6. Charlie Chaplin
In 1899, when he was 10 years old, Charlie Chaplin and his brother Sydney were forced to earn their own living. Their father, actor Charles Sr., had died, and their mother, singer and comedienne Hannah, was institutionalized for mental illness.
Chaplin started out as a tap dancer with “The Eight Lancashire Lads,” a London troupe of boys, before landing a role in a stage show, Sherlock Holmes, starring William Gillette. Next, Chaplin embarked on a career in vaudeville as a comedian before immigrating to the United States. There, he joined Mack Sennett and the Keystone Film Company.
After moving to Mutual Film Corporation and starring in a dozen two-reel comedies, Chaplin built his own studio and became an independent producer. In association with United Artists, he made eight movies, including The Gold Rush, City Lights, Modern Times, and The Great Dictator.
The boy who started with little more than the shirt on his back became one of Hollywood’s most successful and enduring stars.
5. Jim Carrey
When his father, Percy, lost his job as an accountant, Jim Carrey was in the eighth grade. The family was plunged into economic uncertainty, and Carrey and his siblings had to go to work. They cleaned the wheel factory in Scarborough, Ontario, where his father had managed to get a job as a security guard. In addition, Carrey worked odd jobs to help make ends meet.
When his father quit working as a security guard, Carrey and his family became homeless and had to live in their Volkswagen camper van. They drove the city by day to seek employment and spent their nights in different parking spaces. Finally, Carrey’s oldest sister prevailed upon them to put their van in her garage and live in a tent in her yard.
In 1977, 15-year-old Carrey embarked upon his career as an entertainer. Dressed in a yellow suit made by his mother, he debuted as a stand-up comic at Toronto’s Yuk Yuk’s club and promptly bombed.
Despite the unsuccessful start, Carrey persisted. He appeared in other Toronto comedy clubs on a regular basis and dropped out of school to devote himself to establishing a career as a professional comedian.
In 1979, he moved to Los Angeles. During a gig at The Comedy Store, Rodney Dangerfield saw his performance and signed Carrey as his opening act. Roles in movies followed.
His breakthrough occurred with Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, which was followed by The Mask, Dumb and Dumber, Liar Liar, and others. Carrey became a proven box office draw, and his homelessness is now an experience in his distant past.
4. Daniel Craig
In the early days of his acting career, Daniel Craig, who would later play British secret agent James Bond, not only waited tables but also slept on park benches at times. In need of money, he accepted a role in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider before he gained national attention as drug pusher Geordie Peacock in the 1996 BBC miniseries Our Friends in the North. As a result, he received a flood of offers for similar parts, all of which he rejected in favor of returning to the stage.
Craig—who has appeared in many plays, television programs, and movies—starred as Bond in the 2006 movie Casino Royale. He also played Agent 007 in three other Bond movies: Quantum of Solace, Skyfall, and Spectre.
Nevertheless, he seems ambivalent about the part. In 2015, he said he’d rather “slash [his] wrists” than take that role again. Later, he hinted that he might change his mind for the money or even continue to play Bond while he’s able to physically.
3. Sylvester Stallone
Today, Sylvester Stallone is a successful, world-famous actor. But during the 1970s, he was homeless at times as he struggled to land roles. Unable to buy food for his family dog, he was forced to sell his canine companion.
“I was at the end—the very end of my rope,” Stallone admitted. The down-and-out actor was inspired by underdog Chuck Wepner, who knocked down Muhammad Ali in a heavyweight championship fight in 1975 when Stallone was in his late twenties. The incident is the basis for Stallone’s Rocky Balboa.
He finished writing the script for Rocky in three days. When producers offered him $350,000 for the screenplay, Stallone insisted he’d sell it only if he played Balboa. His stand was bold: He had only $100 in the bank at the time. To land the deal, Stallone agreed to $35,000 for playing the role and “waived his writing fee.”
The film cost $1.1 million to make. It earned $225 million and established Stallone as an actor. He starred in several sequels, playing the same underdog who went from rags to riches.
2. Halle Berry
In 1987, at age 21, Halle Berry was living on her own in New York City and she was down to her last dollar. She wasn’t particularly worried, though. She’d asked her mother, Judith Ann, for money, and her mother had never turned her down. This time was different. Her mother refused. As a result, Berry had to live in a homeless shelter.
Although Berry refused to talk to her mother for 18 months, she later realized that the incident taught her to become self-sufficient. “I vowed never to ask my mother or anybody for anything, ever,” Berry said. “And I didn’t.” In retrospect, she’s grateful for her mother’s action.
Beauty queen, model, and producer, the Emmy Award–winning actress has starred in a range of films, including 2001’s Monster’s Ball for which she won the 2002 Academy Award for Best Actress. Once penniless and unknown, Berry is now a wealthy celebrity who’s won some of the most prestigious awards in the entertainment business.
1. Hilary Swank
After her parents separated, Hilary Swank and her mother, Judy Kay, moved to Los Angeles, where they made their home in a car as Swank sought a career in show business. They also slept in a friend’s house, although they weren’t allowed to stay there during the day because their friend was selling the house.
Swank and her mother made the best of things. “We got air mattresses. Blew the air mattresses up. Slept on the air mattresses. And left in the morning,” Swank explained. Their homelessness didn’t last long. A few months after her arrival, she landed roles and she and her mother found a more permanent place to live.”
Swank debuted as a movie actress in 1992’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Afterward, she starred in other movies such as The Next Karate Kid and Boys Don’t Cry. She has won Golden Globes and Academy Awards for Best Actress, with her talent taking her from homelessness to wealth, fame, and world acclaim