Celebs Who Were Born Into Poverty

Ashley Hunte
A person pulling a dollar bill out of a wallet.
Unsplash | Allef Vinicius

Celebrities work pretty hard to be the beloved public figures we see them as today. And sure, many of them are born into wealth and stardom. But a lot of them came from much humbler beginnings.

In fact, there were many celebrities who grew up in poverty. In this list, we'll talk about just a few of them.

Jennifer Lopez.

Whenever J.Lo calls herself "Jenny from the block," she's referring to her childhood and upbringing in the Bronx. Though she's an incredibly celebrated dancer, singer, and actress today, she hasn't forgotten where she came from.

When she was pregnant with her twins, Lopez talked about her dreams for them with her sister, who was also pregnant at the time.

"It was just like when we were kids, sharing a bedroom in the Bronx—sharing a bed in the Bronx with our other sister, all three of us!—talking about our hopes and dreams," she said.

Kelly Clarkson.

Winning the very first season of American Idol changed Kelly Clarkson's life in a lot of ways.

In discussing her upbringing, she said, "We lived pre-pay check to pre-pay check. So I definitely had this whole mentality, I was like, whatever I'm gonna do, I just don't wanna have to worry that."

"I always used to hate when people would be like, money doesn't buy everything, when you are little and poor."

"Rich people say that. Not poor people, I don't know one poor person that's going, 'money doesn't buy happiness,' it pays you to get out of eviction notices."

Leighton Meester

Meester's life started out pretty abnormally, as her mother gave birth to her while in the middle of serving a prison sentence for drug trafficking. When her mother was released, the two had a less-than-ideal standard of living.

In spite of this, she views her childhood positively.

"You can take what is handed to you and use it as an excuse to mess up," the Gossip Girl alum said. "But I've always handled what was given to me by life. I consider myself lucky. I was never lied to. And I was loved."

Leonardo DiCaprio.

Before becoming a mega successful, Oscar-winning actor, DiCaprio's life was filled with a lot more struggle. He recalled that the area in which he grew up was wrought with drug crime and sex workers at the time.

He also recalled getting a private school scholarship, which showed him how people with wealth lived.

Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby in a film adaptation of The Great Gatsby.
Giphy | HBO Max

He said, "...if I went to play with my friends, I would drive to Beverly Hills and go in their backyard and there’d be a waterfall there. I mean, a waterfall! In the backyard? What the..."

Demi Moore.

Demi Moore had a difficult and troubled upbringing, as both her parents dealt with alcoholism and debt. As a child, she and her family would often move across state lines in order to avoid various debt collectors.

Things got more difficult after her parents divorced.

Moore learned as a teenager that her father was not biologically related to her. She later dropped out of school in an attempt to pursue an acting career, and while she's also struggled with substance abuse in the past, she's since grown into the actress we know today.

Oprah Winfrey.

Oprah's story is perhaps one of the most well-known cases of rags to riches. She was born in rural Mississippi, spending her early childhood living on a farm with her grandparents. Despite being an incredibly smart child, much of her childhood was troubled.

She was sent to live with each of her parents, then separated, at various points of her early life.

During the time spent with her mother, Oprah lived in dangerous neighborhoods, and was subject to abuse. But once she went to live with her father, she was able to form the discipline that led to her success.

Selena Gomez.

Selena Gomez's mother gave birth to her when she was just 16 years old. Her parents divorced when she was five, and her mother raised her by herself. Gomez and her mother would oftentimes struggle financially.

She recalled that there were times her mother struggled to put food on the table.

The Only Murders in the Building star also recalled, "I remember my mom would run out of gas all of the time and we'd sit there and have to go through the car and get quarters and help her get gas."

Viola Davis.

Viola Davis is extremely successful, and for good reason. After all, she's incredibly talented. But before her successful career, her upbringing was incredibly rough: "Although my childhood was filled with many happy memories, it was also spent in abject poverty," she said in a 2014 speech.

She also opened up about the struggles she faced in order to eat.

She went on to say, "I was one of the 17 million kids in this country who didn't know where the next meal was coming from, and I did everything to get food. I have stolen for food. I have jumped in huge garbage bins with maggots for food."

Nicki Minaj.

Originally from Trinidad and Tobago, Nicki Minaj grew up in a poor neighborhood in Queens. Her family struggled a lot during that time, in particular due to her father's issues with substance abuse, addiction, and violence.

She recalled wanting to be able to support her mother financially.

"I would go in my room and and kneel down at the foot of my bed and pray that God would make me rich so that I could take care of my mother," she said.

Hilary Swank.

Like the other celebs in this list, Hilary Swank is a talented and celebrated actress whose early life gave no indication of what was to come for her. Her parents suffered financial troubles when Swank was young, and they moved into a trailer park when she was six.

Her parents separated when Swank was a teenager, and she went to live with her mom.

She and her mother lived out of a car in Los Angeles for some time, until her mother could afford to rent an apartment.