Famous Failures: 100 Failures Who Became Famous

No matter what you decide you wish to be or want to become, never let rejection, failure or defeat settle in. We live in a world that can be cold, brash and extremely judgmental. In fact, most people judge a book by it’s cover way too quickly, therefore in order to stand out, we must never give in or give up. And with due time, the right people will notice, and the right opportunities will come approach you. But the absolute key ingredient to this life is to persevere through virtually anything and everything. Think about it, can you beat the one who never gives up? The answer is a very clear no, because they just won’t stop until they get to where they desire. Hopefully, from viewing this famous failures list, you can really in-take and comprehend the extent of what “never give up” truly means. From famous Musicians, Authors, Artists and Athletes who never understood the word ‘no’ to the greatest Scientists, Presidents, Entrepreneurs and World Changers who pushed the human race forward by failing forward, here is the ultimate list of famous failures who thankfully listened to the voice within over the voice’s of society…

1.) Isaac Newton:

Isaac Newton did poorly in grade school and was considered “unpromising.” He also failed miserably when he was put in charge of running the family farm.

2.) Thomas Edison:

As a youngster, Edison was told by his teacher that he was too stupid to learn “anything”. He would secretly conduct experiments when he worked at Western Union where he accidently spilled acid on the floor which wrecked the entire floor. He failed at creating the light bulb over 10,000 times.

3.) Bill Gates:

Initially, Gates created a company called Traf-O-Data with Paul Allen. The product was a failure as it had too many bugs and would not function properly.

4.) Henry Ford:

One of Henry Fords’ first businesses failed and he was consequently rendered broke 5 times before he finally succeeded with the Ford Motor Company!

5.) Nikola Tesla:

With little money or financial success and even filing for bankruptcy, Tesla was the epitome of being considered a famous failure, even though behind the scenes, so to speak, he was a very successful inventor who helped pioneer alternating current and the electric supply system.

6.) Akio Morita:

The man who pioneered Sony first began creating rice cookers and only managed to sell 100 of them as the product burned rice instead of cook it!

7.) Albert Einstein:

Einstein was 4 years old before he could speak and 7 before he could read and was considered anti-social and mentally handicapped.  Mind you, he also never learned how to drive!

8.) Ludwig Van Beethoven:

His music teacher told him he would be hopeless as a composer. Later in life, he lost his hearing.

9.) Zana Grey: The American Author was originally a dentist who began despising his profession. He boldly jumped into writing and began to see a ton of rejection and was told he had no business being a writer and should give it up.

10.) Jack Canfield:

Upon being rejected by 144 different publishers, Author Jack Canfield finally found someone to publish his books.

11.) J.K. Rowling:

The woman in charge of the Harry Potter empire was fired from her job at the London office of Amnesty International because she was too busy writing stories on her work computer.

12.) Lady Gaga:

After finally being signed to major label, she was quickly dropped by the label in just a short 3 months.

13.) Steve Jobs:

At age 30, Steve Jobs was voted and removed out of the company he started.

14.) Michael Jordan:

The greatest NBA basketball player of all time was initially cut from his high school basketball team. He missed more than 9000 shots in his career. Jordan failed to make the NBA finals for 6 straight years!

15.) Socrates:

The famous philosopher was considered “an immoral corrupter of youth” and was sentenced to death because of his new radical ideologies. He kept teaching right until he was forced to poison himself.

16.) Winston Churchill:

The Prime Minster of England during World War 2 failed grade 6 and had to repeat it. He also failed the entrance exam to the Royal Military Academy twice. He lost 5 political elections. Winston Churchill had a lisp, batted clinical depression.

17.) Oprah Winfrey:

Oprah was fired from her job as a news anchor for not being the typical look and being “unfit” for television.

18.) The Wright Brothers:

Prior to creating the first plane to stay in the air, these 2 brothers battled through so many failed prototypes and even faced depression growing up.

19.) R.H. Macy:

Prior to attaining massive success with the Macy’s department store, Rowland Hussey failed 7 other businesses.

