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Top 10 Celebrities Who Never Graduated High School

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Script Written by George Cimurt. School's not for everyone, and these successful celebs proved that a high school diploma isn't always necessary. Join as we count down our picks for the top 10 celebrities who never graduated from high school. For this list, we’re looking at celebrities who decided to follow their dreams instead of their education, or who were forced to leave school because of some sort of hardship. But in their cases it looks like things worked out for the best. Special thanks to our users thrilla04, Danzel Sunny D Curti and suizocomal for submitting the idea on our Suggestion Tool at WatchMojo.comsuggest

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Top 10 Celebrities Who Never Graduated High School

School’s not for everyone, and these successful celebs proved that a high school diploma isn’t always necessary. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10celebrities who never graduated from high school.

For this list, we’re looking at celebrities who decided to follow their dreams instead of their education, or who were forced to leave school because of some sort of hardship. But in their cases it looks like things worked out for the best.

#10: Quentin Tarantino

You may know him as the brilliant screenwriter, actor, producer, and director behind some of modern cinema’s greatest hits, including, “Reservoir Dogs,” “Pulp Fiction” and “Django Unchained.” However, Tarantino’s cinematic background was not learned in school; he dropped out of Narbonne High School sometime after the ninth grade, and decided to take a more hands-on approach to his film education. He subsequently took on a few acting classes, community theatre, worked as an usher at an adult movie theatre and took a video store gig before making it big.

#9: Robert Downey, Jr.

This actor, famous for making Charlie Chaplin and “Iron Man” come to life, and whose charming persona has broken our hearts in films like “Less Than Zero” and busted our guts in films like “Tropic Thunder,” never made it to his graduation. Around the age of 16, this child actor and son of Robert Downey, Sr. dropped out of Santa Monica High School and decided to move back to New York City to pursue acting instead. 1985 turned out to be a breakout year in his post-academic acting career, with roles in films like “Tuff Turf” and “Weird Science” foreshadowing the talent we’ve come to expect from Downey, Jr.

#8: Robert De Niro

Yes, we’re talking about him! Although today he’s considered one of the greatest actors alive with beloved and critically-acclaimed roles in “Raging Bull,” “Taxi Driver,” and “The Godfather II” to name only a few, De Niro’s beginnings were somewhat humble. A child of divorced parents, he drifted from school to school in his youth, but even at a young age displayed his aptitude for acting. Before turning 17, Bobby D decided to drop out of high school entirely, and instead studied acting at the Stella Adler Conservatory and Lee Strasberg's Actors Studio. The rest is history.

#7: Nicolas Cage

The nephew of director Francis Ford Coppola, Cage has shown that he can hold his own without using his famous family name with his award-winning performance in “Leaving Las Vegas,” as well as appearances in smash hits like “The Rock” and “National Treasure.” However, few know that at the age of 16, the young Nicolas Coppola, obsessed with James Dean and with dreams of acting, dropped out of Beverly Hills High School. Early on his career, he changed his last name to Cage, and before long he landed a minor role in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”

#6: Tom Cruise

Can you picture this handsome and successful actor sitting with you…in a confessional? That’s almost what happened to Cruise, who grew up in near poverty in an abusive family and who moved to over a dozen different schools in his childhood. Although he enjoyed playing sports like floor hockey and football, his real aspiration was to become a Catholic priest, going so far as to study at a seminary. But by his mid-teens, this dyslexic student left academics altogether to pursue acting in New York City. His first bit part was in 1981’s “Endless Love,” and it was only a few years later that films like “Risky Business” and “Top Gun” made him a superstar.

#5: Hilary Swank

At a young age, the athletic Swank was busy; between school, community theatre programs, gymnastics, the Junior Olympics and the Washington state swimming championships, she didn’t have time for much else. After the separation of her parents, however, Swank went with her mother to Los Angeles to pursue acting. Though she initially went to South Pasadena High School, her feeling of isolation from her fellow students finally compelled her to leave. She probably doesn’t look back at her choice with regret; after her first leading role in “The Next Karate Kid,” she has since won two Academy Awards.

#4: Jim Carrey

Imagine having this comedy legend in your class! Yes, Carrey was a class clown – go figure! – who got straight-As back in his day. However, with the onset of hard times, a 15-year-old Carrey was compelled to leave high school and work as a janitor to help take care of his family. It was only later that he chose to give comedy a try, and are we ever glad he did?! This choice led to hilarious classics like “Dumb and Dumber” and “Ace Ventura,” as well as more serious ventures such as “The Truman Show” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”

#3: Diana, Princess of Wales

Just ‘cause you’re a princess doesn’t mean you’re a high-honors graduate! Diana Spencer, who later became the beloved Princess of Wales, was not considered a very good student at West Heath Girls’ School. In fact, when attempting to complete her O-level exams, a series of tests given to high school students in England to determine their academic ability, she managed to fail all of them – twice. Despite moving to a finishing school in Switzerland, she never finished; the 19-year-old became engaged to Prince Charles and quickly married him, eventually using her newfound status to champion humanitarian causes.

#2: Nicole Kidman

When her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, the 17-year-old Kidman dropped out of high school to help provide for her family by working in massage therapy. Shortly after, she decided to pursue a career in acting, inspired by Margaret Hamilton’s portrayal of the Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz,” and ended up going back to school to study her craft. Although naturally shy, she went on to make her debut in an Australian remake of the film “Bush Christmas,” though her breakthrough, internationally-acclaimed role was a few years later in “Dead Calm.”

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honourable mentions:
- Wolfgang Puck
- Cameron Diaz
- Katy Perry
- Gisele Bündchen

#1: Richard Branson

Surely any billionaire must have made his money thanks to years of intense schooling, right? Well, maybe not. This poor student, who suffered from dyslexia and subsequently received poor grades, eventually dropped out to start up his own magazine at the age of 16, then a mail order record business by the age of 20, and eventually a chain of record stores called Virgin Records. Today, he’s the proud founder and face of Virgin Group, a multinational comprising over 400 companies, and one of the top 10 richest people in the UK, fulfilling the prophecy of the schoolmaster who told him that he would either end up in jail or become a millionaire.

Do you agree with our list? Which high school celebrity dropouts do you envy the most? For more fascinating top 10s published every day, be sure to subscribe to

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