Wrong Side of the Tracks: 10 Celebrities who Overcame their Pasts

When you see celebrities all dolled up in their million dollar jewels, pulling up to the most exclusive restaurants in the latest Bentley, it’s hard to imagine that any of them could have ever known what it was like to be poor. But in fact there are many stars who come from humble beginnings and dysfunctional families. Here are 10 who have overcome great obstacles to get to where they are today.

  1. Jim Carrey: Jim Carrey is widely known as one of the funniest, most outrageous comedic actors to grace a Hollywood movie. But before he rose to his multi-millionaire status, Carrey lived a difficult life in Canada with his three siblings and out of work parents. His father, an accountant, lost his job to a younger man when Carrey was just a kid. To generate income, Carrey’s father accepted a job offer at a tire factory that wanted to hire the entire family. In exchange, the Carrey’s were allowed to live in a small building next to the factory. In the 10th grade, with pressures to work and big dreams, Carrey dropped out of school and started doing stand up routines at a local comedy club in addition to working at the factory. But eventually, succumbing to the pressures of the situation, the family left the factory and ended up homeless. They moved into a van and Jim began performing at a comedy club called Yuk Yuks. Though initially not accepted there, he worked his way into the crowd’s graces by the age of 16. In the early 1980s, Carrey moved to L.A. and began performing at the legendary club The Comedy Store. One night comedian Keenan Ivory Wayans came to see a show and ended up casting Carrey in his sketch comedy show “In Living Color.” The rest, as they say, is history. With more than 35 films under his belt, Carrey is one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood, earning more than $25 million per film. He is currently dating Jenny McCarthy.
  2. Hilary Swank: Born in Nebraska, Swank moved to Bellingham, Washington when she was six and was raised, for the most part, in a small trailer by a lake. Outcast from her peers and poor, Swank has often said that the only time she felt accepted was when she was reading a book or acting in a play. When she was 13, her parents divorced. Though Swank was a gifted athlete, she also adored acting. So, she and her mother packed their bags and headed for Hollywood when Swank was 16, living out of a car while Swank auditioned for roles. She dropped out of high school and quickly landed a role in “The Next Karate Kid.” Soon after she met actor Chad Lowe, whom she moved in with while still a teenager. Though the couple was together for more than a decade, Swank’s career skyrocketed, while Lowe’s stagnated. She won an Oscar, he booked a made for TV movie. In 2006, amid rumors of Lowe’s drug problem, the couple divorced. Swank continues to star in movies, most recently the romantic comedy “P.S. I Love You.”
  3. Oprah Winfrey: Now the richest and most powerful woman in television, Winfrey’s life started off on anything but the right foot. Born in rural, poverty-stricken Mississippi to two teenage parents, Winfrey grew up mostly with her dirt-poor grandmother on her languishing farm. Her parents split town early on, and when she got a little older Winfrey decided to move up to Wisconsin to be with her mother. But once she got there, she was repeatedly molested by male relatives. Traumatized, Winfrey turned to drugs, alcohol and sex and gave birth to a premature baby when she was just 14. It died soon after birth. Looking for more stability, Winfrey decided to move in with her father in Nashville, where she got her start as a reporter with a local TV station. In just a few years, she was promoted to co-anchor and, soon after, the host of a local talk show. In 1984, she landed a national talk show spot in Chicago, competing in the ratings with Phil Donahue. Though she has struggled publicly with her weight, Oprah has reigned supreme in her career, and her talk show is now the most watched talk show on television. In most recent years, Winfrey has used her post to speak about the importance of philanthropy in the world.
  4. Charlize Theron: Theron was born to a French father and German mother on a small farm outside of Johannesburg in South Africa. Her businesswoman mother often left her in the care of a nanny. Theron showed a penchant for acting and dance as a child, but at the age of 12 her parents sent her away to boarding school – away from the dramas of their home. Theron’s father was a longtime alcoholic who abused and cheated on her mother. Though Theron’s mother put up with the behavior for many years, the situation came to a head one night, when, while Theron was upstairs, her mother shot her father dead as he was trying to attack her. It was ruled self-defense. In an attempt to get Theron’s mind off of what had happened, her mother forced her to enter a modeling contest. She won and was sent to Europe to model in many countries. But wanting to be more than a pretty face, Theron moved to New York to study ballet. After a knee injury killed her dreams of being a dancer, she moved to LA to pursue acting. Within months, she landed her first acting role in the horror movie “Children of the Corn III.” Things got better from there and Theron won an Academy Award in 2003 for her portrayal of serial-killing prostitute Aileen Wuornos in “Monster.”
  5. Anna Nicole Smith: Born Vicki Lynn Hogan in Houston, Texas, Anna Nicole was raised by her mother and her aunt for most of her childhood. Her father took off when Anna was only two years old. Her mother, a law enforcement officer in Houston, entered into a string of bad marriages in the 1980s and when she was a teenager Anna Nicole went to live with another aunt in small town Mexia, Texas. There she got a job at a fast food fried chicken restaurant, where she met a boy named Daniel Wayne Smith. She dropped out of high school and they married when she was just 17 and he 16. Soon after the couple had a baby, but they split up when their son was only 1. Anna returned to Houston, working odd jobs at Wal-Mart and Red Lobster before she became a stripper in 1991. That same year, she auditioned to be a Playboy model and landed the cover. From there, Anna Nicole’s career took off and she became a model for Guess jeans and married oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall, who was 89 at the time of their marriage. Now known as a sexy model and gold-digging wife, Anna Nicole began landing movie roles in the 1990s and her looks catapulted her to full-blown stardom. She became even more famous after she agreed to star in her own reality show on E!, in which she often came across as a clueless woman unsure of what to do with herself and her riches. In 2007, Anna Nicole died after an apparent prescription drug overdose. Right before her death, she had given birth to a baby girl, who now lives with her father Larry Birkhead.
