In 1981, a 20-year-old Eddie Murphy went on national television and told the world what many of us secretly suspected: a formal education may be overrated. Sure, it was on an episode of Saturday Night Live, but he gave an interesting perspective.
“A good education is just as important as a warm bucket of hamster vomit. That’s right — all you white kids in school are wasting your sweet precious time because life is luck. You’re either lucky or you’re a bum from the beginning. So stop kidding yourself, drop out….Quit school and be successful like me,” Murphy told everyone watching.
Obviously, you don’t want a doctor operating on you who hasn’t had proper schooling; nor do you want a lawyer defending you who hasn’t studied the law, but take a look at everybody you’ve interacted with over the last few days. Who really needed to finish high school or at least in the traditional way?
We’re not encouraging anybody to drop out, but we also think it’s disingenuous to tell every child that it’s the only way they’re going to succeed. That child can simply look at Hollywood and point to all of the success stories that don’t come with a high school diploma. Maybe they’re not rocket scientists, but they’re doing very well, which leads us to the question: Who Needs Skool? Here are 15 Celebrity Dropouts Without a Diploma Who Did Just Fine.
15. Katy Perry
If Katy Perry gives off the vibe that she stopped maturing around the age of 15, it could very well be because that was when she dropped out of Don Pueblos High School in Santa Barbara, California. It took a few years before she made any major waves, but it’s hard to say that leaving school to follow her dreams was a bad idea because her breakthrough album, One of the Boys, was huge. Some mistakenly believed she’d be a one-hit wonder when her record company released I Kissed A Girl as the first single, but it proved to be more than just a novelty song about playful experimentation in same-sex relationships. We’re guessing that she probably wouldn’t trade in the highest-rated Super Bowl halftime show performance in history for walking across a stage in an ill-fitting gown for a diploma. Like many famous dropouts, however, Perry did earn her GED.
14. Johnny Depp
Johnny Depp has always been someone who’s marched to the beat of his own drummer back from the very early years of his life. While some consider him an amazing actor, he actually dropped out of high school to pursue a musical career. Despite being a decent guitar player with a passable singing voice, it was obviously Hollywood where he made his major mark. Most forget, but his first movie was A Nightmare on Elm Street, and the rest was history. Many people think Depp, more than any other actor, has a crazy tendency to pick movies that are either going to be massive blockbusters, such as the Pirates of Caribbean series or absolutely stinkers like Mortdecai or The Tourist. With Depp, there’s little in-between. Depp’s most recent headlines came at a music festival in Europe where he made statements from the stage that some felt were a threat toward President Donald Trump. He quickly apologized, saying he just meant it as a joke.
13. Nicole Kidman
While most people identify Nicole Kidman as Australian, she was actually born in Hawaii — where her father was attending grad school — and is a dual citizen of both Australia and the United States. She actually didn’t return to Australia until she was four years old to begin attending school. She dropped out of North Sydney Girls High School at age 16 because of getting her first movie role in an Australian movie. The first movie most people outside of Australia saw Kidman in was 1983’s BMX Bandits, which HBO played endlessly in its early years. After helping her mother with breast cancer for a short time, she returned to acting but was well beyond high school age at that point in 1986. Maybe it’s just the accent, but we’d never guess Kidman never finished school.
The real-life Marshall Mathers is probably always going to be a brilliant young rapper talking about the life he successfully escaped, but it’s been around 20 years since he became an international superstar. That moody kid is now 44 years old and hasn’t released an album in years. It’s probably hard to hate the world when it was more than half a lifetime ago, but he could rap about dropping out of Lincoln High School when he was 17 years old. He says he dropped out to help his mother pay the bills but that she would kick him out of the house regularly. His mother wrote a book claiming that Eminem was bipolar and that his problems only got worse when he met his future wife, whom he divorced and once married again for four months. Who knows if his life would’ve been better if he had finished high school? But, thankfully, he’s in a decent place now, it appears.
11. Cameron Diaz
Much like Johnny Depp, Cameron Diaz dropped out of high school to pursue something other than Hollywood. A California native, she left Long Beach Polytechnic High School after receiving a modeling contract. She was a successful model for several years, but her personality caught Hollywood’s attention, and she soon made her first appearance in the movie The Mask with Jim Carrey. Ironically, the movie could’ve been called Nobody Here Finished High School since Carrey dropped out of his high school to pursue his dreams as a stand-up comedian. Diaz has always basically played the same character throughout her career, and now that she’s starting to get a little older, it’ll be interesting to see if the roles evolve or her headlining career winds down. However, if she’s looking for something to do, she could always go back to school.
10. Daniel Radcliffe
It’s kind of ironic, but Harry Potter never really finished high school. As a young man, he never quite found his stroke at the many independent schools for boys he attended prior to landing the role of Potter. When he tried to return to school after the blockbuster film came out, he was immediately harassed and decided to leave instead of getting his butt kicked. The Harry Potter films kept coming, along with other stage and screen work, so he just decided to work with tutors, especially because he found the work difficult. Radcliffe took several exams that gave him the equivalent of a high school diploma but decided he didn’t want to try and pursue further education because he was too famous to have a normal college experience.
9. Gisele Bundchen
When you’re considered by many in the world to be the most beautiful woman for almost two decades, are you really going to miss that diploma all that much? The lovely Gisele dropped out of high school to pursue her dream of modeling, and we can’t imagine her earning any degree that would have brought her as far as she’s gone. The Brazilian has been a supermodel, actress, television producer, and environmentalist, and she can speak five languages. There are people with language degrees who can’t do that. And need we mention that she’s married to the greatest player in the history of the National Football League, Tom Brady? There would be no way to mathematically plan a better life for Gisele. In her case, that life involved leaving school early.
