Inspiring Success Stories of Famous Icons That Prove You’re Never too Old to Make It Big

Some of our favorite celebrities found success at a young age. A few won the genetic lottery of life and were born with a silver spoon. Others were just lucky or became young entrepreneurs. Plenty started out as childhood stars or spun their fortunes straight out of college. Still, life’s not a race. It might surprise you that many modern-day role models were late bloomers. They reached the peak of success and fame later in life.

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Image: Pinterest

While some of these famous faces faced a stream of rejection, for others, the struggle was real. However, they beat the odds and overcome setbacks in life. A few were just adulting or working in dead-end jobs, and only found their true calling when they were much older. So, check out these inspiring humans that prove you should never let age or obstacles get in the way of your dreams.

Melissa McCarthy Became a Bridesmaid at 41

Melissa McCarthy is now one of Hollywood’s highest-paid actresses. She’s also a hilarious comedian, fashion designer, writer and even has a star on the Walk of Fame. Melissa really shot to stardom in the box office hit Bridesmaids and secured her fame in movies like The Heat, The Boss and Life of the Party. However, she was once a struggling actress, with less than $5 in her bank account.

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Melissa originally grew up on a farm in Illinois, before moving to New York at 20. It was there that she discovered her passion for acting and high-end fashion. She then hustled for years as a stand-up comedian and actress, but only landed minor roles and struggled to pay rent. Finally, her hustle paid off. She had her breakout TV role in Gilmore Girls at 30, broke into movies at 41 in Bridemaids, and quickly became a Hollywood star.

Oprah Winfrey Became a TV Show Host at 32

As the self-styled queen of day time TV, Oprah Winfrey is a real media tycoon. She’s also one of the most successful, richest, and influential women in the world. However, she’s come a long way from her poverty-stricken roots. It’s fair to say she did not have the best start in life and had a turbulent childhood. She moved between her mother and father and eventually went to live with her father, who put her on the right track.

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Oprah then overcame her past to flourish at school and win a scholarship to
college. She then pursued her media career but was once fired as a news anchor for getting too emotional about the stories. Thankfully, her empathy helped her transition from radio to hosting her award-winning TV Show at 32. From magazines and movies to a cable channel, she now even owns her own street. Still, after all her success, Oprah never forgets to stay humble.

Samuel L. Jackson Got His Movie Break at 46

Samuel L. Jackson has earned his reputation as a Hollywood legend. With countless accolades to his name, he has graced over 160 movies and is one of the highest-grossing actors of all time. However, his path to fame wasn’t so star-studded. Originally born in Tennessee, Jackson studied marine biology and was heavily involved in the civil rights movement. He then decided to be an actor and later moved to Hollywood to pursue his dreams.

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Samuel landed his first role in the 1972 indie film Together For Days, and appeared in Broadway shows and worked in theatres, but had some personal issues. Finally, in 1994, at the age of 46, he got his big break in Quentin Tarantino’s cult classic Pulp Fiction. From there, Samuel’s career rocketed. He’s been dubbed “the most hard-working man in the business,” and a “director’s dream” as he always throws everything into every role.

J.K. Rowling Brought Harry To Life at 32

As one of the most bankable authors of all time, J.K. Rowling has amassed almost $1 billion for the Harry Potter franchise. However, her path to success wasn’t so magical. In fact, it required unshakable determination. After she conceived the original idea for Harry Potter, Rowling faced numerous obstacles, like the loss of her mother and divorce. This left her as a single parent on welfare.

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Rowling hit rock bottom but didn’t give up. Instead, she channeled her energies into perfecting her craft and started writing from a cafe, with a small baby. After facing a stream of rejections from 12 different publishers, Rowling wasn’t deterred. Finally, she landed a publishing deal, and Harry Potter was brought to life. She published her first book at 32, and so began the magical franchise that we all know and love.

