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Famous People Who Failed Before Succeeding

Updated on November 10, 2016
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Famous People Who Failed

Throughout time, people have faced tremendous amounts of struggle, despair, and defeat. Often, it's enough to break a person, crippling them to their knees. But, other times, struggle lays the foundation for something far greater in life, something deeper and more profound.

In fact, struggle helps to blaze a trail that's often invisible at first. And, the people who've constantly struggled and toiled away at the behest of advancing their lives in one way or another, are the same people who've seen wild success that eventually materialized over time.

But it didn't happen overnight.

What most people don't realize is that without struggle there is no progress, and the only way to meet extraordinary success is to suffer countless failures first.

Famous people that are portrayed in the media, depicting their outlandish success and lavish lifestyles, didn't get that way overnight. What seems like overnight success, in fact, took them years and years of hard work and persistence.

And, it's these same people that personify the dream of success, which lies buried deep in our hearts, because we're able to connect with them in one way or another. Something that they've said, done, or created has touched each one of us at some point or another.

So, who are these people?


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Jim Carey

One of the most recognizable, household names, Jim Carey is most certainly a famous failure. Sure, we've seen Carey in hits like Dumb & Dumber, The Mask, and Ace Ventura, but did you know that this former In Living Color star suffered massive failure and rejection?

Growing up, Carey's family was so poor that he had to drop out of high school at the age of 15 and work odd jobs just to help keep a roof over their heads. And in his first comedic experience at a stand-up club called Yuk-Yuk's, he was actually booed off stage.

But, Carey didn't give up. In fact, it was when he was first getting his start that he embraced The Law of Attraction by writing himself a check for ten-million dollars for "Acting Services Rendered." He carried this check around with him in his wallet for 7 years. It was at the seven-year mark that he received ten-million dollars for his role in Dumb & Dumber.


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Katy Perry

Katy Perry suffered tremendous amounts of failure before she eventually achieved success. In fact, it took her 7 years and three failed record deals to eventually achieve commercial success in the music industry.

It all started out in 1999 for Perry when she decided to pursue a career as a Gospel Singer due to strong family religious ties. Her first Gospel Album was released through Red Hill Records in 2001, selling only 200 copies before the record company ceased operations and went under.

After the failure of her first record deal, Perry decided that it was time to switch her efforts into a more mainstream avenue of music, namely, popular music. Moving to Los Angeles to study and record with famed record producer Glen Ballard, Perry signed with Island Def Jam Records in 2003, a contract that was later terminated.

In 2004, she continued in the face of failure, signing to Columbia Records, which aimed at making her the lead in a group called The Matrix. However, that deal also fell through when Columbia Records decided not to complete the project, shelving it just before it was finalized.

But, it was in 2006, after three failed attempts, with Capitol Music Group, that Perry eventually achieved the success that she was after. Her first single, I Kissed a Girl, not only stirred controversy in the US, but it also solidified her as a commercial success, selling over 4,400,000 copies is the United States alone.

Perry has since gone on to sell over 72 million copies of her singles, making her one of the most famous failures to succeed in the music business.


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Oprah Winfrey

Quite possibly one of the most well-known names across American households, Oprah Winfrey is one of the most famous failures to have ever succeeded. Oprah, who now has a net worth of $2.9 billion, started her life in absolute, sheer and utter despair, and poverty.

As the daughter of a teenaged low-income mother, Oprah personally recounted the sexual abuse that she suffered beginning at the age of 9. At the age of 14, she wound up pregnant, but the baby died soon after she gave birth.

It was at that time that Oprah made the decision to leave home to live with her biological father, Vernon. He helped Oprah to hone her focus on the things that truly mattered in life. It's here, in Tennessee, where Oprah started to care deeply about her schooling, and eventually her career.

She subsequently received a full scholarship to the University of Tennessee where where she majored in communications, interning at a local radio station during her tenure there. Afterwards, Oprah made the jump to television, where she suffered some initial setbacks.

Oprah was fired from her TV job by the producer who claimed that she was "unfit for television." Later, she moved to another station in Baltimore, where she eventually hosted a talk show that was called, People are Talking.

But, it was in Chicago, where she later relocated to in 1983, where her big break came. She was picked to host a low-rated daytime show called AM Chicago. After only a few short months, ratings went through the roof, catapulting her into the number one spot in daytime television. The show was later renamed the Oprah Winfrey Show, and it was syndicated around the world.

