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20 Stars Who Got Fired Before They Made it Big

Oprah Winfrey

Few people have as much influence as Oprah Winfrey, with her famous talk show and book club basically acting as a guide to life for her fans. It’s hard to remember a time where Oprah wasn’t shouting “You get a car!” to a wildly excited audience. But her career didn’t start with success large enough to partner with car companies and disperse new vehicles like Halloween candy. In fact, her career truly began with the Baltimore news network WJZ-TV as an evening reporter.

You’d think someone who talked on air for 25 years would have been a shoo-in as a reporter, yet she was eventually demoted by a producer to the daytime talk-show People Are Talking. While she may have been “unfit for television news” in the traditional sense, Oprah thrived on forming connections and sharing the stories with people in her own way. A passion for reporting mixed with thorough emotional investment brewed the perfect cocktail of television success.

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Steve Jobs

Founder of Apple, Steve Jobs was forced out of his own company merely a year after the disappointing release of the Macintosh. Due to the mix of bad computer sales and a very public falling out with chief executive John Sculley, Jobs soon found himself jobless in Silicon Valley. Talk about rotten luck!

Instead of ditching the tech world altogether (which honestly would have been justified after being fired from your own company), Jobs decided to co-found another computer company, NeXT, as well as set Pixar Animation Studios into motion. What was the “devastating” loss of the “focus of [his] entire adult life,” as Jobs described at a 2005 Stanford commencement speech, became the key motivator to escape a crippling midlife crisis. Jobs eventually re-acquired the position as Apple CEO and went on to launch the IPhone, IPod, and IPad, revolutionizing the world as we know it.

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Walt Disney

Walt Disney, artistic visionary behind Mickey Mouse and all of our favorite cartoons, was actually fired for a lack of creativity as a cartoonist for a Missouri newspaper. Early business pursuit Laugh-O-Gram also flopped hard and left the artist bankrupt. So how did the animator dig himself out of such a bad rut?

It was in California where Walt and Roy Disney produced the Alice Comedies, Steamboat Willie, and the egregiously over-budget Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs that jumpstarted the company's success. The Walt Disney Company is now one of the world’s largest media producers and ranked #3 on Reputation Institute's 2019 list for the “World’s Most Reputable Companies.” What a comeback!

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Julia Child

Before garnering an esteemed reputation for showcasing French cuisine to the American public, Julia Child was fired for gross insubordination as an advertising manager at New York’s W&J Sloane’s.

Obviously not passionate about the realm of home furnishings, Child pursued cooking instead. Her 1961 cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking and numerous highly rated cooking shows secured her place in the spotlight.

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J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling hasn’t been shy about sharing the difficulties of her life before the wild success of children’s series Harry Potter. Now a worldwide phenomenon, Harry dug Rowling out of a period of grief, poverty, and depression. But after losing her job as a secretary at London’s Amnesty International for writing stories at the office, Rowling decided she had to pursue publishing her work.

After writing the first installment of the fantasy series, the debut novel was rejected twelve times by publishers until finally picked up by Bloomsbury. The first author to achieve billionaire status and face of the most successful fantasy series in history, it’s safe to say that Rowling was smart to pursue her creative passions. Despite the occasional Twitter misfire, the world continues to celebrate the product of Rowling’s unmatched imagination.

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Michael Bloomberg

Michael Bloomberg: celebrated entrepreneur, politician, and philanthropist who was allowed to fall through the cracks of a short-sight company. The culprit? Salomon Brothers, an investment bank that fired Bloomberg after a merger in 1981 with Phibro Bros.

It wasn’t all bad news for the businessman, however. With a whopping $10 million severance, Bloomberg invested a portion of the check into his own start-up, and the rest is history. Now the ninth richest man in the world, Bloomberg truly maximized his business potential.

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Colonel Sanders

Colonel Sanders, with his lovable persona as a fried chicken ambassador, didn’t find fast-food fame until the ripe age of 62. Reportedly losing dozens of jobs in his lifetime, Sanders didn’t let the threat of failure hinder his business pursuits.

From fighting to bad temper to insubordination, Sanders just wasn’t cut out for most “normal” jobs. We don’t like to think of the Colonel as sporting anything but an optimistic smile, but from fighting on the job to utter insubordination, Sanders just wasn’t cut out for jobs that didn’t involve selling chicken. An odd niche, yet it surely worked out for him!

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Jerry Seinfeld

Jerry Seinfeld had a rude awakening when he showed up to a table reading for Benson, an ‘80s sitcom, only to realize that his part had been cut out of the script. Apparently the way he played his character was continually disputed about that led to its removal, much to Seinfeld’s surprise.

Despite this unexpected setback, Seinfeld found his place within the comedy club scene, where he was picked up by a Tonight Show talent scout. Airing from 1989 to 1998, the eponymous series Seinfeld found itself the the most watched sitcom on American television after a mere three seasons. Seinfeld continues to display his comedic prowess with the web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. The public just can’t get enough Seinfeld!

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Elvis Presley

Like Madonna, the King of Rock ‘n Roll didn’t gain his unmatched reputation until after getting sacked. But Elvis Presley’s firing was much more personal than a donut-related incident. When he performed at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville AKA “Music City,” the manager offered him some unsolicited advice to stick to truck driving. Ouch!

Honestly, we’d pay to see the look on that manager’s face after Presley went on tour with Hank Snow. Or when he was accepted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Or pretty much anything else Elvis achieved.

