Most first jobs are pretty bad, boring or both. From scooping ice cream during the summer to cleaning toilets at the RV park, everybody has an early job story that is less than glamorous, and celebrities are no different.
Amid the usual teen gigs, though, some of your favorite celebrities had some pretty amazing and even surprising jobs over the years before they found fame and fortune.
Here, we take look at some of the gross, funny and surprising early job stories of 22 famous folks from yesterday and today.
1. Christopher Walken
Job before fame: Assitant lion tamer
Before becoming one of Hollywood’s most versatile actors with more than 100 movies under his belt, Christopher Walken had several career paths. The 79-year-old actor worked as a dancer in a cabaret nightclub as well as several seasonal jobs to support himself. The most intriguing of these jobs was as an assistant lion tamer in a circus.
“The Deer Hunter” star never yearned to be a lion tamer when he was a teenager. But when the opportunity presented itself, and of course it did when Walken was just 16 years old, he simply could not say no.
“It was a touring circus that was owned by a man named Terrell Jacobs. It was just one big tent, and he was a lion tamer. He didn’t have any kids, but the bit was that I would dress up as his son in an identical outfit.'” Walken recalled his brief lion-taming experience in a 2012 interview with Vanity Fair.
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2. Nicole Kidman
Job before fame: Massage therapist
Nicole Kidman learned her first job skills out of necessity. When Kidman was just 17, her mother, 45, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Kidman’s mother needed a massage therapy treatment to relieve pain and help her recover after chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
However, for Kidman’s family, this was prohibitively expensive. To ease her mother’s pain and help her heal, the “Eyes Wide Shut” star took a massage therapy course.
“We didn’t have enough money, so I learned to give massage,” the Australian actress said in an interview with Byrdie. “And then I really fell in love with giving massage.”
3. Steve Buscemi
Job before fame: Firefighter
Steve Buscemi has played some of the sleaziest dudes in Hollywood for decades. Before being our favorite fast-talking miscreant, Mr. Pink was one of the good guys. The very good guys.
Steve Buscemi was a firefighter in the Little Italy neighborhood of Manhattan in the 1980s. Buscemi took the FDNY civil service test in 1976 when he was just 18 years old. He worked with “New York’s Bravest,” from 1980 to 1984 before leaving to become an actor.
Following the September 11 attacks, Buscemi returned to Engine Co. 55. He worked 12 hour shifts alongside other firefighters digging through rubble, looking for survivors.
4. Gal Gadot
Occupation: Actress, model
Job before fame: Combat instructor in the Israeli Defense Forces
Gal Gadot was, it seems, a natural for her role as “Wonder Woman” in the 2017 DC blockbuster. The Israeli-born actress was required, as all are in Israel, to serve a two- to three-year stint in the Israeli Defense Force. The former Miss Israel’s tour of duty coincided with the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War, a 34-day conflict between Lebanon and northern Israel.
“The army wasn’t that difficult for me, Gadot said in a 2015 interview with Fashion magazine. “The military gave me good training for Hollywood. I taught gymnastics and calisthenics. The soldiers loved me because I made them fit.”
Gadot even appeared in the 2007 Maxim photo shoot “Women of the Israel Defense Forces.”
5. Alec Baldwin
Occupation: Actor, producer
Job before fame: Busboy/waiter at Studio 54
Alec Baldwin was a busboy at Studio 54 because, of course, he was.
Studio 54 — the iconic ’70s discotheque known for its star-studded clientele, wicked parties, and all-around decadence — was the perfect place for Baldwin to get noticed by beautiful and famous people. Baldwin also had access to Hollywood insiders before he even began his career.
The club was notoriously difficult to get into, even for A listers paying cover fees. Baldwin— who had just entered NYU film school — was rumored to be especially popular with the older wealthy gay clientele.
While Baldwin worked as a busboy for just two months, it was enough for the star to get enough material to dish on some of the iconic celebrities who frequented the club.
