Rags To Riches Stories: The Ultimate List

jay z

Rags to riches stories are the epitome of the “American Dream,” they’re what makes success look so enticing, and what make movies such as Rocky so memorable. The funny thing about rags to riches stories, is that they sound so glorious, yet nobody wishes they had to face the same challenges to achieve their definition of success. Here is part one of the ultimate list of rags to riches stories:


George Soros

Billionaire George Soros, one of the greatest investors of all time was at one point barely getting by. Soros upbringing was in the middle of wars, and was even one of the few people to survive living in Germany during World War 2, and the Battle of Budapest. After attaining his Philosophy degree, Soros went on to become a genius investor, now having an over $20 billion net worth.


Guy Laliberte (Cirque Du Soliel Founder)

Guy Laliberte, the founder of Cirque Du Soliel was a person who literally worked from the ground up. His rags to riches story starts with him being a street performer, doing everything from stilt walking, to fire eating. He is now a billionaire for his globally known show of high flying acrobats, creative artistic costumes, and various circus acts.


Jim Carrey

Jim Carrey is the highest paid Canadian actor, however, at one point him and his family were living out of a Volkswagen camper van. Later, when Carrey left his family to pursue his dream of being an actor, he struggled further, and has publicly stated how he would go up the Hollywood hills, visualize until it felt like he was successful to keep his focus on his dream becoming a reality.


Ralph Lauren

Growing up raised by immigrant parents from Belarus, Ralph Lauren grew up in an impoverished childhood. After first getting a glimpse into the fashion industry as a young salesman at Brook Brothers. After studying business for a couple of years, he created bowties and eventually created the empire that is now known as Ralph Lauren, valued at over a billion dollars.


Daniel Craig

Actor Daniel Craig, most famous for James Bond always wanted to be an actor, in fact his mother was friends with many actors which paved the way. But there were times in Craigs’ early years where he’d wait tables at London restaurants, once slept on park benches in London just to get by.


John Paul DeJoria (Patron Founder, Paul Mitchell Hair Products Founder)

Billionaire John Paul DeJoria graduated with honors from high school, and joined the Navy. He then took every job from selling encyclopedias to pumping gas to make ends meet, however this even led to him being homeless. He eventually became the top salesman for selling Encyclopedias, and later invented one of the most successfu tequila drinks Patron as well as one of the most successful men’s hair product company’s Paul Mitchell. DeJoria truly believes how you do anything is how you do everything and states his reasons for getting from rags to riches in this video.


Ursula Burns (Chairwoman of Xerox)

Ursula Burns is the first African American woman to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and was even rated as the 22nd most powerful woman by Forbes Magazine. Impressive feats for a woman who was raised by a single immigrant mother in the New York Projects.


Oprah Winfrey

You’ve probably heard the story, Oprah grew up a rebellious child in a broken home. Her parents were divorced, and Oprah was often getting into trouble. To make matters worse, she was raped when she was 9 years old, by her own cousin, and sexually abused by her other cousin, her uncle, and even her mother’s boyfriend. She credits finding her passion for public speaking and reading books for changing her life into the billion dollar woman she is now.


Jennifer Lopez

Right before she got a gig on In Living Color, Jennifer Lopez was homeless. “My mom and I butted heads. I didn’t want to go to college — I wanted to try dance full-time. She told W Magazine, “So she and I had a break. I started sleeping on the sofa in the dance studio. I was homeless, but I told her, ‘This is what I have to do.’ A few months later, I landed a job dancing in Europe. When I got back, I booked ‘In Living Color.’ I became a Fly Girl and moved to L.A. It all happened in a year.” JLo believes hard work is what made her dreams come true and hopes to teach her kids the same mentality. “I think a lot about teaching my kids to work hard. I’ve learned something about kids — they don’t do what you say; they do what you do,” Lopez explained. “I watched my parents. My dad worked nights, and I was aware of how much he was doing for us. My mom was a Tupperware lady and also worked at the school. I always felt that I couldn’t let them down. And I had a natural discipline from early on. I was always training for something.”


Jan Koum (WhatsApp Founder)

Jan Koum the founder of WhatsApp went from dirt poor to billionaire. When his mother, his grandmother and he (at 16 years old) moved to California, they had to get help from a social support program to afford a two-bedroom apartment. He slowly developed an interest in programming, and worked at Ernst and Young while going to university to further pursue his passion. Koum eventually landed a job at Yahoo, and after a 9 year career, Jan Koum and his friend applied to work at Facebook but were denied. Shortly after, the idea of WhatsApp came about when the App Store was at its infancy stage. Years later, Zuckerberg (the owner of Facebook) purchased WhatsApp.


Howard Schultz (Starbucks Owner)

Howard Schultz is the man who took Starbucks from a small cafe in Seattle and turned it into one of the most successful brands in the world. But his story started with him living in the projects of Brooklyn, New York and his road to riches was due to his over-achieving attitude. Schultz always had big dreams (as he says in this video), and it was this attitude that allowed him to be the first out of all of his family to attend college. To pay for college he achieved a scholarship for basketball, and graduated with a science degree. He soon got a job as a salesman selling milkshake machines, and that’s where he found the extremely popular cafe called Starbucks.


