General George S. Patton once said, “The test of success is not what you do when you are on top. Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom.” No one embodies that more than the 10 people on this list. They’re a group of people who were at rock bottom, yet worked hard and eventually became immensely successful. They showed that when things look their worst, the only way left is up.
10. From Homeless to Harvard
Liz was born in New York City in 1980 to drug addicted parents. Things hit an all time low in 1995 when Liz’s mother died due to complications from AIDS. Liz’s father, who was also HIV positive, was forced to move into a homeless shelter, which left both Liz and her sister homeless. The girls slept on 24-hour subway trains or park benches.
Despite lacking a home, Liz enrolled in the prestigious Humanities Preparatory Academy in Chelsea, Manhattan. She enrolled late but still excelled, finishing high school in two years. She won a New York Times scholarship, was accepted into Harvard, attended in 1999 and then returned in 2006 and graduated in 2009. Liz Murray plans on going back again for a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology.
Her struggle with adversity became the subject of a Lifetime made-for-TV movie, From Homeless to Harvard. Her memoir, Breaking Night, was published in 2010 and was a New York Times Bestseller.
9. From Flophouses to Coffee Houses
When Frank was 13 he discovered a love of alcohol. By the time he was 21 he was a full-blown alcoholic, and his family kicked him out of their Toronto home. He was able to get different jobs, but lost many of them due to his drinking. He eventually found himself living in flophouses or sleeping on park benches. It didn’t really matter to him, as long as he was drunk. He occasionally worked at a store, and if the weather were nice he’d hit the street and ask people for change until he had enough for a bottle of wine.
One day while at the store he heard a radio ad for an alcohol support group. While he didn’t immediately go, the ad stuck with him and just before Christmas, 1971, he had a moment of clarity about his life. He started going to the support group, found it helpful and was able to get himself sober.
Frank continued to get his life together, and three years later at the age of 29 he was selling construction equipment and volunteering in a political campaign. During the campaign, he met another volunteer named Tom Culligan and they found they had chemistry working together. They teamed up, and in 1975 they opened up their first coffee shop, Second Cup.
Frank O’Dea eventually left the business, but the company he started is currently the second biggest Canadian coffee chain. After leaving the company, Frank O’Dea has become a motivational speaker and has started many charities, including Renascent Treatment Foundation and Street Kids International.
8. From Living in Her Car to Weight Loss System Guru
Dani had a rough upbringing due in large part to her abusive, drug addicted parents. She said she hated drugs, but somehow found herself addicted to cocaine as a young adult. Living in Hawaii, she worked as a cocktail waitress and wasn’t making enough money. At one point she tried to commit suicide by overdosing on cocaine. Luckily, she survived and decided it was time to turn her life around.
Dani knew that saving up $4500 for an apartment would take her four months. She wasn’t sure if she could live four months in her car, and while looking around her car for inspiration she saw a booklet for a weight loss program and thought she might try selling them. Not having much to lose, Dani drew up posters advertising the program. She worked out of a phone booth, and when her first attempt at a sale failed she adjusted her strategy and made sales to the next 24 customers she called. There was one problem — in order to send the weight loss programs, the company needed an address. She was able to convince a liquor store to let her use their address, in what we hope was billed as an unusual cross-promotion where customers could get two kinds of six packs.
In her first year, Dani Johnson made $250,000. In less than two years she made her first million dollars. From there she expanded her sales, bought a weight loss center and then produced her own weight loss products. Today, Dani is a millionaire from her weight loss products and is also a motivational speaker.
7. From the Streets to the NFL
Born in Memphis, Tennessee to an alcoholic and crack-addicted mother, Michael was one of 12 children. His father wasn’t around much, because he was in and out of prison. This left Michael with very few options — he’d be put in foster care, only to run away and live on the streets. In his first 11 years of schooling he went to nine different schools and had to repeat the first and second grade.
His luck changed when he started playing football in public school. He was a very talented player, and when he applied for enrollment in a private Christian school he was accepted based on his notable football skills. Once in the school, Michael kept bouncing around foster homes before the Tuohy family took him in. Understanding his difficult childhood, they hired a tutor and treated Michael like he was one of the family. He raised his GPA so he could attend the University of Mississippi, which he chose because it was his adopted family’s alma mater.
Michael became one of the best offensive linemen in the NCAA. He was drafted 23rd overall by the Baltimore Ravens, signed a $13.8 million, five year contract and helped them win Super Bowl XLVII. In 2014 he signed a $20 million, four year contract with the Tennessee Titans. Michael is, of course, Michael Oher, the subject of the book and Academy Award winning film The Blind Side.
6. From Shelters to Wall Street
Chris was a bright young man who, after putting in four years of service in the Navy, got a job as a lab assistant from a doctor he had met while serving. Eventually he was able to run his own lab, despite not having a college education.
After his son was born, Chris needed a better paying job, so he was hired as a salesman for a medical equipment business. However, Chris decided that what he really wanted to do was be a stockbroker. He was able to get a training position at a brokerage, but that job fell through. Then he was arrested for not being able to pay $1200 in parking tickets and was put in jail for 10 days. When he got home, he found his apartment was empty. He had nothing except the clothes on his back.
He was able to get another internship, but it didn’t pay. Yet he came in early and stayed late while selling medical equipment on the side. He was barely scraping by, but his hard work was starting to pay off and Bear Stearns & Company in San Francisco recruited him. He moved and was able to rent a flophouse with his small salary.
