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5 celebrities who went from rags to riches

By Brandon Ferdig, Contributing writer
Published On: Aug 02 2011 09:49:29 PM HST
Updated On: Mar 07 2012 09:00:00 PM HST
Empty pockets

Often we're sitting back on our easy-chair watching movies about the trials of some poor chap who struggles through hardships until he gets rewarded in the end. It's a universal tale that gets us every time.

We've all had our difficult times and some of us have our own stories. Well so do many famous folks -- some are the very people you're watching on TV -- or it's the singer we listen to or the author whose novel we curl up with on a snowed-in morning.

Yes, the subjects of the following rags-to-riches stories are particularly compelling because they became famous and their place in the public eye gives them an extra nudge of admiration.

The following are examples of celebrities who made their way for the love of their craft and in the end ... became famous.

Ahead, real life stories with "Hollywood-type" endings, starting with an actor who didn't always have something to laugh about ...

famous dropouts - Jim Carrey

No. 5: Jim Carrey

The world-famous funny man from Canada lived quite a humbling youth. At 15, his father lost his accounting job so his family had to live rent-free in a farmhouse. In exchange they all performed janitorial and security labor at the nearby tire factory.

Later, his mother became seriously ill, so at 16, Carrey dropped out of school to care for her. Soon after, his family was forced to live out of their VW bus.

Despite all this, Carrey's flame for comedy always flickered and when his mother was bedridden, he performed to make her laugh and to raise money. He started working comedy clubs in Toronto and became a success.

When he was 17, he moved to LA, where he caught the eye of Rodney "No Respect" Dangerfield. Eventually, he starred in "In Living Color" and got his breakout role in "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective."

Our next rags-to-riches celeb used to literally sing for her supper ...

Jewel on red carpet 2007

No. 4: Jewel

This north woods songstress was raised in Homer, Alaska -- without indoor plumbing. (Outhouses must be just great in Alaska winters!)

She was encouraged to sing by her father as the two of them would perform in local bars and taverns. That's when she learned how to yodel, crafting a unique vocal style that would make her famous.

But before she got a taste of that fame, Jewel went around the country living out of her van performing wherever she could -- bars, street performances, whatever.

Like so many stories about fame you hear, it was right place right time -- then again, we make our own luck, do we not? Good 'ole Flea from the band Red Hot Chili Peppers happened upon her at the coffee shop she was performing at in San Diego and soon after, she was introduced to an Atlantic Records producer and the rest is history.

Next, we turn to an author with a magical story ...

jk rowling

No. 3: J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling was always a storyteller. When she was 5 years old she wrote her first tale and remembers telling it to her sister. "She fell down a rabbit hole and was fed strawberries by the rabbit family," recalls Rowling.

She was a secretary in London in 1990 when, during a four-hour train delay, came up with the idea of Harry Potter. (Lesson: transportation delays can be inspiring.)

As soon as she made it home, she began to write.

But it wasn't happily ever after quite yet. Soon after this, her mother died, and after moving in with her sister, Rowling was diagnosed with depression. By 1994 she was a single mother living on welfare.

She contemplated suicide. But she also spent hours a day in a nearby coffee shop penning her novel. Sometimes our bottoms are firm ground. From this foundation, Rowling poured out her creativity introducing the world to Harry Potter.

Our next celebrity went from the trailer park to the red carpet ...

Hilary Swank, 2008 Fashion Rocks

No. 2: Hilary Swank

Swank's story is reminiscent of her Oscar-winning role in "Million Dollar Baby" -- a woman waiting tables while training to become a champion boxer, a goal that she will not let not happen.

Swank was born in Nebraska to a secretary and traveling salesman. At the age of 6, her family moved to a trailer park in Washington state. Here, she described much of her upbringing as feeling like an "outsider".

At 13, her parents divorced and she and her mother moved to LA for her acting aspirations. They lived out of their car until they scraped enough money to get an apartment.

She dropped out of school and started supporting the household with acting spots on shows like "Evening Shade" and "Growing Pains." Swank was very athletic throughout school and used this ability to land her breakthrough role in 1994's "The Next Karate Kid."

Our No. 1 rags-to-riches celeb went from one extreme to another ...

oprah

No. 1: Oprah Winfrey

The Queen of Media also proves to be the mother of all rags to riches stories, growing up poor (back when poor was really poor) and working her way to the top heights of wealth, power, and influence -- heck, she got Obama elected!

Winfrey hails from the deep south -- rural Mississippi -- born to a teenage mother. Later, she lived with her grandmother, who made dresses for her out of potato sacks.

Oprah and her mother moved to inner-city Milwaukee when she was 9, where she endured sexual abuse from her extended family. She ran away at 13 and became pregnant at 14, but her baby died shortly thereafter.

That same year, she was sent to live with family friend, Vernon Winfrey, in Tennessee. Here, things turned around for young Winfrey. She did well in school, became a student leader and started her career in media.

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