Celebrities Who Were Born Poor

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You might be surprised at how many megastars came from humble beginnings! For many celebrities, living in poverty as a child gave them even more drive to succeed in the industry. Follow along for 24 celebrities who were born poor before rising to fame and fortune:

24. Mark Wahlberg

Mark Wahlberg was the youngest of nine children growing up and learned to frugally. In his younger years, Mark even racked up a few petty crime allegations for stealing. Nowadays, Mark has found a highly successful Hollywood career as an actor and producer behind hits such as TedEntourage, and Transformers.

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23. Kelly Clarkson

Kelly Clarkson strived to make it in Hollywood for years before getting her big break on American Idol. She had to pick up odd jobs and occasional TV gigs to support herself, but when her apartment caught on fire, she was forced to live in her car and eventually move back home to Texas. Shortly after, however, she heard about the American Idol auditions, and the rest is history.

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22. Halle Berry

While you may recognize Halle Berry as a highly successful actress nowadays, this wasn’t always the case. In her early acting years, Berry struggled to book roles and support herself. She had to seek help and even live in a homeless shelter for a while. She now has an Academy Award under her belt and is a household name.

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21. Celine Dion

Celine Dion was born in a struggling family as the youngest of 14 children. The family survived off her father’s $160 paycheck each week and grew up in an environment where every penny was accounted for. Dion and her family got their big break when she sent a recording of “Ce N’etait Qu’un Rêve” to manager René Angélil who was moved to tears by her voice.

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20. Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold Schwarzenegger grew up extremely poor in post-war Austria. As a young boy, he dreamed of moving to America to pursue a career in acting and he made that dream a reality when he moved at 21-years old. He barely spoke any English and had very little money, but he found success while training for the Mr. Olympia competition.

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19. Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise grew up poor in a struggling Catholic family in New York. He’s admitted in the past that he had an abusive father and was bullied in school, which made his childhood even more difficult. Now, he’s one of the most successful actors in the world and has amassed millions to his name.

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18. Demi Moore

Demi Moore has spoken in the past about being a self-proclaimed “trailer park kid” as she moved from place to place with her alcoholic parents. Moore dropped out of high school and moved out at the age of 16 where she began working as a debt collector and model before landing a role in the 1981 film, Choices, which kicked off her successful acting career.


17. Sarah Jessica Parker

While Sarah Jessica Parker may live a life of glamor now, this certainly wasn’t always the case. ”I remember being poor. There was no great way to hide it,” she shared with The New York Times. “We didn’t have electricity sometimes. We didn’t have Christmases sometimes, or we didn’t have birthdays sometimes, or the bill collectors came, or the phone company would call and say, ‘We’re shutting your phones off.'”

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16. Mariah Carey

As a star with one of the most expensive engagement rings ever and a passion for designer fashion, you might be surprised to learn that Mariah Carey actually grew up quite poor. “I moved to Manhattan alone as a teenage girl. It was an exciting time for me, even though I had nothing,” she once shared on her show Mariah’s World. “I lived, like, on a mattress on the floor. I was writing my songs and being a horrible waitress. My demo tape ended up at Sony and they signed it away.”


15. Oprah Winfrey

Oprah has a net worth of over $3 billion, but she definitely did not grow up living this lavishly. She grew up being shuffled between family members and boarding schools but eventually settled in with her father in Tenessee where she excelled as a student. “I know what it means to be poor,” she said in a video clip from the MAKERS documentary. “I know what it feels like to be abandoned. I know what it feels like to not be wanted. I know what it feels like to not be loved … and yet have inside yourself a yearning, a passion, a desire, a hope for something better.”

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14. Leonardo DiCaprio

Leonardo DiCaprio may be one of the world’s most famous movie stars, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t know what it’s like to struggle. He’s been candid about growing up poor in the past and has shared that living in poverty during his childhood keeps him grounded while living in Hollywood.

