Celebrities who Overcame Adversity

Celbrity who overcame adversity

Marylin Monroe, A Celebrity who Overcame Adversity

Failure is a blessing when it pushes us out of a cushioned seat of self-satisfaction and forces us to do something useful.

 Napoleon Hill

If we leverage the opportunity of the challenges we face in our lives, I believe that every one of us is capable of so much more. Each New Year no longer needs to mark a hollow opportunity for us to reset our lives for a moment, but rather a chance for us to grow and push beyond our limitations.

Is Napoleon Hill correct? Let’s test the elements and see if people’s greatest opportunities often occurred during times of great adversity.

After looking at the lives of some famous people, here is what I found:

Abraham Lincoln lost his job, failed in business, had his sweetheart die, had a nervous breakdown, and lost almost every political office he ever ran for before becoming elected the 16th President of the United States. With each set back, he also rebounded to greater success.  http://ow.ly/scQxN

Akio Morita was the founder of Sony.  Sony’s first product was a rice cooker that unfortunately didn’t cook rice so much as burn it.  Morita sold less than 100 units.  http://ow.ly/scQR3 

Alan Rickman got his first movie role at age 46 supporting himself by working as a dresser for other actors (and we mean literally helping them put their clothes on). He has gone on to play such notables as Severus Snape in Harry Potter.  http://ow.ly/scR4u 

Albert Einstein didn’t speak until he was three years old and failed to impress his teachers all the way through college. His instructors thought Einstein was lazy, sloppy, insubordinate, and that he would never amount to anything. http://ow.ly/scRnl

Bethany Hamilton at age 13 survived an almost deadly shark attack that resulted in her losing her left arm; yet Bethany has gone on to become a Professional Surfer and win numerous surfing championships. http://ow.ly/scRvR 

Bill Gates, the second richest man in the world with a net worth of $72 Billion dollars, was not always so successful. Gates’ first product was Traf-O-Data 8008, a device which could read traffic tapes and process the data. They first tried to sell the processing service to the local County, but their first demo failed because the machine ‘didn’t work.’  http://ow.ly/scRJb 

Dick Cheney failed out of Yale college twice and was arrested for DWI on two separate occasions before getting his life together and having a stellar political career, including becoming the 46th vice president of the united states.  http://ow.ly/scRQk 

Elvis Presley was fired by the manager of the Grand Ole Opry, after his first performance, with Jimmy Denny telling him “You ain’t goin’ nowhere, son. You ought to go back to drivin’ a truck.” http://ow.ly/scRZc 

Franklin D Roosevelt, our 32nd president who serve four terms and was the first president elected with a disability. He was diagnosed with infantile paralysis, better known as polio, in 1921, at the age of 39 leaving his lower legs incapacitated, yet that never stopped him from becoming President. http://ow.ly/scShO 

Fred Astaire during his first screen test was a major flop; judges wrote: “Can’t act. Can’t sing. Slightly bald. Can dance a little” – yet Fred Astaire went on to be one of America’s greatest dancers.  http://ow.ly/scSvv

Halle Berry lived in a homeless shelter in her early 20s when she moved to Chicago to become an actor and ran out of money; yet she went on to be the first and the only woman of African-American descent to win an Oscar for a leading role.   http://ow.ly/scSWE 

Harland David Sanders “Colonel Sanders” at 65 had his restaurant go bankrupt, when the state rerouted a major highway. Sanders then invested all the money he had in the world –his first social security check to start up Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). Well the rest is history. http://ow.ly/scT9d

Henry Ford’s first auto company went out of business. He abandoned a second and third went downhill because of declining sales. Despite three failed businesses early in his career, Ford still went on to become one of the greatest American entrepreneurs ever. http://ow.ly/scTjh

Jack Canfield & Mark Victor Hansen, authors of the book Chicken Soup for the Soul, received 140 rejections before they found a publisher. Their Chicken Soup for the Soul series has now solid over 125 million copies to date.  http://ow.ly/scTHy

Jennifer Lopez was homeless and used sleep on the sofa of the dance studio before she became famous. http://ow.ly/scTU4 

Jerry Seinfeld when he first went onstage was booed off by a jeering crowd; yet Seinfeld has gone on to be one of the wealthiest and most famous comedians of our time.  http://ow.ly/scUny 

Jim Carrey as a child overcame severe poverty. He and his family had it so tough at one point that they were homeless living in a camper van. Today, Carrey is one of the highest paid comic actors in Hollywood.   http://ow.ly/scUOn

Joanne “Jo” Rowling (J.K Rowling) author of the Harry Potter series went through a seven-year period that entailed the death of her mother, divorce from her first husband and living in poverty on state benefits while battling with depression. She lived in a mice-infested flat in Edinburgh and struggled to raise her baby daughter on a welfare check of 70 pounds ($100) a week.  Without money to heat her apartment, she would sit in cafes to stay warm for two hours at a time to write, while her daughter slept.  http://ow.ly/scVEr 

Jozef Teodor Konrad Nalecz Korzeniowsk, aka Joseph Conrad, orphaned at age 11, was a sailor, drifter & criminal involved in gun smuggling until 37.  After a failed romance that ended in a duel, facing near bankruptcy from a severe gambling debt, Conrad attempted to commit suicide by shooting himself. Joseph Conrad would go on to author such great works of literature as the Heart of Darkness, the inspiration for Francis Ford Coppola’s famous Vietnam war movie Apocalypse Now.  http://ow.ly/scW4j 

