Unlike many rich people living today, Hollywood actors are usually self-made millionaires, meaning that they acquired their fortune using nothing but their talents – coupled with years and years of hard work and perseverance. Since many of these individuals once lived average lives, this is why most actors seem exceedingly down to earth and are more than happy to donate money to various charities or back to their hometowns.
While most actors grew up in what we would call “normal” households, there were others who grew up in extreme poverty, where they were forced to live in a car or out on the streets, with some even having to worry about where their next meal would come from. While some of these individuals found themselves strapped for cash because they wanted to do nothing else but become a successful actor, others were born into it, inheriting the financial turmoil passed down by their parents. And as we know all too well, extreme poverty is often coupled with other severe problems, including drug and alcohol addiction, and domestic abuse.
Yet somehow, these actors were miraculously able to work through their unfortunate upbringings and literally go from rags to riches.
Here are 15 Actors You Didn’t Know Were Unbelievably Poor.
15. Chris Pratt
Though he’s now the face of the Jurassic Park franchise and one of the many leading men of the MCU, most viewers probably became familiar with Chris Pratt when he played Andy Dwyer, the character who lived in a dirt pit on the NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation. However, this wasn’t far removed from the actor’s real life living situation after Pratt found himself living homeless in Hawaii.
When he was three, Pratt moved with his family from Minnesota to Lake Stevens, Washington, where he would go on to graduate high school in 1997. However, Pratt found himself in financial turmoil after he dropped out of community college, where he ended up working as a daytime stripper before ultimately living out of a van and sleeping in a tent in Maui, Hawaii.
After that, Pratt became extremely lucky when he was discovered by a Hollywood actress/director who decided to cast him in a short horror movie, and the actor began to get other bit parts for the next decade before hitting it big with WB drama Everwood.
14. Selena Gomez
Though better known for her singing career, Selena Gomez has starred in a number of feature films to date, including Spring Breakers, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, and the Hotel Transylvania series, where she supplies the voice of Mavis. In fact, the 25-year-old has even branched out into producing, as she served as an executive producer on the popular Netflix series 13 Reasons Why.
Even though Gomez now has a projected net worth of $50 million, the entertainer grew up in extreme poverty, recalling a time when she and her mother had to search for change just to put gas in the car.
Born in 1992 to a 16-year-old mother, Gomez grew up in Texas and was raised largely by her mother and grandparents after her parents divorced when she was just five. Gomez recalls her mom working multiple jobs just to scrape by, as well as eating spaghetti for dinner on a regular basis.
Fortunately, it didn’t take long before Gomez was able to make her way into the entertainment industry, landing a role on Barney and Friends in 2002 before hitting it big with a recurring character on Hannah Montana at the age of 15.
13. Shia LaBeouf
Shia LaBeouf had a rather eccentric upbringing, which may help explain the actor’s bizarre off-screen antics which often find him getting into trouble with the law.
Born in Los Angeles, California in 1986, LaBeouf has called both of his parents hippies, with his mom having various artistic jobs and his father being a Vietnam veteran who struggled with severe drug addiction. LaBeouf would accompany his father to AA meetings, and he even recalled an instance where his father pointed a gun at him while suffering from PTSD.
LaBeouf’s parents would eventually divorce over financial disagreements, and at one point LaBeouf’s uncle was planning to adopt him because his parents were struggling so badly.
Though the actor has been notoriously difficult to work with, he continues to land various roles in more independent pictures, and LaBeouf has stated that he now uses his good fortune to help both of his parents out financially.
12. Hilary Swank
Despite both of her parents having decent paying jobs, with her mom working as a secretary and her father serving in the Oregon Air National Guard, Hilary Swank found herself living out of a trailer in Bellingham, Washington at the age of six.
However, conditions got even worse for Swank when her parents divorced when she was 15, and her mother and her moved to Los Angeles so Swank could continue to pursue a career in acting. Here, the two were forced to live out of a car until her mother accumulated enough money to move them into an apartment.
Swank slowly began to get bit parts in low budget films and TV series. But even when the actress received critical acclaim by winning the Academy Award for Best Actress in Boys Don’t Cry, Swank was reportedly only paid $3,000 for her work in the film! Happily, we’re sure the actresses finances have substantially improved in the 17 years since then.
11. Mark Wahlberg
Though Mark Wahlberg was born the youngest of nine children to a lower income family living near Boston, Massachusetts, the actor’s previous life of crime easily overshadows any of his family’s financial troubles.
