While it’s pretty tough to name what the biggest perk of being a celebrity is, the massive amount of money you make from showcasing and marketing your natural talent has got to be up there. Can you imagine making millions of dollars from working just three months filming a movie? Or earning $50,000 for filming one episode of a TV show?
That’s insane, but before reaching this level of success, a lot of celebrities lived a modest lifestyle. In fact, a lot of stars had pretty difficult upbringings and had families that struggled financially.
18. Leighton Meester
Leighton Meester was actually born in a federal prison in Texas while her mother was incarcerated for drug smuggling. You can only go up from there! Her mother got out of jail while she was still young, and Leighton’s parents did end up raising her, but they never had a lot of money. Leighton tried her hand at acting, and found her breakout role playing someone who had the opposite upbringing she had: Mega-rich girl Blair Waldorf on Gossip Girl.
17. Jennifer Lopez
As Jennifer Lopez told us in her hit song “Jenny From the Block,” she used to have a little, but now she has a lot. Growing up in the Bronx, Jennifer shared a modest home with her parents and two sisters. She was even homeless for a time when she was trying to make it as a young dancer instead of attending college. Needless to say, J-Lo has definitely made her mark and some money. One of the most glamorous celebrities around, she’s also pretty generous, too. She donated $500,000 to the Puerto Rico hurricane relief efforts.
16. Mila Kunis
When she was seven, Mila Kunis immigrated to the United States from Russia. Her parents gave up their college degrees and good jobs to give their children a better life here. They came here with only $250 and had to work from the ground up. Mila didn’t know any English when she moved here and had a hard time adjusting to a new school and culture. One particularly interesting fact about Mila’s upbringing is that she and her siblings frequently ate ketchup soup for dinner. It doesn’t sound good, but who knows? Her modest childhood might explain why she’s so down to earth even since becoming a massive star.
15. Justin Bieber
Even though he lives an incredibly lavish life these days, that definitely wasn’t always the case. Justin Bieber didn’t have a lot of money growing up. He was raised by a single mother who was even underage when she gave birth. His dad wasn’t around much, which meant his mom worked several jobs to support them while they lived in low-income housing.
However, things changed when Justin was discovered singing on YouTube when he was 13. Usher stepped in and the Biebs hasn’t had money worries since.
14. Sarah Jessica Parker
One of eight children, Sarah Jessica Parker started acting in plays as part of a way to help her poor family earn some money. Turns out she was pretty good and began securing Broadway roles as a youngster. Her family relocated to NYC in order to start her career and support her dreams. She steadily rose up in Hollywood, starring in some ’80s teen movies and eventually won her breakthrough role as Carrie Bradshaw on Sex and the City.
Jewel grew up in a cabin in Alaska with no electricity or plumbing. When she moved out to try her hand at singing, she lived out of her car in Los Angeles while trying to score a record deal. She eventually did sign a record deal with Atlantic and released her first album, Pieces of You, to massive success. She became a folk singing queen with catchy melodies and relatable, heartfelt lyrics. No more car-living for her!
12. Leonardo DiCaprio
Before he was one of the most celebrated actors of a generation, Leonardo DiCaprio was growing up on the wrong side of the tracks in L.A. He grew up raised by a single mother who worked several jobs to support him in near poverty. His neighborhood was full of drug addicts, which is part of the reason he’s so outspoken about the dangers of drugs. Then, he hit it big in acting after winning a guest starring story arc on ’80s sitcom Growing Pains and has been working steadily since. Making up to $20 million a movie, his LA lifestyle is vastly different now than it was in his early years.
11. Céline Dion
French-Canadian singer Céline Dion is the youngest of 14 (!!) children, which no doubt contributed to her family’s dire financial situation. Her family was low-income and with all those kids, there was hardly any money to spare. Thankfully, Céline was able to use her truly iconic voice to create an empire enabling her to buy any house she wanted. She currently headlines a show in Las Vegas at Caesar’s Palace. Not too shabby.
10. Rose McGowan
Rose McGowan had an unusual upbringing. She was born to an American couple in Italy who ran a Children of God religious chapter. Her early years were spent in communes traveling around Europe and she came to the United States at the age of 10, but ran away as a teenager. She then lived the life of a homeless runaway on the streets of Oregon and Washington. Rose emancipated herself at age 15 and eventually moved to California to become an actress. Now we know her from her film roles, her part on Charmed and as one of the most powerful voices in the fight against Harvey Weinstein.
9. Nicki Minaj
Nicki Minaj was born in Trinidad and Tobago and moved to Queens, New York when she was five. Her father was not only abusive but also struggled with addiction, and he even set fire to their family home in an effort to kill her mother at one point, the rapper revealed. That’s some rough stuff that no child should have to endure. Nicki’s said her inspiration to become successful came from her desire to rise above her parents and care for her grandmother. Nicki definitely did it! She’s one of the most successful artists in the music industry at the moment.
8. Jim Carrey
Jim Carrey grew up so poor that he was forced to get a job after school at age 12 to help support his family. When his father lost his job, the whole family lived in a van together next to a junkyard. Before hitting it big in comedy, Carrey worked a bunch of odd jobs including as a janitor and a security guard. His personality and drive changed his life and he’s one of the most accomplished comedians of all time!
7. Selena Gomez
Born to a teen mother in Texas, it was just her and her mom growing up. Selena Gomez‘s mom struggled to provide for her during Sel’s early years. The two of them would have to search for coins just to get gas money to get around.
At age ten, Selena won a role on Barney and Friends and had a few guest spots on Disney shows. She and her mom moved to Los Angeles to see if she could make it big (she did!), and eventually scored her breakthrough role on Disney’s Wizards of Waverly Place shortly after. Those two haven’t had to worry about money since.
We’ve all seen the movie 8 Mile which is a semi-autobiographical film about Eminem‘s rough start in life. He grew up in a low-income area of Detroit with a mother who struggled with drug addiction and Marshall Mathers started rapping as an outlet. Eminem now lives in a mansion, providing a very different life to his daughter than the one he had.
5. J.K. Rowling
Before her magical creation of the Harry Potter series was written and published, J.K. Rowling was a divorced and poor single mother without a paying job. She depended on government assistance to survive at the time. She had no money, suffered from depression, and has revealed that she even contemplated suicide at one point. But she kept writing and finished Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which was rejected by TWELVE (!) publishing houses before being accepted by one. As we know, the series is now wildly popular and now J.K. Rowling is a billionaire.
4. Viola Davis
Viola Davis grew up in extreme poverty. According to the star, she didn’t always know when she’d have her next meal and her apartment was rat-infested. She started acting in high school and was able to attend college, later she went to Julliard.
Viola is a very accomplished actress who won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe last year for her role in Fences. She also kills it every week with her performance in the TV drama How to Get Away with Murder. She’s giving back these days as a spokesperson for the Hunger Is campaign, an organization working to end childhood hunger — proving she hasn’t forgotten where she came from!
3. Shania Twain
Not only did Shania Twain grow up with an abusive step-father, they were also so poor that she would often go to school hungry. After high school, she pursued her singing career but returned home four years later to raise her younger siblings when her mom and step-dad died in a car accident.
She returned to music when after her siblings got older and released her first album in 1993. It was her second record, The Woman in Me, that put her on the map. The ’90s were Shania’s prime but she is returning to music with a highly anticipated world tour set to begin next year.
2. Kelly Clarkson
While trying to make it as a singer in Los Angeles, Kelly Clarkson ended up living out of her car after her apartment burned down. Talk about bad luck. She was forced to return home to her small Texas town, but decided to audition for American Idol and the rest, you all know, is music history. We hardly even remember her career didn’t even really start until she was on a reality TV show.
1. Oprah Winfrey
We know her as one of the most successful and wealthy women of all time. But her backstory is tragic and could’ve led her down a different path. Like Justin and Selena, Oprah was born by a teen mother into rural poverty. She was shipped around to different relatives homes’ as a child and was also a victim of sexual assault. It’s possible that these terrible moments are what made her one of the strongest women in Hollywood (and the world).
Oprah Winfrey eventually moved in with her father and began high school where she won a full-ride college scholarship after winning a public speaking contest. She chose to study communication and pursued her dream of hosting a talk show.