Drake spoke to many a celeb with his hit “Started From The Bottom”. We might envy, we might judge, but truth be told, many celebrities fought the good fight to claim their fame. Eminem is famous for articulating his traumatic upbringing. Abandoned by his father when he was an infant, growing up in a trailer park and being raised by an alcoholic mother, it’s no wonder he harbours so much negativity.
Marshall Mathers III was born on the 19th of October, 1972, and spent the majority of his youth moving between states with his single mother. They finally settled in Warren, Michigan. His love for rapping started with the support of his uncle Ronnie, who provided him with a sense of stability during his childhood. They would often be found spewing lyrics together. His only role model, Uncle Ronnie, committed suicide in 1991, leaving young Marshall devastated.
However, his history did not stop him from becoming a household name in the rap arena. Love him or hate him, you know his name. Eminem’s story inspires, he came from a broken home and is now cashing in at $190 million. The multi-platinum rapper started his career in his teenage years by participating in freestyle rap battles and creating his own amateur performances. After releasing his first two albums, he caught the attention of Dr Dre, and the rest is history!
Their stories prove that you don’t have to be born into wealth to make your name known. The following 20 celebs also started from the bottom…
15 Leighton Meester - $8 Million
Leighton Meester (otherwise known as Blair Waldorf), star of the hit teen drama ‘Gossip Girl’ tells a rather colorful life story. Her journey into this world was celebrated in a federal prison, where both her parents were serving time for smuggling marijuana into the United States. The 32 year old star was cared for by her grandparents until her parents were done serving time.
She says that she had a fairly normal upbringing, despite the criminal background of her parents.
She was signed by a modeling agent at the age of 10 and then moved from Florida to New York. At 14 years of age Meester and her mother moved to LA, where she took acting classes and auditioned for small TV roles. She admits to having a fairly short lived childhood, as she was earning an income for herself and her mom in her teenage years already.
In 2007 she was casted as Blair Waldorf in Gossip Girl, which earned her around 50k per episode. Since then she has signed many an endorsement contract and has really made her mark in the entertainment industry!
14 Selena Gomez - $50 Million
Selena Gomez, born to 16 year old Mandy Kornett, had a difficult upbringing. Her parents divorced at the age of 5, forcing Gomez to move from her home town in Texas to noisy LA with her mom. Her mother made a living as an actress, which meant that Selena was raised on set.
Naturally, Selena started to join her mom at castings, and landed her first role in Barney and Friends at the age of 9. Still, they were not rich and often battled to bring in food for the table.
Selena landed a few roles after, but her first real break came when she was cast in a leading role in the TV series Wizards of Waverly Place. Fans loved her not only for her acting, but for her voice, and since then she has voiced many animations. Brands also jumped at the chance to offer her endorsement contracts. Later, the star admitted to being diagnosed with Lupus, which put a slight hold on her career as she had to undergo a kidney transplant. In 2013 she released the first of her 3 albums, Stars Dance. She is now the proud owner of over 90 awards and won Billboard Woman of the Year in 2017.
13 Halle Berry - $70 Million
Born to interracial couple Jerome and Judith Berry in August 1966, in Cleveland Ohio, Halle Maria Berry has changed the landscape for African American actors. In the early 1970’s, her father abandoned her mother. Judith moved back to the predominantly white suburb, Bedford.
Being placed in a nearly all-white public school, Halle Berry was exposed to discrimination at a very young age. The racial issues she was faced with inspired her to work hard and excel at everything she did (say hello to your class president and head cheerleader!).
She dabbled in pageants and eventually won first runner up in the 1985 Miss U.S.A.
She later moved to New York, where she was discovered when cast as Samuel L. Jackson’s drug addict girlfriend in the infamous Jungle Fever. Since then she has performed with the likes of Bruce Willis, Eddie Murphy and more (let’s not forget that bodysuit in Catwoman!). Earning the title of highest paying actress in the 2000’s, Berry has sure proved her worth over and over again.