  6. 50 Cent: Born to a cocaine-dealing, 15-year-old mother, rapper 50 Cent, whose real name is Curtis Jackson, had it bad from birth. His mother, a native of Queens, continued to sling cocaine until she was murdered when Jackson was 8. She died after someone drugged her drink and then gassed her apartment with her in it. Fatherless, Jackson then moved in with his grandmother and his eight aunts and uncles. He said this was the moment he turned to the streets. At 11, he started selling crack on the streets. By the age of 12, he was carrying drugs and a gun with him to school. In 10th grade, he was caught and decided to come clean with his grandmother, telling her straight up he was a dope dealer. He began getting arrested in the mid 1990s for drugs and served six months in prison where he earned his GED. In 2000, Jackson was rapping locally in New York and getting attention from many lyrical big wigs, though he still didn’t have a record deal. One day, he was sitting in a friend’s car outside his grandmother’s house when another car pulled up and a gunman shot Jackson nine times at close range, putting him in the hospital for 13 days. The alleged shooter was said to be Mike Tyson’s bodyguard, who was himself killed a couple of weeks later. After his recovery, Jackson put out an independently produced tape, which caught the attention of Eminem. Eminem signed Jackson as 50 Cent and in 2003 Jackson became a star. Since then he’s put out 4 multi-platinum albums.
  7. Demi Moore: Born in New Mexico to an 18-year-old alcoholic and bipolar mother, Moore’s father took off before she was even born and her parents were only married for two months. She was named Demetria Gene Guynes and given the last name of her former stepfather. Her stepfather struggled to hold down a job due to his own addictions and because of this the family moved more than 40 times. Both her mother and stepfather were serious alcoholics who also physically abused each other. In 1980, Moore’s stepfather committed suicide. During her childhood, however, the family suffered in poverty and Moore had both a vision and a kidney problem that she could barely afford to treat. As a teen, Moore moved to L.A. and then dropped out of high school to pursue acting. She worked as a model and an actress in some B movies before landing a role on General Hospital. She then started getting movies and in 1987 married Bruce Willis. The couple had three children and then divorced in 2000. Moore then went on to marry Ashton Kutcher, who is 15 years younger than her. She is now estranged from her mother.
  8. Naomi Watts: Watts’ father was a roadie for the band Pink Floyd and her mother was a wanderlust hippie, who Watts has described as having “passive-aggressive” tendencies. Her parent split when she was four and she and her brother moved with their mother to Wales to live on her grandparents’ farm. But Watts moved frequently, as her mother followed boyfriends around the U.K. Watts has said that her mother often threatened her own parents, saying she would send Watts and her brother to foster care if they didn’t financially support them. When Watts was a teenager, the whole family moved to Sydney, Australia, where Watts attended high school with fellow actress Nicole Kidman. She started her career on Australian television, acting in soap operas, but had much difficulty landing the film roles she coveted. After many years of scoring only B roles in Hollywood, Watts finally was cast in David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive” in 2001, several years after first moving to L.A. She has gone on to star in many acclaimed films, such as “21 Grams”, “The Ring” and “King Kong.” She is dating actor Live Schreiber. They have one son and another child on the way.
  9. Christina Aguilera: Aguilera was born in New York to a father who served as a Sergeant in the U.S. Army and a mother who was a Spanish teacher. Aside from moving around a lot in early childhood, Aguilera has discussed how she, her mother, and her sister were subject to much physical abuse at the hands of her father. Though police would often come to their home to break up domestic disputes, Aguilera says that because many other of her father’s peers in the military abused their families, little was done to punish him. When she was 7, her parents divorced and her mother moved the family to Pittsburgh, where Aguilera’s grandparents lived. There she began singing in local talent shows, making a name for herself in Pittsburgh. Because of this fame, other children resented Aguilera and taunted and shunned her at school. But despite having few friends, Aguilera broke into show business quickly, singing the National Anthem at Pittsburgh Steelers games, getting on Star Search, and eventually getting cast on the Mickey Mouse Club. In 1998, she was chosen to sing the theme song for the Disney movie “Mulan.” Two years later, she released her self-titled debut album, which catapulted on the charts. Aguilera is now a multi-million dollar recording artist, who is also married and just gave birth to her first child.
  10. Jewel: Jewel was born in Utah to a folksinging Mormon father and an artist mother. She was raised mostly by her father in Homer, Alaska, where she lived in a small house without plumbing and sang songs with her father at local bars to make money. Though she had a bohemian and poor upbringing, it was not without its charms. After high school, Jewel lived in her van while she traveled the country, broke, and performed on the street or in small coffeehouses. In 1993, Flea, from The Red Hot Chili Peppers, saw Jewel perform at a café and was mesmerized by her voice. She took him back to her van and played songs for him. But it was an agent in San Diego that actually helped Jewel attain success after hearing her perform at a coffee shop. In 1995, at the age of 19, she released her acclaimed album “Pieces of You.” Her music career skyrocketed after that and she has released several albums, some of which were more successful than others. She has now taken a departure from her folk roots to make country music. She is dating professional bull rider Ty Murray. They live in Texas.

One thought on “Wrong Side of the Tracks: 10 Celebrities who Overcame their Pasts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *