Dolly Parton grew up in a poor family in rural Appalachia.
From the seedy streets of LA to the Bayview projects, these celebrities and entrepreneurs made it big after coming from nothing.
Here are 21 of the most inspiring rags-to-riches stories.
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Years before Halle Berry won an Oscar, she slept in a homeless shelter. A struggling actress desperately wanting to make it in Hollywood, the star sought out cheaper housing alternatives. She says, however, that her struggles during her early acting career made her stronger in the end.
In an interview with People, Berry said, “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.”
Halle Berry now has a reported net worth of between $70 and $80 million.
Sarah Jessica Parker’s family couldn’t afford electricity or birthday presents. Sarah Jessica Parker.
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Long before Sarah Jessica Parker landed the iconic role of New York writer Carrie Bradshaw on HBO’s “Sex and the City,” she was just a small-town girl from Nelsonville, Ohio.
According to an article by Finances Online, SJP went through a point in her life where her family rarely celebrated birthdays, holidays, or other family occasions. One of nine children, Parker remembered times when the family couldn’t afford to pay for electricity or their phone bill.
Sarah Jessica Parker landed her first Broadway role at age 11, and soon after moved to Hollywood in 1981 to appear on the TV show “Square Pegs.” She also has multiple movie titles under her belt.
Dolly Parton grew up in a poor family in rural Appalachia. Dolly Parton.
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Dolly Parton was born as the fourth of 12 children. Her parents, Robert Lee and Avie Lee Owens, struggled to make ends meet for their large family.
According to a previous article by Insider, Lee was a tobacco farmer and a construction worker who never learned to read or write after leaving school at a young age. Parton’s mother was the daughter of a preacher who devoted her life to raising her children.
However, despite her humble origins, Parton grew up surrounded by musicians who encouraged her ambitions. Her uncle, Bill Owens, got 10-year-old Parton her first gig on “The Cas Walker Show” in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Parton has been in show business for six decades, has had numerous No. 1 hit singles, and has won nine Grammy awards. Her net worth is $37 million as of 2017, Forbes reports, but the singer is definitely generous with her money. Parton recently donated $1 million to help fund a potential COVID-19 vaccine.
Ed Sheeran dropped out of school and slept in subway stations. Ed Sheeran.
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Ed Sheeran is now one of the biggest names in music, but he started off as a struggling artist in London’s bustling music scene.
The singer would often spend nights sleeping in the London Underground train stations or on top of heating vents.
“There was an arch outside Buckingham Palace that has a heating duct and I spent a couple of nights there. That’s where I wrote the song ‘Homeless’ and the lines ‘It’s not a homeless night for me, I’m just home less than I’d like to be,'” Sheeran wrote in his book, “A Visual Journey.”
Once, while playing a gig at a local homeless shelter, he met a drug-addicted prostitute named Angel. Sheeran was so moved by her story that he dedicated his song “The A Team” to her. This song would become one of Sheeran’s first breakout singles, catapulting him into the spotlight.
Sheeran now sells out stadiums across the globe and has a net worth of $64 million.
Leonardo DiCaprio comes from a drug-torn town outside of Los Angeles. Leonardo DiCaprio.
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Before Leonardo DiCaprio was one of the biggest names in Hollywood, with box-office smashes like “Titanic,” “The Revenant,” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” under his belt, he was a poor kid growing up on the outskirts of LA.
The actor claims he saw great poverty, drug use, and violence at a young age, which now allows him to portray the darker side of humanity in his films.
Following backlash for his role in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which critics said glamorized drug use, prostitution, and other “amoral” acts, DiCaprio defended the role by comparing it with his own childhood.
In an interview with The Times, he said, “Who am I to talk about this? It goes back to that neighborhood. It came from the fact that I grew up very poor, and I got to see the other side of the spectrum.”
DiCaprio’s estimated net worth is approximately $260 million.
Arnold Schwarzenegger experienced hunger riots in post-World War II Austria. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
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Before he was in “The Terminator“ and later became the governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger lived without plumbing or a phone.
Growing up in a post-World War II Austrian town, the actor said there were food shortages and riots occurring outside his door regularly.
Now one of the richest action movie stars of all time, Schwarzenegger reportedly has a net worth of $400 million.
Celine Dion grew up in a poor family as one of 14 children. Celine Dion.
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Celine Dion grew up in Canada as the youngest of 14 siblings. Her family went through hard times trying to support Dion and her siblings.
“We were three, four in the same bed,” Dion told CBS News. “I did not have a bedroom. Up the stairs, before going in the bedrooms, there was a little ramp. And my bed was there.”
Eventually, Dion realized her musical abilities and began performing at small local events. She went on to climb to the top of the charts with hits like “My Heart Will Go On” and “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now.”
As her fame rose, so did the star’s net worth. As of October 2020, Dion is valued at a whopping $455 million.
J.K. Rowling was a single mom struggling to make ends meet before she wrote the Harry Potter books. J.K. Rowling.
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Before the idea for “Harry Potter“ famously came to J.K. Rowling in a dream, the writer was a single mother struggling to pay her rent.
Rowling battled depression and other obstacles before becoming one of the most successful female writers in recent history, as well as one of the most beloved British authors of all time — though she has now faced controversy over some “transphobic” statements.
The author’s net worth stands at $60 million, with seven “Harry Potter“ novels and a hugely successful resulting movie franchise to thank for it.
Roman Abramovich was an orphan – now he owns the world’s third-largest yacht. Roman Abramovich.
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Roman Abramovich is known across the globe as a multi-billionaire with stakes in Evraz, Norilsk Nickel, and the UK’s Chelsea soccer team. He also owns the world’s third-largest yacht (which he bought for a cool $400 million in 2010) and has a net worth of $14 billion.
However, before he landed on Forbes’ Billionaires List, he was an orphan growing up in Moscow. Always motivated to make something of himself, Abramovich left college to be an entrepreneur.
He flipped multiple investments in companies such as oil industry giant Sibneft, Russian Aluminum, and steelmaker Evraz Group to turn huge profits.
Multi-billionaire Kenny Troutt’s racehorse won the Triple Crown – but before that, he was the poor son of a bartender. Kenny Troutt.
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Kenny Troutt paid his way through Southern Illinois University by selling insurance on the side while he attended classes. The son of a bartender, Troutt grew up in a poor family.
However, after graduating from college, he would go on to found the long-distance phone company Excel Communications. In 1996, 12 years after he founded the company, he took it public.
In 1998, Kenny Troutt sold Excel Communications to Teleglobe in a $3.5 billion deal. He took the money he made from the deal and reinvested the profits in stocks, bonds, and racehorses.
He currently owns WinStar Farm in Versailles, Kentucky, which has brought forth a Kentucky Derby winner.
Troutt now has a net worth of $1.5 billion.
Oprah Winfrey grew up poor and went to college on a scholarship. Oprah Winfrey.
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Oprah Winfrey was born into a poor Mississippi family in 1954, but that didn’t stop her from achieving unparalleled success. After a traumatic upbringing in which she was abused and molested by two family members and a family friend, she ran away from home at the age of 13. At 14, she gave birth — the child died shortly after.
Always an intelligent and driven young woman, Winfrey was awarded a scholarship to Tennessee State University. Following an appearance in a local beauty pageant, she went on to become the first African-American TV correspondent in the state at the young age of 19.
The acclaimed talk show host later moved to Chicago, where she began work on her very own morning show. It would later be widely known as “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” She was the first woman in history to own and produce her own talk show.
The show aired for 25 seasons, from 1986 to 2011. Since moving on from her talk show, Winfrey has founded OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network.
Her net worth is calculated to be about $2.6 billion, making her one of the richest black women in the world and the first female black billionaire.
John Paul DeJoria sold Christmas cards and newspapers to help support his family. John Paul DeJoria.
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Before he was the mastermind behind shampoo giant John Paul Mitchell Systems and Patron Tequila, John Paul DeJoria was just a first-generation American trying to make it.