Sean Connery

Just like Daniel Craig who also played James Bond, Sean Connery has a rags to riches story. Connery told Daily Express “I was nine when the Second World War broke out. We were living in Edinburgh in real poverty. We didn’t have the luxury of worrying about our inner selves.” Connery had to drop out of school at the age of 13 to work as a milkman, and therefore had to educate himself. “I educated myself, which may be why I still sometimes feel just like a little boy when I meet intellectuals.” Connery’s fit physique was what helped pave the way for his acting career. He even came third at 22 years old in the Mr Universe contest in London, and was offered to play soccer (football) by Matt Busby the manager of Manchester United, but declined because he knew a career in football would diminish at an early age. “I realised that a top-class footballer could be over the hill by the age of 30 and I was already 23. I decided to be an actor and it turned out to be one of my more intelligent moves.”


J.K Rowling

J.K Rowling’s rags to riches story is one of legend. Rowling suffered from depression, was divorced, was on welfare trying to provide for her daughter, but had a beautiful imagination. Her imagination allowed her to escape her reality and invest in her passion of writing. The idea of Harry Potter came to J.K Rowling while on a train ride from Manchester to London, and many of the stories characters, plot lines and environments are based on her surroundings back then.


Jay Z

As he raps about in many of his hit songs, Jay Z went from Marcy Projects in New York to Madison Square Garden. The way Jay Z says in a video, it was like living in boxes and the only way to make a decent living was to hustle. Therefore he took to the streets, sold crack-cocaine, made some money, but soon realized where that life could take him and pursued his major passion for hip hop. Jay Z was an advocate of hip hop and writing since he was in high school and was even praised by teachers for his writing abilities. So eager to take his music to the next level, Jay created his own record label Roc-A-Fella Records and released his own album Reasonable Doubt under the label at the age of 26. The rest was history.


Sam Walton (Walmart Founder)

One of the most successful companies on the planet, Walmart, was founded by a person who had to endure a “rags to riches” story to get there. Growing up, Sam Walton would milk cows, and deliver newspapers to help the family financially. However, Walton was a natural leader, and even the quarterback for his high school football team, he also became well educated as he graduated with an economics degree.


Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise grew up with no father, and went through hardships during his childhood. In fact, his mother had to work four jobs just to pay the bills. Cruise found his passion after joining theater classes in high school which inspired him to drop out, and pursue acting full time.


Johnny Depp

At the youthful age of 15, Johnny Depp dropped out of school to focus fully on becoming a rock-star. The classic rags-to-riches Hollywood story, he could barely make ends meet while pursuing his passion and was lucky enough to afford a trip to California where he became a pen salesman. Th famous actor of Face/Off Nicolas Cage was the man who saw potential in Depp as an actor. Eventually Depp became an A-list actor who now has a net worth of over $300 million.


Robert Herjavec

The Dragons Den investor/entrepreneur has the classic entrepreneurial rags t riches stors. He was actually an immigrant born in Croatia where he recalls having very little money living on a farm, but the family was never short of happiness. When Herjavec arrived in Canada with his family, they had a single suitcase and only $20 to their name, lived in a basement, and his father landed a job that made a measly $76 a week. Robert Herjavic eventually went to university, started the software company BRAK Systems that was sold to AT&T for a whopping $30 million!


Demi Moore

Demi Moore grew up in a broken home, with her stepdad and alcoholic mother. She was even living in a trailer at one point and were forced to move from place to place since her parents were constantly arguing. Demi Moore dropped school at age 16 and moved to Hollywood to pursue her dream. The risk paid off in a major way.


Hilary Swank

Ironically, the famous actor of Million Dollar Baby grew up in a poverish living situation, raised in a trailer park i in Washington. She droppped out of high school, and her father ran away, eventually her and her mother were forced to sleep in a car until they made enough money to live in an apartment. Gaining short gigs as a small-time actor, she helped her mother out until eventually she got her big break.


Harrison Ford

Actor Harrison Ford, famous for playing Hans Solo in Star Wars, Ford grew up as a victim of bullying, but found his passion for acting when signing up for drama courses. He later moved to Los Angeles in hopes to find jobs doing voice-overs, but got a cheap $150 a week contract for a talent development program by Columbia Pictures. This led him to getting various minor roles, but nothing major. To pay the bills, he became a carpenter, and made cabinets for various famous actors and directors, including George Lucas (the producer of Star Wars) who gave him the major role in American Graffiti.



KRS-One (Kris Parker) was born to a poor family in the Bronx, and ran away at the age of 13. He lived on the streets, but spent days reading about philosophy, spirituality, and religion at the library. He perfected his craft of spitting rap lyrics in homeless shelters that took care of him. During one stay, he met artist  DJ Scott LaRock who would changed his stars. The two released an album together, however LaRock was shot to death from a street altercation. This horrific incident inspired KRS-One to come up with a new style of rap he called “edutainment”. The idea was to blend education of ant-war, and the various things he learnt reading in the library with the hardcoreness of rap. The rest was history.


A$AP Rocky

Growing up ASAP Rocky spent literally two years living in homeless shelters. By the time he was 12, his dad was in jail, and a year later his brother was murdered. When he hit 15, he was in and out of shelters. He says “My dad, he used to make bad choices. He used to sell drugs for a living. And we had a good life up until he got caught and got incarcerated. My mom, her only option was just homeless shelters.” 


Sarah Jessica Parker

Sarah grew up with her poor parents and seven siblings. Her parents don’t make enough money for the family. According to Glamour Magazine, she said  “For the early part of my life I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio. We had no money. But we had this factory called Polly Slenders where my mother could go and get flawed dresses, so we were dressed like the Kennedys. That’s how I started learning about clothes. I didn’t have access to clothing the way I did over the course of my tenure over at Sex And The City, but I knew what was beautiful.”