It’s easy to picture celebrities on exotic vacations, leaving fancy restaurants, showing up at awards shows, or just plain living lavish lifestyles. But some of them, before they were famous actors, television stars, or financial gurus, actually slept in bus station terminals, lived in their cars, or took up help in homeless shelters.
Here are 19 inspirational celebrities who went from rags to riches.
1. Carmen Electra
This former Baywatch babe revealed in an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, that she spent “a couple of years” homeless in Hollywood following her 1991 tour with Prince. The model and actress nearly gave up on her dreams of stardom after her ex-boyfriend stole everything she had left – $5,000 at the time.
2. Chris Gardner
Made famous by the movie The Pursuit of Happyness, at one point Gardner was a single, homeless father working as a trainee for Dean Witter Reynold’s and trying to keep his, and his sons head above water. They stayed in subway bathrooms, homeless shelters, and even women’s shelter until 1982 when he finally began to make a living as a stock broker in San Francisco.
3. Colonel Sanders
Known as the businessman and entrepreneur responsible for Kentucky Fried Chicken, Harland Sanders was homeless not once, but twice. Once as a child at age 10 he ran away from home after altercations with his stepfather, then again as an adult slept in the back of his car as he traveled around North America with his delicious recipe trying to persuade restaurants to pay a franchise fee.
4. Daniel Craig
Before he became James Bond in the 007 movies, Daniel reportedly slept on park benches and peoples floors while trying to make it as a struggling actor in London.
5. Djimon Hounsou
Djimon Hounsou moved from Africa to Paris when he was only 13 years old. “I lived on the streets for some time — fighting for survival, searching out nothing more than my daily necessities for a meager existence,” the Blood Diamond star said in 2008, as reported People Magazine. It wasn’t until years later that Hounsou was discovered on the street by a fashion designer who gave him his break in modeling.
6. Dr. Phil McGraw
Dr Phil is American’s most well-known psychologist since his days on Oprah, with millions now tuning in to his t.v. show and buying his best-selling books, but his success was built on rough childhood. At age 12, McGraw was homeless and living in a car with his father in Kansas City while his dad interned as a psychologist. Eventually they scraped up the money for a $5 room at the YMCA, and though it was tough, McGraw says, “I cherish those memories. That was my time to learn how to deal with stress and adversity — lessons I’d never have learned any other way at that age. I learned what it meant to work hard, to stay focused, and to set goals.”
7. Halle Berry
She’s now a huge movie star, but in a 2007 interview with Reader’s Digest, Berry revealed she spent a stint at a homeless shelter after moving away from home to Chicago in 1987. She said she ran out of money after a couple months and was rejected by her mother when Berry asked for cash to pay the rent. He mother told her she’d “Have to figure it out or come home. We’re not starting any of this calling home asking mom for money.”
8. Hilary Swank
When she was only 15, Swank had convinced her mother to pack up their Oldsmobile Delta 88 with just $75 in hand, and move from their home in Washington to Los Angeles so she could pursue a career in acting. They lived in the car until a friend was able to give them a place to stay. Swank’s mom used a pay phone to book her for auditions. She went from high school dropout who grew up in a trailer park, to winning an Oscar for her performance in Million Dollar Baby.
9. Jean-Claude Van Damme
Before he became police officer Max Walker in Timecop, Van Damme was reportedly sleeping on the streets in L.A. and starving trying to make it as an actor.
Jewel has received four Grammy Award nominations and has sold over 27 million albums worldwide, but before she was discovered her first album “Pieces of You” in 1995, she was a struggling singer-songwriter living in her van while she traveled the country playing small coffeehouse gigs and street performances.
11. Jim Carrey
Dumb and Dumber funnyman Jim Carrey can afford all the luxuries he wants now, but that wasn’t always the case for the popular actor. As a teenager growing up in Canada, Carrey and his family slept in a VW van and when he was older, they camped out on his sister’s lawn in a tent. Carrey was, at one point, headlining Canadian comedy clubs while trying to make ends meet. That is until he caught the eye of Rodney Dangerfield who signed Carrey as his opening tour act.
12. Jim Cramer
Before he was a big time hedge fund manager or the loud mouthed host of CNBC’s Mad Money, Cramer had some tough times. As an up-and-coming successful reporter in both Florida and California, he found his finances in shambles after his house was burglarized and checking account emptied. He ended up homeless, and for nine months slept with a .22-caliber pistol and a camping hatchet in his beat-up Ford Fairmont — a chapter of his life he describes in his memoir, Confessions of a Street Addict.
13. John Paul DeJoria
Before he was a co-founder with Paul Mitchell of John Paul Mitchell Systems, he was just a guy in his early twenties, following a divorce, who was homeless and living on the streets with his son. That didn’t stop him from going on to amass nearly $4 billion through the hair products company that rakes in an impressive $900m annually.
14. Kurt Cobain
Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter, musician and lead vocalist of the band Nirvana camped under a bridge in Aberdeen, Washington and slept in a cardboard box on the porch of a drummer friend; hallway floor of an apartment building, hospital waiting room and old couch in a garage after his parents dysfunctional divorce. This is probably partly to be credited for his becoming the “spokesman of a generation” with grunge music.
15. Michael Oher
Oher is a starting offensive tackle for the Super Bowl winning Baltimore Ravens and inspiration for the movie The Blind Side. Before his fame and fortune however, Oher spent his childhood and teenaged years living on the streets while his crack-addict mother lived in public housing. Lucky for him he was eventually taken in to live with a wealthy family, able to play college football for the University of Mississippi, and finally drafted into the NFL in 2009 to play for the Baltimore Ravens.
16. Suze Orman
Personal finance guru Suze Orman is now worth upwards of $10 million, has her own show on CNBC, is a best selling author, and seems to have all the answers when it comes to personal finance. It wasn’t always that easy though. Back when she first moved to Berkeley, California, Orman was working as a waitress and couldn’t afford to move out of her van.
17. Sylvester Stallone
I already mentioned in an earlier post how Sylvester Stallone’s life story is motivational, but here it is briefly again. Before he was “Rocky,” Stallone was homeless. He once said “I was broke and basically sleeping in the Port Authority bus station for three weeks straight. I read in a trade paper about this film [The Party at Kitty and Studs”, 1970] that was paying $100 a day—for a $100 a day I would wreak havoc. Instead of doing something desperate, I worked for two days for $200 and got myself out of the bus station.”
18. Thomas Jane
“When I was a kid out here in L.A., I was homeless, I didn’t have any money and I was living in my car,” actor Thomas Jane told the L.A. Times in this article back in 2011. “I was 18. I wasn’t averse to going down to Santa Monica Boulevard and letting a guy buy me a sandwich.” Who knew the star of HBO’s Hung was a method actor after all?
19. Tyler Perry
Before he was one of the highest paid guys in Hollywood, Tyler Perry was just a struggling playwright in Atlanta. In a 2004 interview with Ebony magazine, Perry explained his sporadic bouts with homelessness, detailing a period in 1992 when he spent $12,000 to put on his very first play, “I Know I’ve Been Changed.” Only 30 people attended the entire weekend.