When it comes to fame and fortune, they're elusive prizes in an over-subscribed lottery. The glamourous institutions of television and film are cutthroat worlds of competition for hopeful actors and it's generally believed that the younger you start to pursue fame, the more likely you'll be to finally obtain it. And while that does seem to be true for the majority of successful Hollywood actors, there are a minority who started their acting careers later in life and become famous stunningly quickly. Find that hard to believe? Take Harrison Ford; before Star Wars, he was building cabinets and making a living as a carpenter. But after he met George Lucas, who was a client, he was cast as Han Solo in “Star Wars” at the age of 30.
Some actors on our list hadn't even set foot on a stage or appeared on screen before the age of 30. Of course there are other actors who sweated away throughout their careers with roles on stage, in B movies, and with small parts on television shows throughout their teens, twenties, and thirties without ever becoming household names. But a lucky few found their careers started to really take off in their late thirties and early forties.
The following are ten of the very richest actors in the world today who achieved fame when they were in the late summer or the autumn of their lives, in their late thirties and beyond. While by traditional standards we'd hardly consider 37 ancient, this is certainly older by Hollywood's standards. If you're a young, career-focused individual facing a quarter-life crisis right now, let this list serve as an inspiration. These 10 actors prove it's never too late to start following your dream.
10 Jane Lynch – $5 million
If there's any actor that Hollywood hopefuls should look up to it's the inimitable Jane Lynch. Many of us know her as the hilariously inappropriate, tough gym teacher Sue Sylvester in the series “Glee” - which earned her an Emmy - or as one of the memorable recurring members of Christopher Guest's crew of 'mockumentary' comedy actors. But before joining the Guest fold, Lynch was a struggling actress doing commercials and bit parts in a few movies in the 90s. It was in 2000, at the age of 43, when Lynch landed a role in the Christopher Guest movie “Best in Show” which would become her breakout role and would earn her more high-profile comedic work in films like “The 40 Year Old Virgin”.
9 Melissa McCarthy – $10 Million
Melissa McCarthy wasn’t always the household name that she is today. If you were a fan of the TV series “Gilmore Girls” then you probably remember McCarthy’s small role as Sookie St. James, which she played for seven years. For a long time, she played forgettable supporting roles and wouldn't really have been considered famous in her own right. But after “Bridesmaids” was released in 2011, McCarthy shot to Hollywood fame becoming a comedy queen and a household name at the age of 41. Since then, she has been landing leading roles left and right, with no sign of her career slowing down anytime soon.
8 Kathy Bates - $32 Million
Kathy Bates has a career that many actresses envy, and not just because she starred in a movie with Leonardo DiCaprio. From terrifying roles to more comedic work, Bates' filmography has the diversity you'd expect of an actor who achieved fame much earlier than she, in fact, did. While she did an impressive amount of stage work in her earlier career, Bates' roles in film were small for most of her career. But at the age of 42, she was cast as the lead in Stephen King’s “Misery” which would be one of her most memorable role and would distinguish her as a strong leading actress.
7 Lucille Ball - $40 Million
Lucille Ball embodies old, classic Hollywood and early comedy. But believe it or not, Lucille Ball had a very rough road to her fame. She tried to make it as a model, did some stage work on Broadway, and had some small roles in B movies, but hadn’t quite been able to make that jump to the fame and fortune with which we associate her today. But things turned around for her at the age of 40 after she created “I Love Lucy”. After that, it was pretty much smooth sailing for America's favorite comedic redhead.
6 Phylicia Rashad - $55 Million
If any of us watched “The Cosby Show”, we all know and love Claire Huxtable as she dealt with Bill Cosby’s epic sweaters and crazy shenanigans. Before this, Phylicia Rashad was already fairly well known in the theatre scene for Broadway and Off-Broadway work, but she was nowhere near the level of fame she obtained once she made it on television at the age of 35. Her performance in the series received critical acclaim and she was nominated for an Emmy Award twice.
5 James Gandolfini - $70 Million
Even though he sadly died in his early fifties, James Gandolfini is another actor who achieved fame later in life. He wasn’t unsuccessful in his acting endeavors before hitting television and cinema; Gandolfini made his Broadway debut in 1992 in “A Streetcar Named Desire” alongside Alec Baldwin and Jessica Lange. But when Gandolfini was 38, he was cast as the infamous Tony Soprano in the HBO series, “The Sopranos”. Afterward, he went on to star in films such as “Where the Wild Things Are”, “Zero Dark Thirty”, and “Welcome to the Rileys”.
4 Ricky Gervais - $80 Million
Although Gervais has mocked reports of his net worth climbing to $80 million by 2011, he's still certainly one of the richest comedy actors in Hollywood these days, having made his acting debut in 1998 at the ripe old age of 37. Before this, he had studied at University College London and went on to work on British radio before branching out into sketch writing and stand-up comedy. Gervais' really hit the big time when he wrote, directed and starred in the original BBC series, 'The Office' (which was later adapted for the U.S. by NBC, with Steve Carell playing Gervais' character). Despite making his first on-screen appearance in his late '30s - and despite his unconventional leading man looks - Gervais has taken Hollywood by storm, even hosting the Golden Globes in 2011.
3 Tim Allen - $80 Million
Before he was Buzz Lightyear, Santa Claus, or grunting as Tim Taylor, Tim Allen was a struggling stand up comedian from Detroit. While he was achieving moderate success in Michigan, once he moved to Hollywood, he found things were a bit more difficult and competitive. But after becoming a regular actor at The Comedy Store he was eventually offered a role on an upcoming television series “Home Improvement”, which made him an overnight sensation. His role as Tim “The Toolman” Taylor gained Allen huge recognition and exposure and he was soon being offered movie roles and book deals -all after the age of 37.
2 Morgan Freeman – $90 Million
With that distinctive voice, anyone would think that Morgan Freeman achieved fame as soon as his voice broke as a teenager but truth be told, while Freeman started acting at the young age of nine years old, he didn't gain recognition until much later. It wasn’t until he was in his forties - when he landed roles in shows such as “The Electric Company” and the soap opera, “Another World” - that he started attracting attention. At age 52, his role as Hoke in the film adaptation of “Driving Miss Daisy” reprising his role from the stage play, really put Freeman on the radar.
1 Samuel L Jackson – $150 Million
Believe it or not, before Samuel L. Jackson became the famous actor he was today, he paid the bills as a social worker. After deciding to pursue an acting career he had small roles in movies like “True Romance”. Work was unstable, but as proof that patience is a virtue, Jackson was cast in the famous film “Pulp Fiction” at the age of 45 and received critical acclaim. Since then, he has become a hit in Hollywood, acting in major films and netting himself millions in the process.