20.) Elvis Presley:

After a performance in Nashville, the king of pop was told by the concert hall manager that he should just return to Memphis and go back to driving trucks.

21.) Colonel Sanders:

At the ripe old age of 65, Colonel decided to startup a fried chicken concept where he failed at selling his recipe to a restaurant over 1009 times.

22.) Jerry Seinfeld:

The comedian was fired due to a poor performance on a sitcom and only found out when he showed up without knowing that he was removed from the script.

23.) Babe Ruth:

The legend of baseball hit 714 homerun’s during his career, but he was struck out a mere 1330 times!

24.) Howard Stern:

Prior to creating XM radio, Stern was fired from NBC as a DJ.

25.) Walt Disney:

The infamous Disney was fired by a newspaper company as he “lacked imagination and had no original ideas.” He was rejected for funding his vision 302 times, and went into bankruptcy and failed several times over.

26.) Madonna:

After dropping out of college and moving to New York with barely any money, Madonna got a job at Dunkin Doughnuts where she was fired on her day for squirting jelly on a customer.

27.) Charlie Chaplin:

The English comedic actor was first rejected by Hollywood studio execs because they believed his material was nonsensical and would never sell.

28.) Abe Lincoln:

Abraham Lincoln failed almost all the way until becoming one of the greatest US Presidents of all time. He lost his job, had a nervous breakdown, lost his wife at an early age, failed in business and was defeated in many public office runs.

29.) Gene Roddenberry:

The creator of Star Trek survived 3 plane crashes as a pilot before attempting a new Sci-Fi in outer space during a time when that genre was only for kids. He was rejected countless times and the show would later be cancelled for a few years because of budgeting.

30.) Marilyn Monroe:

The bombshell’s contract with Colombia was expired because she was told she wasn’t pretty or talented enough. She suffered from depression and was always trying to prove herself within the industry that claimed she was just a model and nothing more.

31.) Mariah Carey:

On her rise to fame, Mariah Carey was fired from almost every job she had as she would be so concerned and focused on her music career. From coat check girl to waitress, these jobs just weren’t her thing. She would listen to her demo’s on her Walkman while working.

32.) Idris Elba:

The African American actor left his secure London acting job to pursue bigger opportunities and decided to leave his life behind for New York City. He became homeless and lived in his van which he called “the grizzly”.

33.) Soichiro Honda:

Prior to the billion dollar car company, Soichiro failed several times over with different ventures. He had an interview with Toyota in which he was turned down for the job of engineer. In fact, he was without a job for quite a while.

34.) Charles Darwin:

Considered too “dreamy and lazy” by his own father, Darwin gave up on his medical degree, thankfully. “I was considered by all my masters and my father, a very ordinary boy, rather below the common standard of intellect.” 

35.) Robert Goddard:

Known for his research and discoveries within the scope of liquid-fueled rockets, Robert Goddard’s ideas were mocked and ultimately rejected by other scientists. Thanks to his persistence and intuitive beliefs and feelings about the subject matter, he continued to delve into it regardless and made breakthrough findings.

36.) Sidney Poitier:

The Oscar award winning actor was initially told by a casting director “Why don’t you stop wasting people’s time and go out and become a dishwasher or something?” Sidney Poitier was also rejected by the American Negro Theater for having challenges wit reading and for his Bohemian accent.

37.) Harrison Ford:

Hans Solo himself was told by movie executives that he simply didn’t have what it takes.

38.) Oliver Stone:

Film maker Oliver Stone failed his classes at Yale because he was too busy writing a novel which ultimately was rejected by publishers. In 1998 the book finally got published but then tanked. After leaving school he joined the war and went to Vietnam where he found his inspirations for the movies he would later create. The dots connected.

39.) Vincent Van Gogh:

During his entire life span, Van Gogh only sold one painting. In fact, he sold that one painting to his good friend and for very little money. He was fairly poor his entire life but kept on pursuing his passion of painting.

