Selena Gomez
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 06: Selena Gomez attends the 2020 Hollywood Beauty Awards at The Taglyan Complex on February 06, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images

Some of the most successful celebrities today had a rough start in life, which they used as motivation to work hard to achieve unprecedented success. These real rags-to-riches stories inspire newcomers in the industry – a testament to how hard work pays off.

Let's look at the actors who started very poor and now enjoy immense star power.


Mary J. Blige

Empire Mary J Blige photo

Mary J. Blige talked about being abandoned by her father at the young age of 4 and growing up in a housing project in New York. In an interview with another rags-to-riches celebrity, Oprah, she said, "Life was about surviving – getting money any way you could."

She got her big break after working with record producer P. Diddy on her debut album "What's the 411?" in 1992. Her music style, a combination of traditional R&B and gospel and blues-inspired vocals, received good reviews. Her album entered the Billboard 200 chart and peaked at number six. Her net worth is now $20 million, and she has forayed into acting as well.


Cardi B

Cardi B AMAs Host Promo
DCP Digital

Cardi B talked about her parents having "regular, poor jobs" in a Global Grind interview in 2016. Despite being poor, she mentioned her parents were good, and she was "just raised in a bad society."

Her big break came a year later, in 2017, after signing a contract with Atlantic Records. She was nominated for Best New Artist and Best Female Hip-Hop Artist at the 2017 BET Awards. This came after the release of "Gangsta B---h Music, Vol. 2," her second mixtape. She now has a net worth of $40 million.


Kelly Clarkson

Kelly Clarkson
Trae Patton/NBC

The first winner of "American Idol" lived "prepay check to prepay check," she said in an interview with the Dallas Morning News. "I always used to hate when people would be like, 'Money doesn't buy everything,' when you are little and poor. Rich people say that, not poor people. I don't know one poor person that's going, 'Money doesn't buy happiness.' It pays you to get out of eviction notices."

With her big win, she broke through the music industry after signing with RCA Records by Simon Fuller, the man behind the show. Her current net worth of $45 million is due to the intelligent financial decisions she made after her win on "American Idol." She is now a successful children's book writer and a talk show host.


Halle Berry

Actress Halle Berry rocked a new haircut and was pretty in purple at the Oscars
POOL / Chris Pizzello

Halle Berry was raised by a poor, single mother in Cleveland. She even had to live in a New York City homeless shelter before she started modeling. She shifted her focus to acting in 1989, which landed her 12 episodes on ABC's "Living Dolls." She scored more film and television roles since then, earning a $1 million paycheck for "Executive Decision" in 1996.

Her net worth is now $90 million, and she is considered one of the biggest stars on the planet.


Selena Gomez

Selena Gomez
Photo credit should read CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP via Getty Images

Known as a former Disney child star, Selena Gomez opened up to Hollywood Life about her mother giving birth to her at just 16. Her mother worked several jobs, and young Selena had to subsist on dollar-store spaghetti before earning 80 film and television credits and a net worth of $95 million to her name.

Her big break came with the show "Wizards of Waverly Place," which aired from 2007 to 2012 for a total of 106 episodes. She also launched a singing career, and now, she has a show on HBO Max, "Selena + Chef."


Snoop Dogg

Rapper Snoop Dogg speaks during a news conference about his upcoming performance at the halftime show of Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles, California, U.S. February 10, 2022.

Snoop Dogg has been vocal about his impoverished childhood, which involved a lot of violence and run-ins with the law. He grew up in Long Beach, California, and embroidered the West Coast gangsta rap culture – all told in his lyrics.

With a net worth of $150 million, Snoop Dogg's breakthrough came when he was discovered by Dr. Dre. He eventually released several songs under Death Row Records. He is considered one of the most successful rappers to come out of the '90s rap scene. He is also one of the few who are still recording today.


Demi Moore

REUTERS/Mike Blake

Before having a net worth of $200 million, Demi was part of a family that moved a lot due to poverty. Her father left her before she was born, while her stepfather struggled to keep his employment.

Her big break came when she starred in "St. Elmo's Fire" in 1985. The role associated her with the group of actors known as the Brat Pack. She is now an actress and producer. She has been nominated for Best Actress at the Golden Globes more than once.


