These Celebrities Were Homeless Before They Were Famous
It seems that only two methods exist to garner a prestigious spot amongst the Hollywood elite. One, be lucky enough to be born into a wealthy, influential, and already-established celebrity family. Or two, fake it until you make it. In other words, take a chance, struggle with the small gigs, and get insanely lucky finding a big break. Even then, this three-step-process is the extremely short-and-sweet explanation. For these formerly homeless celebrities, hard work, grit, and determination made all the difference as they’re now on top of the entertainment world!
During her time at Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio, actress Halle Berry began entering numerous beauty pageants. She did win Miss Teen All American 1985, Miss Ohio USA 1986, and the first runner-up in the 1986 Miss USA competition. Seeking to pursue a modeling career at the time, Berry relocated to New York and quickly ran out of money. She asked her mother for help but told the young Halle that she needed to handle her own expenses now. Looking back, Berry noted “It taught me how to take care of myself and that I could live through any situation, even if it meant going to a shelter for a small stint, or living within my means, which were meager. I became a person who knows that I will always make my own way.”
In 1968, a young Sylvester Stallone, a student at the University of Miami at the time, was hired for a role in The Square Root. Two years later, he was forced to appear in a softcore pornography for two days worth of work and a $200 paycheck. He did not desire to appear in the film but after being evicted from his apartment, finding himself homeless, and sleeping in New York’s Port Authority Bus Terminal, Stallone was forced to accept. As Stallone put it, “it was either do that movie or rob someone, because I was at the end – the very end – of my rope.”
From Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and The Mask to Dumb and Dumber and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, comedian Jim Carrey has become a welcome comedy staple in our homes. Before stardom, Carrey and his family experienced homeless during his teenage years in high school. They initially lived in a Volkswagen van on his older sister’s property lot. Jim and his brother John eventually moved into a tent, laying low on the Charles Daley Park in Lincoln, Ontario. Things improved when his father, and subsequently he and brother, gained employment working at the Titan Wheels tire factory. At 16, Jim dropped out of school and began performing comedy in Toronto. Things were finally in the up-and-up.
All the way back in 2002, Kelly Brianne Clarkson won the first season of reality-tv singing competition, American Idol. However, her first trip out to Los Angeles was much of a bust. When she moved to LA looking to pursue a career in music, her lack of experience and a lack of realistic career opportunities vastly hampered the young artist. When her small apartment building burned down, she was forced to return to her childhood home in Burleson, Texas. Thankfully it was here that friends suggested the struggling artist try out for the newly unveiled American Idol competition. And we all know how that turned out…
Jim Morrison, lead vocalist of the Doors, always seemed to be everywhere, mentally and physically. In 1965, after graduating from the University of California – Los Angeles film school, Morrison chose to live an unconventional lifestyle. He was known to have slept under the Venice Pier and atop the rooftop of a building inhabited by his former college cinematography friend, Dennis Jacobs. Morrison would soon meet his other bandmates around this time. Interestingly, the Doors’ pianist Ray Manzarek stated that Morrison largely lived off of canned beans and LSD.
Chris Pratt has become the current generation’s Hollywood superstar. It’s funny how he got to where he is, though. At 19, a friend invited Pratt to come out to Hawaii to live on the land. Pratt even said, “It’s a pretty awesome place to be homeless… We just drank and smoked weed and worked minimal hours, just enough to cover gas, food and fishing supplies.” Still, Pratt would end up with his first credited role when director Rae Dawn Chong wound up sitting in his dining section while he was working at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company in Maui.
Better known as J.Lo or Jenny from the block, Jennifer Lopez has been an acting and singing sensation since 1986. At 18, Lopez was enrolled at New York’s Baruch College studying business before dropping out to pursue professional dance. Unhappy with the decision, her parents kicked her out of the family home. This was the start of an eight-month period in which Lopez and her mother did not talk. Lopez was forced to sleep on the sofa at her dance school, Manhattan’ Phil Black Dance Studio. After returning from Europe due to a previous dancing gig, Lopez landed her big break, In Living Color.
From February 1, 1982, until May 20, 2015, David Letterman, host of Late Night with David Letterman, entertained millions in the critically acclaimed talk show that has gone on to be nominated for 11 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Variety Series awards. However, Letterman wasn’t always sitting high. When he moved to Los Angeles in 1973 to pursue a career in comedy, Letterman was only scrapping enough to live out of his Chevy pickup truck. Luckily, he scored a huge break when comedian Jimmie Walker, formerly of Good Times, hired Letterman to write jokes for him.
British pop superstar Ed Sheeran has been around for a few years now, worth about $200 million. Somehow, Sheeran was basically homeless, playing his guitar around London not that long ago. He remembers, “2009 I’d been doing it [playing gigs in London] for about four years. I lost my place to live and just started staying at friends’ that I met along the way and it was a very fun time I had a lot of fun.” The experience wasn’t all that grand in hindsight. “There were moments I wanted to give up… The nights that you don’t have a couch to sleep on or you don’t have money in your pocket, or food in your stomach or a charged phone, those become the nights where you reassess your situation.”
