Jobs Before They Were Famous: 10 Crazy Celebrity Careers

Published on August 20, 2015.

Celebrities seem to have the kind of careers that dreams are made of, but it’s often not the only one they’ve had. Whether starting out in a different industry or leaving show-business to pursue other passions, stars have tackled everything from medical careers, financial careers, and even a career as a spy. Yes, for real and you’ll never believe who it was! Here are 11 celebrities who have changed careers.

10. Ken Jeong 

You may recognize him as Mr. Chow from The Hangover or perhaps Señor Ben Chang on Community. But there’s also a few out there who might remember funny man Ken Jeong as Dr. Jeong. Before he was making audiences laugh, he graduated with his medical degree from the University of North Carolina and completed his residency in New Orleans, the entire time working on his comedy material. When the opportunity presented itself, Ken entered and won the Big Easy Laff-Off and caught the attention of NBC president Brandon Tartikoff and The Improv Founder Budd Friedman who both encouraged him to move to Los Angeles and pursue a career in entertainment. He did just that, but like all struggling newbies in Hollywood, he needed a side-gig to pay the bills. Unlike other struggling newbies in Hollywood, his side-gig was a position as a general practitioner at Kaiser Permanente Hospital. Thankfully for audiences, Ken moved on from making a handful of patients laugh to making millions of fans laugh around the world.

MediaPunch/REX Shutterstock

9. Brad Pitt 

According to Brad Pitt, “strippers changed my life.” No joke. His job was to drive male strippers “to bachelor parties and things. I’d pick them up, and at the gig I’d collect the money, play the bad Prince tapes and catch the girls’ clothes. It was not a wholesome atmosphere, and it got very depressing.” But ultimately it paid off when Brad made a valuable connection. “This girl – I’d never met her before – was in an acting class…I went and checked it out, and it really set me on the path to where I am now.” Thank you, random stranger girl!

Helga Esteb /

8. Giorgio Armani 

It’s hard to imagine Giorgio Armani as anything other than the world-renowned designer that he is. But well before his name was on a label, Armani pursued a medical career with the Italian Army. Where other fashion icons have always aspired to the haute couter careers, Armani decided that it was medicine that he wanted to study while still in secondary school. He attended the medical program at the University of Milan for three years before leaving to join the army where he was assigned to the Military Hospital in Verona. It was only then that he decided to make a drastic career change and left the army. He landed a job as a window dresser at a department store in Milan called La Rinascente and from there began his meteoric rise in the world of fashion.

Photo by Giancarlo Gorssini/ABACA

7. J.K. Rowling 

Before J.K. Rowling became one of the most famous wizard-adventure writers in the world, she supported herself with a very different kind of job. Back in the ’80’s she worked as a researcher and bilingual secretary for Amnesty International then moved on to a position at the Chamber of Commerce. It was during this time that she found herself dealing with a four-hour-delay in her commute and while daydreaming, she was struck with the idea of Harry Potter. From there, it was just a matter of writing the epic series and struggling to convince a publisher to put out the books before magical literary history was made.

Photo by David Fisher / Rex Features

6. Ariana Richards (Lexi in Jurassic Park)

Not all celebrities found their happily-ever-after career-wise in Hollywood. In fact, some young actors had a taste of fame and then chose to leave it behind to pursue other interests. This was the case for Ariana Richards who you may remember as Lexi, the young granddaughter of Jurassic Park’s creator. After the film’s wild success, Ariana left acting behind to study and pursue a career in fine art, a legacy in her family going back to the Renaissance with her ancestor, painter Carlo Crivelli.

Source: Katu

5. Jeff Cohen (Chunk from The Goonies)

If you’re in Los Angeles these days, you won’t see Chunk from The Goonies doing the Truffle Shuffle any more, but you might run into the actor who played him if you’re looking for some legal help. Jeff Cohen, who played the plump part in the ’80’s film favourite, lost a considerable amount of weight in high-school thanks to a spot on the football team and further transformed himself by studying law. He is now a lawyer runs his own firm by the name of Cohen & Gardner.

Dee Cercone/Everett Collection

4. Walt Disney 

Walt Disney’s name has become historic in the world of Hollywood storytelling, but he wasn’t always such a success. Before making movies that would define a culture of children, he worked as an editor for a newspaper. But his work wasn’t appreciated and he was fired for his lack of imagination and because he had no good ideas. That’s hard to believe.

Everett Collection

3. Kal Penn 

It’s hard to imagine the stars of Harold and Kumar taking anything seriously other than a burger. But Kumar, who is actually actor Kal Penn, decided to leave behind the jokes in 2009 and pursue a career in politics. Seriously. “I had friends who were over in Iraq and Afghanistan. I had buddies who had huge student debt, people who got kicked off their health insurance plans for one reason or another, and so that was my decision to get involved on a personal level.” The actor who had appeared on more serious shows like House and 24, began his political path while working on Obama’s presidential campaign. He decided to make the change a full-time pursuit and joined the administration as an associate director in both the White House’s Office of Public Liaison and the Office of Public Engagement. However, it only lasted two years before Kal decided to leave Washington and head back to Hollywood.

Photo by Rex Features

2. Martha Stewart 

Martha Stewart may have made millions with her lifestyle, décor, baking, supreme-dinner-host career, but not to worry, she knows how to handle the cash. Back in her 20’s Stewart became one of the few female stockbrokers on Wall Street and was successful in the role until the economy took a dive. The fact that she was once a broker might also make it less surprising that she was discovered to be involved with insider-trading, which resulted in a prison-term, much to the delight of tabloids, but to the detriment to everyone who was trying to host an elegant neighbour-impressing dinner party and now had no tips for folding napkins into intricate origami animals.

Photo by Broadimage/REX

1. Julia Child 

She may be known for her peppy-prepped recipes and her epic love of butter, but before Julia Child was introducing America to French cuisine, she worked as an intelligence officer, or ya know, a spy. Not one to be in the field herself, she was hired in 1942 to perform clerical work for the Office of Strategic Services, which was a World War II-era spy agency that later became the CIA. She moved her way up the ladder and eventually worked directly for OSS Director William Donovan. The details of her employment were kept sealed along with other OSS documents for years before being released and declassified by the government.

Everett Collection
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