13. Eminem

Eminem was raised by a single mother in Detroit and his tumultuous family life as a child has been the inspiration for many of his hit songs. He ended up dropping out of school in the 9th grade but became a worldwide sensation after signing with Dr. Dre in 1998.

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12. Shia LaBeouf

Shia LaBeouf is notorious for being difficult to work with, but perhaps this is due to his tumultuous childhood. Shia grew up in Los Angeles with a father who struggled with addiction and PTSD. His parents often fought about finances, sometimes so bad that Shia’s uncle almost adopted him.

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11. Joaquin Pheonix

Joaquin Pheonix had a strange childhood and grew up learning to live with very little. His parents joined a religious cult early in his life where they traveled often and weren’t paid well. Joaquin’s older siblings were even forced to become street performers to make ends meet and have dinner on the table.

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10. Hilary Swank

Hilary Swank lived in poverty as a child and was raised in a trailer park in Washington. She dropped out of high school at 15 and drove to Los Angeles with her mother to pursue her acting dream while living in a car. Her story is a true rags-to-riches tale, especially with hits like Million Dollar Baby and PS. I Love You under her belt.


9. Dolly Parton

Country music icon Dolly Parton grew up with very little in a one-room cabin in the woods with dirt floors. She learned the hard way the value of a dollar and continues to live modestly despite the fame and fortune. She once shared, “If I am thinking about spending a lot of money on clothing or furniture, I think ‘I can’t spend so much money on one thing; my poor old daddy could have raised his family five years on that!’”

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8. Chrissy Metz

Before landing her role on This Is Us, Chrissy Metz was struggling to make ends meet. She shared while on The Tonight Show that when she went to the This Is Us audition, she only had 81 cents in her bank account and didn’t know if she even had enough gas to get there.

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7. Viola Davis

Viola Davis has won an Oscar, Emmy, and Golden Globe award, but she hasn’t always been this successful. The star was one of six children and has shared that she grew up in poverty. “I grew up in apartments that were condemned and rat-infested, and I just always sort of wanted to be somebody. I just wanted to be good at something,” she said after she won her Academy Award.

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6. Chris Pratt

While Chris Pratt is living the life of the rich and famous now, he definitely has experienced his fair share of struggle. The actor was actually homeless and living out of his van in Hawaii before catching his big break in Cursed: Part III in 2000.

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5. Jennifer Lopez

Jennifer Lopez is one of the most successful celebrities in the world, but you may be surprised to learn that she spent part of her teenage years homeless. Lopez chose dancing over college, which wasn’t a choice her mother supported and she ended up homeless at the age of 18. She spent many of her nights sleeping at the dance studio.


4. Leighton Meester

While Leighton Meester may have played a rich, privileged character on television, this couldn’t be farther from the reality of Meester’s childhood. The star was actually born in prison because her mother and father were serving time for smuggling drugs into the US.

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3. Selena Gomez

Selena Gomez’s mother had her when she was only sixteen and worked three jobs trying to support their family. Selena says she remembers her mother struggling to afford gas and often eating cheap and easy meals like Kraft Dinner as a child. She credits her mom for much of her success and for sacrificing so much to raise her.

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2. Justin Bieber

Justin Bieber had humble beginnings growing up in Canada where he had to sleep on a pullout couch in a rat-infested home. His career began through posting singing videos to YouTube, which is how he was discovered by Usher and his career skyrocketed into fame.

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1. Nicki Minaj

Nicki Minaj’s world changed forever when her family moved from Trinidad to a poor neighborhood in Queens, New York. “When I first came to America, I would go in my room and kneel at the foot of my bed and pray that God would make me rich so I could take care of my mother,” Nicki once shared with Rolling Stone of her past.

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Olivia Di Pede

Olivia Di Pede

Olivia loves all things fashion, beauty, and entertainment. In her free time, she can be found taking yoga classes, reading thriller novels, and styling outfits on Instagram.