Before Life Got Good
"It's very hard to concentrate when your stomach's rumbling," Shania Twain once said. She should know. As a child, Shania often went to school hungry, and by the age of 14 she was living in a homeless shelter. And the Queen of Country Pop isn't the only major star to have faced such struggles. Click through for more on celebrities who've been homeless—and how that experience may have influenced the charities they support today.
Escaping an abusive childhood home with her mother and siblings, the future country star moved into a shelter for battered women in Toronto and lived there for about a year. The five-time Grammy winner recounted the chilling details in her 2011 memoir, "From This Moment On," and made it her personal mission to help other kids in dire circumstances. Shania Kids Can, established in 2010, works with elementary school students throughout North America.
The "Rocky" road to stardom in the early 1970s forced aspiring actor and screenwriter Sylvester Stallone to sell his beloved bullmastiff for $50 and spend three weeks sleeping in New York's Port Authority bus station. "I was broke," he says. Stallone is now a big supporter of UNICEF and military charities, which benefited from a 2015 auction of his memorabilia from "Rocky" and "Rambo."
The two-time Oscar winner's roots were far from swanky. In 1989, at the age of 15, she and her mother lived in a car for two weeks after moving to Los Angeles so Hilary could pursue acting. They then crashed on air mattresses in a friend's empty house, scooting in the morning before the realtor showed up with prospective buyers. Swank now actively supports nearly 20 charities, including the Humane Society and UNICEF.
Bond, James Bond, was broke, dead broke, when he moved to London at age 15 to study acting at the National Youth Theatre in the mid-'80s. Young Daniel Craig worked part-time in restaurants to support himself, but still had to sleep on park benches. His numerous charities today include the Opportunity Network, which provides educational opportunities to low-income students in New York.
Carrey was 12 when his father lost his job, "a kick in the guts" that the actor/comedian has never forgotten. "We lived in a van for a while," recalls Carrey, who worked in a factory eight hours a day after school. In 2005, he joined the battle against world hunger by creating the Better U Foundation, which maintains that "rice is the grain that can change the world."
The one-man movie conglomeration got his start in 1990 in Atlanta, where he invested his $12,000 life savings in an autobiographical play, "I Know I've Been Changed." The show's initial failure forced Perry to live out of his car, but his perseverance paid off when the retooled production became a hit in 1998. The proceeds financed his first movie, "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," jump-starting the blockbuster "Madea" franchise. Perry's millions have benefitted charities like Covenant House, the Jackie Robinson Foundation and MaleSurvivor, which aids male victims of sexual abuse.
The daughter of an abusive alcoholic, Jewel grew up in a house with no heat or running water in Homer, Alaska, where she frequently lived on the streets and resorted to shoplifting. "People treated me like I was contagious," she says. "They thought the homelessness might spread to them." Now the singer helps kids with her Never Broken program, which provides a roadmap to developing job skills and amping up self-esteem.
The eclectic singer and guitarist was 19 when he took a bus to New York in 1989, crashing on friends' couches as he explored the Lower East Side's anti-folk scene. Two years later, facing the prospect of living on the streets in winter, Beck returned to his native Los Angeles. "I was tired of being cold, tired of getting beat up," Maybe that's why so many of his charitable endeavors benefit at-risk children, including Every Mother Counts, the campaign started by former model Christy Turlington to improve the lives of girls and women worldwide, and War Child, a network that helps kids affected by war.
After joining the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve in 1981, where he first got the crew cut that would soon become his trademark, the Cleveland native tried to make his way to Los Angeles but ran out of money in Las Vegas. To fend off homelessness, Carey sold his plasma for $40 a pop, panhandled for spare change and worked briefly as a waiter at Denny's. The "Price Is Right" host is now a huge supporter of child-related charities and public libraries, including the Cleveland Public Library and the Ohio Library Foundation.