Billy Bob Thornton Got His Movie Break at 41

Billy Bob Thornton is now an Academy award-winning actor, screenwriter, musician, and director. He’s also well known for his high profile marriage to Angelina Jolie, one of the most famous people in showbiz. However, his path to fame wasn’t so glam. Growing up, Billy moved from a small town in Arkansas to Hollywood. He had a hard time in school, and his teachers called him slow. It was only later that he was diagnosed with dyslexia.

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After school, Billy struggled to make it in a rock & roll band. He tried to break into acting but worked in telemarketing jobs and fast food joints to support himself. Billy then had his big break after co-writing, directing and starring in Sling Blade. He was 41 at the time. From there, he went on to conquer Hollywood, with movie and TV credits like Armageddon, Sling Blade, Bad Santa, Fargo, Goliath and A Million Little Pieces to his name.

Bill Gates Launched Microsoft at 31

Bill Gates is the mastermind behind one of the most successful software brands in the world, Microsoft. Nowadays, the self-made billionaire is one of the most influential people on the planet and regularly tops the rich lists. However, Bill Gates also had a rocky path. After dropping out of Harvard, he left to co-found his first company, Traf-O-Data. However, Bill and his partner failed to get the business to launch.

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After the failure of his first company and loss of money, Bill was even more driven to turn his experiences into successes. He used the lessons he learned to create the Microsoft product the following year. When he was 31, Microsoft went public. In the blink of an eye, Bill Gates became a billionaire and the head of the world’s largest software company.

Sir Richard Branson Started Virgin Air at 34

Sir Richard Branson is another hustling tycoon who created the Virgin empire. Now the entrepreneur has been knighted and has around $4 billion under his belt. However, he’s “owned so many businesses he can’t keep track.” After dropping out of school at 16, he founded a Student magazine, a discount record business, and a recording franchise, Virgin records. In 1984, he set his sight higher and launched Virgin Atlantic Airlines at 34.

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However, he then had to overcome a series of setbacks, but his motto is to “never give up.” He wasn’t fazed when his first flight almost didn’t take off, his company Virgin soda fizzled, or his hot air balloon trips left him stranded. When Virgin cars, Virgin fashion, and Virgin digital flopped, he learned from his mistakes and pushed harder to succeed. He continued to take risks with Virgin Galatic and is now simply unstoppable.

Vera Wang Switched to a Fashion Career at 40

Vera Wang always set her sights high and had her eye on the prize. She just started out wanting a different prize. Vera began her career as an accomplished figure skater, but her dreams were crushed after failing to make the US Olympic team. So she switched her plans to become a fashion editor for over 15 years. When she was 40, just before her wedding she had a change of heart and decided to become a fashion designer.

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After designing her own wedding dress, she then tried to break into the fashion industry. Vera then opened her first bridal boutique at 40 and it became one of the most sought after bridal brands. She is now a high-end fashion icon and created her own fashion and lifestyle franchise. Now after 50 years, Vera Wang has dressed almost every A-lister on their wedding day, from Jennifer Lopez and Victoria Beckham to Alicia Keys.

Jay Z Became a Rap God at 32

Jay Z is a certified hip-hop mogul and the legend behind Roc-A-Fella records. However, his meteoric rise to fame wasn’t so fast, and he didn’t have a glamorous start in life. Jay grew up in the projects in Brooklyn and had to hustle for money to make ends meet. For him, rapping was his escape, so he tried to pursue his dreams of being a hip-hop artist. However, he couldn’t get signed by big labels and as no one took him seriously.

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Instead of throwing in the towel, Jay Z just started his own label, but still had issues trying to break the industry. Gradually his career began to rocket. After releasing The Blueprint album at 32, he became known as “the god of rap.” His empire grew, and he signed major artists like Rhianna and embraced ventures like Rocawear clothing. Jay also fell crazy in love with the queen diva, Beyonce, and together they slayed a whole new empire.

Steve Jobs Made Apple a Global Success at 42

Steve Jobs is another money-spinning entrepreneur who turned his biggest failures into success. As the brains behind the Apple franchise, he achieved more in his life than most of us could ever dream of. Still, Steve had a drive for perfection, which caused a power struggle with his partner early on. At 30 he was fired from the company he co-founded, Apple. It was a bitter pill to swallow. He felt like a public failure, but it inspired him to never give up.