This famous failure who succeeded had to struggle through immense amounts of setbacks, heartaches, and despair. But she made it through. It just goes to show you that anyone with a dream and persistent determination can achieve just about anything in life.


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Jay-Z

Another famous failure who succeeded, Jay-Z came from humble upbringings, much like Oprah. His past was also steeped in poverty and a lack of opportunities, but it didn't stop his eventual meteoric rise to stardom.

But, Jay-Z's rise wasn't simple. In fact, Jay-Z was turned down by nearly every record label that he approached, so he did something that seldom few others could pull off: he started his own record label. In 1995, he founded Roc-a-fella Records with business partners Kareem Biggs and Damon Dash.

However, that wasn't the only hurdle he faced. Jay-Z had to then secure a distribution deal in order to eventually get his music out to the masses. His first album, Reasonable Doubt, went platinum, solidifying him as a force in the music industry.

But, Jay-Z's struggles didn't end there. In fact, they were just beginning. With stardom, came some negativity for him when he was charged in a stabbing at a record release party. He pled not guilty to those charges, but eventually took a lesser plea deal that resulted in three years of probation.

Through the years, however, Jay-Z learned a lot about life and success. Presently, his net worth tops $500 million, but there's surely more to come from this talented artist that hails from the Brooklyn Projects.


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J.K. Rowling

Almost every person in the world has heard of J.K. Rowling. But, what most people don't know is her story and just how she came about becoming the richest and most successful author in the U.K.

Rowling states that she first had the idea for Harry Potter in 1990. At the time, she was traveling on a train from Manchester to London and claimed that the idea came into her mind already fully formed and completed, with all the intricacies of its world and characters in grave detail.

Although she began writing her thoughts into words, it was during this time that her mother died of M.S. after a 10-year long battle. This led to her eventual departure from London, moving to Portugal in 1992 to teach English. It was here that she met a man, married, and had a daughter. In 1993, that marriage ended in divorce and she moved back home to Edinburgh, to be closer to her sister.

During this period, Rowling was jobless, broke, and at one of the lowest points in her life. She had a child that depended on her, with no source of income or hopes for the future. She suffered through major depression, and eventually began living through the help of government assisted welfare.

However, in 1995, 5 years after the idea came fully formed in her mind, the first book in the Harry Potter series was completed. But, all 12 major publishers rejected her. However, a year later, she queried one last small publishing house, Bloomsbury, which extended her an offer and a small advance.

Today, with over 400 million copies and counting, sold worldwide, all of that struggle eventually mounted into great success for Rowling.


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Stephen King

Another of the most well-known writers of modern time, Stephen King is a famous failure who ultimately succeeded. King has sold over 350 million copies of his work, but the beginning didn't start out so star-studded.

King also hailed from an impoverished background. He began writing short stories at the age of 16, and would hang the rejection slips on a nail, each time one of his stories was rejected. Eventually, he had to swap the nail with a stake when the weight of the rejection slips became too great.

When he tried to pursue the long-form novel, he also faced tremendous failure. At the time, he was working as an English teacher while writing in his spare time. His first work, Carrie, was rejected 30 times, leading him to throw the manuscript in the trash. It was later recovered by his wife who wildly believed in him and didn't want him to give up on his hopes and his dreams.

Today, with over 50 novels in publication, it's very hard to imagine this famous person as a failure. It just goes to show you just how far persistence will get you in this world.


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Bill Gates

Although he's known today as one of the wealthiest individuals on the planet, Gates didn't always meet success in his endeavors. In fact, his first company, which was a partnership between himself, Paul Allen, and Paul Gilbert, called Traf-O-Data, failed to get off the ground.

Traf-O-Data's intention was to build a machine to analyze raw traffic data to create reports for roadway engineers. However, when they presented the machine to a Seattle County traffic employee, it failed to function properly.

Although Gates comes from an upper-middle-class family, he didn't rely on his family's money to achieve success in business. Although he failed the first time around, that failure set him up for success in his next venture, which was Microsoft.

With an estimated net worth today that tops $80 billion, Gates is a famous failure who succeeded in an enormous way. He was able to identify a need, which was a user-friendly personal computing software platform, and to fill that need with precise execution.


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Henry Ford

There may or may not be a Ford car, truck, or minivan parked in your driveway or garage. But, regardless of whether there is or isn't, Henry Ford is most certainly a name that many people know across the US and the world.