The end of "The Partridge Family" in 1974 marked the beginning of a long tailspin for the affable redhead who played the family band's kid drummer. Bonaduce left home, smoked crack and drank all night long, and often lived out of his car or crashed behind a dumpster on Hollywood Boulevard. Clueless fans frequently stopped him for autographs and photos. He now has his own morning radio program in Seattle, and Bonaduce's website has given shout-outs over the years to charities like Bloodworks, a blood bank in the Pacific Northwest, and KOA Care Camps, which helps children with cancer and their families.
Three months after moving to New York in 1989, the aspiring actress was so broke she sought refuge in a homeless shelter. "Shelter life was part of figuring it out for a minute until I could get a waitressing job," says Berry, who has never forgotten her hardscrabble life lesson. The Oscar winner is a prominent supporter of nonprofits like T.Y.M.E. Ministries (Teach Youth Motivate & Empower), which aids runaways and homeless minors, and Jenesse Center, a haven for victims of domestic violence, a leading cause of homelessness.
Before he started hanging out with the other barflies at "Cheers," Grammer was homeless in New York, often camping out behind the theater where he got one of his first jobs. The Emmy Award-winning star of "Frasier" has contributed to more than two dozen charitable causes, including Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the Los Angeles Police Memorial Foundation and various groups that help veterans and missing children.
The financial guru knows all about rags and riches. After graduating college in 1976, Orman drove to Berkeley, California, where she lived in her Ford Econoline van while working as a waitress. "I couldn't afford to rent an apartment, or even a room," Orman wrote in her 2005 bestseller "The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous and Broke." With a net worth estimated at $35 million, she is now associated with the Women's Leadership Conference, which helps women develop tools to advance their lives and careers.
Struggling to find his footing as a standup comedian in Los Angeles in 1973, the future talk show legend lived out of his Chevy pickup. He got his first big break writing jokes for Jimmie Walker ("Good Times"). Today, Letterman's favorite causes include at-risk and disadvantaged youth, education and the environment.
The star of "Apocalypse Now" and "The West Wing" slept on the subway while trying to make it as an actor in New York in the early 1960s. Sheen, who played Mitch Snyder, an advocate for the homeless, in a 1986 made-for-TV biopic, now supports dozens of charities and causes, including St. Francis Food Pantries and Shelters in New York.
Attempting to eke out a living as a standup comic on the road in the late '80s, Harvey was virtually homeless for three years. He lived out of his 1976 Ford Tempo, washing up in public restrooms. "It was so disheartening," Harvey told People in 2013. "But even in my darkest days I had faith it would turn around." He got his big break on "Showtime at the Apollo" and is now so wealthy that he and his wife established the Steve & Marjorie Harvey Foundation to mentor youth and award scholarships.
Jenny From the Block slept in a New York dance studio for three months while trying to break into show biz in the late '80s. It paid off in 1990 when she got hired as a Fly Girl dancer on Fox's sketch comedy series "In Living Color." Fame as a pop idol and movie star soon followed. Lopez pays it forward by supporting dozens of charities and foundations, from the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Save the Children to Amnesty International, the March of Dimes and the Red Cross.
Before "Titanic" made him "king of the world," director James Cameron found himself underwater financially in the early '80s. He lived out of his car and crashed with friends while working on a screenplay about an android assassin that would ultimately be played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. "The Terminator" (1984) pulled the plug on Cameron's money problems forever, freeing up plenty of cash to support organizations that aid ocean-related causes and other environmental issues.
The "Star Trek" captain found himself navigating a far less glamorous enterprise after the groundbreaking show and his first marriage ended in 1969. He soon hit the road to perform summer stock, driving from theater to theater on the East Coast. "I had three kids and was totally broke," says Shatner, "so I lived out of the back of my pickup truck, under a hard shell." Among his favorite charities these days: Habitat for Humanity, which has been building "simple, decent, affordable" housing since 1976.
The TV psychologist's childhood sounds like fodder for an episode of his self-titled talk show. Phil McGraw was 12 years old when he and his father lived in the family car in Kansas City before moving downtown into a room at the YMCA for $5 a week. Dr. Phil supports nonprofit organizations like the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food, the American Heart Association and Children's Miracle Network Hospitals. In 2003, he launched the Dr. Phil Foundation to fight childhood obesity.
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