12 Nicki Minaj - $75 Million
This multi-faced bombshell has her bothersome childhood to thank for her many alter egos. Onika Minaj, born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago, learnt to escape her traumatic experiences as a child by pretending she was someone else. ‘Cookie’ was her first alter ego, later she developed 'Harajuku Barbie', and then ‘Nicki Minaj’ was born. But it didn’t stop there, she also has a fiery personality named Roman Zolanski, who she claims was born of rage and shows up when she is angry.
Nicki’s parents moved to Queens, New York when she was 5. Left behind with her grandmother, Nicki was only fetched 2 years later by her mother.
She then arrived to a home where her father had developed a drug addiction and would often sell their belongings to supplement his supply.
More so, he became physically and emotionally abusive toward her mother. She spent the majority of her youth fearing for her mother’s life, and justifiably so, as her father once set fire to their house with her mother still inside.
In spite of all the trauma, Nicki has clearly figured out how to work with her inner demons. In 2012, she became the first solo female rap artist ever to perform at the Grammy Awards and she has even surpassed the legend Aretha Franklin for the most entries by a female artist on the Billboard Hot 100!
11 Jim Carrey - $150 Million
James Eugene Carrey, popularly known as Jim, had a tough time as a child. He was forced to leave senior school early and worked as a janitor in a factory to provide for his family. He has always shown keen interest to perform in comedy acts, and often entertained his friends and family.
His comedy career started at the ‘Yuk Yuks’ club in Toronto, but juggling responsibilities made it difficult to fine tune his art, and he did not quite make it here. Once the financial difficulties subsided, he took his act more seriously. He did regular stage acts and started earning a living. In 1993 he finally appeared on ‘The Tonight Show’ on NBC.
He appeared in a few TV shows after that, but the brilliant comic actor got his first big break in 1994 when starring in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.
Soon after, the star was cast in Dumb and Dumber, The Mask and Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls. People all over the world were seen impersonating this quirky actor. Jim has received an honorary doctorate from Maharishi University of Management and has won two Golden Globe awards, for the movies, 'The Truman Show', and 'Man on the Moon'.
10 Leonardo DiCaprio - $245 Million
Every 90’s girl cooed like doves when Leo’s hair fell in front of his eyes in that pivotal moment when he painted his on screen love, Rose (take a moment, ladies). Boys and men all around the world were seen copying DiCaprio’s middle parted crop. Some even believe he inspired the flat iron – blow outs just won’t give a man that sleek look.
Although a natural born performer, Leo’s life was not all sunshine and roses. He was raised in a poor suburb in Los Angeles, where drugs and prostitution prevailed. He claims that his early exposure to addictive behavior put him off such recreational activities for life.
He was often the victim of bullies at school (sucks to be pretty). He begged his mom to put him in acting school, where his life found new meaning.
Don’t be fooled though, he is not just a pretty face. Apart from winning 54 awards from 161 nominations, he has also founded LDF – Leonardo DiCaprio foundation. This foundation supports projects globally that build climate resiliency, protect vulnerable wildlife, and restore balance to threatened ecosystems and communities.
9 Justin Bieber - $305 Million
We pretend to be haters, but we know all the lyrics. Justin Bieber has become the desire of many a tween across the globe. And much like our dear Leonardo DiCaprio… Bieber's side sweep also trended for a while. He was born in 1994, his parents split at an early age and he was raised by his single mom. She identified his love for music when he was still a baby, and bought him a play drum set for his second birthday. He paid much attention to his new toy.
His participation in a talent show really marked his road to fame, the 12 year old’s mom posted his performance on YouTube. Within months he had a following and a keen manager that wanted to fly him to Atlanta to meet Usher.
In 2008 he signed a deal with Usher, who became his mentor.
He went on to become the first solo artist to have four singles enter the Top 40 prior to the release of an album. His debut album, My World, went platinum in several countries. His latest collaboration with Luis Fonsi, Despacito, broke an all-time record - topping the Top 100 for the most consecutive weeks.
