Famous people who got fired before becoming some of the world’s most successful men and women

famous people who got fired

Losing your job can be emotionally devastating, but you’re not alone.

In fact, some of the world’s most famous people got fired from their jobs.

Yes, not every famous person was born with daddy’s money or a silver spoon in their mouth. Some grew up in tiny rooms, worked nine-to-five daily, and struggled to live paycheck-to-paycheck.

Some famous people who got fired actually didn’t get their big break until later in life, and they certainly wouldn’t have ended up famous if they hadn’t persevered. 

Just like these individuals, there are many options out there for you if you lose your job, so don’t be too hard on yourself. 

Being fired isn’t the end of the world

Losing your job isn’t uncommon at all. 

In the past couple of years, layoffs have been on the rise. Tech layoffs alone had a 59% increase in 2023 compared to 2022. There are an estimated 46,000 layoffs within the tech industry in the first two months of 2024.

What’s truly important is the way you react to it. 

The best thing you can do after being laid off is to update your resume with your latest experience and skills. There are many free resume-maker apps that are easy to use to help you get started too.

On the other hand, there’s also nothing wrong with starting fresh with a new passion and goal. Not everyone becomes what they initially intended to be – just look at these famous people who got fired below.

famous people who got fired

Did you know that Madonna was fired from her job at Dunkin Donuts for accidentally squirting jelly onto a customer? Source: AFP

Some famous people who got fired from their first jobs

Robert Downey Jr.

We all know Robert Downey Jr. as the man who played Tony Stark, also known as Iron Man, in over a decade of successful Marvel films. Most recently, he received an Academy Award and his first Oscar for his supporting role as Machiavellian political operative Lewis Strauss in Oppenheimer. 

While he started out as a child actor in Pound (1970), written and directed by his father, Robert Downey Sr., he never really had a successful acting career until later in life. 

In fact, the award-winning actor used to work in F&B and retail before he got fired from the latter.

“Well, I worked at a sandwich shop. I worked at a shoe store, but I had sticky fingers, and I got fired after two weeks,” he said at the 2024 Santa Barbara International Film Festival. “This is before those closed-circuit cameras where they monitor who might be sitting… I was not very good at it.”

famous people who got fired

Not only is Lady Gaga a famous singer, but she has some serious acting chops too. Catch her in Joker: Folie à Deux soon. Source: AFP

Lady Gaga

Stefani Germanotta – more universally known as Lady Gaga – grew up learning piano by ear and writing song lyrics on her Mickey Mouse staff paper. Now, she has 13 Grammy awards, two Golden Globe awards, and 18 MTV Video Music awards.

She’s also known as one of the most famous people who got fired from their job, even though she was good at it.

She became one of the world’s biggest pop stars thanks to her breakout hit “Just Dance” in 2008. It’s wild to imagine that just three years earlier, in 2005, she almost gave up on singing after being dropped by her record label.

When Gaga turned 19, she signed onto Def Jam Records after working hard on her music and honing her skills. But to her dismay, they severed her contract after three months, despite her first album being scheduled for the upcoming year.

While the reason for the contract termination remains a mystery, word is that the label decided to drop her after listening to her unfinished demos. Perhaps her music wasn’t their cup of tea.

“I was pretty devastated. I know what it’s like being on a label when they don’t quite get it,” says Gaga. “It was one of the worst days of my life, and it happened quite quickly. But in my mind, when I think back on that period of my life, it all happened very slowly.”

Elvis Presley 

One of the most significant cultural figures of the 20th century, Elvis Presley rolled onto the scene as the proclaimed King of Rock and Roll. 

Before he graced the screens of theatres around the world, he actually worked in one when he was in his teens. Presley got his first job as an usher at a Loew’s State movie theatre during his time in Tennessee. 

In 1952, Presley got into a silly altercation with a fellow usher, who reported to their manager that Presley was getting free candy from the girl at the concession stand. Irritated, Presley punched his colleague and promptly got fired from his job. 