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Steve moved on to head companies like NeXT, and Pixar, before returning to Apple in 1997, at the age of 42. He learned to change his leadership style to help empower employees and actually helped revive the Apple brand. He became the head of the new Apple OS division and was the force behind the release of the iPod. This helped revolutionize the music industry and paved the way for the next generation of iPhones, iPads, iMac, iTunes, and more.

Ricky Gervais Became a Comedy TV Boss at 44

Ricky Gervais is now one of the most celebrated comedians in the world. The prolific actor, entertainer, director, screenwriter, and singer shot to fame as the awkwardly hilarious boss in the award-winning TV comedy The Office. Still, he was relatively unknown in showbiz until he was 40 years old. Funnily enough, he was “never impressed with fame” but “what people had done.” And he certainly has “done” a lot and lived a colorful life.

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In the 1980s, Ricky tried to make it as a pop-star in the new-wave band Seana Dancing, before managing the group Suede. He then turned his talents to comedy, as a stand-up comedian and TV star. It was only after starring in The Office and Extras in 2005 at the age of 44, that Ricky achieved mainstream stardom. He then landed movie roles like Ghost Town and Special Correspondents, scored awards and hosted the Golden Globes.

Alan Rickman Became a Movie Villain at 42

Alan Rickman was seen as one of the finest actors of his generation. With his distinctive voice and theatrical flair, he carved a career as a trademark British villain in movies like Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Harry Potter. However, although Alan always loved acting, he originally pursued a career in design as he thought it was a more stable option. Eventually, in 1972 he followed his passions and studied in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

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Alan then started out as a theatrical actor at The Royal Shakespeare company. In 1985, he had his breakthrough stage role in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, and the production moved to broadway. Then in 1988, Rickman made his movie debut at 42, as the villain Hans Gruber in Die Hard. He became one of the most respected talents in the industry and appeared in hits like Galaxy Quest, Dogma and the Harry Potter franchise.

Harrison Ford Became a Jedi at 35

As one of Hollywood’s leading men, Harrison Ford has enjoyed an iconic career spanning over five decades. While Ford is now best known as the hero of action-adventures like Indiana Jones and Starwars, it’s hard to believe that he also had humble beginnings. Originally born in Chicago, Illinois in 1942, Ford majored in philosophy, before realizing he wanted to become an actor.

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Ford was cast in some minor roles but struggled to get major parts. To supplement his income, he took on extra work as a carpenter. He was then in the right place and the right time and met the director George Lucas. From there, he landed his first iconic role in American Graffiti. He then worked as an actor and carpenter, until landing his breakthrough role as Hans Solo in Star Wars in 1977 at 35. Ford then joined Hollywood’s elite.

Betty White Became a Golden Girl at 63

Betty White is everybody’s favorite TV grandma and a true showbiz gem. She really became a modern household name after her playing Rose Nylund on the award-winning 80’s sitcom The Golden Girls at 63. Betty now has a cult following and has graced TV shows and movies like The Bold and The Beautiful, The Proposal, Hot in Cleveland, SNL and Betty White’s Off Their Rockers. However, her path to fame wasn’t without its roadblocks.

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Betty grew up in a different era and dreamed of being a forest ranger, but this was a “male profession.” So she pursued acting. Still, Betty was considered too unphotogenic for Hollywood. But her motto was never to quit, so she worked as a TV assistant, a radio star, a TV game show host and a sitcom producer. She hosted her own show at 32, The Betty White Show, and enjoyed a long TV career, but to us, she’ll always be a Golden Girl.

Larry David Co-Created Seinfield at 42

Larry David is now hailed as a comedy genius, and the co-creator behind one of the most iconic TV shows of all time, Seinfield. He later brought his self-doubt, social awkwardness, and hilarious bickering to the other side of the camera and starred as himself in the comedy series Curb Your Enthusiasm. However, before he made his mark, he almost didn’t become a comedian.