Sam Worthington is an Australian actor (born in Britain) best recognized for playing the lead character, Jake Sully, in James Cameron’s Avatar. Worthington, who once worked as a bricklayer, had a midlife crisis at age 30. He sold nearly everything he owned and started living out of his car. He himself has said “I had nothing to lose.” Coincidentally, Cameron would call Worthington not much longer to offer him the lead role in what would become one of the top-five grossing films of all time.
Actress Hilary Swank has won two Screen Actors Guild Awards, two Academy Awards and two Golden Globe Awards. She first gained recognition in the 1992 series, Camp Wilder. During her younger years, Swank’s parents separated when the teenage girl was 15. Desiring to explore her daughter’s acting goals, Swank and her mother moved to Los Angeles. With little money to their names, they were forced to sleep in their car before a friend allowed them to temporarily live in a house she was selling. Swank stated, “We had a friend who was selling their house. And so they said, ‘You know, there’s no furniture, but you can stay there at night. And then, during the day, you have to leave so we can try and sell it.’ So we got air mattresses. Blew the air mattresses up. Slept on the air mattresses. And left in the morning.”
As a child, Tyler Perry was abused in several horrific manners. After watching an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show, Perry took the advice to write out his problems in order to make sense of his struggles. Therefore, he wrote several letters to himself, becoming the inspiration behind his first musical, I Know I’ve Been Changed. In 1990, he moved to Atlanta and spent $12,000, his entire live savings, to produce this musical play. Initial reviews scalded the entertainer to rewrite his play until its success. However, during times of revision, Perry lived out of his car to further finance his first production.
Carmen Electra, born Tara Leigh Patrick, has been a sex symbol in Hollywood for decades. In 1991, Electra met pop icon Prince, signing with his record label, Paisley Park Records. She toured with “The Artist” briefly but her earnings were stolen by a boyfriend at the time. With limited resources, Electra moved to Los Angeles to try her luck in show business. The actress would end up modeling for Playboy magazine several times but would still suffer bouts of homelessness. In 1997, her luck came out in full fervor, as the actress was hired to portray Lani McKenzie on the beach drama, Baywatch.
At the young age of 12, Phillip Calvin McGraw moved with his father to Kansas who was interning to become a psychologist. With funds low, they were forced to start their stay living in the family car. His father’s lifelong goal was eventually reached, with Dr. Phil joining his father’s practice after earning his own bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. in psychology. It was through a series of lucky breaks that Oprah Winfrey would invite the young Dr. to appear on her talk show. From there, Dr. Phil’s success exponentially grew. It’s now estimated the self-help talkshow host is now worth around $280 million.
Canadian singer and songwriter, Eilleen “Shania” Twain, is one of the best selling female country artists of all time, selling over 100 million records. You wouldn’t have guessed her future success based upon her childhood, however. As a young girl with bickering parents, Twain would eventually wind up in a homeless shelter with her mother and siblings. However, around 1981, she began performing at bars (once the alcohol had stopped being sold) to help pay the family’s bills. At 13, she first began to receive some recognition when she was invited to sing on the Tommy Hunter Show on CBC.
Aside from hosting The Steve Harvey Morning Show, Family Feud, Celebrity Family Feud, and the Miss Universe competition, Broderick Stephen Harvey is an actor, comedian, author, and businessman. According to Steve, when “one or two gigs fell through,” he quickly found himself homeless. Before landing his breakout role as host for Showtime at the Apollo, Steve lived out of his 1976 Ford Pinto. He would use local swimming pool showers and gas stations to clean up before being called up for stand-up comedy performances.
Ella Fitzgerald might possibly be “the finest female jazz singer of all time.” Beginning in the third grade, Fitzgerald often listened to jazz recordings of artists like Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, and The Boswell Sisters. At 15, her mother passed away, leaving her abusive stepfather to care for the future star. She briefly worked for the mafia before being placed in an orphan asylum and eventually a training school for girls. Not long after, Ella ran away and became homeless, presumably earning money through vocal street performances. When she entered and won a talent show at the Apollo Theater in 1934, Fitzgerald began her ascent into jazz history.
Jewel Kilcher has sold over 30 million albums and been nominated for four Grammy Awards. She’s known for singing “Who Will Save Your Soul,” “You Were Meant for Me,” and “Til It Feels Like Cheating.” Sadly, early on, Jewel was dealt a scummy hand when she lost her job after refusing to engage in a relationship with her boss.
She remembered, “I ended up homeless because my boss propositioned me, and when I wouldn’t sleep with him he didn’t give me my paycheck. I got kicked out of where I was living, and my rent was due that next day. I thought, ‘Well, I’ll live in my car for a minute … get back on my feet,’ but I had bad kidneys, and I never could hold down another job because I got sick so often. I didn’t have insurance and ended up almost dying in the parking lot of an emergency room because they wouldn’t admit me because I didn’t have insurance. I ended up homeless for about a month, and I went back to singing.”
Actor, producer, writer, and director, Kelsey Grammer is synonymous with his character, psychologist Dr. Frasier Crane on NBC’s Cheers and later Frasier. Ironically, Grammer would much of his family before the start of his success. Nonetheless, when Grammer was a teenager, he would often sleep outside the theatre that held one of the actor’s first jobs. Due to this heartache, Grammer is now famous for supporting over two dozen philanthropic causes and charities.