Kathryn Joosten was an unemployed nurse living in Hollywood who moved in with her son. She had no agent, no contacts and close to nothing on her resume and yet she became an Emmy Award Winning actress at 56.  http://ow.ly/scWea

Lucille Ball began studying to be actress in 1927; she was told by the head of the John Murray Anderson Drama School, “Try any other profession” and yet she still went on to be one of Hollywood’s most talented comedic actresses.  http://ow.ly/scWo1 

Mark Cuban, Dallas Mavericks owner and HDNet chairman, president and CEO, net worth 2.5 billion dollars. Mark Cuban’s first job was laying carpet– Cuban quickly learned he was absolutely horrible at it. He also worked as a short-order cook and was so incompetent at the job because he could never tell if the food was done right unless he sampled it. Cuban also worked as waiter in a high class restaurant but could never open the wine bottles without getting cork in the wine.  http://ow.ly/scWAD

Marilyn Monroe spent most of her childhood jumping from one foster home to another and residing with members of her extended family. She dropped out of school to marry the son of a next door neighbor which ended in a divorce.  To get her start in modeling and make ends meet in Hollywood she did soft-core photos for trading cards and calendars.  When her first contract with Columbia Pictures expired, they told her she wasn’t pretty or talented enough to be an actress and yet she overcame to become one of Hollywood’s greatest icons. http://ow.ly/scWRz 

Nick Woodman, billionaire, failed with two online start-ups during the crazed dotcom bubble of 2000 before founding Go-Pro. http://ow.ly/scX2x 

Oliver Stone failed out of Yale College twice before becoming a decorated war veteran and famous movie director.  http://ow.ly/scX9w

Oprah Winfrey was born into poverty in rural Mississippi to a teenage single mother and later raised in inner city Milwaukee. She experienced considerable hardship during her childhood. She was raped at age nine and became pregnant at 14; her son died in infancy. http://ow.ly/sdLzg

Orville and Wilbur Wright: Wilbur Wright battled depression and heart problems. After numerous attempts at creating flying machines, several years of hard work, and tons of failed prototypes, the brothers finally created a plane that could get airborne and stay up for several hours at time. http://ow.ly/thdcq

Peter Roget, inventor of the thesaurus at 73, battled mental illness and psychotic episodes throughout his life, yet it was his childhood obsession with keeping lists that invariably led to his later success for what is a thesaurus but nothing more than a list of related words. http://ow.ly/thcVS

Rowland Hussey Macy founder of the famous department store chain R.H. Macy and Company. Macy worked as a sailor, a failed printer’s apprentice, dabbled in real estate speculations and even tried his hand at going to California for the Gold Rush. Macy then opened his first dry goods store in 1843 and failed in four additional retail ventures before finding success. http://ow.ly/thdpj

Sidney Poitier multi-award winning actor, including first African American to win the Academy Award. After his first audition, Poitier was told by the casting director, “Why don’t you stop wasting people’s time and go out and become a dishwasher or something?”   http://ow.ly/thdxL

Soichiro Honda was born in a rural village and received little formal education and left school at age 15 to work as an apprentice-auto mechanic, where he first learned about cars. He was rejected by Toyota for an engineering job and unemployed for quite some time. Honda was also expelled from college, survived severe illness, and even bankruptcy before becoming successful.  http://ow.ly/thdOn

Steven Allan Spielberg  was rejected by the University of Southern California (USC) School of Cinema Arts twice before becoming one of the world’s greatest filmmakers. http://ow.ly/the6B

Susan Boyle was a 47-year old spinster who lived a life of total obscurity battling Asperger’s syndrome emotional outbursts” and “acute anxiety” that afflicted her throughout her life. She was also often bullied throughout her early childhood. Her life changed forever when she won Britain’s Got Talent on 11 April 2009.  http://ow.ly/thej7

Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss received over 27 rejections from publishers before getting his break. In one rejection letter, Seuss was told that his work was “Too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.”  http://ow.ly/thetd

Thomas Edison who invented the first commercially practical light bulb filled more than 40,000 pages with notes and tested more than 1600 materials before finding the right filament for his incandescent light.  http://ow.ly/thf9y

Vera Wang failed to make it to the US figure skating team and was passed over for the Editor and Chief Position at Vogue before going on at 40 to launch her career as a fashion designer http://ow.ly/thfhi

Vincent VanGogh sold only one painting in his life time and yet completed over 800 known works, not becoming famous until after his death.  http://ow.ly/thfrU

Walter Elias “Walt” Disney’s first animation company went bankrupt. Disney battled depression throughout his life and was rejected by over 302 bankers before he was able to secure funding for his theme park. Early in his career, Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor because he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”



Winston Churchill failed the sixth grade and lost every race for public office he ran for before becoming Britain’s Prime Minster at age 62

I was shocked to discover so many great people have encountered so many hardships and yet gone on to achieve such extraordinary levels of success.

Action Questions:

  1. What can you learn from the people you admire most in life and the adversities they have overcome?
  2. How many of your greatest opportunities occurred during times of adversity?
  3. If you are experiencing any challenges today, how could you turn things around by capitalizing on these challenges to decide on making a radical change in your own life?
  4. Please add any inspirational stories of people you admire who overcame failure or adversity in the comment section so I can keep updating this list.

Primary Sources for this Article Include:





NAPOLEON HILL’S THOUGHT FOR THE DAY Williamson, Judith; Hill, Napoleon (2011-07-25). Napoleon Hill’s Thought for the Day (Kindle Locations 4-8). The Napoleon Hill Foundation. Kindle Edition.




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