We might only know celebrities and stars by their larger-than-life public personas, but these are people with real stories and histories. Not every celebrity was born with a silver spoon in his or her mouth. Unless they came from a dynastic celebrity family, these famous people had to work hard to get to where they are today.
Oftentimes, that means spending some uncomfortable amount of time wondering what you’re doing with your life, where you’ll end up, and how to move forward…things we all have to ponder at one point or another. And oftentimes, that means spending a certain amount of time living on couches, at friends’ houses, and in cars.
I remember, when I was younger, hearing that The Beatles were an overnight success 10 years in the making. What that means is they were playing clubs and small gigs before they got their big break. I’m a firm believer that no overnight successes actually happened overnight. These actors and musicians and creatives had to work hard to make their success.
Sure, now they might be worth seven, eight, even nine figures, but that wasn’t always the case. It’s usually one defining, lucky moment that set their careers in motion: a lucky audition, or discovery by a more famous person. But before that lucky break, these celebrities were surrounded by bleakness, while living on the edge, when all hope seems lost. And then they saw the light… from their car window, perhaps.
Here are 21 celebrities who once lived in their cars.
21 Lil' Kim – Net Worth $1.5 Million
Okay, that negative-one-point-five million is a little misleading. Rapper Lil' Kim was worth about $18 million up until recently, but just this year she filed for being broke, a move that astounded pretty much everyone and put the tabloid media in a frenzy. Lil' Kim had a rough upbringing. Her parents separated when she was a child, and she lived with her dad, who kicked her out of the house when she was a teen. She lived on the streets, in cars, and on friends’ couches. She met Biggie Smalls, eventually, and the rest is history, as she became one of the most influential women in the genre after that.
20 Jim Carrey – Net Worth $150 Million
Funnyman Jim Carrey has had his ups and downs in life, but certainly more ups than downs in recent years. But according to his biography, the comedian dropped out of high school and lived in a VW bus with his family, parking in different places while he was growing up in Canada. He and his family eventually moved into a tent on his older sister’s lawn and parked the van in the driveway. During these tough financial times, he developed his sense of humor and went on to star in films like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Dumb and Dumber, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Mask, and many, many more classics.
19 Kelly Clarkson – Net Worth $28 Million
Kelly Clarkson got her big break in 2002, becoming the first winner of American Idol, which skyrocketed her singing career. The "Heartbeat Song” singer is now reportedly worth $28 million, but she grew up poor in a small Texas town. After high school, she came to Los Angeles to shop around her demo tape. Her apartment actually burned down, and the then-32-year-old singer briefly lived in her car before retreating to Texas, defeated. She finally got her break when she heard about an audition for a new reality singing competition, American Idol. Her life quickly changed after that, as did her financial hardship.
18 Dr. Phil McGraw – Net Worth $400 Million
When Phil McGraw, aka Dr. Phil, was just 12 years old, he was homeless and living in a car in Kansas City with his father, who was interning as a psychologist (as reported by BusinessPundit). McGraw would obtain his own bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D., before joining his father’s psychology practice in Texas. In the 1990s, Oprah Winfrey invited McGraw on her show, and he became a regular on Oprah until he eventually launched his own syndicated advice program. In 2013, the psychologist-turned-TV-host earned $79 million, making him the highest-paid TV host in the world, according to Forbes, beating out others like Ellen DeGeneres, Jerry Springer, and even Oprah Winfrey herself.
17 David Letterman – Net Worth $400 Million
David Letterman has had a renaissance in recent times, with his hit Netflix show, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction. But for 30 years he was the host of both Late Night and Late Show with David Letterman, surpassing Johnny Carson as the longest-running late-night talk show host in 2013. He’s been “retired” for three years but hasn’t stayed quiet. When he first moved from Indiana to LA in search of fame, he drove a 1973 Chevy pickup and lived in it. It wasn’t long before he was writing jokes for big comedians, which helped kick his career off in a big way. Now he’s worth almost half a billion dollars!
16 Jewel – Net Worth $30 Million
Some people of the newer generation might not even know what Jewel is famous for, but she’s a huge deal for anyone who grew up in the 1990s. She’s sold 27 million albums worldwide and is a reality show judge, but she scored her first big hit with 1995’s “Who Will Save Your Soul?” She grew up in a house in Alaska without plumbing. At 18, the folksy singer lived in her car for a year, where she drove from city to city to play gigs, before she landed a record deal. She’s said, “Money will not make you happy, but it takes away a lot of stress,” according to ET Online.