Thankfully, his manager at the time, Arthur Groom, reportedly took pity on Presley. He graciously re-hired the young boy shortly after. 

famous people who got fired

Perhaps a bear would be more efficient at scooping salmon guts. Source: AFP

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton has had a gleaming career, holding powerful positions as a former First Lady, former senator of New York, and the 67th Secretary of State. She is the first woman to win a presidential nomination by a major US political party, and the first woman to win the popular vote for US president.

So you may find it a shock to know that she was fired from her first job at a fishery.

After graduating from Wellesley College, she travelled across Alaska doing odd jobs, such as washing dishes to earn money. Eventually, she wound up at an Alaskan fishery scooping out salmon guts.

“I was given a spoon and some boots, and I was told to take out the insides of the salmon,” she said.

She didn’t last long in the role and eventually got fired for being too slow. 

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey is best known for hosting her wildly popular programme, The Oprah Winfrey Show. She is an Emmy Award-winning talk show host, media executive, Academy Award-nominated actress, and philanthropist.

Despite her glowing reputation, she was fired from her first television gig. In fact, she is one of the most famous people who got fired.

Previously, she worked as a TV anchor for a Baltimore station where she reported the news to audiences. Unfortunately, the producers were unsatisfied with her performance and told her she was “unfit for television news.” 

Still, she persisted, certain that being on television was her true calling. She then started The Oprah Winfrey Show, which became a hit and made her the world’s first Black woman billionaire in 2003. One could only imagine how that Baltimore station feels now.

famous people who got fired

Hugh Jackman was, as the kids would say, a yapper, meaning somebody who talks too much or is an over-sharer. Source: AFP

Hugh Jackman 

Many people are fans of the charming Australian actor, famed for his roles as Wolverine to P.T Barnum, Leopold to Jean Valjean. He has also performed in many theatres, dazzling the crowd with his talent for singing. 

When he first started working for pocket money as a teenager, he would deliver pamphlets and brochures to houses around his local community. In high school, he got a proper job working the counter at a nearby 7-11.

According to his manager at the time, Hugh Jackman’s customer skills were top-notch. He was pleasant, friendly, and just a little too happy to talk. As a result, he got the boot for being too talkative. 

“I talked too much to the customers, which was probably true,” says Jackman. “She just wanted me to get them out. I said, ‘There’s no one else here and I want to chat!’”

Steve Jobs

Could anyone have ever imagined getting fired from your own company? Because that’s what happened to Steve Jobs.

He co-founded Apple in 1976, but was fired in 1985 due to clashes with the company board and CEO. Two of his products – the Lisa and the Macintosh – failed to meet sales expectations, and he dealt with the situation rather badly. 

The board wasn’t a fan of his confrontational management style and perceived interpersonal deficiencies either. So he got the boot.

After he got fired, he founded NeXT, a computer company that produced high-end computers. Ironically, NeXT then sold to Apple for US$429 million in 1996, which brought Jobs back to the company he originally founded. 

We all know what happened next – he went on to become CEO of Apple, creating the iconic iPhone, iPad, and other “i” products. 

famous people who got fired

Walt Disney never lived to see Walt Disney World, but his legacy lives on in millions of our hearts. Source: AFP

Walt Disney

Perhaps one of the best examples of famous people who got fired was Walt Disney himself.

It may be hard to believe, but the man who founded Disney was fired from his first job as a newspaper artist. The reason? He “lacked creativity.”

Things for Disney took a tough turn after his first job. He attempted to open his own artist business, but it failed to attract enough customers and rapidly went under after just one month. His second business, an animation studio called Laugh-O-Grams, didn’t take off well either and suffered bankruptcy before any of his cartoons were officially released. 

After facing rejection from multiple studios in Hollywood, he finally attracted the interest of cartoon distributor Margaret J. Winkler. Unfortunately, he eventually found out that the distributor and her husband were poaching his best employees, and he left the studio, determined never to sell the rights to his work again.

He then set up the Disney Brothers Studio in the early 1920s (now The Walt Disney Company) with his brother Roy. There, he developed the iconic Mickey Mouse, and the rest is history.