21 Celebrities Who Didn’t Get Famous Until Later In Life

If you feel like you’re about half a bottle of wine away from a full-blown quarter-life crisis don’t worry — you’re not alone. Adulthood sometimes feels like a roller coaster you can’t get off of. And it’s even harder when you see some of your peers inventing iPhone apps, making bank, and launching the latest tech startup.

But here’s the good news: some of your favorite celebrities felt the same way into their 20s and 30s when they were struggling to achieve recognition. Many celebs didn’t gain fame until later in life, making that retail job you’re still working feel a little less like a dead end. Some celebs were even waiting tables or almost homeless before they got their big break. These actors and actresses also prove that your 20s aren’t necessarily the ~prime of your life~ — they’re the precursor to your best years.

If you’re in need of some serious inspiration and motivation then keep reading for the most famous late bloomers!

1. Oprah Winfrey

The legendary Oprah wasn’t a household name until she was 29 and began hosting the show that would become The Oprah Winfrey Show. While she’s a strong presence just about everywhere now (hello, did you watch the Emmy Awards? Everyone was fangirling hard!), she struggled to make it as an African American woman in the media. She was even fired from her first real media job in her early 20s. She’s the prime example of how the grind matters — work your ass off and good things will come. Clearly she’s made up for lost time, building a massive empire, OWNing her own dang TV network, and being generally the most famous person in any room.

2. Tina Fey

At 23, Fey was working at YMCA. It was five long years later that she would join Saturday Night Live as a writer and cast member. Even then she still wasn’t a household name — that is until SNL allowed her to write and star in the smash hit Mean Girls when she was 34. The queen of sarcasm and night cheese worked the improv circuit and honed her skills for years before becoming the absolute comedy goddess she is today.

3. Vera Wang

Wang had brushes with being famous but never truly achieved it until the age of 40 when she began designing wedding gowns. Previously she had been a figure-skater and an editor at Vogue. Despite these successes she was slighted in each of those career paths. She was turned down for the Olympic figure skating team and later at Vogue she was passed over for the editor-in-chief position.
Instead of pouting, she took her destiny into her own hands the rest is high fashion history.

4. J.K. Rowling

JK Rowling is well known today for creating the magical wizarding world of Harry Potter. But before she was famous she was a struggling single mom who had been on welfare and almost homeless. Over the course of many years she wrote what became Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in coffee shops around the U.K..
After being denied for a book deal several times (those publishers must have REGRET) she was finally able to publish the first Harry Potter book at the age of 31. Now she’s as far from struggling as she can be and routinely donates her riches to help those struggling like she once was.

5. Stan Lee

You know all those amazing Marvel movies from the last decade or so? You can thank Stan Lee for those. The comic book pioneer created the legendary “Fantastic Four” just before his 39th birthday with the rest of the Marvel universe soon to follow. It was when he was 40 that he created Spider-man, his most famous character and one of the most enduring comic book characters of all time. His life now includes silly Marvel Cinematic Universe cameos and probably bathing in cash or something.

6. Leslie Jones

Saturday Night Live comedic powerhouse Leslie Jones had to work real hard for a real long time to achieve fame. She spent decades touring doing stand-up comedy waiting for her big break. That break finally came in 2014 when she joined the cast of SNL at the age of 46. Nowadays Jones is everywhere. She stared in the female-fronted Ghostbusters reboot and is hilarious on Twitter, in case you were wondering.

7. Morgan Freeman

Morgan Freeman is not only one of the biggest actors in the world, but he has one of the most recognizable voices on the planet. He wasn’t always such a figure, though, and didn’t become famous until much later in life. His first big role was Driving Miss Daisy at the age of 52. He’s incredibly successful and beloved now and has worked tirelessly to make up for lost time earlier in his life.

8. Ken Jeong

Before he was hilarious in movies like The Hangover, Ken Jeong was a practicing physician. Jeong honed his stand-up on the side and landed his first big role in the 2007 comedy Knocked Up as, well, a doctor. At least he didn’t have to stretch himself too thin!
Jeong is now a full time comedian and actor delivering some of the funniest characters on TV and in films today.

9. Jane Lynch

Lynch is a towering comedic figure nowadays but she wasn’t always so famous. The actress struggled to land work, doing several commercials and odd jobs before she got her big break. In 2000, Christopher Guest cast her in his faux-documentary Best in Show for which she received acclaim and fame. At the time she was 40 years old. Her career has flourished since then with audiences knowing her best as Sue Sylvester on Glee.

