Despite the glamorous lives they currently lead, many of the stars you know and love have lived the hard knock life as a 9-to-5-er just like you. From folding jeans at The Gap, to answering phones, to putting makeup on dead bodies (yeah, really) these stars are no strangers to hard work. With relentlessness and a touch of fortunate circumstances, they rose to the top and were able to get out of their paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyles. Check out these celebrities who had full-time gigs before blowing up, and get inspired as hell.
Taraji P. Henson: Receptionist and waitressGetty
Taraji may be fierce, fabulous and successful, but she’s no stranger to hard work. Before hitting it big with her breakout role in Baby Boy, The Howard University drama alum and single mom worked mornings as a secretary at The Pentagon and evenings as a singing-dancing waitress on a dinner-cruise ship, the Spirit of Washington.
Kanye West: Gap employeeGetty
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and Kanye West didn’t become one of the world’s most influential rappers/tastemakers overnight. In fact, he had a regular old retail job working at The Gap. Obviously, Ye’ had bigger dreams beyond the khaki life, but this part-time high school job was a stepping-stone into his fashion destiny. Though he didn’t make enough money at the time to actually afford the clothes there, it sparked in him something greater. “When I was working at the Gap at 15, I don’t think I had any desire to actually make clothes, but I always felt like that’s what I wanted to be around,” he recently told Paper Magazine.
Harrison Ford: CarpenterGetty
This actor actually has a surprising trade as a carpenter. Who knew? Ford picked up his carpentry trade relatively late in life, after his acting career in the 1960s and ’70s hit a snag and he was landing less than satisfying roles. Luckily, through his industry connections, he was able to rack up an A-list client roster and has done work for Richard Dreyfuss, Joan Didion, Valerie Harper, Ray Manzarek and Sally Kellerman.
Whoopi Goldberg: Mortuary BeauticianGetty
Actress and comedian Whoopi Goldberg worked her fair share of odd jobs before becoming the household name she is today. The View co-host revealed that in her pre-fame days, she once held the morbid job of giving makeovers to the deceased. On her first day as a mortuary beautician, Whoopi recalls that her boss played a practical joke by posing as a dead person coming alive. “That’s the worst thing that could ever happen to you here and it won’t,” he told her. “So there’s nothing to be scared of.” Oh, but it gets even more interesting… Whoopi was also a phone sex operator at night to rake in extra cash.
Rick Ross: Correctional OfficerGetty
Despite his gangster persona and lyrics detailing his life of crime, art doesn’t exactly imitate life in this scenario. In fact, prior to his rap career taking off, Rick Ross was actually on the other side of the law as a correctional officer in his hometown of Miami. Though Ross lost major street cred when his past as a CO was revealed; he says he’s still, in fact, about that life. “I wouldn’t change nothing, ‘cause to me it’s about who Rozay is,” he explained on MTV’s RapFix. “It’s about me. Anywhere I go, when I step in the room, I put it down. People know its authentic right here, they know it’s real.”
Jesse Williams: Teacher
Hunky Grey’s Anatomy star and social activist Jesse Williams has got the looks and the brains. He fact, he lived part of his post-grad life molding young minds as a high school teacher. “As a teacher, part of your job requires you to stand in front of a group of people who don’t want to be there necessarily,” he told Parade Magazine. “I’ve found a lot of parallels between teaching and commanding that attention [in acting]. You’re inspiring people. It’s about being comfortable in my own skin.”
Brad Pitt: Chicken MascotGetty
Oscar-winning actor Brad Pitt was literally weeks away from earning his degree in journalism when decided to take a risk and move to LA to pursue acting. There, he worked several odd jobs as a struggling actor, and even hid that dreamy face under a chicken suit while working as the mascot for el Pollo Loco.
Lucy Liu: Aerobics InstructorGetty
Lucy Liu has solidified herself over the years, but it took lots of grinding to get there. “I worked seven days a week,” the Charlie’s Angels actress told The Seattle Times. “I knew I needed money if I was going into acting because I was probably not going to be making a lot of money off the bat. So I worked five days a week as a secretary and on weekends, during the day, worked as an aerobics instructor.”
Gerard Butler: LawyerGetty
Little did you know, acting is actually Butler’s second career. Back in his homeland of Scotland, Gerard was on the fast track to becoming a lawyer, but ruined his chances of getting certified with incessant partying and drinking. For Butler, that meant having to settle for odd jobs like waiting tables and demoing toys at festivals. Luckily, after bumping into an old friend that was working as an agent, Butler landed his first gig at 27, moved to LA and hasn’t looked back since.