8 Celebrities Who Lived in Their Cars Before Their Big Breaks
By Gina Vivinetto
Photo: Getty Images
This week, Hollywood mega star Chris Pratt reminisced to Ellen DeGeneres about his days as a broke actor living in a van on the streets of Maui. A $700 part in a low-budget horror movie was his lucky break, Pratt shared, revealing that he lived off the paycheck for a full year! The 35-year-old Jurassic World star hardly needs to budget like that these days.
Weirdly, Pratt’s not alone. Hollywood history is filled with stories of down-and-out entertainers waiting for luck to strike. Here are eight more celebrities who lived in their cars before their big breaks.
The "Heartbeat Song" singer is now reportedly worth an estimated $29 million, but she grew up poor in a small town in Texas. After high school graduation, Clarkson went to Los Angeles to shop around her demo tape. When her apartment building burned down, the singer, now 32, lived briefly in her car before giving up and slinking back to Texas. Her life changed when she heard about an audition for a new singing competition reality TV show called American Idol in 2002.
There’s a reason two-time Academy Award winner Hilary Swank gravitates toward underdog roles. Swank, now 40, grew up in a trailer park in Washington. After her father left the family, teenage Swank and her mother Judy took off for Los Angeles, living out of an Oldsmobile so Swank could audition for parts. After a few early breaks, Swank landed the role of murdered transgender teen Brandon Teena in the film Boys Don’t Cry, for which she won her first Oscar. "My background is not something I forget," Swank has said. "It helps me to not take what I have for granted."
Before he was the star of The Drew Carey Show and the host of The Price Is Right, Carey, 56, was just a comedian in Cleveland trying to get booked on The Tonight Show, whose host Johnny Carson was known for making comedians’ careers. Carey headed west to Los Angeles where he lived in his car for a year and a half until he got the call from producers. The set went well: Carson laughed like crazy, invited Carey over to the couch to chat, and the rest is history.
Just before wowing audiences in Avatar and Clash of the Titans, the Australian star was unemployed and out of work. "Sold everything I owned and was just living in the car basically, not doing much," he told an interviewer. An audition with director James Cameron changed his life, and Worthington, 38, ditched the car for proper digs. The actor, who has a newborn son with Aussie model Lara Bingle last month listed his Hawaiian mansion for sale. The price? $6.5 million.
Sure, she’s sold 27 million albums worldwide, but the folky singer and reality show judge, who scored a huge hit with 1995’s "Who Will Save Your Soul?," grew up in a house in Alaska without plumbing. At age 18, the singer lived in her car for a year, driving from city to city to play gigs before landing a record deal. "Money will not make you happy, but it takes away a lot of stress," she’s said. "To this day, the things I love the most are having a place to live, never worrying about my electrical bills, being able to buy the groceries I want to buy, and being able to pay the doctors."
Actor and director Perry is a Hollywood empire unto himself, but life wasn’t always so easy. Perry, now 45, spent every penny he had trying to stage his landmark musical I Know I’ve Been Changed, which forced him to be homeless for six years, some of which Perry spent living in his car.
"Can you imagine a six-foot-five man sleeping in a Geo Metro?" he told Essence magazine.
Her financial house is in order now (and she’d like yours to be, too!), but even money guru Orman had a rough beginning. On her personal website, Orman, now 63, recalls dropping out of college and borrowing money from her brother to buy a Ford Econoline van, which she and friends lived in as they drove across the country. After years of waiting tables, Orman’s life changed when a friendly customer took pity on the broke young woman and handed her a check for $2,000 with instructions on how to invest it.
The television personality and author is on top of the world these days, but Harvey, now 58, remembers the three years he spent homeless when he was trying to crack the comedy circuit in the late 1980s. Money dried up. "I had nowhere to go," Harvey told People, so he began living in his 1976 Ford Tempo, using an Igloo cooler as a refrigerator. “It was rock bottom,” he recalled. "But even in my darkest days I had faith it would turn around." A call to appear on Showtime at the Apollo was his lucky break.