Sylvester Stallone

Sylvester Stallone
Getty Images/PATRICK BAZ

Born in Hell's Kitchen, New York City, he spent his early years in foster care due to the volatile relationship with his parents. Sylvester even had to sell his dog for cash. He also took up small parts in B-movies to help with finances when he was expecting a child.

His big break came when he starred in "Rocky," launching him to superstardom and helping him become one of the highest-paid action stars of the '80s and '90s. Since then, he has starred in blockbuster hits such as "Rambo" and "The Expendables." He currently has a net worth of $400 million.


J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling Fantastic Beasts 3
Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images

Rowling has talked about being "as poor as it's possible to be" before her "Harry Potter" fame immortalized her name and contributed to her $1 billion net worth. She said she was raising a daughter with assistance from the public government when she started writing the series in 1994.

She was the highest-paid author in 2017 after earning $95 million from the franchise. According to Forbes, the books are no longer her highest source of income as it has been surpassed by her earnings from Universal Studios' "Wizarding World" attractions.


Nicki Minaj

US rapper Nicki Minaj accepts the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award onstage during the MTV Video Music Awards at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on August 28, 2022

With a net worth of $100 million, the hip-hop superstar has gone a long way from her poor childhood. As a child, she lived in Queens, New York, after immigrating from Trinidad. Her father was a drug addict with violent outbursts.

She was discovered by a fellow rapper, Lil Wayne, which led to her big break. Since 2007, she has released several successful mixtapes and albums. In 2015, she mentioned producing a comedy based on her story. She has won countless awards, including six American Music Awards and four Billboard Music Awards. She also has multiple Grammy nominations to her name.


Leighton Meester

Leighton Meester
Reuters/Mario Anzuoni

Born while her mother was serving time in prison for drug trafficking, Leighton is no stranger to poor living conditions. She lived with her grandmother until her mom was released. Talking about her acting classes as a teen, she mentioned not being able to relate to her peers and preferring to take acting classes with adults. Talking to Marie Claire, she said, "'Jimmy doesn't like me!' Who cares? I was worried we didn't have gas money or food."

Her breakout role, and the most popular part she has played so far, is the Queen B, Blair Waldorf, in the hit CW series "Gossip Girl." The show ran for six seasons from 2007 to 2012. Its success resulted in a Thailand version released in 2015 and a reboot in 2021.

Leighton's net worth is currently at 16 million.


Leonardo DiCaprio

Leonardo DiCaprio
REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Leonardo grew up in a seedy LA neighborhood laden with open-air drug and prostitution markets, as mentioned in his 2014 Los Angeles Times interview. According to him, his love for acting started after surviving a beating on his first day at public school when he won a scholarship to a private elementary school. This experience helped him succeed because he "got to see the other side of the spectrum."

He appeared in commercials and television roles as a child. His big break came at 14 when he landed a Mattel commercial for their Matchbox cars.

Today, he has a net worth of $260 million, and his fans continue to root for him to win more than one Oscar.


Mark Wahlberg

Mark Wahlberg
Getty Images/Timothy Hiatt

The highest-paid actor in 2017 was one of nine siblings in a broken home who had a rough start in life. He used and sold drugs at an early age and got involved in a series of violent assaults, which led to his imprisonment.

His older brother Donnie helped him get back into the music industry after exiting jail. He was first known as "Marky Mark" in the 1990s. But he dropped the name when he debuted in the TV film "The Substitute" in 1993. Part of his big breakout could be attributed to his modeling, starting with a Calvin Klein underwear ad in 1992, with his image prominently displayed on a Times Square billboard. In 1995, he starred with Leonardo DiCaprio in "The Basketball Diaries," which gained critical acclaim.

His net worth is now at $400 million.


Jennifer Lopez

Jennifer Lopez
Rich Polk/Getty Images for MTV

Jennifer Lopez is another multi-hyphenate whose early life started not so well that she even had to share a bed with her two sisters. Born to Puerto Rican parents, she lived in Castle Hill, a section of the Bronx, where her parents struggled to find work. Seeing her parents' sacrifice, J.Lo said she had "a natural discipline from early on."