6. Meghan Markle
Job before fame: Calligrapher
Meghan Markle just looks like she writes in calligraphy, and there is always a gentle breeze on her and a little halo of sunset around her hair, right?
That is probably because she does write in calligraphy. She studied the visual art related to writing as a girl in a Catholic school. She even taught calligraphy as a side gig at stationary retailer Paper Source at the Beverly Hills location from 2004 through 2005.
The Duchess of Sussex is known for her love of letters and even worked as a freelance calligrapher between auditions, loving the freedom it gave her.
7. Charlize Theron
Job before fame: Ballerina
Born on a farm in Benoni, South Africa, Charlize Theron grew up in a difficult place at a difficult time. Her life was more than touched with violence and horror, culminating when she was 15 with her mother killing her abusive father in a drunken argument.
However, Theron was determined there would be more for her, so at 16, she won a modeling contract in Italy while attending the Performing Arts High School.
Modeling was only a step on the ladder for Theron, though, because she also was a ballerina. After modeling for a year, she and her mother moved to New York City, where Theron studied at the world-famous Joffrey School of Ballet.
Tragically just two years in, Theron injured her knee so severely that she had to quit and become an Academy Award winning actor instead.
8. Bob Ross
Occupation: Painter, TV host
Job before fame: Master Sergeant in the U.S. Air Force.
Bob Ross, he of the “happy accidents” and friendly little trees, was not always an artist. In fact, he did not start painting until well into his adulthood to relieve the stress of his other job….as a Master Sergeant in the U.S. Air Force.
Ross served 22 years after he enlisted at 18, on post in Alaska, where the feral beauty inspired his art. But the beloved host of “The Joy of Painting” was not always the quiet, mild-tempered dude we know. Quite the contrary, he very often had to be assertive with underlings, which Ross despised.
“I was the guy who makes you scrub the latrine, the guy who makes you make your bed, the guy who screams at you for being late to work,” Ross once said on his retiring from the Air Force.
9. Danny DeVito
Occupation: Actor, director, producer
Job before fame: Hairdresser
After graduating high school, Danny DeVito found himself at loose ends, so he talked with his older sister Angela who owned a beauty salon in New Jersey. She offered the 18-year-old DeVito a job, and he took it.
When Angela decided to sell cosmetics at the salon, she sent DeVito to Manhattan to study makeup artistry at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, where the “Taxi” star was surrounded by lovely young lady students. He was good at it. He liked it.
But here’s where it gets more interesting. DeVito’s loyal clients were older ladies, and as older ladies can be particular, many of them specifically asked DeVito to do their makeup upon their deaths.
10. Jennifer Lopez
Occupation: Actress, singer
Job before fame: Legal secretary
Jenifer Lopez shines in everything she does; apparently, she always has. When “Jenny From the Block” was in her teens in the late ’80s, she spent her Saturdays working at the Law Offices of Thomas Lavin, who clearly saw her potential instantly.
“It’s rare that you know before the person even speaks that you are going to hire her … but that’s how it was with Jennifer,” Lavin told the Bronx Times-Reporter in 2014. “I was amazed at what she could pick up in such a small period of time. I’m convinced that she would have made a great lawyer.”
Lopez started out filing tax returns, took classes at H&R Block, and even became a licensed notary.
11. Barack Obama
Occupation: Politican, lawyer, author
Job before fame: Ice cream scooper at Baskin Robbins.
Long before he was America’s 44th president, Barack Obama was scooping ice cream at the Baskin Robbins in Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii, when he was in high school.
“My first summer job wasn’t exactly glamorous,” said Obama, “but it taught me some valuable lessons. Responsibility. Hard work. Balancing a job with friends, family, and school.”
The job inspired Obama’s 2016 Summer Opportunity Program to get young people into their first jobs.
But don’t think it was all inspiration and life lessons; after one too many free cones, Obama no longer enjoys ice cream, and the scooping was supposedly killer on the wrist.
“Rows and rows of rock-hard ice cream can be brutal on the wrists,” Obama wrote in a now-deleted LinkedIn post.
