Top 20 Celebrity Rags to Riches Stories



Top 20 Celebrity Rags to Riches Stories

VOICE OVER: Tom Aglio WRITTEN BY: Nathan Sharp
These celebrity rags to riches stories will blow your mind! For this list, we'll be looking at famous celebrities who were struggling to pay the bills before rising to fame and wealth. Our countdown includes Sean Combs, Mila Kunis, Dolly Parton, Manny Pacquiao, J. K. Rowling, and more!

Top 20 Rags to Riches Stories

Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 rags to riches stories.

For this list, we’ll be looking at famous celebrities who were struggling to pay the bills before rising to fame and wealth.

Which of these stories do you find inspiring? Let us know in the comments!

#20: Sean Combs

Most people know Puff Daddy as a rapper, but he’s so much more than that. Diddy founded his own record label, Bad Boy Records, back in 1993. He’s also the producer of various TV shows and owns his own clothing label, Sean John. Today, he’s worth an estimated $740 million. But the Harlem-born Sean Combs had a difficult upbringing. When he was just two, his father, who worked as a drug dealer, was shot dead. Luckily, Diddy’s life took a different course. After attending Howard University and interning at Uptown Records, he began a prosperous career in music.

#19: Halle Berry

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Berry had a tough childhood. Her father was violent towards her mother and the two divorced when Berry was four. She lost all contact with him and she and her sister Heidi were raised by their single mother. Understandably, money was tight; but Berry excelled in school, becoming not only the prom queen, but also an honor student and editor of the Bedford High newspaper. Berry’s money struggles continued when she moved to New York to pursue acting, and she briefly lived in a homeless shelter. Happily, she found considerable success after moving to L.A., and is now worth an estimated $90 million.

#18: Sylvester Stallone

Although born in Hell’s Kitchen, New York, this legendary action hero grew up in Washington, DC, where his father ran a beauty school and his mother a women’s gym. If Stallone had a steady upbringing, it collapsed when he pursued acting. At one point, Stallone found himself homeless and sleeping in New York’s Port Authority Bus Terminal. He later took on odd jobs and found acting work in an adult movie, for which he paid just $200. In a power move, Stallone then wrote “Rocky” and shopped it to producers with the caveat that he play the lead role. It eventually paid off and Stallone became a bonafide movie star worth about $400 million.

#17: Kelly Clarkson

Easily the most successful “American Idol” contestant, Kelly Clarkson was raised as a Southern Baptist in Burleson, Texas, where she attended church twice a week. When she was 19, Clarkson moved out to Los Angeles and desperately tried to break into music, but was denied by nearly every record label. She returned to Burleson with her head hung low and began working various odd jobs, like cocktail waitress and telemarketer. Luckily, her friends heard about this new show called “American Idol” which was holding auditions in Dallas. They convinced Clarkson to try out and the rest is history. Clarkson has since sold 45 million singles!

#16: Mila Kunis

This actress was born in Soviet Ukraine to prosperous parents. But seeing no future for their children there, they decided to emigrate to the United States. The family arrived in Los Angeles in 1991 with just $250 to their name, which is all they were allowed to take with them. Despite this, Kunis’s parents were able to establish a good life for their children. Her father enrolled her in acting classes, and her breakthrough came in 1998 when she landed the role of Jackie Burkhart on “That ‘70s Show.” Today, her estimated net worth is around $75 million.

#15: Jennifer Lopez

J Lo can do it all. Her movies have grossed over $3 billion, and she’s sold 70 million records. She’s now on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and is worth an estimated $400 million. But this wealth came from humble beginnings. Born in 1969, Lopez was raised in the Castle Hill neighborhood of the Bronx, where she shared a bedroom with her two sisters. After dropping out of college to pursue dance, her mother kicked her out and they stopped speaking. Now homeless, Lopez spent months sleeping in the dance studio’s office. Fortunately, she found work as a professional dancer and embarked on her now-iconic career.

#14: Marilyn Monroe

As “Marilyn Munroe”, Norma Jeane Mortenson became a household name. However, things could have gone very differently. Her biological father remains unknown, and her mother, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, had a mental breakdown when Mortenson was seven. Mortenson became a ward of the state and lived with several foster families. At 16, to avoid returning to the orphanage, she married 21-year old factory worker James Dougherty, dropping out of high school and becoming a housewife. A part-time modeling career soon led to acting contracts however. Adopting the stage name Marilyn Monroe, she became a pop culture icon.

#13: Shania Twain

Born Eilleen Edwards, Twain had a tough upbringing. At the age of eight, she was singing in local bars to help support her hungry family. At home, her mother Sharon and stepfather Jerry had violent arguments. Fleeing Jerry’s abuse, they briefly lived in a homeless shelter in Toronto before returning home to Timmins, Ontario. In 1987, both Twain’s parents died in a car accident, and she moved back home to take care of her siblings. Not giving up on her dreams, however, she went on to release her debut album six years later, becoming one of the best-selling musical artists of all time, with an estimated net worth of about $400 million.

#12: Dolly Parton

This legendary country artist from Tennessee was the fourth of twelve children. She’s said her family was “dirt poor”, although she has happy memories. Her father ran a small tobacco farm and her mother cared for the twelve children in a one bedroom cabin. All 14 family members lived inside this cramped space, and fed themselves through subsistence farming. At just 18, Parton moved to Nashville and began a career in country music, working her family’s experiences into her songs. Today, she’s sold 100 million records!