40.) Charles Schultz:

The man who created the Peanuts comics was rejected for a position to work with Walt Disney. In fact, every one of his cartoons were rejected by his high school yearbook staff.

41.) Will Smith:

In 1989, Will Smith owed the IRS $2.8 million because he failed to pay his income taxes fully. His possessions and money were retrieved. In recent times, Will Smith endured another big blow with a box office failure that included his son with After Earth. He considered it to be the most painful failure of his career. “I get the box-office numbers on Monday and I was devastated for about twenty-four minutes, and then my phone rang and I found out my father had cancer. That put it in perspective —viciously,” 

42.) Steven Spielberg:

The legendary Director was shockingly rejected twice from a prestigious school called USC. Spielberg would have the last laugh as he later received an honorary degree and dedicated a building to him.

43.) Emily Dickinson:

The very talented poet was only able to publish less than 12 of her 1800 poems during the span of her lifetime. Which means, most of her work was shunned and turned down.

44.) Dr. Seuss:

The author was turned down by 27 different publishers until he finally got his chance. Thankfully he was able to persevere through the adversity.

45.) Ang Lee:

The Life of Pi Director had failed his college entrance exam twice.

46.) Frida Kahlo:

The artist was involved in a car accident that made her unable to have children as she had more than 30 operations throughout her life. This enabled her to turn her attention to Art, which brought her immense joy and success too.

47.) Vera Wang:

Fashion icon Vera Wang was turned down from the U.S. Olympic figure skating team which allowed her to turn her attention to another passion in fashion. Her bridal company is valued at over 1 Billion.

48.) The Beatles:

A recording studio turned down the most popular band in the world. They told them “we don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out,”.

49.) Jack London:

This world famous author’s first story  received over 600 rejection slips before finally getting a “yes”.

50.) Stephen King:

Another famous author, Stephen King received 30 rejections before he finally gave up as he threw away his book in the garbage. Thankfully his supportive wife managed to find it in the trash and uplifted him to resubmit the story.

51.) Lucille Ball:

The I Love Lucy star initially began her career on Broadway where she was quickly fired. Next, she was featured in a production called Stepping Stones where she lost her chorus part in the musical.

52.) Bruno Mars:

When the Hawaiian musician was signed to Motown records when he was just 18,  his album flopped and he had to star his career up again from scratch. A music executive also allegedly turned down the talented singer because he wasn’t white.

53.) Maria Callas:

The famous opera singer was rejected from a prestigious school and her voice failed to gain any attention many times over. Her weight was often the topic of discussion and her own mother chastised her as being the “ugly duckling”.

54.) Lauren Hill:

The talented hip hop queen was booed at the Apollo as a little girl. Thankfully she never let the negative feedback stop her from pursuing a career within the music industry.

55.) Nicholas Sparks:

The man behind the Notebook film was apparently rejected of his idea over 24 times before he turned his vision into a hit film.

56.) Dick Cheney:

The Vice President of the United States for 2 terms had failed out of Yale twice before transferring over to University of Wyoming.

57.) Fred Astaire:

The famous dancer, singer, and actor had been discouraged by the MGM director that he “Can’t act. Can’t sing. Slightly bald. Can dance a little.”

58.) Stephenie Meyer:

The Twilight series author was turned down by a total of 15 publishers to which another 4 never ended up responding. All she needed, however was to persevere and find 1 who believed in her concept.

59.) Jack Andraka:

As a 15 year old teen, this genius created a pancreatic cancer test that would wound up saving tens of thousands of lives and at a much, much more convenient cost. Guess what? He was turned down for his very smart idea 199 times by research labs who thought he wasn’t capable of pulling off something scientists had been working on for years.

60.) Elizabeth Blackwell:

The first woman to receive a medical degree was refused education by 29 different schools. She would go visit the med schools personally, only to be turned down and told  pretend she was a man in order to be considered. She boldly refused.