15 Suze Orman – Net Worth $30 Million
Suze Orman is best known for being a financial guru and an Emmy winner (in 2002, for Outstanding Service Show Host: The Suze Orman Show). She’s also published numerous New York Times bestsellers, but before she became super wealthy, she couldn’t even afford to move out of her van when she first moved to Berkeley, California, back in the 1970s, according to The Huffington Post. For two months during that time, Orman and a friend of hers took a job clearing trees for $3.50 an hour, while they lived out of Orman’s van. Today, of course, she gives tips on how to make your own millions.
14 Sally Jessy Raphael – Net Worth $30 Million
Sally Ray Lowenthal, better known as Sally Jessy Raphael, is a former talk show host who is best known for her show Sally, originally titled The Sally Jessy Raphael Show, which she hosted for two decades. She’s also known for her bright red, oversized glasses that she wore at all public appearances. In all, there have been 3,820 episodes of Sally, which aired from 1983 to 2002. But the 83-year-old didn’t always live a successful life. According to her autobiography, the talk show host lived in her car for a time while working toward her big break. We wonder if she still wore those iconic red glasses while living in her car.
13 Chris Pratt – Net Worth $40 Million
Before Chris Pratt was making everyone laugh as the lovable, affable Andy Dwyer on Parks and Recreation, or gifting us with his action roles as Star-Lord (in Guardians of the Galaxy) and in Jurassic World, he lived a not-so-glamorous life. At 19, Pratt was living in Maui, Hawaii, next to a friend’s house in a flea and mice-infested van. He told The Independent that his setup was “pretty awesome.” So even back then, you just couldn’t keep the guy down. He worked 15-20 hours a week, just enough to cover gas, food, and fishing supplies. “It was a charming time,” he told The Independent.
12 Hilary Swank – Net Worth $40 Million
Hilary Swank is an Academy Award-winning actress who lived in a trailer park growing up (according to Time) before moving to California with her mom as a teenager to pursue an acting career. Before she landed any roles, she lived in a car with her mom and squatted in an empty house for a few months. She told CBS News, “We had a friend who was selling their house. And so they said, ‘You know, there’s no furniture, but you can stay there at night.’” They slept on air mattresses and left every morning. By the age of 30, she’d won two Oscars, first for Best Actress in Boys Don’t Cry (2000), then for Million Dollar Baby (2005).
11 Debbie Reynolds – Net Worth $85 Million
Debbie Reynolds was a hugely popular actress for almost 70 years, first being nominated for a Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer for her 1950 portrayal of Helen Kane in Three Little Words. Her breakout role was as Kathy Selden in Singin’ in the Rain (1952). Reynolds was also a successful businesswoman, film historian, and humanitarian. She lost her husband, Eddie Fisher, to Elizabeth Taylor, and ended up living in her Cadillac early in her career after another husband stole her money and property. She had her ups and downs, but they were never bad enough to make her live in a car again before she sadly passed away in 2016 at the age of 84.
10 William Shatner – Net Worth $100 Million
First off, can you believe William Shatner is 87 years old? The man doesn’t age. Sorry, I just found that out. Anyway, the Star Trek star is worth around $100 million today, but it wasn’t always that way. And even more surprising, he actually lived in a truck AFTER his Star Trek success. Though the series was hugely popular, Shatner has said it didn’t pay very well. After a bad divorce and three kids to support, the TV star had to find work in summer stock and struggled to make ends meet, living in a truck outfitted with a stove and toilet, where he drove from theater to theater. The Star Trek films and other roles eventually got him back on his feet.
9 Steve Harvey – Net Worth $160 Million
Steve Harvey is a Jack of all trades: TV personality, actor, author, comedian. Harvey told People Magazine that when he was just starting out as a comedian in the 1980s, “one or two gigs fell through,” and he found himself homeless. Such is the life of a standup comedian. People Magazine reported that Harvey lived in his 1976 Ford Tempo for three whole years! He would wash up in hotel bathrooms, gas stations, or swimming pool showers. Finally, he was called to appear on “Showtime at the Apollo,” and the gig turned out to be Harvey’s big break. Today, he appears on just about everything, it seems, and he has an annual income of $40 million, mostly for hosting shows.
8 Drew Carey – Net Worth $165 Million
It might seem a bit surprising that Drew Carey is worth nine figures. Can hosting a show like The Price Is Right or The Drew Carey Show really bring in that much money? Well, yes. Before he was the star host of those shows, he was a comedian living in Cleveland, trying to get booked on The Tonight Show, whose host, Johnny Carson, was known for making comedians’ careers. He headed to Los Angeles and lived in his car for a year and a half until he finally got the call. And he didn’t blow his chance: the set went well, Carson laughed a lot, invited Carey to the couch to chat, and effectively created a superstar.
