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Top 10 Famous People Who Grew Up in Poverty


Script written by Sadie Perkins

Who doesn’t love a good rags to riches story? From Jay-Z to Jim Carrey and Shania Twain, many of today’s richest stars actually came from nothing. WatchMojo is counting down the famous people who spent their childhood in poverty.

Special thanks to our users 635535 and mac121mr0 for suggesting this idea! Check out the voting page at http://WatchMojo.comsuggest/Top%2010%20Famous%20People%20Who%20Grew%20Up%20in%20Poverty


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Script written by Sadie Perkins

Top 10 Famous People Who Grew Up in Poverty

Though they may have millions in their bank accounts now, these celebrities grew up pinching their pennies. Welcome to, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Famous People who Grew Up in Poverty.

For this list, we’ll be looking at celebrities who spent their childhood or adolescent years in poverty, not those who struggled with it later on in life. Rougher upbringings that stemmed from financial difficulties will also count.

#10: Jim Carrey

The rubberfaced funnyman didn’t exactly have a childhood to laugh at. Carrey grew up on the lower end of middle class, but was thrust into the world of hard labour and poverty after his father lost his factory job. Taking odd positions as a janitor and a security worker to help his family make ends meet, Carrey eventually dropped out of high school. The comedian was even forced to live in a van temporarily after the family’s meager earnings weren’t enough to keep their house. Though it’s hard to imagine such a happy-go-lucky individual having such a rough start, he managed to make it through.

#9: Jay-Z

Born into the rough, poverty stricken Marcy Projects in Brooklyn, the rap icon was surrounded by drugs and gang violence as a child, Jay-Z turned to rap to both help him cope with his environment and to express many of the emotions he was feeling. Hustling for other drug dealers and selling on his own, the rapper used his earnings to help make ends meet for himself and his family. Now a tycoon in the music and fashion industries, Jay-Z’s music still echoes his humble and difficult beginnings and speaks to the struggles of being poor in the projects.

#8: Shania Twain

Growing up in the isolated community of Timmins, Ontario, Twain spent her earliest days learning to deal with hardships at every corner. Her mother and stepfather frequently fought, and they struggled to put food on the table. Bouncing between homeless shelters and labor intensive work camps, the future superstar scraped by on what she could. At age 8, Twain began singing in bars and earned $20 per late night set, and at 13 caught a bigger break when she performed on the Tommy Hunter Show to a national audience. Twain credits her passion for music as her driving force, and still holds the memory of her humble roots close.

#7: Kendrick Lamar

Never shying away from his rough upbringing in the city of Compton, Lamar grew up subsisting off welfare, and living in state supported housing through the Housing Act of 1937 – otherwise known as Section 8. His family also had ties to numerous gangs in the area, and witnessing violence was a part of his upbringing. Referencing his financial difficulties as a child in his music, Lamar has channeled both the fear and fortitude that he gained in his youth into lyrical works of art. Joining a league of famous rappers from Compton, Kendrick made the best out of a tough situation and became a legend.

#6: Viola Davis

Most of us are lucky enough to know where our next meal comes from… but some don’t share the same privilege. Award winning actress Viola Davis has been vocal about her experience growing up in “abject poverty”, with her experiences ranging from living in rat-infested housing to stealing and dumpster diving for food. A passionate advocate for the eradication of hunger, Davis has since used her difficult upbringing to give a powerful voice to those who have none. Turning a horrible situation into a conversation around the issue of children’s hunger, Davis turned her turmoil into a tool.

#5: Demi Moore

For some, growing up in a world of poverty is only one of many issues. Raised by her alcoholic mother and stepfather, Moore didn't have the brightest, most promising childhood. The actress grew accustomed to moving regularly, as her stepfather frequently switched jobs, which added another level of instability to an already uncertain childhood. Her home life eventually saw her parents separate, her mother have troubles with the law, and her stepfather commit suicide. Crediting her adaptive abilities as an actor to her challenging and unstable earlier years, Moore’s struggles as a child provided a framework for her career.

#4: Eminem

Using an aggressive and honest style of rap to escape his environment, Eminem frequently uprooted between Missouri and Michigan, eventually growing up in a poverty-ridden and divided neighborhood on the edge of Detroit. Struggling in school and often being beaten up between classes, the young pre-fame rapper spent his free time burying himself in songwriting and rap battling. Raised by his single mother in the run-down neighborhood off 8 Mile Road, Eminem’s childhood was spent below the poverty line - a line that marked the beginning of a road to international stardom.

#3: Elvis Presley

Though he is one of the most iconic figures in music history, Presley had the humblest of beginnings. Living in a hastily built two-room house, Presley’s family often depended on welfare and the goodwill of neighbors to help keep them afloat. His father struggled with holding a job and was eventually jailed for fraud, costing the family their home. Through the trials and tribulations of his upbringing, including surviving a tornado in 1936. Presley still found the time to sing and practice on his guitar, and his talent would eventually prove to be his ticket out of the rut he grew up in.

#2: Céline Dion

Being poor means different things to different people. Growing up in a busy household with 13 siblings, Dion’s family scraped by on a very low income, although she remembers it as a happy upbringing. Singing as a child in her family’s piano bar, Céline’s path towards international stardom were humble. Until her manager – and future husband, René Angélil – took the major risk of mortgaging his house in order to produce her first record, money remained an issue for a large portion of Céline’s childhood - of course, that changed she opened her mouth and the world heard that unmistakable voice.

Before we reveal our top pick, here are a few honourable mentions.

Stephen King

Hilary Swank

Tom Cruise

#1: Oprah Winfrey

The talk show host has gone from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs - beginning with a childhood that’s enough to give one nightmares. Struggling with feelings of isolation and abandonment, much of Oprah’s youth was spent with her grandmother, who lived in a poor rural community. With money being tight, she wore potato sacks instead of dresses and reportedly even had a doll made out of an old cob of corn. Suffering sexual and physical abuse from her family, all the while bouncing between living with her mother, father, and grandmother, the television legend has suffered more than most.

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