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Robert Redford

Founder of the Sundance Film Festival and celebrated American actor, director, and activist, Redford was always destined for a life in Hollywood. If getting fired from a California oil refinery for sleeping inside an oil tank wasn’t proof enough he wasn’t meant for manual labor, he was also fired from the meager position of bottle washer after breaking more than a few glass bottles.

With more than a dozen reputable acting credits, including the 2002 Lifetime Achievement Academy Award, Redford’s made an impressive impact on the film industry. Let this be a lesson that you can still find your calling even after failing as a dishwasher.

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Madonna, the “Queen of Pop” herself, led the relatable life of customer service jobs after dropping out of college to pursue her dreams. But everyone knows that a life in New York is tough when trying to jumpstart your creative career; thus, she took a Times Square job at Dunkin’ Donuts like anyone else.

Unfortunately, she didn’t even last the day. Apparently squirting jelly filling on customers is frowned upon... Alhough, it’s probably for the best that the “Material Girl" wasn’t a donut aficionado or she might have never become the music legend she is today.

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Lee Iacocca

Lido Anthony "Lee" Iacocca left his mark on the car industry during his lifetime of innovation. After creating the Ford Mustang, Iacocca moved on to develop for Chrysler and ultimately saved the company from collapse.

The development genius didn’t move to revive Chrysler on his own, however; he was fired! Irreconcilable differences between Iacocca and Ford Company’s then-Chairman and CEO Ford Jr. cost Iacocca his job. Good thing he had plenty of fresh ideas for Chrysler to profit from!

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Hillary Clinton

Before the pantsuits and tell-all autobiographies, Hillary Clinton gutted salmon in Alaska for a living. Who would've guessed? Clinton then lost the humble summer job for her slow pace and over-curious personality. Employers nowadays would kill for workers who ask lots of questions!

Fortunately for Clinton, her career would extend far past the 1969 Alaskan summer. Serving as New York Senator, First Lady, and Democratic Presidential Candidate for 2016, Clinton put her spirit of inquiry to good use.

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Truman Capote

Many creative minds prefer to stick together as the world continues to devalue the worth of art yet wasn’t the case for Truman Capote. As a junior copyboy for The New Yorker, Capote was fired after poet Robert Frost demanded the newspaper sack him out of pure bitterness. All he did was walk out during one of Frost’s poetry readings… What’s more petty than that? It’s not like Capote heckled him, he just had a cold!

In spite of Frost’s meddling, Truman Capote paved his way to be among America’s top writers—with his novels Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood considered renowned literary classics— only without Frost’s massive ego.

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Anna Wintour

British-American fashion icon Anna Wintour is currently worth $35 million for her work as Vogue editor-in-chief since 1988. Not everyone saw her worth as a creative director, including Harper’s Bazaar. Fired from the position of junior fashion editor, Wintour was critiqued for her edgy style.

Though unfit for the Bazaar, Wintour’s taste transferred nicely to her editorial position at Viva, Savvy, and Vogue. Wintour is often criticized for elitism and high working expectations, but you can’t blame her for knowing what she wants, can you? Marketing primarily to the career-conscious and financially independent woman, Wintour openly markets herself  as unabashedly self-reliant.

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Thomas Edison

Widely considered America’s greatest inventor, Thomas Edison was infamously fired from multiple jobs due to the destruction wrought by his experiments. When selling papers on trains at 12, he accidentally set a baggage car on fire after setting up a spontaneous lab within and naturally lost access to the trains.

Additionally, he was fired from the Western Union when acid from an experiment ate through the floor and landed on his boss’s desk. If it weren’t for these multitasking fails, Edison wouldn’t have perfected the incandescent light bulb, motion picture machines, or the phonograph.

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Howard Stern

Howard Stern’s never been the most PG radio and TV persona. Before his triumph alongside Sirius XM, Stern was deemed too controversial a DJ for WNBC after what NBC considered a “particularly racy sketch.”

When he made the switch to Siruius, the majority of his fans followed him there, which ended up a huge loss on WNBC’s part. Way to stick it to ‘em, Stern!

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Hugh Jackman

Hugh Jackma’s first job was at a roadside 7-Eleven. Where most people would probably go mad with boredom at that workplace, Jackman was fired for having distracting customer service skills by excessively talking to patrons. We’re not sure how it makes sense but to each their own.

A jack-of-all-trades actor in both action films (i.e. Wolverine) and movie-musicals (i.e. Les Mis, The Greatest Showman), Jackman has achieved unique prestige as the Guinness World Records holder for "longest career as a live-action Marvel superhero.”

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Mark Cuban

Sometimes it takes a firing or two to realize what you’re truly meant to do; for Mark Cuban, it was an indicator to become his own boss. As a software salesman, Cuban was sacked for disobeying the orders of his boss to pursue a sale even after Cuban gained $10,000 for the company.

Now the proud owner of the Dallas Mavericks, star of ABC’s reality hit Shark Tank, and billionaire tech savant, Cuban gained much more than he lost from losing the sales job.

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Liam Neeson

Critically acclaimed actor Liam Neeson held a slew of odd jobs before diving into a career as a professional actor. In one job in particular, Neeson was fired for violence against a teenager.

While such a charge sounds dire, it was really just self-defense, Neeson claimed. As a teacher, the actor ordered an especially rowdy 15-year old to leave the class who pulled a knife in response. Neeson then punched the student to protect himself, which cost him his job as an educator. Truthfully, swinging fists wasn’t the best way for him to show off his decades-worth of boxing skills.

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