However, what most people don't know is just how much this famous man was a failure before he succeeded. In fact, not one, but two of Ford's first companies went under in one way or another. The first company, formed in 1899 when he was 36 years old, The Detroit Automobile Company, went bankrupt.

Ford's second company, in 1901, called the Henry Ford Motor Company, ended in a dispute, which saw him leaving the company, but keeping the rights to his name. The Henry Ford Motor Company eventually became the Cadillac Automobile Company.

However, it was Ford's third attempt, with the formation of the Ford Motor Company, where he met enormous success. Ford revolutionized the production line, pioneered the Model T, and went on to sell 17 million units of that first vehicle.

Today, the Ford Motor Company has revenue in excess of $146 billion and over 180,000 employees worldwide.


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Colonel Sanders

The iconic founder of the Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) chain, got a rocky start in life. This famous failure who succeeded, actually didn't even have the idea for the global chain of chicken restaurants until he was 62 years old, and his only assets were a fried chicken recipe and a $105 social security check.

Before KFC, Sanders dabbled in multiple lines of work. He went from a tire salesman, to an insurance salesman, to a firefighter, and a cook. But, it wasn't until he was at the ripe old age of 50 that he brewed up the recipe for his now-famous fried chicken with the use of a pressure cooker to speed the preparation time.

Sanders even launched his own restaurant, which eventually went bust when a highway impasse project forced it to shut down. In 1952, he decided to strike out on his own with that chicken recipe, and he headed to over 1,000 restaurants to pitch his franchise-model, but was rejected by every single one of them.

However, after 1,009 rejections, he finally found the first restaurant in Salt Lake City, Utah that was willing to give it a try.


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Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison, the famed inventor of the first commercially viable electric lightbulb, holds 2,332 patents worldwide, 1,093 of which are listed in the United States. And, of the original 12 industrial stocks that were part of the Dow Jones Index, General Electric (GE), founded by Edison, still remains as the only original stock that's still part of the index.

Edison is famously known for failing in many endeavors. But, his most famous failures came during his attempts to create the commercially viable electric lightbulb. After he failed over 9,000 times to invent the electric lightbulb, a reporter asked him how it felt to fail over 9,000 times.

Edison famously replied, saying: "Young man, why would I feel like a failure? And why would I ever give up? I now know definitively over 9,000 ways that an electric light bulb will not work. Success is almost in my grasp."

Shortly thereafter, after over 10,000 tries, Edison finally found a way to make it work. This is also the same individual who was fired from his first job for not being productive enough. Again, it just goes to show you what we're capable of when we don't give up.


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Walt Disney

We all know Walt Disney as the famed creator of Mickey Mouse and Disneyland. But, Disney's start wasn't so rosy. This famous failure was first fired from his job in 1919 by the editor of the Kansas City Star because he, "lacked imagination and had no good ideas."

Later on in life, Disney ventured into the animation business, acquiring a company called Laugh-O-Gram, which ultimately ended in bankruptcy. Disney was unable to manage money, and subsequently, wound up heavily in debt, having to lay off the employees that he hired.

However, all was not lost. Those early failures paved the way for success after he filed for bankruptcy and moved to Hollywood, California, which is where he founded the Walt Disney Company.

His characters, his theme parks, and his name lives on to this day due to one simple fact: he didn't give up.


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Sir James Dyson

SIr James Dyson, the recently knighted entrepreneur who brought us the world's first vacuum that doesn't lose suction, is most certainly a famous person who failed many times before succeeding. Dyson came up with an innovative method using cyclonic separation to create a truly bag-less vacuum that didn't lose suction.

However, during his attempts to create the vacuum, Dyson faced severe bouts of failure. In fact, it took Dyson 5,126 failures before he finally perfected the mechanism that drives the world's most popular vacuum today.

But, at the age of 36 years old, with the vacuum invented, was only he beginning for Dyson. You see, at the time, the UK market for disposable bag replacements topped £100 million per year. So, he was met with incredible resistance while trying to bring his vacuum, which didn't require disposable bag replacements, to market.

So, he turned to the Japanese market. After he achieved success there, and three years after the introduction of his vacuum, he was awarded a US patent for it. However, manufacturers didn't want to take on the production of the vacuum. So, 10 years after his initial invention, Dyson created his own company to manufacture and sell the vacuums to the public.

Today, Dyson has a personal net worth north of £3 billion, and holds one of the most recognized brands in the cleaning industry.


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    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      These are some very interesting stories. I never knew the Colonel's first success came in Salt Lake City. Very uplifting hub!