10 Most Popular Celebrity Rags To Riches Stories

Published on June 4, 2015. Updated August 28, 2019

There are few things as inspiring as a good rags to riches story. The celebrity world is filled with them, from musicians to actors to inventors, innovators and business moguls. It’s presumed that the people on this list might have never enjoyed riches, if they hadn’t endure the rags, so here they are: 10 popular celebrity rags to riches stories.

10. Shania Twain

From cold, Canadian winters to hot album sales and five Grammy Awards, Shania Twain got her education from the school of hard knocks, before she made good on the financial front. The Canadian-born beauty was the baby of five kids, who grew up in a family that couldn’t always afford to keep food in their mouths. The family certainly never starved, but there were times when Shania went without lunch at school–moments she still recounts as quite embarrassing. While she was young, she picked up a job at McDonald’s, and sang in bars and clubs for a little cash to help the family, but she eventually went on to win five Grammy Awards.

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9. Jay-Z

He is the artist known as Jay-Z, known to his momma, and closest friends as Shawn Carter. The name Jay-Z is a tribute to the JMZ subway line in New York City that runs through Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan. Jay-Z grew up poor, roaming the boroughs of New York, getting into and out of trouble, and trying to do whatever he could to make a buck. He sold drugs as a teen to help make ends meet, and from the experience he figured out business. He had a head for it. When rapping became integral in his life he realized that he had a skill set to freestyle far exceeding all others. To this day, Jay-Z records off the cuff, free style, keeps what’s good and trashes the rest. The former street peddler is estimated to be worth $500 million.

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8. Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey is a machine. She’s unstoppable. She was born into definitive poverty to a single, teenage mother in Kosciusko, Mississippi. She endured molestation from family members beginning at the age of nine, and was pregnant by age 14, giving birth to a son who died shortly thereafter. Oprah was rescued in a sense when she was sent to live with her grandmother, who preached to her granddaughter the value of education. Oprah took her grandmother’s words to heart. Oprah won a pageant at 17, and was then asked to broadcast local news over radio. That poured the foundation for a career in the realm of multimedia, and she has continued to diversify ever since.

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7. Jim Carrey

Growing up in a family with limited means, Jim Carrey was forced to help out in order to make ends meet. Life was a struggle for Carrey, who watched his talented father opt out of a career in music to try and make money to support the family. The struggles meant that the family never had what was necessary to meet the demands of living, and at 15 Jim dropped out of high school and took a job as a janitor. Sadly, it wasn’t enough to keep the family above water, and they lost their home and were forced to live in a van. After a few attempts at comedy, Jim set his dream aside to refocus on helping his family. At that time, he was offered the chance to tour by Rodney Dangerfield, and his stand up career began to take off.

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6. 50 Cent

50 Cent, or Curtis James Jackson III, to those who know him well, was another young New Yorker who got into trouble at an early age, and opted to sell drugs to make some scratch. Raised in Jamaica, Queens, 50 began selling drugs at the age of 12. He was famously shot nine times when he attempted to leave the drug trade, desiring the pursuit of more legitimate life endeavors. A couple of years later, he was discovered by Eminem, and introduced to Dr. Dre. The powerful duo helped 50 Cent cut Get Rich Or Die Tryin’, which thrust the him into the spotlight. With the counsel of successes such as Dre and Eminem, 50 Cent set his sights on business deals and endorsements, and is worth some $250 million.

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5. Halle Berry

Before Halle Berry was an Oscar winning actress, she was raised by her mother, estranged from her father and hoped to get involved in the entertainment industry.  She tried the Midwest, moved to Chicago, modeled and competed in pageants, then moved to New York City to pursue her dream of acting. She lived day-to-day, and tried to make ends meet in the city, but eventually ran out of money and was forced to live in a homeless shelter. She had mild success that would keep her hanging on to hope–shows like Living Dolls. After the show was canceled, she moved to Los Angeles, and booked a recurring role on Knots Landing, then began to work steadily.

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4. Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise was born in Syracuse, New York, and by the time he graduated high school, he had attended 15 schools in a 14 year span. Cruise was the product of a loving mother, and an abusive father–something he has never been shy in admitting. After Tom’s mother took he and his siblings back to the United States from Canada, the family lived on limited means, and Tom’s education often came from private, parochial schools, or scholarship. Tom had long displayed talent in the realm of acting, and in 1981, the instability and uncertainty in his life began to change when he booked his first acting job. By 1986, he was a Hollywood star, and has remained one for 30 years.

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3. Hilary Swank

Hilary Swank has made millions playing a wide range of characters, but it was her role playing a boy who didn’t cry that launched her into super-stardom. Hilary was as poor as imaginable attempting to break into the business. After her parents separated, she and her mother moved from Nebraska to Los Angeles so she could audition for acting jobs. Because they had no money, they were forced to live out of their car until Hilary’s mom was able to work enough to save for an apartment. After booking a two season gig and being written out after one episode on Beverly Hills 90210, Hilary met a personal low. That’s when she was cast in Boys Don’t Cry, her first Oscar winning performance.

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2. Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs is no longer with us, but it doesn’t discount the resonance of his story, or his Apple legacy. Steve Jobs was given up for adoption as a child, and it was his foster dad who introduced him to computers, electronics and the fascinating world of circuitry. Steve was a “try everything” type who was known as a bit of a drug-fueled hippie, but he had a thirst for knowledge. He attended Reed College for two years before dropping out due to tuition costs, and his foster family’s inability to afford them. He eventually scored a job with Atari, before venturing into business with Steve Wozniak to build the Apple empire.

1. Walt Disney

In terms of world influence, no rags to riches story can possibly top Walt Disney. Born in Kansas City, Walt grew up working hard for his father’s newspaper business, helping the family to get by. Most are familiar with Walt’s name, and the fact that Disney now owns the ABC and ESPN monikers and rules Hollywood, but not many know that Walt dropped out of high school, and began to pursue the ideas in his imagination. Walt was beloved by everyone, but he was definitely rough around the edges. Bottom line, it was his shrewd nature and unyielding persistence that led Disney to the impressive bottom line during his lifetime. All things Disney are now valued at $179.5 billion… and it all started with a man and a mouse.

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