You’ve got to think there must be a few times a day when Jay-Z stops and looks at the music and merchandise career he’s created — not to mention the fact he’s married to Beyonce — and wondered how everything happened. Growing up on the mean streets of Brooklyn, the real-life Shawn Carter first had to deal with his local high school, Eli Whitney High School, closing. So, he went across the river for a New Jersey High School — the George Westinghouse Career and Technical Education High School — where he actually went to school with Busta Rhymes and The Notorious B.I.G. He left for Trenton Central High School but dropped out so he could sell crack cocaine. Luckily, he sent a single to Def Jam Records in 1995 and left the real thug life for one where he could rap about it and make bank.
7. Christina Applegate
It’s ironic that many people who are over 30 years old were first introduced to Christina Applegate through the TV show Married With Children, where she played clueless Kelly Bundy. The promiscuous airhead character is a far cry from who Applegate really is, but ironically, Kelly actually graduated high school, whereas Applegate didn’t. Both of her parents were performers, and she was doing television commercials and TV shows in elementary school, even making her movie debut by age 7 in the forgettable Jaws of Satan. It’s not hard to believe that her life pretty much involved growing up on the set, and when she did go to school, she simply didn’t click with her classmates. Having been in some classic movies and television shows, it seems like she probably made the right choice to pursue her career.
6. George Foreman
You might think the former heavyweight boxing champion of the world quit school to pursue his sporting goals, but he actually left school in the ninth grade so he could join a gang. It wasn’t until later on in 1965 when he joined the Job Corps that Foreman was exposed to boxing. He first came to prominence in the ring as a foil for Muhammad Ali, then retired and became a media celebrity because of his charisma. He eventually decided to go back to the ring where he was fighting men 15-20 years younger than he was but managed to capture the championship. Upon his next retirement, he signed up to put his name on a grill an inventor showed him and to be its spokesperson. Little did he know the George Foreman Grill would become a world sensation and earn him nearly a quarter of a billion dollars. You have to wonder, though: if he had finished school, would he still have named every one of his five sons George?
5. Kristen Stewart
The star of Twilight and a bunch of indie films you’ve probably never seen has never exactly conformed, even before she was famous. Growing up in California, she felt that she couldn’t relate to the kids around her and that the teachers didn’t change their style or care that she needed to be taught differently. She eventually convinced her parents that her teachers failed her and that she needed to be homeschooled. So, while she does have her GED, you’re never going to see any photos online of Stewart in a cap and gown. We wouldn’t expect anything else from this avant-garde actress, although we’ll admit when we first saw her in Panic Room as a kid opposite Jodie Foster, we never thought she’d end up such a big star.
4. Quentin Tarantino
He’s probably consistently produced better films than any other director of the last 25 years, and he did it not only with not going to film school, but Quentin Tarantino also dropped out of Narbonne High School in Harbor City, California when he was only 15 so he could take acting classes and work at an adult-movie theater. He said that he thought he could do a better job of educating himself, and with shelves full of awards and creative control over the films he writes and directs, it’s hard to argue with his methods. He claims that he’s only going to direct a couple of more films and then will retire, but for a guy who seemed to be born to direct memorable films, we have a hard time believing he’ll ever be able to hang things up, and we certainly know he won’t spend any downtime going after that lost diploma.
3. Avril Lavigne
While Avril Lavigne’s career has stalled, as she’s decided to devote her life to dating and marrying singers from horrible bands, she’s in the norm of most female performers of the last 20 years in that she didn’t finish high school. Along with Katy Perry, who was on this list earlier, neither Christina Aguilera or Britney Spears finished high school, but at least they were busy with the Mickey Mouse Club. Lavigne left her Canadian high school when she was 15 years old after a trip to New York where she caught the attention of a music producer. Her family planned to homeschool her, but she blew up so fast, there was no time. This may explain a lot about why Lavigne seems like a high school sophomore in most of her interviews.
2. Seth Rogen
If somebody told you that you could drop out of high school, become an actor, be in some of the most popular movies of the last 15 years, and be known as a giant pothead, you’d probably take the deal even if it didn’t make you rich. Well, money came, too, for Seth Rogen, whose first big break was on the television show Freaks & Geeks. It was critically acclaimed but just didn’t have enough ratings to continue. Judd Apatow liked him enough that when he left high school, he gave him a job in Hollywood. While Apatow’s star grew, he always made sure to take care of Rogen along the way. One thing most people don’t realize is that Rogen had his future planned out in advance and wrote the first draft of what ultimately became Superbad when he was only 13 years old.
1. Simon Cowell
There have been many times when, while tending to his judging gigs on American Idol or America’s Got Talent (or The X Factor or one of the British shows he’s also been a judge on) that Simon Cowell has told contestants who didn’t have a lot of talent that they shouldn’t quit their day job. He really can’t tell the kids to stay in school, because he didn’t follow that advice himself. When he was 16 years old, he dropped out of school so he could go work in the mail room at record company EMI. Cowell literally learned the business from the ground up, so nobody can say he was just handed anything. That’s how people did things a long time ago. Odds are, if he stayed in school, he wouldn’t have become one of the biggest names in record producing and reality TV. Nonetheless, we trust he would’ve urged people not to become dropouts.
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