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12. Gerard Butler
Job before fame: Lawyer
Gerard Butler is considered by many to be a charming, handsome, bad boy type, but he was, in fact, a rather brilliant law student at Glasgow University before he found fame. Known for not only his now world-famous charm but also for his legal acumen, Butler even achieved the honored position as “Head of the Law Society.”
After graduation, Butler took a position as a trainee lawyer with a prestigious law firm in Glasgow; however, due to his less-than-serious attitude regarding start times and general partying, he was fired one week before he qualified as a lawyer.
“I was partying every night and I got fired,” Butler said in an interview with Squaremile. “But my bosses also knew that acting was my passion. They were very realistic with me and said I should just go and do what I really wanted to be doing instead of wasting my time at the office. They were right,”
13. Hugh Jackman
Job before fame: Physical Education Teacher
Hugh Jackman grew up in a house full of boys. After his parents’ divorce when he was just 8 years old, his mother and two sisters moved to England, leaving Jackman and his two older brothers in the care of their father in Australia.
So, when he was hired at 18 by the prestigious Uppingham School in East Midlands as an assistant housemaster to boys just a year or two younger than himself, it must have felt like a natural fit. Jackman primarily taught physical education and tutored boys in English and Drama. Unsurprisingly, the charming Jackman was reportedly quite popular and easily won the favor and respect of the student body.
14. Christopher Lee
Occupation: Actor, singer and author.
Job before fame: Intelligence officer in Royal Air Force
Sir Christopher Lee, who sadly passed in 2015, had one of the most versatile and long-lasting careers in cinema, but his actual life was far more fascinating.
The son of an Italian Contessa (a direct descendent of Charlemagne) and a professional British soldier, Lee followed in his father’s footsteps by joining the Royal Air Force at the beginning of WWII. Lacking the eyesight to be a pilot, Lee became an intelligence officer, fought in the North African Desert, and was an all-around tough dude.
Lee’s life was full of odd encounters that changed his perspective. At the age of 17 he was present for the last public beheading by guillotine. He met the two gentlemen responsible for the death of the mad Russian monk Rasputin, and even had an exciting encounter with the author, J.R.R. Tolkien himself in a small English pub; as a young adult fought the Nazis and even hunted escaped Nazis after the war.
All of this by the time he was 25, when he left the RAF.
15. Harrison Ford
Job before fame: Carpenter
The Star Wars character Han Solo, played by Harrison Ford, was a handy guy to have around. Good looking, great aim, and those quips? Forget about it! The full package. But, the onscreen hunk has got nothing on the very impressive skills of the man himself.
Apparently, as a young man, Ford taught himself carpentry in the late sixties (Gasp! Before the internet? Yes! From these things —now obsolete—called books). Ford did carpentry to supplement his acting income and allow himself to be more selective with his roles.
“Through carpentry, I fed my family and began to pick and choose from among the roles offered,” he once said. “I could afford to hold out until something better came along. But I never gave up my ambition to be an actor.”
Occupation: Singer, actress, fashion entrepreneur
Job before fame: Army cadet
A top-notch singer, fashion entrepreneur, and makeup maven, Robyn Rihanna Fenty has gone from starry-eyed teen singing to the DJ to turn the music up to rocking the Met Gala red carpet dressed as the Pope.
But before climbing the ranks to cultural icon status, Rihanna had a wildly different life. When Rihana was 11 years old, she served as an army cadet in a sub-military program in Barbados with her best friend, Shontelle Layne.
“We’d have to give trouble in order to enjoy this discipline we were getting.” Riri said of her experience in the army in an interview with NME. “And we’d refuse to do push-ups when we were punished. It was a question of: why just do it? It was so boring to follow the rules.”
17. Dwayne Johnson
Occupation: Actor, businessman, and former professional wrestler.