Things got even more complicated when Chris’ estranged wife dropped off their son with him.He couldn’t afford a place to live while also paying for daycare so he could continue to work. So they moved around a lot, eating in soup kitchens and sleeping where they could; his office, the airport and even public washrooms.
They were eventually able to save up for an apartment, and in 1987, Chris started his own brokerage firm and is currently worth $60 million. If this story sounds familiar, it’s because Chris Gardner is the basis for the Will Smith film The Pursuit of Happyness.
5. From Sleeping in His Car to Financial Services Celebrity
Jim seemed to be on the track to success. He went to Harvard, became Editor-in-Chief for The Harvard Crimson and graduated with a B.A. in government. It was a promising start, and he was able to land a few entry-level journalism jobs. The most prominent was covering the Ted Bundy case in Tallahassee for the Tallahassee Democrat. However, Jim met with hard luck when his apartment was broken into and his checking account was emptied. Broke, Jim found himself living in his Ford Fairmont for the next seven months.
Jim finally landed a job at American Lawyer magazine in 1979, but still didn’t have a home and was sleeping on his sister’s floor. He decided to go to law school, where he became obsessed with the stock market and started investing what money he did have. He became so obsessed that he left stock tips on the outgoing message for his answering machine. One person who listened to the answering machine was Martin Peretz, a Harvard professor who owned the magazine New Republic. He gave Jim $500,000 to invest.
After graduating, Jim worked for three months at Goldman Sachs before starting a very successful hedge fund. Peretz and Jim founded the equally successful financial news service TheStreet.com in 1996. In 2005, Jim Cramer began hosting Mad Money on CNBC. He is currently worth about $100 million, but still has his old pay stub from his days at the Tallahassee Democrat in his wallet.
4. From Living in his Car to Entertainment Tycoon
Tyler was born into a dysfunctional family with an abusive father. If that wasn’t bad enough, four men also sexually abused him as a child. Needless to say, Tyler was a troubled teenager. One particular outburst got him kicked out of school, although he eventually did get his GED.
Tyler took refuge in writing, the only thing he’d ever found solace in. He decided to take a gamble and moved to Atlanta to launch his play, I Know I’ve Been Changed. The play bombed, but Tyler didn’t quit. He tried to launch the play six times and it was never successful. The costs left Tyler living in his car, but in 1998 the play finally took off and launched his career. Tyler Perry is now one of the highest paid men in the entertainment business, where he writes, produces, directs and stars in numerous movies and television shows.
3. From Sleeping in the Bed of His Truck to Cultural Icon
As we’ve already seen on this list, artists will go to great lengths in order to make it in their industry. However, “making it” doesn’t always ensure success. In the late 50s, William moved from his native Canada to make it as an actor in the United States. He had success landing roles on Broadway, before making his way to Hollywood and nabbing a few supporting roles in movies and television shows.
In 1965 he was cast in the lead role of a legal procedure drama, but it was cancelled after a season. Next he landed the lead role on a science fiction show that aired on NBC. The show struggled to find a large following, but it did have a small, devoted fan-base. It was also cancelled, this time after three seasons.
William was out of work, which coincided with his divorce and child support payments for his three children. William was desperate, so he moved back east and worked in a traveling theater. He slept in the bed of his pickup truck under a hard cover.
Luckily for William, the sci-fi show he starred in was of course called Star Trek and was tremendously popular in re-runs. It was made into an animated series in 1973, a film in 1979 and is now one of the biggest multimedia franchises on the planet. Today, William Shatner is one of the most recognizable celebrities in the world. He’s written books, hosted television shows and even won an Emmy for his role on Boston Legal.
2. From Being Homeless Twice to Multi-Billionaire
Growing up in the Echo Park area of Los Angeles, John’s family got by but were fairly poor. He had to help support his family, starting at the age of nine, by selling Christmas cards. As a teenager, he got caught up with street gangs and did lousy in school. One of his teachers said he was “least likely to succeed.”
When he was 22 he found himself homeless and collecting pop bottles for refunds for money. He finally found some steady work at a haircare product company. In 1988, he and a hair stylist named Paul planned to launch their own line of haircare products. Meanwhile, John and his wife hit a rough patch. John decided to give his wife all his money and move out. A backer was going to give John and Paul $500,000 for their product line, but the money never came and again, John found himself homeless — he lived in his car for the next two weeks.
John and Paul were able to get a $700 loan and started selling their hair products door-to-door. Today, Paul Mitchell Systems brings in $100 billion a year. John Paul DeJoria also started Patrón Spirits as a hobby in 1989. Patrón is one of the best selling top-shelf tequilas in the world. Through both of his businesses, John Paul DeJoria now has a personal value of $4 billion.
1. From Living in his Car to Comedy Legend
In his 30s, Steve decided to follow his dream and become a comedian. The problem was that Steve had just split up with his wife and was giving 75% of his paycheck to her for child support. Also, this was the late ’80s and he was making $75 a week (about $150 in 2014 value).
That forced Steve to live out of his 1976 Ford Tempo for three full years. He showered and washed in gas station restrooms, pool showers and hotel bathrooms. If he was lucky he could land a gig where he they would put him up into a hotel room, but after that it was back in his car where he slept in the reclining front seat.
Eventually, he started to get steady work in stand up clubs. His big break came when he performed on Showtime at the Apollo, and he’s been on TV ever since. Today, Steve Harvey is a beloved comedian, best selling author, radio personality and the host of Family Feud, which found renewed life with Harvey as the host. Harvey is now considered to have a net worth of $100 million.