10 Greatest Rags to Riches Stories
By CT Goodson
Last year American voice-over artist Ted Williams became a national sensation when he was discovered in a state of bewildered homelessness. His hand-lettered sign and his god-given golden cry for help made him an overnight celebrity, spurring him from literal rags to potential wealth and fame. Williams is the typical client Ron Barba, a Craigslist talent agent in the hilariously funny new Internet television Show, King of List, would love to represent, if he wasn’t so busy pulling nascent talent from off of Craigslist.
Williams’ very human story of struggle and redemption is still playing out, although in a lower key. Since his brief stint with national fame, Ted Williams has privately suffered a relapse and a recovery and is now working on a new project with NECN as their official “Voice”. While we wait to see if Ted will rise to riches we can look back on a number of other very determined people who were spurred to success by their humble beginnings.
King of the List – Bully for you Ron Barba!
J.K. Rowling – Author
In the 1990s, Rowling was a single mother who literally wrote herself out of clinical depression and a state welfare system and landed in a much better place by 2008. By that time her Harry Potter series had rocketed Rowling to successful author status with at least 9 prestigious awards for 5 different books that have since become a global brand worth approximately $15 billion. That’s BILLION!
Michael Oher – Pro Athlete
Michael Oher was one of twelve children born into poverty, addiction and instability. Having spent most of his childhood bouncing around foster homes and repeating grades in eleven different elementary schools while his father was frequently imprisoned and his mother struggled with drug addiction, Oher managed to find stability in high school while living with his foster family, LeeAnn and Sean Tuohy, who later adopted him and are credited with hiring the tutor that helped turned his 0.76 GPA to an acceptable 2.52 GPA which allowed him entry to the University of Mississippi where he became a fantastic offensive tackle. Oher was then drafted in the first round by the Baltimore Ravens.
Oher’s extraordinary tale of triumph over adversity has since been re-told in the popular movie The Blind Side.
Manny Pacquiao – Pro Athlete / Politician
Now, one of the most recognized athletes in the world, Pacquiao was born in the Philippines and lived in extreme poverty. After living in a dirt shack and doing what he could to bring money into the household, Pacquiao left home at age 14 to ultimately become the WBO Welterweight World Champion, while pursuing endeavors of acting and music recording. In May, 2010 he was elected to the House of Representatives in the 15th Congress of the Philippines, representing the province of Sarangani.
Guy Laliberte – Circus Entrepreneur
Laliberte took a huge gamble when he dragged his street performing team of acrobats from Quebec to the Los Angeles Arts Festival in 1987 – primarily because they didn’t even have enough money for the gas to get back home if things didn’t work out. Luckily, Steve Wynn was all about the gamble and he brought Laliberte and his gang back to Las Vegas in the form of the now billion dollar enterprise known as Cirque du Soleil.
Jim Carrey – Actor
Funny man Jim Carrey’s estimated net worth is somewhere around the $150 million mark. This could be surprising considering some of his childhood setbacks: his whole family had to live out of a Volkswagen camper van for a time, Carrey dropped out of high school to work full time at the age of 16 and, unsurprisingly, he also struggled with depression. Carrey is credited with being the first actor to reach the $20 million salary mark for a single film for Cable Guy (1996).
Mike Tyson – Pro Athlete / Actor(?)
Mike Tyson might be a comfortably retired 45 year old millionaire now, but that is a far cry from the circumstances that led to his lucrative American boxing career. Fatherless from the age of 2, poor and well versed in petty crime, (he’d been arrested 38 times by the time he was 13), Tyson was finally able to find refuge in the ring when he was forced to attend the Tryon School for boys. There he met his trainer and future guardian that spurred him on to become a former undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. Unfortunately his comfortable nest egg could not help Tyson escape controversy and convictions as an adult.
John Paul Dejoria – Consumer Products Entrepreneur
John Paul Dejoria is the epitome of entrepreneurial spirit and his Paul Mitchell hair care products are virtually a household word. It would seem that Dejoria has always had the odds stacked against him. Despite having his first job at the age of nine, he was placed in foster care when his mother was unable to support Dejoria and his brother. He suffered two bouts of homelessness, once in his early 20s and later with his toddler son. Still, he was able to create Paul Mitchell Hair Systems with a mere $700 start up loan, and he currently enjoys the satisfaction of a net worth of right around $4 BILLION dollars.
Oprah Winfrey – Entertainer and Media Mogul
Although the release of a new unauthorized biography of Oprah Winfrey may make some peeps question the veracity of Oprah’s long-standing rags to riches story, it is still a good enough story to tell. The well-respected, book loving billionaire was born to a single, teenaged mother, grew up on her grandmother’s farm in rural Mississippi and suffered sexual abuse at the hands of her relatives when she lived with them in Wisconsin. To know of her many media successes and her financial status is to know that she certainly does live her very best life despite the challenges she claims she has faced.
Leon Cooperman – Money Manager
Leon Cooperman is Wall Street’s Omega Advisors founder with a current net worth of approximately $1.8 BILLION. That kind of money is enough to drive a steadfast occupier to the brink of insanity. But what does an occupier think when he or she finds out that Cooperman grew up in the Bronx as the son of immigrant parents and the first of his generation to graduate from college? It shouldn’t be too hard to conceive of Cooperman’s status in life at the time he graduated – he came away with zero money, hefty student loan debt and a six month old child that had special needs. In his own words, “I have proved that with an average IQ, lots of drive and ambition coupled with a heavy dose of good luck, a lot can be accomplished,” as told in Forbes. Yep, lots of drive and a solid 25 year work history at Goldman Sachs.
King of the List – Ventriloquist, Duh
King of the List -Trailer
CT Goodson is a freelance writer from Chicago who has been temporarily transplanted to a small, northern Illinois town. She actively writes and researches while deftly managing life’s chaos, which provides plenty of material for her own writing projects.