100 celebrities who grew up in small towns
Anyone who wants to admire and envy the world's biggest stars needs only to look on Instagram. From A-list movie stars and major musicians to pro ball players and comedians who landed their own sitcoms, there's no shortage of evidence of just how good the good life is. They post pictures of themselves with other big shots on rooftop bars, at exclusive clubs, at backstage parties, and at restaurants where regular people can't get a reservation.
Many of them were born and raised in New York, Los Angeles, or other big cities where celebrities tend to settle down once they hit the big time. Others were born into families of famous actors and musicians and never knew anything else.
However, some found their way to the bright lights and big money of superstardom from obscure beginnings in regular small towns that most people have never heard of. This list is a tribute to them. Using news reports, celebrity biographies, and a range of other sources, Stacker developed a list of 100 celebrities who trace their roots to small towns.
They went to regular schools, lived ordinary lives, and did normal things—until they didn't. Some were middle class. Others were downright poor. All, however, proved that where a person starts does not determine where they end up, and no matter where a person is from, all it takes is talent, hard work, and a whole lot of luck to wind up tantalizing the masses with glimpses of the good life through social media profiles of their own.
It's important to note that there is no concrete definition of "small town." That's because the concept is based not only on population but also population density, geographic size, and regional culture. A small town of 8,000 people in the New York metro region of North Jersey, for example, is likely to be much more urban in both feel and function than a town of the same size in the rural Midwest.
Keep reading to meet the stars who turned humble roots into worldwide fame.
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One of the greatest rags-to-riches stories in show business history is Dolly Parton growing up in rural poverty in the tiny mountain enclave of Locust Ridge in Eastern Tennessee. The fourth of 12 children, she was born in a one-room cabin and was raised poor. But she was raised in a happy atmosphere that centered around her family, community, and faith. She has repeatedly commented that her upbringing was the driving force behind her remarkable career, which lands her in a tiny and exclusive club of entertainers who have received at least one nomination for all four major awards: an Oscar, a Tony, an Emmy, and a Grammy.
One of the biggest movie stars in the world for nearly three decades, Brad Pitt's life began far from the bright lights of Hollywood in Shawnee, Okla. He went to Kickapoo High School in the town of Springfield before moving on to the University of Missouri, where he studied advertising. Before finishing college, however, he went to Hollywood with the dream of becoming an actor, and as it turns out, he never had to go back and finish his degree.
Daytime talk goddess Ellen DeGeneres was born in Metairie, La., which is not a particularly small town, but she went to high school in Atlanta, Texas, which even today has a population of just 171. She went to the University of New Orleans and studied communications, but like Brad Pitt, she never finished college and dropped out after only one semester. Like Pitt, she rolled the dice on a bigger dream—stand-up comedy, in her case—and went onto becoming one of the most successful and celebrated entertainers in the world.
Country superstar Martina McBride is still a familiar face around her hometown of Sharon, Kan., a speck on the map that claims fewer than 150 residents. According to the Alva Review-Courier, one resident stated, "When everyone else sees Martina McBride pull up in a 1980s Wrangler van with her dad, they see a country music superstar. What we see is that, but we also see Martina Schiff from tiny Sharon, Kansas, in the Wrangler van that we remember her winning in high school and seeing that same van cruise around Sharon with her and her high school friends in it, including my older brothers."
In the tiny town of Kentwood, La., visitors still flock to a shrine/unofficial museum dedicated to Kentwood's pride and joy, Britney Spears. Although she was born in McComb, Miss., Kentwood—home to just over 2,000 people—is her hometown. The museum there chronicles every stage of Spears' career, from the "Mickey Mouse Club" before she was even a teenager to her ascent to becoming the biggest pop star on Earth in her 1990s heyday.
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Like Dolly Parton, Oprah Winfrey is a self-made woman and real-life Horatio Alger story who was born in extreme poverty and rose to extraordinary wealth and fame. She remains one of the most famous and instantly recognizable human beings on the planet. Unlike Parton, her childhood was filled not with happiness that masked her poverty, but horrific abuse after being born to an unmarried teenage mother in Kosciusko, Miss., during the Jim Crow era. She went on to become a television pioneer, one of the most influential women on Earth, and the first female African-American billionaire in U.S. history.
Driving into the small town of Checotah, Okla., visitors are greeted by a sign that reads "Checotah Home of Carrie Underwood American Idol 2005." The hometown girl done well is a local hero—a country music superstar, Underwood has spent both time and money supporting Checotah, and it's not unusual to see her there. "My hometown is extremely supportive of me, and I feel blessed to be able to create something as a way of giving back, to say thank you," Underwood told a local ABC affiliate.
Widely considered to be the greatest actresses of her generation, Meryl Streep was born in Summit, N.J., moved to Basking Ridge as a child, and then to Bernardsville, where the future three-time Oscar winner (21 nominations) went to high school. At a recent film festival in the Garden State, Streep said of her small-town upbringing, "It was great to grow up here, it was just fantastic," according to nj.com.
Born Alecia Moore, pop superstar Pink grew up in Doylestown, Pa., a small town north of Philadelphia, where she learned to love her future craft at a local music shop. According to The Intelligencer, she said in 2010: "I remember going to Siren every day, and I loved it. I loved that it had albums and magazines. There was music there."
Johnny Depp is, of course, a big movie star, but according to a 2016 interview with Classic Rock, his first and true love is music. He described using music to escape what he called his "unpredictable" childhood household, which started in Owensboro, Ky., although his family moved a lot. He played guitar in bands for years before he began acting and has never stopped playing recreationally.
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