Job before fame: Dishwasher
Even the “strongest” man in Hollywood was once a kid looking for a way to make some extra money. While you might expect the Rock’s first job to have something to do with wrestling or football, the truth is decidedly less glamourous. Dwayne Johnson’s first job was washing dishes at the ripe old age of 13, earning $3.45 an hour.
“My legit first job I was 13 years old and I worked in a pizza shop and washed dishes.” Johnson was quoted as saying in an interview with Wired. “As a matter of fact … I don’t use a dishwasher … I hand wash everything.”
18. Kanye West
Occupation: Rapper, record producer, and fashion designer.
Job before fame: Folding shirts at the Gap
Kanye West is an award-winning music producer, fashion entrepreneur, and the former husband of the reality TV superstar Kim Kardashian. But before fame, Ye was a regular teen trying to earn some extra cash by folding shirts at the Gap.
In fact, his gig at the Gap is mentioned on his 2004 debut album “College Dropout.” On the track “Spaceship,” West raps:
“Let’s go back, back to The Gap. Look at my check — wasn’t no scratch So if I stole, wasn’t my fault. Yeah, I stole — never got caught.”
19. Pierce Brosnan
Job before fame: Fire Eater
Pierce Brosnan is beautiful and classy beyond belief. His roles as James Bond and the suave Remington Steele are just two examples of his big screen appeal. But did you know that before he played anyone suave and smooth, Brosnan got his start eating fire in a circus?
Yes. Brosnan mastered fire eating as a teenager, and honestly it doesn’t sound like the safest situation. It seems Brosnan had attended an acting workshop in 1969 when he ran into a fire eating instructor teaching the skill to a class full of young women. Never one to be cowed by the fairer sex, and looking for a way to attract their attention Brosnan joined in. He quickly became good enough to begin street performances and finally joined a circus where he performed for three years.
In 1982 Brosnan ate fire once again, but this time on national television when it was featured in an episode of the classic ’80s series Remington Steele.
20. Nicki Minaj
Occupation: Rapper, singer, songwriter
Job before fame: Waitress
Nicki Minaj, Trinidadian singer, rapper and songwriter, is an artist of many faces and stories, including “Queen Sleazy,” “The Harajuku Barbie,” “Nicki the Ninja,” and of course, her evil alter-ego “Roman Zolanski.” Still, none of these even touch the fascination we feel for “Red Lobster Nicki.”
Growing up, Minaj wanted to be an actress; however, when she found herself floundering at 19, she began working in the hospitality industry, specifically Red Lobster. Several Red Lobsters, in fact. And she was fired from every each of them one she told Jimmy Fallon back in 2019, pointing in particular to a time when a customer left no tip and took her pen:
“I walked to the car, I banged on the car window, and I said, ‘Give me my pen!'” she recalled. “My manager fired me on the spot.”
21. Tiffany Haddish
Occupation: Stand-up comedian
Job before fame: Alaska Airlines assistant
Tiffany Haddish had a “before they were famous” job just like many other stars, but she handled hers differently. Haddish worked for Alaska Airlines at the gate and used her special access to passengers and fellow airline staff (read captive audience) to hone her craft of telling jokes.
But there was more to Haddish than jokes. She looked at her position in customer service for Alaska Airlines as a chance to affect people:
“I worked at the gates, and my goal was always to bring happiness and joy to people – still to this day,” she once told Stephen Colbert.
22. Brad Pitt
Occupation: Actor, producer,
Job before fame: Handing out fliers in a chicken suit
Brad Pitt once dressed in a chicken suit to hand out flyers at the grand opening of the “Pollo Loco” on the corner of Sunset and LeBrea in Los Angeles. He was dressed in the suit, including the fully enclosed head, and was told to wave and jump around to get attention.
Yes, there was once a person who, upon seeing Brad Pitt and his handsome, handsome face, decided the best thing to do would be to put him in a full chicken suit with a completely enclosed head.
That person exists.
When asked about the chicken suit on Ellen, the facially gifted actor simply replied, “No shame.”
This article was produced and syndicated by MediaFeed.org