It might be surprising to know that some of today’s A-listers started life with very humble beginnings. Some struggled with homelessness, abuse, crime and very limited access to food. Despite these dire circumstances, celebrities that continue to dazzle us with their amazing talent were able to rise above their situations and live the life they’ve always dreamed of. No matter what negative feedback they may have received from family or friends along the way, they dug their heels in and fought hard for what they wanted.
The road has by no means been easy for any of them. Every opportunity came as a result of determination and persistence. This is truly inspirational and provides motivation for the rest of us to keep pushing through until we reach our own heights. Not surprisingly, these celebs have used their crafts (be it acting, singing or dancing) to lift us, the audience, and inspire us to follow them on this journey. Many give back to their communities through monetary means or by becoming advocates for causes that many people can relate to. It seems as though it’s not just about the amount of dollars they can bring in, but about making a difference. They have a unique insight into the other side of the fence.
Here's a list of truly inspirational celebrities who’ve triumphed over their early circumstances to become extremely successful, while remaining well grounded. Their early years may come as a surprise since the focus is on their current situation, but taking a look back to see just how far they’ve come will be motivating.
10 Viola Davis
Davis grew up in the midst of utter poverty in Central Falls, Rhode Island. Often times her family struggled to find food to eat. She caught the acting bug when she was in high school and began working in Hollywood in 1996 in a very small role. Since then, she’s appeared in dozens of movies and TV shows. She’s won countless awards as proof of her incredible acting ability. She caught the world’s attention in the 2011 hit movie The Help starring as Aibileen Clark and later won a Golden Globe for her captivating performance. Her most notable role to date is playing Annalise Keating on ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder. This hard working woman is now worth a very impressive $3 million.
9 Hilary Swank
This Oscar-winning actress grew up in a trailer park in Bellingham, Washington. After dropping out of high school she and her mother moved to California and lived wherever they could for a time while her mom did all she could to help her daughter realize her dream. This included countless hours spent calling agents just so Swank could get her foot in the door. She eventually found her calling when she caught her first break in a small role and has received critical acclaim in films such as Boys Don’t Cry where she played the role of a transgendered teen named Brandon Teena, and in Million Dollar Baby where she starred as a boxer. Her extremely strong acting abilities are undoubtable and have earned her two Oscars before the age of 30. This versatile actor is worth $40 million.
8 Halle Berry
After moving to New York City to launch her acting career, this super successful and beautiful actress lived in a homeless shelter for a time when she was 20. It wasn’t until 1991 when she was cast in the movie Jungle Fever that her star began to rise. Since then she’s starred in a slew of high profile movies but has also endured through a few misses as well (anyone see Catwoman?). Her repertoire has extended to TV shows (most recently Extant) and commercials (she’s the spokeswoman for Revlon and Versace). Most recently she’s launched her own production company called 606 Films and is now worth $70 million. She’s come a long way since her homeless days.
7 Steve Harvey
This ultra-famous comedian’s background is slightly different from others on this list in that Harvey comes from a modest and comfortable background. He understood the importance of education and graduated from Kent State University before setting his sights on attaining fame and fortune. He worked random odd jobs and even showered in public washrooms to get by in the early days of trying to make a name for himself. He was ultimately homeless for three years while working his way up the comedy career ladder. It wasn’t until 1990 when he was a finalist in the Second Annual Johnnie Walker National Comedy Search that his fate began to change. After this he performed as part of the Kings of Comedy alongside Cedric the Entertainer, D.L. Hughley, and Bernie Mac. This catapulted him to super stardom and solidified his place as one of America’s funniest men. He’s had his own talk show, radio show and wrote the book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man in 2009 which was adapted for the big screen. There’s no disputing that his hard work and dedication paid off, as he’s currently worth $100 million.