61.) Mary Kay Ash:

The cosmetics queen sold books while her husband was at war. When he came back, they divorced and she was left with the burden of 3 children during a time when divorce was heavily shunned. She failed to receive a promotion in her job because she was a woman. She decided to start a business with her second husband and one month prior to launch, he passed away. Eventually her “never give up” spirit prevailed.

62.) Sean Parker:

As a teen, Sean Parker became a hacker who was eventually approached by the US government. He wound up working for them. Soon after, he created Napster which received huge backlash by the entire music industry including heavy weights Metallica and Dr. Dre. Eventually, his site was shut down, but he would get the last laugh when he became an investor of Facebook, earning himself the title “billionaire”.

63.) Mark Cuban:

The Broadcast.com creator and owner of the Dallas Mavericks NBA team first began his journey selling powdered milk which failed miserably.

64.) Tom Brady:

Possibly the greatest Quarterback ever, Tom Brady was highly overlooked and was a 7th string QB who received very little attention. He was drafter very low.

65.) James Dyson:

Today, with a net worth of $3 billion pounds, James Dyson is the leading man of the bag-less vacuum a consequently the most successful vacuum company in the world. But initially it took him 5 years of testing and 5126 failed prototypes to get it right.

66.) Arnold Schwarzenegger:

When Arnold desired to make the switch from bodybuilder to actor, he was told he was unfit for acting because of his overly developed body, accent, and challenging name. “When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.”

67.) Milton Hershey:

The man in charge of the Hershey chocolate brand created 2 businesses prior that went into bankruptcy.

68.) Sylvester Stallone:

When Sylvester finished the script for Rocky, he was apparently rejected over 1500 times and was told he could not star in the film. He refused, and eventually the execs compromised by paying him only $35,000 and some profit shares.

69.) Nick Woodman:

The GoPro founder initially created a company called Funbug which failed miserably, and his $3.9 million dollar investment went down the drain with it.

70.) John Garcia:

The man who was in charge for numerous psychological discoveries was told by one of his biggest critics that “one is no more likely to find the phenomenon he discovered than to find bird droppings in a cuckoo clock.”

71.) Richie Ashburn:

As a teen, chosen to play in the Esquire game in New York, he and his family travelled from a very small town in Nebraska only to be told by a scout “Son, you should go back and do whatever it was you were going to do before you decided to be a ballplayer.” He would become a Hall Of Famer.

72.) Vince Lombardi:

One of the greatest football coaches ever was told that he lacked very minimal knowledge of the game and lacks a strong drive or motivation. Lombardi later coined the phrase “It’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get back up.”

73.) Malala Yousafzai:

Malala was denied and banned from education in Pakistan because she was a female. She would be the victim of a Taliban assassination where she was shot in the head, but miraculously survived. She went on to become an activist of change.

74.) Kanye West:

Initially Kanye West had a deal with Capitol Records, but the deal fortunately fell through. He was rejected by several record labels and Jay-Z himself said he was not cut out for rap because he was a better producer.

75.) J. Cole:

The famous rapper was 17 years old when he was ignored by the hip hop king Jay-Z. J Cole stood outside his studio for 3 hours to give him his beat but Jay left the building without even noticing him. With a strong head on his shoulders, J Cole would eventually be signed to his label.

76.) Jay-Z:

When Jigga first entered the rap game, no one signed him. He began selling his CD’s out of his car and eventually he created his own label.

77.) Robert Sternberg:

The Psychology genius received a “C” in his first introductory course and was also told by one of his professors “there was already a famous Sternberg in psychology and it was obvious there would not be another.”  

78.) Carey Mulligan:

The actress was rejected from every single Drama school she applied to and an auditor at a London drama school told her to be a “children’s TV show presenter” instad.

79.) Saul Bellow:

The winner of a Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for Literature, Saul Bellow was criticized by his English professor and told that he showed no signs of literary greatness and was considered a “dud”.

80.) Jim Carrey:

On his first stand up act he was booed off stage at a club called Yuk Yuk’s. He also initially  failed to get the part on Saturday Night Live.