After Wahlberg’s parents divorced when he was eleven, his brothers and sisters moved into a cramped three bedroom apartment, where his mother admits that she did not give each of her children the attention they deserved. At the age of 13, Wahlberg became addicted to cocaine and decided to drop out of school the following year to pursue a life in crime. Just three years later, Wahlberg was charged with attempted murder after assaulting a middle aged Vietnamese man without being provoked.
After spending a short amount of time behind bars, Wahlberg began to slowly turn his life around, which led to a music and modeling career that Wahlberg was eventually able to parlay into some smaller film roles. Today, Wahlberg has been rather open and remorseful about his past life living in poverty and crime.
10. Jim Carrey
Born and raised in Ontario, Canada, Jim Carrey was the youngest of four siblings raised in a Roman Catholic family by parents Kathleen and Percy Carrey. In a number of interviews, Carrey has stated that at one point his family was so poor that all five of them resorted to living out of a car, but when pressed on the issue Carrey said that he doesn’t think about the time negatively, but rather has seen his upbringing as a situation that has made him more resilient.
It was clear at a young age that Carrey wanted to be an entertainer, writing a letter to Carol Burnett at the age of ten asking her for a role on her series. Despite the family’s financial turmoil, Carrey’s father insisted on driving his son into Toronto, where Carrey began to develop a reputation as an up-and-coming standup comedian at the comedy club Yuk Yuk’s.
After a time, Carrey was hired to open for legendary comedian Rodney Dangerfield, which would eventually lead Carrey to Hollywood where he would become one of the highest paid actors of his generation.
9. Sylvester Stallone
Born in 1946 in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City, Sylvester Stallone shot to stardom after starring in the 1976 film Rocky, which was nominated for 10 Academy Awards and went on to win Best Picture of the Year. Stallone wrote the script for the film in just three days and refused to sell the rights to it unless the studio agreed to let him play the title character. Therefore, the film was made on a relatively modest budget of just $1.1 million, yet went on to gross a quarter of a billion.
However, Stallone suffered plenty of failures before hitting it big with Rocky. While pursuing a career in acting in the early ‘70s, Stallone was evicted from his NYC apartment and resorted to sleeping in the Port Authority Bus Terminal for a number of weeks. Here, the hopeful actor found a casting notice for a soft-core adult film, titled The Party at Kitty and Stud’s, and decided to take the part in desperation for money, earning him $200 for two days of filming.
8. Halle Berry
Raised in a tumultuous household, Halle Berry recalls watching her mother being abused by her father on a daily basis before her parents ultimately divorced when she was just four years old. From there, Berry and her older sister were raised by their mother while living in Ohio, where Berry would graduate high school as an honors student before going on to win Miss Ohio USA in 1986.
Three years later, Berry moved to the Big Apple to pursue a career in acting, but she quickly ran out of money and ended up sleeping in the YMCA and a homeless shelter for a brief time. Fortunately, things began to quickly turn around for Berry when she landed roles on the television series Living Dolls and Knots Landing, and by 1991 she had successfully made the jump to feature films.
To date, Berry is the only African American to win the Oscar for Best Actress, which was awarded to her for her performance in the 2001 film Monster’s Ball.
7. Billy Bob Thornton
Born in 1955, Billy Bob Thornton grew up in the backwoods of Arkansas, often living in a shack that didn’t even have running water or electricity. By his own account, Thornton suffered at the hands of his severely abusive father, who failed to support his family before dying of lung cancer when Thornton was just 18. Despite all of this, Thornton managed to graduate high school in 1973, and even attended a state college in Arkansas before dropping out and eventually moving to Los Angeles.
Struggling to break into acting, Thornton resorted to working a number of odd jobs to get by. In the late ‘80s, Thornton finally began landing smaller parts in movies and TV series, but he would not reach mainstream success until the 1990s, starring in Tombstone, Indecent Proposal, and Armageddon.
In 1996, Thornton received critical acclaim for writing, directing, and starring in Sling Blade, a film set in rural Arkansas that dealt with many of the same issues from Thornton’s childhood, including abuse, poverty, and mental illness.
6. Demi Moore
Once the highest-paid actress of all time, Demi Moore had an unfortunate upbringing that was wrought with financial instability and health problems. Before Moore was even born, her biological father left her mother after just two months of marriage.
Moore was born cross-eyed, which would take two surgeries to correct, and she also developed a kidney dysfunction which led to numerous hospitalizations. Though Moore’s mother remarried when her daughter was three, the match was far from idyllic, as Moore remembers the household being filled with abuse and alcoholism, which eventually resulted in Moore’s stepfather committing suicide in 1980.