6 Leonardo DiCaprio
DiCaprio was raised by a single mother in a neighborhood where poverty, crime and prostitution ran rampant. It goes without saying that it was by far not the most ideal place for a young person to grow up. He dropped out of high school during his sophomore year. Since his first acting gig in 1990 in the TV show Parenthood, he’s gone on to star in numerous blockbuster movies that have consistently showcased his versatility as a gifted actor. It wasn’t until he starred in Titanic that he inched closer to A-list status. His dedication to his craft resulted in a long-awaited Oscar win for his gritty portrayal in 2015’s The Revenant. DiCaprio, who seems to have a penchant for dating models, is worth an astonishing $200 million.
5 Jennifer Lopez
Jenny from the Block grew up poor in the Bronx, NY but left home at 18 to pursue her dance career. It was an incredibly difficult road, far from the glamorous life she leads now. At times she had to sleep on the sofa in the dance studio she attended in those early days. Her big break came in 1991; you may remember her as one of the Fly Girls from In Living Color. She showcased her stellar dance skills weekly from 1991 to 1993 so it’s no surprise that this perfectly timed opportunity launched her into the spotlight and cemented her place as one of America’s leading Latino performers. She’s fought hard for her dreams and the results have been a high profile acting and music careers, a stint as a judge on American Idol and even a very successful perfume line. All of her hard work paid off and she’s now worth a very impressive $300 million.
Shawn Carter aka Jay-Z, grew up in the incredibly poor neighborhood of the Marcy Projects in Brooklyn, NY. For a time, he made money selling guns and drugs but eventually turned his life around when he discovered his, what would become legendary, skills as a rapper. He formed Roc-a-Fella Records in 1996 and his status as one of Hip Hop’s finest was solidified in 1998 with the release of Hard Knock Life. In addition to his heavy involvement in the music industry, he’s also owns a nightclub in New York City, he’s part owner of the Brooklyn Nets, he launched Roc Nation Sports which is his sports management company and he most recently launched the music streaming service Tidal. While it’s an astronomical amount, it’s easy to see why he’s worth a mind blowing $550 million.
3 J.K. Rowling
Joanne Rowling came from humble beginnings in Yate, England. The now uber famous author was a struggling single mother living on welfare in Edinburgh, Scotland when she finally hit it big in 1999 with the release of the first Harry Potter novel Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. The runaway success of the Harry Potter book series and subsequent movies have catapulted Rowling to super rich status. Looking back now, it’s hard to believe that she of all people received numerous rejection letters before the first book in the series was sold for a mere $4,000. She’s since amassed an astounding wealth and is now worth a staggering $1 billion. Not too shabby.
2 Dr. Dre
Andre Young Aka Dr. Dre, was raised in one of California’s roughest neighborhoods, Compton and actually had to change high schools due to the intense gang violence surrounding him. Despite the negative environment, he channeled his remarkable talent to rap and became a member of N.W.A followed later by World Class Wreckin' Cru. His first album The Chronic was a sensation at the time and received a great deal of hype. This took his career from great to phenomenal. He eventually founded Aftermath Entertainment and signed artists such as Eminem. What solidified his status as the richest rapper of all time was the sale of his Beats Electronics in 2014 to Apple. To date, this has been Apple’s most expensive and most hyped purchase. As a result, Dr. Dre is worth an astounding $3 billion.
1 Oprah Winfrey
This media queen was born in the deep south in rural Mississippi to a teenage mother. It may be shocking to know that her early years were incredibly difficult and marked by poverty and abuse. Family support was lacking but her father’s push for education set her on the path that would allow her to work her way up the media ladder until she eventually landed her own talk show. Since then she’s launched her own production company, network, magazine and a school for girls in Johannesburg, South Africa. She’s even appeared in critically acclaimed movies such as The Color Purple and Beloved. She has amassed an incredible wealth and is one of the world’s richest people. With this in mind, she’s also one of the world’s most generous people. You remember her “Favorite Things” episodes on her talk show right? At the time it seemed unfathomable but it was common for everyone in the audience to leave with a car. Not too shabby for someone worth $3 billion.