar with being on stage, performing on the local theater scene from a young age. It wasn’t until she turned 21 that she landed her first feature role in Les 1001 Nuits, thus sealing her faith.
13. Nicolas Cage
First things first, Nicolas Cage‘s real last name is Coppola and yes, it does have something to do with Francis Ford Coppola. He’s his nephew. Needless to say, Hollywood runs through his blood. Nicolas Cage studied theater at Beverly Hills High, but dropped out at 17 to pursue an acting career. One year later he landed his first role in a TV series, Best of Times.
12. Tom Cruise
While growing up, the Scientology guru wanted to become a priest. Funny how life takes its little twists and turns. While he was attending a Franciscan seminary, he went to a few acting classes, changing his mind about his career. Tom left school at 18, just before graduation, and moved to New York City to pursue his dream.
11. Christina Applegate
We all fell in love with her while she was still a teenager and playing the role of Al Bundy’s daughter in the all-time famous TV series Married… with Children. Christina‘s mother was an actress and her father a record producer, so it was only natural that she be bitten by the Hollywood bug. During her junior year at Excelsior High School in Hollywood, Christina landed the role of Kelly Bundy. She was only 15, and dropped out of high school in a heartbeat.
10. Robert De Niro
Years before being given the role of Vito Corleone which paved his path to stardom, Robert De Niro was a New York’s lower Manhattan native. He attended two private schools, but never graduated from either. In 1960, just before turning 17, he left school to attend the Stella Adler Conservatory and Lee Strasberg’s Actors Studio. His role in The Godfather scored him his first Academy Award.
9. Robert Downey Jr.
The Iron Man isn’t exactly made of iron. Robert Downey Jr. landed his first role in 1970 at the age of 5, starring in Pound, written and directed by his father. At 16, when his parents divorced, he dropped out of Santa Monica High School. His father, an openly admitted drug addict, exposed his son to drugs from a young age. Robert Jr. himself had to struggle with abuse for decades. His career boomed in the 1980’s and early 1990’s. He then hit rock bottom due to his addiction, but made a spectacular comeback with Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes.
8. Cameron Diaz
The tomboy with an infectious laugh was determined to become a model when she was a teenager. She attended Long Beach Polytechnic High School in California, but dropped out at 17 to join Elite Model Management. It was modeling that opened her doors to Hollywood and everything it had to offer. At 22, she landed her first big role in The Mask alongside funnyman Jim Carrey.
7. John Travolta
He was our teen idol in Grease and Saturday Night Fever, but in real life John Travolta never finished high school. Wait, there’s more: he wasn’t even that popular while he did attend classes in school because he was always busy learning new dances and acting. At 17, he dropped out of Dwight Morrow High School in New Jersey to pursue an acting career in New York City, where he also studied singing and dancing. Ironically, he landed his first gig playing a high school student in Welcome Back, Kotter.
6. Drew Barrymore
Childhood stardom and education don’t go very well together. Drew Barrymore landed her first gig at 11 months old. At 7, she got a role in E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. School was never her priority. She checked into rehab at 13, and was legally emancipated at 15. She was in the 11th grade when she hit rock bottom, and decided to quit high school. Eventually, the sun did shine on her street and Drew went on to become one of Hollywood’s greatest actresses and producers.
5. Johnny Depp
One of Tim Burton‘s favorite actors, Johnny Depp originally dropped out of high school to become a rocker. When he was 13, he joined a local rock band called The Flame. The same year, he allegedly lost his virginity with a groupie on the tour bus. At 15, he was done with school: “I’d been in high school three years, and I may have just walked in yesterday. I had, like, eight credits. I was in my third year of high school and I didn’t want to be there. I was bored out of my mind and I hated it.” Things didn’t exactly go as planned, although the band did enjoy local fame. He finally moved to Los Angeles, where it was Nicolas Cage who convinced him to pursue acting.
4. Jim Carrey
You don’t need a diploma to make those funny faces. He made us laugh in Dumb and Dumber and made us cry in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but Hollywood’s most beloved jester never finished high school. Life hasn’t always been as giving to poor old Jim. He grew up in an impoverished family in Ontario, Canada, and worked as a janitor for a local factory to make ends meet. When his mother fell ill, Jim dropped out of high school to work harder to help support the family, who even lived in a camper van for a while. Oh, and he was a straight-A student! Things did get better though, as the family relocated to Toronto and Carrey’s career received a boost. By the time he was 18, he had already landed his first TV series, The All Night Show.
3. Al Pacino
One of the greatest actors in movie history, Al Pacino landed his greatest roles in classics like The Godfather, Scarface, and Scent of a Woman, which brought him his first Oscar for Best Actor in 1993, 21 years after his first nomination. However, the academy-winner wasn’t exactly a model student. After flunking every subject except English, he dropped out of NYC’s High School of the Performing Arts (that’s the same high school that inspired the musical Fame!) at the age of 17. A New York Bronx native, he attended an underground theater group and took numerous side jobs, one of them as an usher at Carnegie Hall. At the age of 21 he was arrested, and charged of carrying a concealed weapon. Luckily, he turned out just fine and remains an avid opera and William Shakespeare fan.
2. Quentin Tarantino
He’s one of Hollywood’s greatest producers, boasting a stunning portfolio of highly-acclaimed academy-winning movies like Pulp Fiction, Inglourious Basterds, and Django Unchained. Aside from his well-earned fame, he’s the perfect example of how genius doesn’t necessarily need a diploma. Quentin Tarantino dropped out of Narbonne High School in Harbor City, California, at the age of 16. He felt he could learn more by himself than the public teaching system ever could, and proudly told us “When people ask me if I went to film school I tell them, ‘no, I went to films.’” He made his way onto the movie scene slowly but surely, from the very bottom up to the very top, starting as an usher at a local movie theater, then went on to attend acting classes at the James Best Theater Company.
1. Princess Diana
Princess Diana actually wasn’t working as a kindergarten teacher when Prince Charles met her like many believe. She was indeed working at Young England Kindergarten, a day-care center and nursery school, but as a part-time assistant. She had no teaching qualifications. Diana didn’t even have a high school diploma.
She was everyone’s favorite princess, the fine thread of hope everyone was clinging to in the desperate attempt to prove themselves that fairy tales really do exist. Life has its ups and downs and Diana had a rocky start. Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales, failed her O-examinations, the exams UK students take at the age of 16, and moved to a finishing school in Switzerland, but never got her degree. Yet, she became a princess when she got engaged to Prince Charles in 1981; her working days were over.
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