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Larry’s mom originally wanted him to be a mailman, but he failed the civil service exam. He then worked other jobs, before turning his attention to comedy. In the 80s, Larry struggled on the comedy scene. He had stints on TV shows like Fridays as a writer for SNL, but it wasn’t until he was 42 that he co-created Seinfield and it was a hit. He channeled his insecurities, experiences and social awkwardness into the script and created TV gold.

Stan Lee Created His First Comic at 39

Stan Lee is the creative genius behind the Marvel cinematic universe. He has now spun his own superhero empire and helped make the likes of Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and Iron Man household names. Now each of his comic characters became cinematic franchises and are dominating Hollywood. However, Stan Lee really had to start from the bottom. He was born in New York in 1922, but his family had financial difficulties.

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Although he dreamed big and studied, Stan struggled with odd jobs like deliveries and menial office work. He then became an assistant at Timely Comics and worked his way up to a comic writer. He even freelanced in the army. However, he became disillusioned with comics. That was until at 39, he co-created The Fantastic Four. He then reinvented superheroes with popular characters and complex stories and expanded his comic universe.

John Hamm Became Don Draper at 36

As the bonafide star of the award-winning series Mad Men, John Hamm looks as if he cruised into Hollywood on his private jet. He played the no-nonsense ad exec Don Draper for seven seasons and is now a budding Hollywood star. You can spot him in movies like Million Dollar Arm, Keeping Up with the Joneses and Beirut. While Jon is now an award-winning actor, he’s come a long way from his past.

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John was born in St Louis, Missouri, and moved between his father and mother. He enjoyed acting, but it was only at University that he found his passion. After graduating, John taught acting but he dreamed of bigger things. He moved to Hollywood, worked as a waiter and became another struggling actor. He was often told he looked too old for parts but never gave up. He scored minor roles, but at 36 gained international stardom in Mad Men.

Ken Jeong Became a Comedy Legend at 38

Ken Jeong is another legendary Hollywood comedian, who shot to fame in the box office hit Knocked Up at 38 and has never looked back. He has now been circulating the comedy scene with his pals on movie hits like Pineapple Express, The Hangover, and Crazy Rich Asians. Interestingly, Ken almost didn’t find his calling until later in life either. He was born in South Korea, raised in North Carolina and is trained as a licensed physician.

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Ken always loved comedy, so had a side-gig as a stand-up comedian. He later moved to LA and was cast in TV shows like The Office, Entourage and Community. Eventually, Ken landed his breakout role in Knocked Up and so gave up his medical career to pursue acting. He even produced and starred in his own ABC sitcom in 2015, Dr. Ken. He’s now a movie star and churning out hit after hit, so we’re sure there’s plenty to come for him.

Jessica Chastain Got Her Breakout Role at 34

Jessica Chastain is now one of Hollywood’s leading ladies and the head of her own production company Freckle Films. You can usually spot her as the strong female lead in movies like Miss Sloane and Molly’s Game. She’s also very vocal about mental health issues and racial and gender equality. However, her childhood wasn’t so rosy. She was born in Sacramento, California, and had a “difficult upbringing.”

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Jessica had personal struggles growing up and was seen as a “loner” and “misfit” in school. Although she didn’t graduate, she found an outlet through acting. Jessica later finished her adult diploma, studied acting and made her stage debut in Romeo and Juliet. She then secured a scholarship to Julliard School. From there she was cast in TV roles like ER, before landing movies like The Help aged 34 and Tree of Life. She then joined Hollywood’s ranks.

Albert Einstein Started His Career at 29

At school, we were all taught that Albert Einstein was a scientific genius. After all, he was the Nobel-prize winning physicist who developed the theory of relativity and published over 300 scientific papers. While he became a modern-day role model and has influenced the world of physics, Einstein had a different story growing up. He was born in Germany in 1879, and his parents were worried he had developmental issues.

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Einstein wasn’t a child prodigy and didn’t score remarkable grades. He did, however, start educating himself at age ten and excelled in math and science. He later studied for a teaching diploma, but was a rebel, a visionary and loved doing things his way. He struggled to get a job as a professor’s assistant due to his rebellious streak but started writing papers. In 1908 at 29, he became a University lecturer and started to make his mark on the world, his way.