Fortunately, Moore was able to break free from her tumultuous upbringing and signed a modeling contract at 16, which required her to move to Europe. Just a few years later, Moore began popping up in various TV series, including General Hospital, before she broke into film work. Then in 1996 Moore was given a salary of $12.5 million to star in Striptease, breaking the record for the highest-paid actress of all-time.
5. Daniel Craig
We’re so used to seeing Daniel Craig dressed up in a dapper tuxedo for his various James Bond films, that it’s hard to imagine that the actor was once homeless while living in London.
Born in Cheshire, England in 1968, Craig was mostly raised by his mother and old sister after his parents divorced when he was only four. At the age of 6, Craig had already become interested in acting, and he appeared in numerous stage production throughout middle and high school.
Though Craig was eventually able to study acting at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the actor fell on hard times trying to make it big in London and resorted to waiter jobs and even sleeping on park benches at night.
However, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the actor’s career took a turn for the better, where he landed smaller roles in films alongside already accomplished actors such as Tom Hanks and Angelina Jolie, which he parlayed into an A-list career for himself. Today, Craig currently has an estimated net worth of $95 million.
4. Viola Davis
Now an Academy Award-winning actress with an estimated net worth of $12 million, Viola Davis grew up in Central Falls, Rhode Island, where Davis literally spent her childhood trying to feed herself.
While at a speaking engagement for the charity Hunger Is, Davis shared her own experience, stating, “I’ve stolen for food, I’ve jumped in huge garbage gins with maggots for food, I have befriended people in the neighborhood who I knew had mothers who cooked three meals a day for food.” While the actress also mentioned that she still has many happy memories of her childhood, she also admitted that she spent much of that time living in shame.
Now that the actress has become one of the most critically acclaimed of her generation for her work on both the stage and the screen, Davis has used her good fortune to give back to those also growing up in abject poverty as she once did.
3. Tom Cruise
Born on July 3, 1962, in Syracuse, New York, Cruise spent most of his adolescence moving around different parts of Canada, Ohio, and New Jersey, attending 15 different schools in just 14 years. By his own admission, Cruise’s father was a “bully and a coward,” and the type of person who would lash out when he didn’t get what he wanted. This caused Cruise’s parents to divorce in 1974, leaving his mother to take care of Tom and his three sisters. On top of this, Cruise admits to being bullied in school, where he also suffered from dyslexia which contributed to poor grades.
However, the future actor was able to find solace in athletics and drama, and although Cruise would briefly attend a Franciscan seminary with the hopes of becoming a Catholic priest, he eventually decided to pursue acting as a full-time career.
In 1981, at the age of 19, Cruise landed a small part in Endless Love, and in a matter of just five years, the actor starred in both Risky Business and Top Gun, making Tom Cruise a household name and no doubt ending the actor’s financial hardships.
2. Leonardo DiCaprio
Even though Leonardo DiCaprio had relatively early success with his appearances on the hit shows Roseanne and Growing Pains, the actor spent a number of years living in some of Los Angeles’s lower income neighborhoods. Here, DiCaprio got an early glimpse of the high toll that drug addiction can take, which is one of the reasons that the actor says he never fell into a pattern of substance abuse like a number of other child actors of his generation.
Born in Los Angeles in 1974, DiCaprio’s parents separated when their son was just a year old, leaving DiCaprio to mostly be raised by his mother who was forced to work multiple jobs while the two lived in Echo Park and Los Feliz.
Though DiCaprio managed to get small acting jobs throughout his adolescents doing commercials and TV guest appearances, the actor didn’t get his first big break until the early ‘90s, where he stole the show in both This Boy’s Life and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. Then, just a few short years later, DiCaprio starred in Titanic with an estimated salary of $2.5 million, which secured the actor as a Hollywood A-lister for decades to come.
1. Oprah Winfrey
Though Oprah Winfrey is better known for being a talk show host and a massively successful media mogul, Winfrey has still had an accomplished acting career in its own right, with a number of film roles currently in the works, on top of her Academy Award nomination for 1985’s The Color Purple.
Winfrey had a notoriously rough upbringing. She was born to a teenage mother and spent her earlier years largely raised by her grandmother in a rural and economically depressed area of Milwaukee. Winfrey had to wear clothes made of potato sacks and recalls her only friends being the farm animals. On top of the financial strife, Winfrey’s childhood was filled with physical and sexual abuse, which resulted in Winfrey running away from home at the age of 13.
Miraculously, Winfrey was able to overcome her burdensome childhood and adolescents, and after a long career as a newscaster, talk show host, and actress, Winfrey has an astounding net worth of $3.1 billion.
So which actor were you surprised to learn lived in poverty? Let us know in the comments.
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