10. Steve Carell

While Carell had bit parts here and there, including being a correspondent for The Daily Show, he wasn’t exactly famous until one special role came along. That is the part of Michael Scott when the American version of The Office came along. When this role came along Carell was already in his 40s. His career skyrocketed from there, spanning across movies and television. We now know him as one of the funniest guys in the entertainment biz.

11. Amy Poehler

Amy Poehler spent years on the improv circuit, but didn’t break out with a role on Saturday Night Live until she was 31. She truly became a household name with her role as Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreatio/ in 2009. At the time she was 38 and just beginning a career path that would lead to her hosting the Golden Globes, among many other accomplishments.

12. Alan Rickman

Rickman is known for his villainous role in Die Hard, which also happens to be his first film role EVER. At the age of 46, after leaving behind a graphic artist’s job and putzing around the theater scene for a while, he finally got his big break in one of the biggest action films of all time.
Rickman soon became famous for playing the villain. While he’s been iconic for awhile, most people our generation know him as Severus Snape, the teacher who tortures Harry Potter in the book and film series. Rickman unfortunately passed away last year, but he left behind a storied career despite it only beginning in his 40s.

13. Kathy Bates

Bates is proof that sometimes an actor’s breakout role is one of their best. At 43 she achieved fame by nabbing a role in Misery, a film based off of a Stephen King novel. The role earned her an Oscar and a Golden Globe, and made her pretty dang famous.
Bates has been rocking the film and TV scene ever since. She is currently part of the American Horror Story world and recently starred in the Netflix sitcom Disjointed as a pot shop owner.

14. Connie Britton

Britton had a few TV roles here and there, but her big break came when she landed the role of Tami Taylor on Friday Night Lights when she was in her early 40s. Her acting chops (and perfect hair) propelled her into the spotlight.
Since then she’s had roles on American Horror Story, as well as a starring in the hit country-music show Nashville.

15. Jenna Fischer

Fischer was a struggling actress before she landed the role of Pam on The Office when she was 31. The show gave her acting career new life and finally made her famous. A big contributor to that fame was the on-screen romance between Pam and Jim (John Krasinski) on the show. Fans were so into their OTP being together that both actors got a major boost in attention.

16. Rodney Dangerfield

After trying to make it as a comedian for years, Dangerfield (born Jacob Cohen) actually quit the business at one point to work as an aluminum siding salesman to make ends meet. After a divorce he jumped back into comedy, taking on the moniker of “Rodney Dangerfield” to project more of an image. It wasn’t until he was in his 40s that he got a break on The Ed Sullivan Show and was able to be a comedian for a living. Dangerfield transitioned from comedy into film and became a household name with movies like Caddyshack and Back to School. The comedian passed away in 2004 after a long and successful career.

17. Melissa McCarthy

McCarthy is one of the most well-known actresses on the planet today but that wasn’t always the case. While she got some acclaim from her role on Gilmore Girls, she reinvented herself when she starred in the hit film Bridesmaids at the age of 41.
She’s been rocking it her 40s ever since, becoming a comedy mainstay in film and on television. And thank god we have her during this presidential administration for her hilarious Sean Spicer impression.

18. Harrison Ford

After struggling as an actor into his 30s, Ford hit it way big when he was cast in one of the biggest franchises of all time: Star Wars. His role as Han Solo is now legendary and it made Ford more famous than he ever could’ve imagined. He was 35 at the time and hasn’t slowed down since, becoming one of the biggest actors of all time.

19. Samuel L. Jackson

Samuel L. Jackson was a working actor for a long time, but never quite achieved widespread success. That is until he was 46 and starred in a little film called Pulp Fiction. His role in the film remains one of his most iconic even to this day.
Since the film, Jackson has gone on to appear in over 100 films, with his IMDB showing an impressive 176 roles to date. He’s even gotten in on the superhero franchise train and stars as Nick Fury in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

20. Bryan Cranston

Cranston is one of the biggest names in Hollywood due to his acclaimed role as meth-purveyor Walter White on Breaking Bad. This role didn’t come his way until the age of 50! While he found a little bit of success earlier with his role in the sitcom Malcolm in the Middle, it certainly didn’t make him a household name or entitle him to any juicy roles. Cranston has spoken out about finding fame later in life saying, “I’m grateful it happened later, because I was able to develop a sound foundation of my life without any level of fame given to a boy.”

21. Jon Hamm

Jon Hamm had small roles here and there (including a stint on a reality dating show!) but it wasn’t until 2007 when he was 36 that he nailed his defining role: Don Draper on Mad Men. Since then Hamm has shown his dramatic chops, as well as his comedy skills on 30 Rock and hosting Saturday Night Live.
With at least three films upcoming and many more to come, it’s fair to say Hamm isn’t going anywhere.

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