Steve Carell Became a Hollywood Star at 43

Known for his deadpan comedy style and hilarious outbursts, it seems like Steve Carell has always been a Hollywood fixture. He’s now best known for starring in the awkward comedy The 40-Year-Old Virgin and as the socially awkward boss, Michael Scott on the TV sitcom The Office. However, Steve almost chose a different path entirely. He also had to hustle through the industry to get to the top.

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Steve was born in 1962, in Massachusetts and had his sights on a legal career. However, while applying for law school, he realized he wanted to act. So he studied, worked on the comedy scene and performed with a comedy troupe for almost ten years. He landed minor acting roles, but in 1999 joined The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. This lead to movies like Bruce Almighty. but he really shot to fame at the age of 43 in The 40-year-Old Virgin.

Sylvester Stallone Became Rocky at 30

Sylvester Stallone was another actor who could star in his own rags to riches movie. He was born in 1946 in New York, and due to complications at birth, it caused paralysis in the left part of his face. This later gave him slurred speech and a snarling face. Still, he graduated from University and pursued a career in acting. He plugged away at first and took on some controversial roles and minor parts in movies like A Man Called Rainbo.

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While Stallone struggled to pay rent, he was briefly homeless, once sold his wife’s jewelry for cash, and even sold his dog at the liquor store. Then he watched a boxing match, which inspired him to write the script for Rocky. He was offered $350,000 for the script but said no unless he could star in it. The studio finally gave him $35,000 and gave him the starring role. Stallone was 30 years old at the time. Rocky was a huge box office hit, and Stallone became a superstar. Best of all, he had the means to buy his dog back!

50 Cent Broke Into the Rap Game at 28

50 Cent or Curtis James Jackson III grew up in a tough neighborhood in Queens and lost his mother at a young age. He then lived with his grandparents but had a rough start to life. After dropping out of school at 15, he had issues with the law. However, inspired by his favorite artists, Curtis started writing rhymes and dreamed of being a rapper. He then had a wake-up call, which inspired him to change his life.

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50 Cent tried hard to break into the rap game until he met his mentor Jam Master Jay. He was then signed to Columbia Records but was later dropped. He was then signed by Eminem’s label, Shady/Aftermath Records. At 28 50 Cent released the album Get Rich or Die Tryin’, and rose to international stardom. The hip hop star never shook his bad-boy image but instead channeled his past to become a rapper, actor, TV producer, entrepreneur, and investor.

Olivia Colman Won Her First Award at 37

Olivia Colman is now a national treasure in the US. The award-winning British-born actress and comedian has numerous accolades to her name. From an Academy Award to four BAFTAs, she’s charming her way through Hollywood, one movie at a time. While she’s best known for movie roles like Hot Fuzz, The Iron Lady and The Favourite, Olivia also had to plug away for years before she made it.

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Olivia studied acting at the British Old Vic Theatre School and tried to make it as a TV star. She finally shot to fame on Peep Show and became a TV treasure in shows like Green Wing and Fleabag. She also transitioned to movies, but didn’t win her first major award until 37, a BIFA award for Tyrannosaur. Olivia then won an Oscar for The Favorite and won everyone over with a hilarious acceptance speech. We’re sure there’s more to come!

Martha Stewart Sold Her First Cookbook at 41

Martha Stewart is a home-making maestro and has spun her own multi-million dollar empire. The DIY domestic goddess and media mogul now has a cult status and has taken entertaining to a new level. She had two dozen books, a media company, a cooking show and countless branded ventures to her name. However, she didn’t find her calling in life until much later. Martha married, dabbled in modeling and worked as a stockbroker at first.

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However, she always had a culinary passion, so started a catering business for top clients. After a while, her marriage broke down, but she pushed herself further. She published her first cookbook at 41 and made her mark with magazines, videoes, a TV show and media company. She later experienced legal issues but bounced back again. She now counts Snoop Dogg and Eminem as her homies and still sees her domestic franchise shine.