No matter what dream you’re pursuing, life has its own special way of bringing you down to earth. While we sit here chasing fantasies of tropical islands and private jets, we still have to feed hungry mouths with one boring job after another. In fact, chances are that you’re reading this very article at one of them. Even today’s highest paid celebrities and most interesting people had to work in our world at some point in their lives, but you’ll never believe what some of them actually had to do to stay afloat. So next time you walk into a Taco Bell, be nice to the servers. They might just be the next megastars.
The chameleon of the pop world, Madonna’s instant classics of the eighties and nineties only paved the way to a versatile and seemingly endless career. Her stadium performances and work ethic belie an unflagging energy that she brings to everything she does, whether it’s the musical world or charity work. But given her beginnings, she might have been forgiven for throwing in the towel early.
After she moved to New York, Madonna initially supported herself with a number of different jobs. Her most famous, though, and definitely most mundane, was behind the counter at a Dunkin’ Donuts. According to legend, her fiery temperament eventually got the better of her, and she was fired for hosing down a surprised customer with donut jelly. Don’t worry, Madonna, we still love you.
With those classically handsome looks and pearly whites, it might come as a bit of a surprise that George Clooney ever had to work at all. But he hasn’t always been so lucky. Actually, his career might have taken a completely different path at the age of 16, when Clooney tried out for a Major League Baseball team. Unfortunately, (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) he didn’t make it.
Instead, he went to college, quit, then proceeded to take on a wide array of work before lighting up the small and big screen. This included the delightfully dreary – some would say sole-destroying - job of “shoe salesman”, going door-to-door to flash that heart-melting grin. We can bet that there’s a lot of bored housewives out there who are hoping he takes that job up again.
Sliming salmon. No, we’re not doing word association: we’re talking about a thoroughly gross job that Clinton once had in the summer between colleges. It’s hard to imagine the powerful presidential candidate knee-deep in gore, gutting fish in an Alaskan plant, but that’s exactly what she once did, and it's quite unbelievable.
Even the hardiest of us would recoil at scooping out bloodied fish bits, but Clinton handled it with aplomb. The only thing that bothered her was the state of the fish, which did not look at all fit for human consumption. Soon she asked the boss one too many questions and was summarily fired. It seems that what’s considered a good quality in a politician is not the same for a salmon slimer.
Just like Hillary Clinton, in his earlier life Matthew McConaughey also found himself getting very intimate with animal waste. Chicken, to be specific. While in high school, McConaughey traveled to the Land Down Under for exchange and wound up cleaning out chicken coops for pocket money. We hope that he also managed to squeeze in time for school.
Once known for being a brainless lead (and a stupendous six-pack) in a range of rom-coms, McConaughey’s roles have become increasingly dark and varied. From True Detective, to Mud, to Dallas Buyer’s Club, he really has become the star to watch. It would be a long stretch to say that all that chicken crap really changed his life and career, but we’re certain that all that manual labor really worked wonders on his abs.
It will come as no surprise that throughout his long life and diverse acting career, Sean Connery has seen and done a lot. But before he started acting, and well before his turn as the legendary 007, he also saw and did a lot of tremendously boring things. Growing up in 1930s Edinburgh as the son of a factory worker and a cleaner, opportunity for exciting work was probably thin on the ground. And aside from a stint in the Royal Navy, his pre-acting life reflects just that.
Connery’s résumé includes being a laborer, a truck driver, a milk delivery man, an artist’s model, and a lifeguard at a neighborhood pool. The best one of the lot, though, is his work as – drumroll, please – a coffin polisher. Now why would you want to take up acting after doing something as exciting as that?
With his hair, it’s a wonder Rod Stewart ever landed any job at all. Nowadays he might be a knight of the British Empire and a world famous musician, but at 15 years old he was just a penniless high school dropout. The trail between those fresh-faced days and superstardom is, as you might have guessed, littered with terrible jobs.
Although he did try out for a professional soccer club – which is possibly where he picked up his hairstyle – he didn’t quite make it and had to turn to other means of support. Think sign writing, fence construction, silk screening, newspaper delivering, and grave digging. Hopefully he was being paid for that last one, otherwise it would would be quite astonishing and shameful if he wasn't.
The sharp-eyed among you might be starting to see a certain morbid trend to the last few stars. If you’re wondering what the attraction is between celebs and death, keep wondering. We don’t have any answers for you – sorry! But we do have another one. Angelina Jolie, the face that launched a thousand ships and even more gossip magazines, was once in training to be a funeral director, and thank goodness that didn't work out.
In this case her reasoning was sound, if a bit drastic. Dissatisfied with the way her grandfather’s funeral was handled, the then-teenage Jolie vowed to change things. Life had other plans, though, and instead of completing her studies she became an actress. Trading frowns for smiles ain’t a bad thing, Angelina.
Ah, Taylor Swift. The name on every music lover’s lips, and the body everybody else wants on their lips. A sweetheart like that has got to have an innocent, aw-shucks-and-apple-pie upbringing, and Swift is no exception. Where did she grow up? On a Christmas tree farm. Now you can see how she learnt to bring joy into so many peoples’ lives.
