Hollywood is known as the home to the rich and famous, filled with stars who are worth millions upon millions of dollars.
While some were born into that wealth, many others weren’t. There are several actors and singers who were either born into poverty or struggled with it before they caught the break that launched their careers.
Michael J. Fox is the latest celebrity to share this kind of story, revealing that he was dumpster diving before becoming a household name.
In his new documentary, “Still,” he discussed how difficult it was for him to break into Hollywood after dropping out of high school to make the move from his home in Canada when he was just 17 years old.
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Fox admitted it took some time before he landed the role of Alex P. Keaton on “Family Ties,” the job that put him on the map.
As he worked a few small gigs that didn’t pay much, he found himself slowly selling off every piece of furniture in his apartment. He recalled living on a steady diet of McDonald’s and eventually just eating packets of jelly that he’d swipe from restaurants.
“I was living on the margins,” he explained in a recent interview. “I was 18 years old, with no money, no connections, literally dumpster diving for food.”
Unlike Fox, Dolly Parton grew up in extreme poverty, although she’s said she doesn’t look back at her childhood through that lens.
“I think my childhood made me everything I am today,” she said in a 2016 interview with “Entertainment Tonight.” “I would trade nothing for being brought up in the Great Smoky Mountains. I’ve never been ashamed of my people no matter how poor or dirty we might have been. I’ve always loved being from where I am, and having the folks that I’ve had.”
She added, “It’s made me what I am. It’s that spiritual base; it’s that family; love of family; it’s just that simple life, feeling like part of nature.”
Parton was born in 1946, the fourth of 12 children in her family. She grew up in the Smoky Mountains of east Tennessee, and much of her childhood was spent sharing a one-bedroom cabin with her parents and 11 brothers and sisters.
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In a 1978 interview with Playboy, she revealed, “We bathed once a week whether we needed it or not, as the saying goes. When I was in high school, it was a big deal. I had to take a bath every night because I wanted to be clean.”
“The kids peed on me every night,” she continued. “We slept three and four in the bed. I would wash every night. And as soon as I go to bed, the kids would wet on me, and I’d have to get up in the morning and do the same thing.”
Today, Chris Pratt is a global superstar after starring in the “Jurassic World” franchise and becoming a Marvel superhero in the “Guardians of the Galaxy” films. But his life wasn’t always so glamorous.
Pratt had an early interest in acting, taking a community college course in acting after graduating from high school, but never completed his first class. He began doing odd jobs instead, including a very brief stint as a stripper, before moving to Hawaii and living in a van.
While he was homeless, he didn’t particularly mind it, telling The Independent in 2014 that Hawaii was “a pretty awesome place to be homeless.”
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“We just drank and smoked weed and worked minimal hours, 15-20 hours per week, just enough to cover gas, food and fishing supplies,” he said then. “You know, it was a charming time.”
In 2020, he shared that his financial struggles went even further back, mentioning in an Instagram Live video that he and his family sometimes relied on food banks when he was growing up.
“I grew up in a small town, we had 7,000 people in our town, and we had some economic hard times, and we had a food bank nearby and I’m not ashamed to say that there were moments when my family would need to eat from a food bank,” he said while urging his followers to donate to the charity Feeding America at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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“There’s no shame in it – especially right now with what we are going through. There is help out there, and you can find that help and get that help, and there’s nothing wrong with needing that help.”
Shania Twain has been a country icon for decades, but there was a time when she didn’t know where she would get her next meal.
Growing up in a poor family with four other children, Twain recounted in a 2020 interview with The Sun that she’d started working as a singer at just 8 years old, spending late nights playing in bars around town to help her parents out.
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“Before I even graduated from high school, I’d done years of singing Top 40 country, Top 40 rock, folk, every genre,” she said.
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In a “Nightline” interview, she said that despite helping out financially as much as she could, there were still days that she went to school hungry.
“It’s very hard to concentrate when your stomach’s rumbling,” she said. “I would certainly never have humiliated myself enough to reach out and ask for help and say, ‘You know, I’m hungry. Can I have that apple that you’re not going to eat?'” she recounted. “I didn’t have the courage to do that.”
Arnold Schwarzenegger was born in Austria in 1947, and as he explained in a 1997 interview with Johnny Vaughan, “I was poor, because I didn’t have anything. I had no money, I had no things, we had no TV, we had no refrigerator. We had nothing as kids.”
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In a tweet he shared in 2019, he spoke more about his family’s financial situation, revealing that there was also no running water in the home he grew up in with his parents and older brother.
“Here’s a flashback,” he wrote. “I grew up without running water, so I didn’t know what a shower was until I was 15 and joined the gym. This basin and a washcloth was how we bathed.”
He showed a photo for reference, and added, “My brother and I would schlep the water from the well to the house, and then we would all clean ourselves – first my mother, then my father, then my brother, then me. The water was dirty by the time it was our turn but my brother and I weren’t going to schlep back to the well.”
In another interview, he recalled, “We lived in this little house, and there was no food. It was really my mother had to go out and beg for food when she went from farm to farm and beg for food… it was really horrible.”
Leonardo DiCaprio may be one of Hollywood’s biggest stars now, but he spent his childhood years in a very different part of Los Angeles.
“It really was like ‘Taxi Driver’ in a lot of ways… I grew up very poor and I got to see the other side of the spectrum,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 2014, explaining that there was a “major prostitution ring on my street corner, crime and violence everywhere.”
In that area, he said it wasn’t out of the norm to see “people smoking crack and shooting heroin”.
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He wanted out of the situation so badly that he asked his mother to take him to auditions so he didn’t have to go to public school in the area. It ended up working – he got his start as a child actor in sitcoms, then went on to star in films like “This Boy’s Life” and “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” when he was a teenager.
Today, Oprah Winfrey is worth billions of dollars, but she had to put in a lot of hard work to get to this point. Her mother was just a teenager when she had her, and so for the first six years of life, she lived with her grandmother on a farm in Mississippi. Their financial situation was so dire that Winfrey sometimes wore dresses made from potato sacks and had to go to a well because the home didn’t have running water.
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When she was 6 years old, her grandmother became sick and she was sent to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to live with her mother in a boardinghouse. Her mother worked as a maid, but she also struggled financially. She relied on welfare to care for her small family, and after she gave birth to another child and found it too difficult to afford two children, Winfrey was sent to live with her father in Tennessee.
She went back and forth between her parents a couple of times, but ultimately preferred living with her father.
In a 1986 interview with the Washington Post, she said of her time in Milwaukee, “I realized I was poor then. I was bused to school. I’d get on the bus in the evening and go home and the white kids would go to the pizza parlor and drive their cars and stuff.”
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Winfrey said that when she was 14, “I ran away from home. I started acting out my need for attention, my need to be loved. My mother didn’t have the time. She worked every day as a maid. She was one of the maids on those buses. I was smart and my mother, because she didn’t have the time for me, I think, tried to stifle it. If I hadn’t been sent to my father, I would have gone in another direction. I could have made a good criminal. I would have used these same instincts differently.”