After his German and Italian parents divorced when he was 2, he turned to selling Christmas cards and newspapers to help support his family — all before he turned 10 years old.
“We grew up in downtown LA, in the Echo Park area. We didn’t know that we were really going through tough times because everybody was going through the same thing,” he told Forbes. “I remember once in junior high school, on a Friday, my mom came home from work and said to my brother and me, ‘You know, between us, we have only 27 cents, but we have food in the refrigerator, we have our little garden out back, and we’re happy, so we are rich.'”
After taking a job in a Redken factory, DeJoria became intrigued in the shampoo industry. He took a $700 loan from the company and invested it into his own brand, John Paul Mitchell Systems. Going door-to-door selling his product, DeJoria slept in his car, hoping his product would capture buyers’ attention.
John Paul DeJoria has a net worth of $2.7 billion.
Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz grew up in the projects of Canarsie, Brooklyn. Howard Schultz.
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Schultz grew up the son of a truck driver who barely made enough money to make ends meet. Despite growing up in a poor family, he was athletically talented and earned a football scholarship to the University of Northern Michigan. After graduating with a degree in communications, Schultz worked for Xerox.
However, everything changed when he stumbled upon a small coffee shop called Starbucks, which he later joined as an executive.
“[My mother] started crying. She said, ‘A coffee company? Are you crazy? Who’s going to buy coffee?’ But I just felt I had to follow my dreams,” Schultz told the Mirror.
He loved the coffee so much that he went on to become its chief executive in 1987 after leaving Xerox. With Schultz’s help, Starbucks soon grew from a small coffee company with 60 stores to a money-making giant with over 16,000 outlets worldwide.
In June 2018, Schultz stepped down as executive chairman and as a board member of Starbucks. His title is now chairman emeritus.
Howard Schultz’s current net worth is $4.8 billion.
Forever 21 founder Do Won Chang worked as a janitor before he hit it big. Do Won Chang.
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According to Business Insider, in 1981, Jin Sook and Do Won “Don” Chang emigrated from South Korea to Los Angeles in pursuit of success and new opportunities. Penniless, without formal education, and speaking in broken English, the Changs struggled at first.
Originally going into the coffee business, they soon discovered that it was not going to be their ticket to success. For a few years, Don worked as a janitor, pumped gas, and served coffee to make ends meet for him and his family. Everything changed, however, when he made one crucial observation.
“I noticed the people who drove the nicest cars were all in the garment business,” Don told the LA Times in a 2010 interview.
Soon after, he opened a 900-square-foot clothing store called Fashion 21. It would go on to become the fast-fashion retailer Forever 21. Though the store once brought in billions of dollars per year, the retailer has since filed for bankruptcy.
In his high school yearbook, Ralph Lauren answered a question about his future goals with one word: “millionaire.” Ralph Lauren.
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Ralph Lauren always dreamed of being rich and successful. In his 1957 DeWitt Clinton High School yearbook, Ralph Lauren reportedly wrote “millionaire” as one of his greatest life goals — little did he know that he would come to surpass that figure.
The youngest son of Jewish immigrants living in the Bronx, Lauren escaped his own reality by entering into a new one. Young Ralph Lipschitz (he would later change his surname to Lauren) loved movies, and some say that Old Hollywood stars continue to inspire his designs.
“He would literally fall into the fantasies of the movies of that era,” Michael Gross, author of “Genuine Authentic: The Real Life of Ralph Lauren,” told Bloomberg. “He truly did project himself into the scenes in which men like Gary Cooper and Cary Grant were playing. He sees the characters that populate his dreams and visions, and that vision — that ability to step into a fantasy world — Ralph brought to the fashion business.”
Ralph Lauren now has a net worth of $6.6 billion.
Steve Jobs was the child of two immigrants and became a millionaire by age 23. Steve Jobs.
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Though Steve Jobs is now exalted as one of the greatest minds in modern history, he came from humble beginnings.
