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Top 10 Homeless Actors Who Became Hollywood Stars

by Gary Pullman
fact checked by Jamie Frater

A few of these actors are relative newcomers to show business, whereas others have been around for some time. They had their starts in theatrical productions, television series, comedy clubs, and vaudeville. While awaiting their big breaks, they worked as waiters, a juggler, a dancer, and a screenwriter.

One was so down-and-out that he had to sell his blood. Another had to sell his dog, unable to afford to feed the beloved pet. Although all of them either won fame and fortune or are well on their way to such success, each actor on this list was homeless before making it big.

10 Christian Olivo

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Christian Olivo took an unusual path to acting. Choosing to be homeless, he bought a gym membership and invested in acting classes. Rising at 5:00 AM, he ran on the beach every day and walked for miles across Los Angeles. Instead of dating, he spent his time practicing acting and honing his athletic prowess as he prepared for his future as an action movie star.

His sacrifice and hard work are beginning to pay off. He’s landed roles in FX’s Versace: American Crime Story and HBO’s Insecure. The actor earned a perfect math score on his Scholastic Aptitude Test and graduated summa cum laude. Then he attended the United States Air Force Academy and played a variety of sports.

He also studied acting at Arizona State University and with Los Angeles acting coaches Anthony Meindl and Matthew Barry.[1] The determined Texan’s stint of homelessness appears to be forever behind him, a mere stepping-stone to future stardom.

9 Chris Pratt

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Chris Pratt dropped out of college after a single semester, accepting a friend’s offer to buy him a one-way ticket to Maui. There, he was homeless, sleeping in a van when he didn’t spend the night on the beach. He drank, smoked marijuana, and worked only enough to “cover gas, food, and fishing supplies.”

While waiting tables at Maui’s Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, Pratt met Rae Dawn Chong.[2] She offered him a part in Cursed Part 3, a movie she was directing. Today, as Pratt continues to work, his ambition expands.

First, he wanted to move beyond playing a “bad guy.” Then he wanted to try his hand at sidekick roles. Next, he wanted to do comedy. Now, he’s able to turn down some roles.

To date, his biggest roles have been Andy Dwyer in the television series Parks and Recreation, Peter Quill in Guardians of the Galaxy, and Owen Grady in Jurassic World.

8 Drew Carey

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Comedian Drew Carey had never given a speech before he accepted a 2010 invitation to address a Friends of Youth assembly. He told his 650 listeners that supporting such organizations is worthwhile, explaining how the Cleveland, Ohio, chapter of Big Brothers helped him after his father died when Carey was eight years old.

Carey was suicidal at 18 when he took a bus from Ohio to visit his brother, who lived in California. On the way, Carey was homeless in Las Vegas for a time. To buy macaroni and cheese, he sold his blood plasma for $40. Now, when he buys Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Dinner Deluxe, he feels like a “big shot.” According to Carey, the young people to whom he spoke could benefit from Friends of Youth the same way he’d been helped by Big Brothers.

After appearing in comedy clubs across the country, Carey demonstrated his comedic skills on Star Search and The Tonight Show. This led to The Drew Carey Show in 1995, after which he hosted The Price Is Right game show.[3] Unlucky in youth, Carey has since enjoyed the success and happiness that once eluded him.

7 W.C. Fields

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In 1891, when his father injured himself by stepping on a shovel (in some accounts, a rake), 11-year-old W.C. Fields laughed at the mishap. His father spanked him, and the next day, Fields left home. He only returned for brief visits with his mother when his father was away.

For a while, the homeless boy lived in a hole in a vacant lot. Later, he moved into rooms above a wheelwright’s shop. The suite, furnished with “discarded chairs and stools,” represented a clubhouse for Fields and his friends, who brought him food from their families’ larders.

He also stole bakery items from stores and milk from residents’ porches. The free lunches provided by saloons to their customers were additional sources of sustenance. Fields would tell waiters to bring him two plates—one for himself and the other for his father. Fields would tell them that his absent father would be by shortly to buy drinks.[4]

Fields started his entertainment career as a juggler, performing in Pennsylvania and across Asia, Australia, Europe, South Africa, and more. He got his first big break when he joined the Ziegfeld Follies, performing while the showgirls changed their costumes.

Not long after, he became an “overnight success” in movies. He worked for Paramount Studios, where he wrote some of his own scripts. Among the films for which he’s best known are The Bank Dick and My Little Chickadee, costarring Mae West. He also starred as Mr. Micawber in David Copperfield.

6 Charlie Chaplin

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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.[5]

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

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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.[6] Carrey became a proven box office draw, and his homelessness is now an experience in his distant past.

4 Daniel Craig

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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.[7]

3 Sylvester Stallone

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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.”[8]

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

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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.[9]

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

Photo credit: The Independent

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.”[10]

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.

Gary Pullman, an instructor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, lives south of Area 51, which, according to his family and friends, explains “a lot.” His 2016 urban fantasy novel, A Whole World Full of Hurt, available on, was published by The Wild Rose Press.


fact checked by Jamie Frater