8 Shania Twain - $350 Million
Eilleen Regina Edwards, born in Ontario Canada in 1965, and started singing by the age of 3. Her parents divorced when she was very young, and her mother soon remarried Jerry Twain, from the Ojibwe tribe. By the age of 8 she had already learnt to play the guitar and soon after she was writing her own songs and earning money for her singing. Her mother sacrificed much needed resources to ensure she could attend lessons and gigs.
Her parents sadly died in a car accident in 1987, leaving her to fend not only for herself, but her 3 younger siblings.
By this time, Shania had secured herself a singing gig in a Las Vegas style show in Timmins. She continued to send out her demos and finally signed a deal with Polygram Records in Nashville. They encouraged her to change her name and she decided to change it to Shania, which means “I am on my way”. She kept her surname in honor of her stepfather. Although grateful, she didn’t enjoy the lack of creative freedom.
Her first album, Shania Twain, caught the attention of Robert John “Mutt” Lange, who contacted her to work on her next album. They co-wrote her next album, The Woman In Me, and it was a roaring success. She received 4 Grammy nominations and won Best Country Album, not to mention the album exceeding $12 Million in sales. Her next 2 albums were just as successful, reaching over $40 million in sales worldwide. The 5 time Grammy Award winner is still one of the world’s favorite country artists.
7 Celine Dion - $380 Million
Canadian born singer, Celine Marie Claudette Dion started her journey as an artist at the ripe age of 5, where she sang "Du fil des aiguilles et du coton" at her brother’s wedding.
Being one of 14 children and raised in a less fortunate home meant that she didn’t have access to the resources she would need to pursue her dream of being a performer.
This did not stop her though, and she continued to sing in her parent’s small piano bar. At the age of 12, Celine, her mother and her brother Jacques, wrote a song together. Celine was recorded singing the song "Ce n'était qu'un rêve," which translates to "It Was Only a Dream". Her brother sent the recording to René Angélil – he had discovered the name on the back on a Ginette Reno album.
Reno fell in love with Celine’s voice. Little did they know that Reno (Celine’s senior by 25 years) would one day make her his wife. He decided to risk mortgaging his home to fund her first album. Celine has since released 26 successful albums and has performed for over 14,578,000 spectators at 2032 shows in her career. The 5 times Grammy Award winner can attest to the fact that dreams can come true!
6 Dr Phil - $400 Million
Talkshow host Dr Phil McGraw was once a college football player. In fact, he received a football scholarship at the University of Talsa, where he finished his undergraduate studies. He then went on to do his phd at the University of North Texas. Soon after, he started a practice with his father, where he worked as a psychologist.
He realized that this was not his ultimate purpose and that he craved more from life. He then bid his father goodbye and started his new venture, Courtroom Services with a friend. They specialized in finding the right legal resources for difficult cases.
Along came Oprah, and Dr Phil got her attention when winning her case.
Oprah invited him to appear on her talk show once a week. One thing led to another, cut to, now he is the most well-known shrink in the world, hosting his one talk show and author of many self-help books.
5 Mariah Carey - $535 Million
Mariah was born in 1970 in Long Island, New York. Her father was an aeronautical engineer and her mother was a voice coach and opera singer. At the age of 3 her parents divorced. Mariah then already began singing (by imitating her mom’s opera voice) and amazed her mother at her singing capabilities. She was given singing lessons soon after.
When she finished school, she worked as a waitress while studying cosmetology and actively pursuing a singing career at night.
Carey was 18 when she signed a deal with Tommy Mottola, president of Columbia records (later Sony). She had met him at a party, where she intended to hand her demo tape to Jerry Greenberg, but Tommy got hold of it first. They immediately started work on her first album, Mariah Carey, which certified nine times platinum! The 5 times Grammy Award winner has since sold 200 million records globally.