She got her big break as a Fly Girl dancer on Fox's "In Living Color." Her breakout film role, however, came in 1995, when she starred in the biopic "Selena."

She now has a net worth of $400 million and a salary of $40 million per year.


Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold Schwarzenegger
REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Arnold's success began in a humble home in Austria devastated by World War II. He has talked openly about his childhood on Twitter, living with no plumbing and phone, while hunger-based riots were happening outside his door.

He was introduced to the world of bodybuilding at 13. After learning that some bodybuilders who won competitions went on to become successful Hollywood stars, Arnold set off to join and eventually win the Junior Mr. Europe Contest. Two years later, when he was 20, he became the youngest winner of Mr. Universe. He moved to America a year later in 1968, armed with $27,000 to his name, which he used to invest in real estate. His big break came in 1970 after winning his first Mr. Olympia title when he was cast in the film "Hercules in New York."

Today, Arnold's net worth is $450 million. He has also served as a former governor of California.


Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise got an honorary Palme d'Or early in the festival for his efforts to get punters back into cinemas
AFP / Valery HACHE

Before enjoying financial success and starring in hit movies like "Mission: Impossible," Tom Cruise grew up in a poor, dysfunctional household. He talked about his mother leaving the family to escape his abusive and violent father when he was only 12 years old.

His big break came during his film debut in 1981 for a small part in "Endless Love." He also received critical acclaim for his role in "Taps" that same year, opening doors for him to sign with the talent agency CAA.

He now has a net worth of $600 million and a salary estimated at $50 million per year.


Dolly Parton

US singer Dolly Parton has tweaked her hit 'Jolene' to support the Covid vaccine
AFP / Robyn Beck

Before she became one of the biggest names in country music, Dolly grew up in extreme Appalachian poverty – an experience she talked about in her best-known song "Coat of Many Colors." In this song, she mentioned her early life with 11 other siblings in Eastern Tennessee. She grew up in a house with no running water, gas, or electricity, sleeping on beds made of straw.

Dolly appeared on television by age 12, but her big break came after a few years of struggling with her solo career. Her breakthrough can be attributed to her hit song "Jolene," released in 1973, which hit number 1 on the country chart in early 1974.

Dolly's net worth today is $650 million, and she has won numerous Grammy awards.


Viola Davis

US actress Viola Davis is receiving a lifetime achievement award at the Rome Film Festival

In 2014, Viola talked about her poor childhood during Variety's Power of Women. She mentioned living in "abject poverty," though filled with many happy memories. "I was one of the 17 million kids in this country who didn't know where their next meal was coming from," Viola said. Due to this extreme poverty, Viola shared her experience stealing and jumping in garbage bins to get food.

Viola's big break was during her theater days when she played the role of Tonya in "King Hedley II" on Broadway. This earned her her first Tony Award and opened the doors for her acting in films. Today, her net worth is $25 million, and she has also received an Academy Award, Emmy Award and Grammy Award.



jay z
Getty Images/Matt Winkelmeyer

Jay-Z writes about his experiences in his rhymes. He was raised in Brooklyn, in a public housing project. He told Vanity Fair in 2013 that he sold crack to escape poverty, survive and improve his situation.

He has always been interested in music, making a name for himself in his neighborhood. His big break came after co-founding a record company with Damon Dash and Kareem "Biggs" Burke. The company, Roc-A-Fella Records, eventually ended up as part of Def Jam Records, and through deal negotiations, Jay-Z retained the rights to his master recordings. This was an unprecedented act for a new artist at the time.

His net worth is now $1.3 billion.


Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey
Getty images/Alberto E. Rodriguez

Oprah grew up in rural Mississippi in severe poverty. Her household had no indoor plumbing, and she suffered physical and sexual violence. She began working for a local radio station after high school, sparking her passion for the media. Her big break came when she began co-hosting the talk show "People are Talking" in August 1978.

Two years into the show, she was already beating the nationally syndicated Phil Donahue show in Baltimore. ABC gave Oprah her morning talk show in 1984 after recognizing her potential. The job came with a four-year contract amounting to $1 million.

Today, her net worth is $3.5 billion. She earns about $315 million a year from her diversified media empire.