7 Tyler Perry – Net Worth $600 Million
For a comedian who makes movies that are usually panned by critics worldwide, Tyler Perry has created a veritable Hollywood empire for himself. The actor and director, now 45, is famous for comedy flicks that have his name in the title, and together his 20 or so films have grossed $1.127 billion at the box office. But life wasn’t always so easy for Perry. At one point, he spent every penny he had trying to stage his landmark musical, I Know I’ve Been Changed, which forced him to be homeless for six years. During some of that time, he lived in his car. As he told Essence Magazine, “Can you imagine a six-foot-five man sleeping in a Geo Metro?”
6 James Cameron – Net Worth $700 Million
Mega-director and producer James Cameron wasn’t always living with nine figures in his bank account. Before producing and directing some of the most famous box office blockbusters, namely Titanic and Avatar (the number 1 and number 2 highest-grossing movies of all time, with Avatar bringing in $2.78 billion and Titanic bringing in $2.18 billion), he was working on The Terminator. He was “Barely making ends meet, even living in my car for a time,” he told IGN. Studios liked The Terminator but didn’t want him in charge, so he teamed up with producer Gale Anne Hurd, who bought the rights to the screenplay for $1 and named Cameron director. The film brought in $77 million worldwide, and the rest is history.
5 Jim Morrison – Net Worth $2.4 Million
Jim Morrison is famous for being the elusive, powerful vocalist and frontman of The Doors. He’s also famous for being part of the “27 Club” (if you don’t know what that is, look it up). His distinctive persona and bad-boy attitude made him famous, as well as the songs he wrote, and when he passed away in 1971 he was worth $400,000, or about $2.4 million today. Had he lived, that number would be much, much higher. Before he became a famous frontman, he lived on rooftops, on couches, and in cars in Venice Beach, Los Angeles. Today, Morrison is considered one of the most influential icons in rock history, having represented the generational gap and youth counterculture.
4 Danny Bonaduce – Net Worth $3 Million
Danny Bonaduce is a name that many people might not recognize, but the 59-year-old actor was once a child star in the 1970s, known for his role on the TV sitcom, The Partridge Family. He has starred in several other TV series since then, such as the 2005 reality show, Breaking Bonaduce, and has partaken in radio shows and morning talk and music shows. He never completed the transition from child actor, but he’s still worth seven figures. Long after the Partridge family, he spiraled into addiction, his money vanished, and he lived in his car behind a dumpster. He made his TV comeback on reality shows, got clean, and now has a radio show in Seattle.
3 Sam Worthington – Now Worth $26 Million
Though he kind of fell off the map a little after his breakthrough role in James Cameron’s Avatar, Sam Worthington is still worth about $26 million today. The actor has also starred in films such as The Shack (2017), the Clash of the Titans franchise, and he’ll be in all 36 upcoming Avatar sequels (an exaggerated number of sequels, maybe). Before all that game, the Australian actor was an unemployed actor, who admitted he once, “Sold everything I owned and was just living in the car, basically, not doing much,” according to Empire Online. The audition for Avatar changed his life and in 2014, he listed his Hawaii mansion for a whopping $6.5 million.
2 John Paul DeJoria - Net Worth $2.6 Billion
You might not have even heard of the wealthiest person on this list, but if you know anything about the fashion industry, you’ll have heard of John Paul DeJoria. His hair products and salons have made him quite rich, worth 10 figures, but before all his fame and fortune, he couldn’t even pay rent. A particularly bitter divorce left him nearly destitute, and DeJoria lived in his car in Los Angeles while he and his hairdresser friend, Mitchell, started a little company with just $700 in the 1970s. He’s now a billionaire several times over. And in case you couldn’t tell, or if the suspense was killing you, DeJoria is the co-founder of Paul Mitchell.
1 Colonel Sanders – Net Worth $15 Billion
Today, there are more than 20,000 KFC outlets across 125 countries. Colonel Sanders always looked like the perennial businessman, but that wasn’t always the case. Seventy years ago, Sanders created a chicken recipe of secret herbs and spices. During the Great Depression, Sanders sold fried chicken from a restaurant in Kentucky. After the restaurant closed, Sanders spent his 60s unsuccessfully peddling his fried chicken recipe to restaurants, all the while sleeping in his car. In 1959, he opened a restaurant in Shelbyville, which rapidly grew and became one of the first international fast food chains. When he passed away in 1980 at the age of 90, he was worth $3.5 million. But KFC has an estimated net worth of $15 billion, as of 2013.
Sources: Business Insider, ET Online, The Stir, and The Independent.