4 Jay-Z - $810 Million
Raised in the drug infested Marcy Projects, Jay-Z suffered many difficulties growing up. His father abandoned his mother, with his 3 siblings at the age of 11.
Born Shawn Corey Carter, he turned to rap to withdraw from his troublesome environment.
He found a mentor in the older rapper, Jaz-O in 1989. This is where the inspiration struck for his stage name, Jay-Z (it was also a word play on his nickname ‘Jazzy’). Together they recorded a song ‘The Originators’. To his delight, this scored them an appearance on Yo MTV Raps.
His claim to fame really kicked off in 1996, when he and two friends, Damon Dash and Kareem Burke, founded their record label, Roc-a-Fella Records. That same year, his debut album, Reasonable Doubt, was released. The album reached No. 23 on the Billboard 200 and is considered a classic hip-hop album. Of course, collaborating with the likes of Mary J. Blige and Notorious B.I.G (who just so happened to be an ex classmate) really helped to put Jay-Z on the map.
3 JK Rowling - $1 Billion
The world’s wealthiest author, JK Rowling was born in Yate, England in 1965. She had a fairly happy childhood, and always had a passion for creative writing – she wrote her first book, about a rabbit with measles, at the age of six. Her parents sent her to Exeter University to study French (she would have preferred English). In 1990 she moved to Portugal to teach English.
Here she met her first love, Jorge Arantis, and they soon married and gave birth to Joanne’s first daughter, Jessica. After a painful divorce, she moved to Edinburgh to be closer to her sister. She started writing her first book, on a manual typewriter, whilst struggling to support herself and her daughter on welfare.
Her first manuscript was rejected by 12 publishers before it was finally received (she was given a $1500 advance for it).
The Harry Potter brand itself is now worth $15 Billion. JK Rowling is richer than Queen Elizabeth II. Even if she runs out of new ideas, she is set for the rest of her life. Her story is one of strength, persistence and perseverance!
2 Oprah - $3.1 Billion
Goddess, queen, leader, mother, mogul, actress, producer, businesswoman and philanthropist, these are but a few of the titles Oprah Winfrey is known by. Oprah found her humble beginnings in Mississippi in 1954. Living in a less fortunate environment and being of color often meant no flushing toilets, no shoes, and no access to the resources a child needs to get ahead in life. Regretfully, she was also a victim of repeated abuse between the ages of 9 and 13. Thankfully, this did not stop her.
She learnt to read at home, skipped kindergarten and finished school at the ripe age of 17.
She then anchored Nashville’s WTVF-TV newscast, and later co-anchored the nightly newscast at WJZ-TV in Baltimore. She also co-hosted the talk show, People Are Talking before joining Chicago’s WLS-TV. In 1984, her talk show, Oprah, debuted and rose to number one on the local ratings in the first month. This caught the attention of producers and she was casted in The Colour Purple. Her role in this film won her the Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination.
In 1986 her talk show went national, and she has now become a household name. Known worldwide for her intimate, supportive and emotional style, Oprah has inspired many. She has written books, established her own television network and continues to be a shining light for humanity. In her own words, “It doesn't matter who you are, where you come from. The ability to triumph begins with you. Always.”
1 Elon Musk - $20.2 Billion
South African born Elon Musk, is now one of America’s most influential businessmen. He made his first billion at the age of 31 by selling Paypal in 2002. He also founded SpaceX, with the intention of building commercial spacecraft; NASA signed a contract with him in 2008 to handle cargo transport for the International Space Station.
He is also the founder and CEO of Tesla Motors, a company specializing in affordable, mass-market electronic cars, battery products and solar roofs.
Musk found his humble beginnings in South Africa, born to a Canadian mother and South African father. At the age of 10, his parents divorced, which encouraged the introverted boy’s interest in computers to flourish. Two years later he had taught himself to program and has sold his first software – a game he had designed called Blastar. Musk also happens to be a philanthropist, in 2002 he founded Musk Foundation, which is dedicated to space exploration and the discovery of renewable and clean energy sources.