#11: Snoop Dogg

Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr.’s father left the family three months after his birth, and his mother and stepfather divorced when he was four. Growing up in Long Beach, he did what he could to help the family, like bagging groceries and delivering newspapers. In his teens however, Snoop started associating with the Rollin' 20s Crips gang and getting in trouble with the law. Luckily, his raps were discovered by Dr. Dre, who helped channel Snoop’s talent into a career. His debut album, Doggystyle, became the fastest-selling rap album of all time with almost 800,000 sold in the first week.

#10: John Paul DeJoria

He’s one of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs, but it hasn’t always been stocks, shares and squillions in the bank for this guy... Born in L.A., DeJoria and his brother spent time in the foster care system as kids, and the guy behind Paul Mitchell Systems was even part of a street gang at one point! A single father struggling to make ends meet in his early twenties, he’s now known as a leading philanthropist, rights campaigner, and all-round influential businessman - DeJoria did real good at life!

#9: Manny Pacquiao

There are plenty of rags to riches stories in boxing, but this man’s rise to the top is especially incredible! Forced to drop out of high school as a young teen in the Philippines due to extreme poverty, Pacquiao then moved to Manila and lived out on the streets... Brought to the ring as a boy, he proved a furious fighter winning title after title in all manner of weight divisions. Pacquiao also carries a career in politics, a side-project in basketball and a role within the Philippine Army - he’s an unstoppable success story!

#8: Jim Carrey

He’s one of the world’s most well known and well-loved comic actors, but life hasn’t always been layered with laughter for Jim Carrey! The Canada-born comedian dropped out of high school aged fifteen, such was the level of economic hardship heaped upon his family during Carrey’s teenage years. He had to work as a janitor while his peers were passing final exams. It’s difficult to see where exactly Carrey’s caring for comedy came from, but we’re sure glad it did!

#7: Larry Ellison

At nine months old, Larry Ellison was given up to his aunt and uncle for adoption... He didn’t meet his biological mother again for forty-seven years, but in that time he’d turned less than humble beginnings into big, big winnings! A pioneer within the digital age despite dropping out of university twice, Ellison found his fortune as a Silicon Valley software developer! With a reported $97.7 billion behind him, he’s the ninth richest man in the world! In the league table of life, he’s winning!

#6: Guy Laliberté

Having acquired an array of entertaining abilities during his youth, Canadian entrepreneur Guy Laliberte started out a street performer and ended up a space tourist! As a young man he was reaching for the stars, but in his case the cliché actually came true. Co-founder of the Cirque du Soleil entertainment company, he brought busking to the big stage, and made big money by doing so! He spent some of that money on a 2009 mission to the International Space Station. His riches truly are out of this world!

#5: Andrew Carnegie

Those who go from rags to riches often want to give back, and that was very much the case with Andrew Carnegie. The Scottish/American steel mogul is credited as one of the modern world’s first philanthropists who, at the time of his death, had donated almost ninety percent of his fortune - which totalled $11.8 billion at today’s rate! Not bad for a chap who grew up in a one room cottage in Dunfermline, Scotland. Emigrating stateside in 1848, Carnegie’s was an industrialized American Dream, and it definitely came true!

#4: Bridget ‘Biddy’ Mason

Another iconic entrepreneur within American history, Biddy Mason rose to success despite being enslaved at birth in 1818. She worked on plantations in Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina. At 18 years old, she was given to one Robert Smith and his bride as a wedding gift. However, in 1856 she won her freedom within the state of California. From that point onwards she was a nurse, midwife, businesswoman, church-founder, rights campaigner and charity worker! She started from below bottom, yet she was still a higher flier than most - an incredible inspiration!

#3: Jay-Z

We return to more modern times for our first podium finisher, and to a musician who made it big despite a very modest background. Jay Z was known more simply as Shawn Carter when he grew up in a Brooklyn housing project, was abandoned by his father and was allegedly involved in selling street drugs... He might’ve ended up on the wrong side of some very rough tracks, but Carter could make music, and that’s how he’d make his fortune. His is an ‘empire state of mind’ that built an estimated net worth of $1.4 billion!

#2: J. K. Rowling

Unlike many to make today’s list, J. K. Rowling was not born into a bad situation, but rather suffered a string of bad situations in her twenties... A short marriage, divorce, joblessness, and depression dogged her young adulthood... However, ‘Harry Potter’ had announced himself into her imagination, apparently fully formed during a delayed train journey from Manchester to London. Rowling wrote and wrote some more, and the rest is history... magical, money-making, ‘hard times no more’ history! In fact, her estimated worth is around $1 billion!

#1: Oprah Winfrey

She’s been nicknamed ‘The Queen of all Media’, and she’s our rags to riches winner! Oprah Winfrey suffered seemingly ceaseless hardships during her young life. Born to a single teenage mother, she was abused by family members and close friends during childhood, had her poverty routinely rubbed in her face by other children, and lost a child of her own during her teenage years. She’s now one of the world’s most recognisable and influential personalities - a TV and film star, author, businesswoman and incredible philanthropist. Worth an estimated $2.6 billion, she has world records of wealth raining down upon her, against all the odds!