Jobs’ young, working-class parents struggled to support him and make ends meet. He was soon taken in by another couple, Paul and Clara Jobs. Jobs was fascinated by computers, even at a young age. However, Jobs never liked formal education.
After dropping out of college after his first semester, he started working at video game manufacturing company Atari. A while later, Jobs created the first-ever Apple machine together with Steve Wozniak. The duo funded their entrepreneurial venture through untraditional avenues at first — Jobs sold his Volkswagen bus and Wozniak sold his beloved scientific calculator.
By age 23, Jobs was worth $1 million. He was the youngest person on Forbes’ list of the country’s richest people at the time — no small feat without inheriting any family wealth. He made $10 million by age 24 and crossed the $100 million mark by the time he was 25.
Before he passed away at the age of 56 in 2011, he was reportedly worth $10.2 billion.
Lakshmi Mittal grew up in a poor Indian family in Rajasthan. Lakshmi Mittal.
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Steel industry tycoon Lakshmi Mittal wasn’t always rolling in dough. Rather, he grew up in a poor Indian family near Rajasthan.
According to BBC News, Mittal “established the foundations of his fortune over two decades by doing much of his business in the steel industry equivalent of a discount warehouse.” He bought up parts of other steel companies that were going cheap and transformed them into profitable ventures.
According to Forbes, Mittal is the 10th richest Indian person and has a current net worth of $15.2 billion.
Leonardo Del Vecchio, whose eyeglasses empire makes Ray-Bans and Oakleys, used to be a factory worker. Giorgio Armani (left) and Leonardo Del Vecchio.
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Now a multi-billionaire, Leonardo Del Vecchio grew up as the child of a widowed mother who struggled to make ends meet, and who eventually sent him to an orphanage.
To earn a living, Del Vecchio went to work in a factory making molds for auto parts and eyeglass frames.
At the young age of 23, he opened his very own molding shop. That eyeglass frame shop would become Luxottica, which now manufactures brands like Ray-Ban and Oakley.
Leonardo Del Vecchio’s current net worth is $25.1 billion.
Francois Pinault was teased in school for being poor – now he’s the leader behind luxury goods group PPR, which sells brands Gucci and Stella McCartney. Francois Pinault.
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One noteworthy rags-to-riches tale is that of Francois Pinault. According to Inc, Pinault dropped out of high school in 1947 after he was teased by his classmates for being poor. He then started working at his family’s timber trading business.
Soon, he was buying up smaller firms and flipping them for large payouts, causing others to criticize his “ruthless” work ethic. He went on to start PPR, a luxury goods group.
Pinault’s son, Francois-Henri Pinault, is the honorary chairman and CEO of luxury group Kering, which owns the fashion brands Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen, and Gucci.
Once the richest man in France, Francois Pinault and his family’s current net worth is undeniably impressive. They are calculated to be worth $47 billion.
Sheldon Adelson delivered newspapers before he became a multi-billionaire. Sheldon Adelson.
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Though Sheldon Adelson now has a net worth of a whopping $35.7 billion, he came from humble beginnings.
According to Inc, Adelson grew up the son of a cab driver in Dorchester, Massachusetts. At the young age of 12, Adelson got his first taste of making money by delivering newspapers around his neighborhood.
A Forbes profile of the billionaire claims that after dropping out of the City College of New York, Adelson “built a fortune running vending machines, selling newspaper ads, helping small businesses go public, developing condos, and hosting trade shows.”
After losing a majority of his money in the recession, Adelson earned most of it back and now owns Las Vegas Sands, the largest casino company in the world.
Larry Ellison worked odd jobs in California before founding Oracle. Larry Ellison.
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As the cofounder of Oracle, Larry Ellison holds an impressive net worth of $88 billion. Ellison was born in Brooklyn, New York, to a single mother.
However, according to Inc, he was raised by his aunt and uncle. After his aunt passed away, the future mogul moved to California and made a living by working odd jobs here and there.
Eventually, he founded a small software development company called Oracle in 1977. It is now one of the largest technology companies in the world.