Born 1904, English-American actor Cary Grant would become one of Hollywood’s leading stars in the midst of the 1940s and 1950s. He was particularly remembered for his carefree personality and transatlantic accent. Nonetheless, as a young boy, Grant would sleep in alleyways when he wasn’t able to make enough to stay at a local shelter while working as a military dock guide. Grant was also volunteering for every opportunity the local Bristol Empire theatre would give hime at the age of 13.
She’s an actress, author, and comedian; Tiffany Haddish gained national recognition when she appeared as Nekeisha Williams on NBC’s The Carmichael Show. Haddish, sadly, was forced to develop a sense of humor from an early age. In an attempt to claim life benefits on his wife and children, including Tiffany, Haddish’s father cut the family car’s break lines, leading to her mother’s severe brain damage from a car accident. Haddish was then forced to adopt comedy as a coping mechanism to associate with a mother she no longer knew.
From 2002 until 2015, financial advisor and author Suze Orman famously hosted her own finance-focused television series, The Suze Orman Show. Upon graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Orman moved to Berkeley, California. After a risky trading representative at Merrill Lynch lost her thousands of dollars, Orman took the experience to heart and began learning the stock market trade herself. When times were tough, Orman was forced to live out of her van.
The handsome, albeit blonde James Bond, Daniel Craig began acting at the young age of six. At 16, he was accepted into the National Youth Theatre in London. Unfortunately, Craig was unable to rely on his divorced parents for funds to attend. Therefore, the teenage Daniel was forced to pick up part-time jobs in local restaurants to pay his way in “The Big Smoke.” That work ethic wasn’t enough to keep the future 007 from sleeping on London park benches for a short time, however.
James Cameron is known for being many things. His largest accomplishments revolve around directing, namely Titanic and Avatar. These two films have become two of the highest-grossing films of all time. But his early experiences were a bit more painful. Cameron, after returning to the US in 1981 following a poor film production, found himself practically homeless. It was here that Cameron used a memory from the film production in Italy for the basis of The Terminator. Many hated the script of the future film, even his old agent. Thankfully, Cameron sold the rights to the film for $1 as long as he was the one to direct it. The rest is history.
Involved in genres ranging from hip hop and electronic to rock, folk, and soul, Beck has been a musician and producer since the early 1990s. At just 19, in 1989, Beck took a bus to New York with $8 in his pocket, discovering the Lower East Side’s anti-folk scene. However, after crashing on couches of friends that he “had used up,” Beck was beginning to realize he might end up homeless. Therefore, he returned to Los Angeles. “I was tired of being cold, tired of getting beat up… It was hard to be in New York with no money, no place […] I kinda used up all the friends I had. Everyone on the scene got sick of me.”
Rakim Athelaston Mayers is a professional rapper hailing out of Manhattan. He unexpectedly hit the radio waves back in 2012 when his single, Peso, was leaked online. As a teenager, he spent time selling crack and cannabis in the Bronx. Even with these earnings, Rocky spent time with his mother living in New York City homeless shelters. Ironically, when Rocky was caught for selling drugs, he spent two weeks in jail. His cellmate was future rapper Casanova.
The late Kurt Donald Cobain was taken way too early from us back in 1994. The Nirvana frontman was seen as an icon for Generation X and as a founding father of alternative rock. At age 9, Cobain’s parents divorced, ultimately leading to unstable relationships. Extended family would take him in but Cobain never stayed long. During his senior year of high school, the musician would drop out after failing to meet class credit requirements. His mother kicked him out, leaving Cobain to sleep with friends and eventually under a bridge of the Washington state Chehalis River.
Machine Gun Kelly
Now known as the bad-boy boyfriend of actress Megan Fox, Machine Gun Kelly – born Colson Baker – is a rapper, songwriter, and actor. He’s respected for mixing the rock genre with alternative hip hop. At the age of 17, Kelly and his friend were forced out of their apartment. Things were beginning to get even tougher on the rapper as his girlfriend at the time, Emma Cannon, was pregnant with his daughter Casie.
Better known as Lil’ Kim, Kimberly Denise Jones is a rapper, songwriter, model, and reality television personality. Like many others on this list, Kim’s parents divorced during her childhood. She went to live with her father but as the two often butted heads, Kim was forced out of the home during her high school years. Nonetheless, this is where Kim would go on to meet future stars and business associates like The Notorious B.I.G., Sean “Puffy” Combs, Nas, and Foxy Brown. These connections would allow Kim to join the rap game, becoming a member of the music group M.A.F.I.A. in 1994.
Born 1973, actress and activist Rose McGowan has lived an eye-opening life, and not necessarily for the right reasons. For one, she bravely and publicly came out against the many sexual misconducts charges placed on disgraced former film producer, Harvey Weinstein. At age 15, McGowan actually emancipated herself from her parents as their relationship had soured greatly. It should be added that her father was formerly a leader of the cult, Children of God. This group, at the time, was known to have and promote inappropriate sexual relationships between adults and minors.