Nowadays, she could probably hire half of the USA to work there, but back then, as a kid, she had to earn her keep. Because she wasn’t old enough for heavy lifting, Swift was given the job you probably never new existed – whacking praying mantis nests out of the trees. If she didn’t do it properly, there was a chance the insects would hatch inside someone’s house and give them a frightfully green Christmas. She was pretty good at it, though, and all that knocking undoubtedly gave her that natural ear for rhythm she would successfully use in later life.
George R. R. Martin
Imagine the uproar if HBO’s Game of Thrones was suddenly cancelled. But what about if it was never created at all? When George R.R. Martin, acclaimed author of the Song of Fire and Ice series - on which HBO’s Game of Thrones is based – got his start, he simply didn’t have enough time to both write and earn money. Luckily, Bobby Fischer was just starting to whip up America into a chess frenzy, so Martin picked up a (very) odd job: chess tournament director.
While it didn’t involve him playing games, there’s no doubt the intricate moves and violent piece-taking informed his sprawling fantasy epic. And it earned him big bucks, too. In fact, by just working on the weekends, he earned enough money to write for the other five days. Now why didn’t we think of doing that?
After a mammoth biography and several documentaries, you probably think you know everything there is to know about the late, great, Apple co-founder. But you might not know this juicy and – we admit – a little bit weird fact: that Steve Jobs used to get paid money to dress up as the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. Yes, real money.
Jobs didn’t deviate far from the “brilliant-but-broke computer nerd” stereotype while in college, and often was desperate to find work. One day, he and his friends discovered a bulletin board advertisement that asked the, um, “employees”, to dress up as characters from Lewis Carroll’s book. It’s unclear exactly what they were required to do, once dressed up, but we’re guessing it wasn’t tax returns. It seems that no-one since has done a better job, though: Tim Burton gave up and just used CGI.
Jen-Ton, as nobody but us has ever called her before, wins the Pokémon Award for Boring Jobs. Somehow, she’s caught them all. At the bottom of the workforce heap, before she made obscene amounts of money from Friends, she worked in possibly the worst job in the world: as a telemarketer. She lasted a week or two there before understandably quitting.
Apart from that, at various points Jen-Ton (see? It’s catching on) was a receptionist, a waitress, and a bike messenger, which is more or less the holy trinity of tedium. Oh, and we forgot to mention the most boring job she ever held: dating Brad Pitt. Yawn.
Sometimes you’ve got to take a good look at your miserable situation and find the humor in it. No doubt that’s what Jim Carrey thought in his early career when he worked as a factory janitor. A string of smash-hit comedies in the nineties and noughties has made the zany, rubber-faced comedian the household name that he is today, but a long time ago he was just mopping floors and cleaning up after people.
There’s no doubt that working such a menial job paid off for him. In fact, it’s not hard to imagine him alone, broom in hand, practicing his shtick. And that’s not all: while he was working, supporting his family, he was living in a van. What’s that saying about seeing the lows to appreciate the highs? Whatever it is, Carrey’s rocky start gave him a rich vein of comedy gold to mine.
With an often bizarre lifestyle and a habit of portraying intense (and intensely weird) characters, Johnny Depp’s reality frequently blurs the line between fact and fiction. To be honest, it would actually be quite easy for us to completely invent his early life and employment. Let’s try it: hippo teeth-brusher, human dry-ice machine, knee model, candle wick trimmer, bee milker, steamroller tester, piranha shepherd…
Just kidding – Johnny Depp was a pen salesman. Yep, that’s exactly what it sounds like. Selling ballpoint pens to people over the phone. On an encouraging note to the rest of us, not only did he loathe the job, but he was terrible at it too. At one point, he even felt so bad about selling a bunch of pens that he talked the customer into withdrawing his purchase. Now that’s integrity!
When you need a couple of hundred million dollars, it’s best to start saving early. Peter Jackson, director of the gigantic Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogy blockbusters, wasn’t always getting money thrown at him by studio executives. In his native New Zealand, it took a lot of hard work and one weird little job before his career could even get started. At the ripe old age of 16, Jackson dropped out of school and took up a surprisingly long career of photo engraving at the local newspaper.
Photo engraving is not nearly as exotic as it sounds. In practice, it involves laboriously applying masking and chemicals to turn an image into a printing plate. Over, and over, and over. Yet Jackson stuck with it for seven years, obsessed with buying up all the film equipment he could lay his hands on. At that point, it’s not surprising that the moving image was irresistible to him.
The last on the list is Christopher Walken. He almost didn’t make it, too, since his teenage job was not really that strange and not even close to being boring. But his past life was so astronomically cool that we had to include it. Forget about selling pens, waiting tables, or cleaning factories: Christopher Walken was a lion tamer in the circus. A LION TAMER.
Sure, it was an old lion. And sure, they left the particularly big cats to the head lion tamer. But can anyone here top that for a gig? Anyway, staring down a man-eater’s throat is probably what gave the famous character actor his renowned screen poise. Or maybe he’s been channeling his inner lion this entire time.
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