81.) Katy Perry:

Beginning her career with a Gospel album that only sold 200 albums total, Katy Perry continued her trek. Next, she signed to Island Def Jam to which the contract was terminated. She would sign with Colombia and become the lead singer for a band called The Matrix – which was scratched near the launch date.

82.) Richard Branson:

A high school dropout who ironically began a student magazine that ultimately failed and folded. The lessons from failing helped him create a stronger foundation the second time around.

83.) H.J. Heinz:

The business mogul first started a company that produced horseradish. You guessed it – it went bankrupt. He pushed forward and began his food products company.

84.) Truman Capote:

Dropping out of college, Truman Capote became a copy boy for the New Yorker. 2 years later he went to see Robert Frost read live. Unfortunately Capote felt sick and left halfway. Frost was insulted and demanded Capote to be fired. The future Novelist wound up being wrongfully fired.

85.) Kerry Washington:

Prior to her role on Scandal, the actress was replaced for two different shows.

86.) Claude Monet:

The impressionist painter was heavily mocked and his styles rejected by the Paris Salon artists elite.

87.) Alan Turing:

During a time frame when being a homosexual was completely denied, the man who pioneered the computer and ended the war by at least 2 years,  was forced to take chemical castration pills and was rejected of who he was from within. Society is a cruel place, and although he saved lives, he was neglected as an outcast.

88.) Conan O’Brian:

Conan was working hard towards his dream of hosting the NBC Late Night Show upon Jay leno’s retirement. Finally the day came, and Conan got his shot, however, Jay came back, and Conan was left back out. He believes “Don’t be afraid to fail. Whether you fear it or not, disappointment will come. The beauty is that with true disappointment you can gain clarity, and with clarity comes conviction and true originality.”

89.) Barbara Corcoran:

From achieving all straight D’s in high school to creating a very successful Real Estate empire in her twenties, the Shark Tank investor proves the power of perseverance.

90.) Chris Gardener:

From overcoming a violent childhood, being homeless, having no degree and receiving countless no’s to try and sell medical supplies, Chris Gardener kept on moving forward until he finally earned a spot in the Dean Witter Reynolds training program.

91.) Sia Furler:

The now famous and creative musician faced so many setbacks; from a boyfriend who died, suffering severe depression, addiction, to being apart of 2 bands that ultimately flopped.

92.) Clint Eastwood:

He was fired by Universal Studio after his first 2 movies for speaking too slowly.

93.) John Grisham:

The American author was first a lawyer who loved to write until finally he worked up enough nerve to try and get published. He received 28 rejections before he finally got a ‘yes’ to print 5,000 copies.

94.) F.W. Woolworth:

At age 21, he got a job at a dry goods store where his boss denied him from waiting the customers because “he didn’t have enough sense to close a sale.”

95.) Wilma Rudolph:

Born prematurely and at only age 4 her survival was jeopardized because of Scarlet disease and double pneumonia which left her with a paralyzed leg and she was told she would never walk again. She wound up winning 3 Gold Olympic medals for Track & Field.

96. George Lucas:

The Star Wars creator’s first film bombed in 1971 and every major studio turned down his next film called American Graffiti.

97.) John F. Kennedy:

Kennedy lost the election to be President of the freshman class at Harvard. He failed to win a post o the student council as a sophomore. And he even dropped out of Stanford Business School.

98.) Ulysses S. Grant:

The U.S President had failed as a farmer, a Real Estate Agent, U.S. Customers Officer and even as a store clerk before he finally succeeded as a general.

99.) Tim Ferris:

The popular author who created the 4 Hour Work Week was rejected by 26 different publishers. Today, it’s a world famous best selling book that’s changed the way many people view work and leisure.

100.) Mahatma Gandi:

His civil disobedience campaign failed and the British government seized and imprisoned him in 1922. My imperfections and failures are as much a blessing from God as my successes and my talents and I lay them both at his feet.”


“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

– Henry Ford