9 Celebrities Who Overcame Tragic Childhoods Before They Were Famous

Published September 23, 2021
Updated March 12, 2024

Jim Carrey’s Impoverished Vagabond Youth

Jim Carrey Young

Vimeo/Cogent BengerJim Carrey spent his childhood living out of a van and his nights working as a janitor after eight-hour days at school.

Jim Carrey was 32 years old when he became a Hollywood superstar. From Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and The Mask to Dumb and Dumber, his breakout year in 1994 was the stuff of legends — and saw him earn $20 million per picture. Beneath the perfect smile and elastic grimace, however, was a tragic past.

Carrey was 12 years old when his father lost his job. He and his siblings spent their days in school and nights working at a tire factory to make ends meet by mopping floors and scrubbing toilets. Things tragically only worsened when the workload became too big to bear.

Exhausted and unfocused in school, Carrey recalled wanting to “bash somebody’s head in.” He had gone from “straight-A student to not wanting to know anybody’s name, and not wanting to make a friend.” Dropping out at 16, he helped his family buy a van — and became a vagabond.

“My father lost his job when he was 51 and that was the real ‘wow,’ the kick in the guts,” said Carrey. “We lived in a van for a while, and we worked all together as security guards and janitors… We lived in campgrounds or we lived on my sister’s lawn way out in the country and, sure, it got cold in my tent.”

Jim Carrey On Stage

Wikimedia CommonsJim Carrey on stage in 2008.

Meanwhile, his mother was severely depressed and routinely bedridden. She complained about her health regularly, with her desperate pleading for love rooted in a tragic childhood of her own. With a poor father, three siblings, and an emotionally unavailable mother, life in a van was overwhelming.

“My mother wasn’t feeling well most of the time,” said Carrey. “My mom was addicted to pain medication. She was very sick in a lot of ways. She was lovely, too, but she was the child of alcoholics and she had issues. And that’s not intentional abandonment… but if you’re high on painkillers, that’s abandonment.”

“I used to go in there and do impressions of praying mantises… I’d bounce off the walls and throw myself down the stairs to make her feel better.”

Carrey began performing at local Canadian stand-up clubs before venturing to Hollywood for auditions. Within months of being cast on In Living Color in 1990, his mother died of a prescription drug overdose. Carrey’s father died when he finally became a household name in 1994 — never witnessing his son’s success.

Marco Margaritoff
A former staff writer for All That’s Interesting, Marco Margaritoff holds dual Bachelor's degrees from Pace University and a Master's in journalism from New York University. He has published work at People, VICE, Complex, and serves as a staff reporter at HuffPost.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Margaritoff, Marco. "9 Celebrities Who Overcame Tragic Childhoods Before They Were Famous." AllThatsInteresting.com, September 23, 2021, https://allthatsinteresting.com/celebrity-childhoods. Accessed June 21, 2024.