The Superstars of Reinvention

Life lessons from five amazing celebrity transformations

Celebrities undergo a makeover every time they play a role. A few actually change who they are, with transformations so profound that they hardly seem like the same people anymore. Take a look at these extreme celebrity reimaginations to find inspiration for your own life.

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson: From Wrestling Ring to Red Carpet

Dwayne Johnson attended the University of Miami on a full football scholarship. After graduation he went pro and spent two months in the Canadian Football League. But it wasn't until he became "The Rock" in the World Wrestling Federation in the 1990s that people started to take notice, says Jane Boursaw, founder and editor-in-chief of entertainment web site ReelLifeWithJane.com.

After 17 championship reigns in WWE — successor to the WWF — he morphed into an actor and then a star. It began with "The Mummy Returns" in 2001. One year later he had the starring role in its prequel, "The Scorpion King." But it was when he made "Walking Tall" in 2004 (and rediscovered his given name of Dwayne Johnson) that people really started to see him as something other than a professional wrestler. Among Johnson's other films are "Gridiron Gang" (2004), "Get Smart" (2008) and the "Fast & Furious" franchise.

It worked. In December 2013, Forbes named him the top-grossing actor of 2013, with his films bringing in $1.3 billion worldwide for the year.

The Takeaway: Be yourself, don't be afraid of making changes as you keep moving forward but remember who you are.

Angelina Jolie: Bad Girl to Good Will Ambassador

It's hard to remember Angelina Jolie as a bad girl anymore. But she earned notoriety for a "more than brotherly kiss" with her sibling at the 2000 Academy Awards, for being bisexual and for wearing a vial of then-husband Billy Bob Thornton's blood around her neck.

Angelina started to come into her own (and develop a cult following) with her performance in 1995's "Hackers," but her fame really gained momentum with her role in the 1997 TV movie "George Wallace," the 1998 TV movie "Gia," and 1999's "Girl, Interrupted." All three won her Golden Globes, and "Girl, Interrupted" earned her an Oscar.

Today, she is a major force in important world issues and serves as a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador. Pop culture expert Rob Weiner, associate humanities and pop culture librarian at Texas Tech University, says Jolie's role as devoted mother to six children with partner Brad Pitt has contributed to her change. In May 2013, The New York Times published her poignant op-ed about her decision to undergo prophylactic mastectomy because she carries the BRCA1 gene inherited from her mother, actress Marcheline Bertrand, who died of ovarian cancer in 2007.

The Takeaway: Finding meaning can ignite transformation.

Robert Downey Jr.: From Prison Number to Name Before the Title

If there was ever a good example of someone who can move beyond his troubled past, it's Robert Downey Jr. He has a long and storied history with Hollywood. He made his screen debut in 1970 at the age of five, appearing in his father Robert Downey Sr.'s film "Pound." He was associated with the 1980s Brat Pack, thanks to roles in movies such as John Hughes' "Weird Science," as well as "Less Than Zero," co-starring Andrew McCarthy.

But in 2000, drug charges landed him in the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison. After being released and getting arrested twice more, then fired from a gig on "Ally McBeal," Boursaw says it was a court-ordered drug treatment program that got Downey sober.

Moving from a drug-fueled background to earning a reported $75 million between June 2012 and June 2013 is not a miracle, says Boursaw. It's a testament to his ability to overcome deep-seated issues.

The Takeaway: Just because the obstacles are overwhelming doesn't mean they are insurmountable.

Bono: From Making Music to Making a Difference

After the loss of his mother at age 14, Irish singer-songwriter Paul David Hewson — known as Bono, the co-founder and lead singer of the iconic rock band U2 — found solace in music. Throughout the band's early years, they found success with songs that addressed politics, social issues and religion. Even as he toured the world, living the life of a rock star, he was socially active, Weiner says. But no one could have foreseen the force he would become in philanthropy and humanitarian issues.

"It's really been in the last 10 years or so that he's been on the world scene, hobnobbing with politicians, working on issues like how to end world hunger and bringing issues related to really pivotal problems that third-world countries have to the forefront," Weiner says.

The flash rock star is now a player on the world stage. He was named Time magazine's Person of the Year in 2005 and made an honorary knight by Queen Elizabeth in 2007.

The Takeaway: Small steps can start you on a path toward significant change.

Betty White: Once a Scene Stealer, Always a Scene Stealer

Even in her first starring role in "Life With Elizabeth," a series which began in 1953 and ran for only 14 episodes, Betty White had a certain star quality that has allowed her to be a "renaissance woman," because she's remained true to herself while throwing herself fearlessly into whatever is before her.

White has had an amazing career that's spanned 60-plus years. She's been a game show queen, a soap opera star ("The Bold and the Beautiful," in 2009), a sought-after talk show guest, a movie star and a sitcom staple, including the iconic roles of Sue Ann Nivens on "Mary Tyler Moore" and Rose Nylund on "The Golden Girls."

White has never stopped working, but her re-imagination came when the scene-stealing role in 2009's "The Proposal" brought her back into our consciousness and made us love her all over again. Her pairing with Sandra Bullock was comedy gold.

At this writing, she's 92 and starring on the hit TV Land show "Hot in Cleveland." "That's sheer stamina and perseverance," Boursaw says.

The Takeaway: Don't try to be someone you're not. Never for a minute think you're too old.


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