EntertainmentFamous People Who Lived In Their Cars Before They Made It

Famous People Who Lived In Their Cars Before They Made It

October 26, 2014

Cars are typically used to get us from A to B, but they can mean a lot more to people than that. After all, people are much more likely to own a car before a house (if they ever intend to be a homeowner at all).

A car can also go with you if you decide to make a location or life change, and in some places may actually give you about the same amount of room as a CBD apartment.

In fact, living out of a car appears to be on trend in 2014. With global economic pressures, rent and house prices soaring, and more people focusing on doing what they love, for some people turning to their car seems like the right move. It’s a development not lost on the media, either.

In September Fairfax Media reported that entertainer Denise Drysdale is planning to sell up, pack up and “probably be living in her car” as part of a lifestyle overhaul. UK musician Nick Andrew was thinking along similar lines when he quit his job as a teacher to pursue music full time, moving into his car in 2006. As he explained in an article for The Guardian, he’s been there ever since.

“It turns out that living in a VW Passat is tricky at first. Four walls and a roof over my head, yes, but no tea and coffee facilities to speak of,” he says, going on to explain how he has changed things over the years to include more creature comforts.

“It is now a haven from the outside world, where I can practise guitar late into the night or watch a TV serial on my phone or laptop without disturbing neighbours.”

But there are also a lot of people living in cars due to economic pressures. In New Zealand there are reports that more people are living in their cars as rent rises to up to 70% of their income. Similar stories are also coming out of the UK and the US.

Whether the reasons are financial or esoteric, these people are actually joining the ranks of a long list of famous people who have also spent time living in their cars. Here we take a look at 10 of the best-know celebrities that have lived in cars, and what they learned from the experience.


© Cyan Banister / Wikimedia Commons

Drew Carey

Before becoming a household name in the United States, the comedian and talk show host rented out his Cleveland home and drove to Los Angeles.

“I lived out of my car for 18 months,” he said in an interview on talk show Lopez Tonight in 2010. “My goal was to get back and do ‘The Tonight Show.'”

Carey’s big break came after doing a standup routine on The Tonight Show, when then-host Johnny Carson called him over to the couch afterwards. He’s gone on to host The Drew Carey Show, The Price is Right and Whose Line Is It Anyway?, among other career highlights.




Jim Carrey

© 2010 CC BY-SA 3.0

Comedian and actor Jim Carrey spent time living out of a van during his adolescence.

“My father lost his job when he was 51, I was about 12, and that was really the traumatic – wow – kick in the guts,” he says in an episode of Inside the Actors Studio. Carrey told host James Lipton that he went from “lower middle class to complete poverty”.

“We lived in a van for a while. It wasn’t as bad as the job we had altogether, where we worked as security guards and janitors.”

Carrey ended up leaving school on his 16th birthday and, with encouragement from his father, went straight to a comedy club. The move was a turning point in his life and helped set him on the path to success.

kurt_cobainKurt Cobain

From couches to cardboard boxes, cars and underneath bridges, the Nirvana frontman could have been considered a professional at roughing it before the band made it big.

Cobain actually spent time living in his car when “Nevermind” was released. As an article on The Huffington Post explains, he was evicted during the recording of the legendary album, returning home to find his boxes outside.

“Despite the forthcoming album release, Cobain spent many weeks living in his 1963 Plymouth Valiant,” Huffington Post contributor Todd Van Luling writes.

“This was not the first time Cobain had been homeless. Ever since his teens, Cobain found himself without a home on numerous occasions, whether from being kicked out of living spaces or failing to pay bills.”

But “Nevermind” was a huge turning point, launching Nirvana into the public and leading to more lucrative times. At the time of Kurt Cobain’s death, his net worth was estimated to be $100 million.

© Jennifer Stoddart / Wikimedia Commons

© Jennifer Stoddart / Wikimedia Commons


During the early 90s, before becoming a folk music and poetry legend, Jewel spent time living out of her car in San Diego. She started building her career as a musician by playing in local coffeehouses before her big break came in 1995 when she signed with Atlantic Records and released “Pieces of You”.

The artist says it was a defining time in her life, full of challenges and strangely surreal moments.

“When I was living in my car, the record label was coming to see me and I really wanted to wash my hair, so there was a Denny’s around the corner and I washed my hair in the Denny’s sink and I was really excited because this label was coming,” she says in an interview with Concertlivewire.com.

“…I was so elated that the label was coming and I kind of noticed that these women were looking at me like I was a creepy homeless kid washing my hair in the sink.

“They were looking at me really pitifully and you know, condescendingly and they kind of brought my mood down and suddenly I realized that yeah I am a homeless kid washing my hair in the sink and one of the ladies said to the other “She looks like a pretty enough girl, I wonder how she ended up like that?””

She still thinks of the time living in her car as a turning point in her life, and something that still influences her lyrics.

© Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff / Wikimedia Commons

© Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff / Wikimedia Commons

David Letterman

Although he’s now a king among late night talk show hosts in the US, David Letterman’s career had humble beginnings. After a stint at his college radio station, Letterman packed up his stuff and headed to Los Angeles.

Due to financial constraints, he lived out of a red 1973 Chevy pickup truck until his career took off. According to a feature in Esquire, he still loves cars and regularly spends over an hour commuting to work.




© Wikimedia Commons

© Wikimedia Commons

Tyler Perry

The actor and movie mogul lived in his car in Atlanta during the 1990s while trying to stage his play “I Know I’ve Been Changed”.

Perry spent all of his savings on the effort and lived in his car on-and-off for six years.

“I went back to work, started trying to do the show again,” he says in an interview with Oprah.

“And then I got an opportunity to do it and went to my boss and said, “I need time off.” They wouldn’t give it to me, so I had to quit. I tried to do the show again the following year. It failed again. But there was something in me that said, This is what you’re supposed to do.”

During this time, Perry says he’d go between his car and pay-by-the-week hotel “full of crackheads” when he could afford it.

But in 1998, after six failed stagings, the seventh version of I Know I’ve Been Changed became a hit, with hundreds of people lining up to buy tickets. He’s gone on to have huge hits on stage and screen, and often shares his inspiring story.

“The fact that Tyler’s work began with a play he scribbled in a notebook—and that he has grown it into such a powerful bond with so many millions—still blows me away,” Oprah says.

“When I’m near him, I have the same experience I had back when I first went to one of his stage productions: I leave feeling more connected to others, like I just came from church.”

© Jerry Avenaim / Wikimedia Commons

© Jerry Avenaim / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Dr Phil

He may now be one of the most famous psychologists in the world now, but at one stage Dr Phil McGraw was living day by day out of a car.

“My dad and I had to split up from the rest of our family because we couldn’t afford for everybody to stay together,” he says, recalling his experience of homelessness as a teen in an interview with another family going through tough times.

“We spent a number of nights in our car, and then we found a room at the YMCA for $5 a week, and he and I lived there until we got an apartment that was close enough to school for me to walk. We got that in September, and we didn’t have any electricity until December.”

Dr Phil’s openness about his experience suggests it was a huge influence, helping him develop empathy that has supported his career.

“”I’ve been there, and it does get better,” he says. “You do get through it.”

© Keith McDuffee - Flickr / Wikimedia Commons

© Keith McDuffee – Flickr / Wikimedia Commons

William Shatner

The Star Trek superstar went through a tough time when the series was taken off air in 1969. Around the same time, he and wife Gloria Rand were divorced and he started living in his truck.

“It was the early 1970s and I was recently divorced. I had three kids and was totally broke,” Shatner says in an interview with David Hochman.

“I managed to find work back east on the straw-hat circuit—summer stock—but couldn’t afford hotels, so I lived out of the back of my truck, under a hard shell. It had a little stove, a toilet, and I’d drive from theater to theater. The only comfort came from my dog, who sat in the passenger seat and gave me perspective on everything. Otherwise, it would have just been me counting my losses.”

But Shatner’s career prevailed, and he’s since become not only an icon for Star Trek, but also a prolific recorder and Emmy-winning actor for his work in the hit show Boston Legal.

© Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

© Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Hilary Swank

Hilary Swank is another star who began her LA career living out of a car. In the 1990s, her and her mother moved to Hollywood, scraping by until Swank started booking more and more jobs as an actor.

Her breakthrough role came nine years later, in the film Boys Don’t Cry, and she’s gone on to win two Oscars and the respect of the entire film industry.





© Rossella Vetrano / Wikimedia Commons

© Rossella Vetrano / Wikimedia Commons

Sam Worthington

Aussie actor Sam Worthington’s life changed in many ways when he booked his role in James Cameron’s blockbuster Avatar.

At the time he was a struggling actor in Australia, auditioning for whatever he could.

“Every actor fears unemployment, and there I was unemployed,” he tells Empire.

“Sold everything I owned and was just living in the car basically, not doing much. I thought this audition was a waste of my fucking time.”

Not long after his first audition, he was flown off to meet James Cameron, where he told the filmmaker he’d give everything he had “’cause I’ve got nothing to lose”.

“That started a relationship with him for about six months, convincing a studio to take a punt on an unknown guy,” he says.

“Over the course of that, I just kept auditioning and auditioning, or as I call it, cos I hate that f***ing word, working.”

His hard work paid off, with the actor reported to have made around $77 million from the first film alone. With news of three more movies in the franchise, it is no wonder he’s now one of Hollywood’s top earning actors.

While it’s easy to look at famous people now and think they have it easy, some of them have spent time living out of a car just to get by. But as well as having a car roof above their heads at one point in time, what they also have in common is drive and persistence to follow their talents and dreams forwards.

So even though living out of a car is an experience most people would not choose for themselves, the stories of these famous people show that living out of a car can be a life-defining – and a even rewarding – experience in the long run.