They’ve Got a Story To Tell: Celebs Who Went From Top Ramen to Top Dollar

June 25, 2012  |  
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By Nicole Thompson

Despite what we may think, many celebrities started out just as broke as the rest of us. Sound impossible? It isn’t. There is a list as long as my arm of actors, singers, song-writers and producers who began their careers in their basements or in garages, while chowing down on ramen noodles or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Before some of the ladies on this list were raking in millions if not billions, they went through their share of struggles (including discrimination, living in poverty, drug use and more) just like everyone else.

Lil Kim

The Queen Bee, born Kimberly Denise Jones, spent a great deal of her adolescent life on the streets of the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn after being dismissed from her home. She then dropped out of high school, spending time as a Bloomingdale’s associate and cashier before meeting her mentor (and boo), Notorious B.I.G. With his direction, she became a member of Junior M.A.F.I.A., blossomed into an independent artist, and landed small roles in movies. Though she is less buzz-worthy than she once was and has suffered a series of personal and professional setbacks, she still has a net worth of $18 million.

Mary J. Blige

The reigning queen of hip-hop soul, Blige was raised in a problematic home, living in the Schlogbohm Houses: a housing project in Yonkers, New York. Growing up, Blige went though much, including being molested by a family friend at the age of five. She started her musical career in church, using it as an escape, but as a teen, she started to fell prey to secular temptations; dropping out of high school, and becoming involved in alcohol, sex and drugs. Her saving grace was a trip to the mall, where she recorded a cover of Anita Baker’s “Caught Up in the Rapture.” With the assistance of her mother’s boyfriend, the recording landed in the lap of Uptown Records’ CEO, Andre Harrell. There, she was paired with Sean “Puffy” Combs, who help to create a brand image for her. Nine Grammy Awards, eight multi-platinum albums and Four American Music Awards later, Blige is at the peak of her success. Today, her net worth is $45 million dollars.

Halle Berry

The Academy Award winning actress spent the first few years of her life in an inner-city neighborhood, located in Cleveland, Ohio. After her father abandoned her family, Berry’s mother relocated to a predominately white suburb, where she dealt with a great deal of discrimination. She thrived in school however, becoming a part of dozens of extracurricular activities, and during the 80’s she earned a number of beauty pageant titles. Deciding on a career as an entertainer, Berry moved to New York, where she was hoping to work as a model and actress, but things didn’t get off to the best start. After being in NYC for a little while, Berry ran out of money and wound up living in a homeless shelter for a little while. But after a few short-lived roles and unsuccessful television appearances, the roles and jobs started rolling in for her, and her first huge role was as a crackhead in Jungle Fever. With over three dozen movies under her belt now and a bevvy of awards and nominations, Berry’s net worth is $70 Million.

Janet Jackson

The curvy starlet and her celebrity family weren’t always knee deep in pet monkeys and large lots of land. At one point, Jackson and her family were simply a lower middle class family from Gary, Indiana, her father working as a crane operator and her mother living as a homemaker; the couple and their 10 children making due in their three-bedroom home. Through the efforts of her father, her brothers’ group, the Jackson 5, signed with Motown Records, which afforded them the opportunity to move to Los Angeles into a swanky mansion. Jackson began her career on television in the family’s variety show, “Jacksons.” Following her first television appearance, she appeared on “Good Times,” “A New Kind of Family” and “Different Strokes.” She, then, blossomed in the music arena slowly and surely, and as a screen star, easily becoming recognized as one of the more talented and popular Jacksons. Today, Janet Jackson’s net worth is approximately $200 million.

Mariah Carey

The powerhouse pop singer was born into a family that was rattled by the racist attention it attracted due to the fact that her mother was Irish-American and her father was Afro-Venezuelan. Outside hostility put immense on the family and played a role in the divorce of her parents. Her mother, then had to work two or three jobs to keep the family afloat, also having to move the family between different towns on Long Island. Somehow still attentive, Carey’s mother trained her, helping her to develop vocal skills. After graduating high school, Carey met Sony Music executive Tommy Motolla at a Columbia Records party who took interest, tracking her down Cinderella-style to sign her after listening to her demo. Two years later, Carey released her self-titled album and won two Grammy Awards, and the album went on to be the highest selling album of 1991. Years later, after successes, breakdowns, divorces, drama, relapse and new-found love, the diva’s net worth is $500 million.


Oprah Winfrey, the most prominent media mogul to, perhaps, ever exist was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi into a life of rural poverty. She was raised by her mother, a maid, and grandmother, and often had to wear dresses made from potato sacks to school, which caused her classmates to make fun of her. Also as a young lady, she was molested by her uncle, a cousin, and a family friend, which had a major effect on her (she later told her family in her ’20s about the abuse, and they didn’t believe her). In her teen years, she became recognized for her academics, winning awards for dramatic interpretation, oratory contests, and won a full scholarship to Tennessee State, where she studied communication. Moving through the binds of media, she became a radio host, anchor woman, morning show host and eventually the host of her own television show, “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” in 1983, which went on to air for the next 28 years. Since, Winfrey’s successes have included acclaimed movie roles, the OWN network (which is slowly but surely doing better), her popular magazine, and Harpo Productions. Her net worth is a whopping $2.7 billion dollars.

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