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‘I Did Hair and Makeup on Dead People’: Ten Celebrities Who Worked These Regular — and Irregular — Gigs Before Making It Big In Hollywood

It is difficult to imagine that one’s favorite celebrity actually had a traditional job before becoming famous. Many took work in the most unexpected places, including a garbage man, a sneaker salesman, a courtroom artist, and a federal securities contractor.

Here are 10 celebrities who got their hands dirty in the workforce before paparazzi knew their names and clamored to snap their pictures.

Taraji P. Henson (L) attends the Chanel Haute Couture Fall Winter 2022 2023 show as part of Paris Fashion Week on July 05, 2022 in Paris, France. (Photo by Marc Piasecki/WireImage)/Denzel Washington (CENTER) attends the 2022 Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum Salute To Freedom Gala at Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum on May 26, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)/Deion Sanders (R) attends The Big Homecoming Event at Clark Atlanta University on June 17, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images)

1. Denzel Washington

The Oscar-winning actor Denzel Washington had a few jobs before becoming one of the world’s most respected actors. While now he is worth an estimated $280 million, his first job, according to an interview he did with “Live Kelly and Ryan,” was as a paperboy. After that job, he was hired to clean up a barbershop and made enough for him to buy his own chicken dinners, which at the time ran him about $1.25 a plate.

Washington also worked for the Mt. Vernon Sanitation Department when he was 20 years old, working at the back of the truck, working 22 square blocks. The “Fences” star said on “Larry King Live,” “That’s hard,” referring to that level of manual labor. “Doing movies… there is nothing that we do in the movies that’s that hard.”

2. Taraji P. Henson

While the world knows Henson for some of her most iconic characters like Cookie from the hit “Empire” series, Yvette from John Singleton’s “Baby Boy,” or Shug from “Hustle & Flow,” before Taraji P. Henson became a star, she took a couple of jobs to support herself.

Though the Howard graduate started studying acting as a teen, she worked a few jobs to make ends meet. According to The List, she worked as a secretary at the Pentagon, an entertainer on a cruise ship, and even as a model.

The single mom said she quit whichever her last job was and moved to Los Angeles with her son, and $700 to chase her dreams. While there she took an office job before landing her first role on “Sister Sister”— and it has been to the moon since then.

3. Jesse Williams

Activist and actor Jesse Williams is known for his role on “Grey’s Anatomy,” but actually he never acted before he turned 25 years old.

According to TV Over Mind, Williams came from a teaching family and wanted to follow in their footsteps, attending Moses Brown School in Providence, Rhode Island, and then double-majoring at Temple University in film and media arts and African American studies. With his training, he went on to become a high school teacher in the Philadelphia public school system, teaching English, American studies, and African studies.

4. Whoopi Goldberg

Actress and comedian Whoopi Goldberg is one of Hollywood’s most celebrated luminaries and an ever-competitive EGOT winner.

But before ever taking her first role on Broadway, the star whose net worth is an estimated $60 million, was once hired to work in a funeral parlor and as a bricklayer, according to her IMDB.

“I needed money, and I needed to work,” Goldberg once said. “So, I figured I’d rather lay bricks than lay men.” 

While working at the funeral home, she assisted the owners and even did makeup on the deceased, for which she was duly qualified, since she was licensed in cosmetology.

“I did hair and makeup on dead people,” she said, “And I’m a licensed beautician as well because I went to beauty school.”  

She also worked as a bank teller.

5. Terry Crews

One of Terry Crews’ first jobs, before becoming a football player and one of America’s favorite funny guys and game show hosts, was as a courtroom sketch artist in Michigan.

He said on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” that drawing was a way he made money and even carried the skill over to the locker room, drawing his teammates.

“I come from Flint, Michigan,” Crews told Kimmel. “My first job in entertainment, I drew courtroom sketches for the worst murder case in Flint, Michigan, history.”

He wasn’t just good for the local courts but was offered an art scholarship out of high school before he was offered a football scholarship after playing Varsity.

Because he wasn’t a great player, he never made the big money, playing on six teams in over seven years.

“I would go back into the locker room and ask the players if they wanted their portraits painted,” he told the host. “That’s how I survived, I was always on the end of the roster, I was never a big superstar, I was an 11th-round draft pick. Humility gets you far. You gotta make some money, you gotta humble yourself. … It would literally take me about two months to do a painting, and they would give me like $5,000 and I would survive off that, my whole family survived off that.”

6. Tyler, the Creator

The “OKRA” chart-topper had a couple of early jobs that in weird ways added to his very unique character and life story.  Tyler, the Creator’s very first job was working at FedEx. However, he was fired in less than two weeks on the job.

He said he quit the shipping company because it was “depressing.”

“FedEx was so depressing,” he said. “There were just older dudes, like, just pushing boxes but OK with it, and it scared the living hell out of me. So I quit after a week and four days.”

He later started working at Starbucks, a job he loved — staying employed there for two and half years — of which he said, “Starbucks was cool because I stole cheese danishes every day.”

Fortunately for the world, he got fired from Starbucks for taking the pastries.

7. Gabourey Sidibe

Gabourey Sidibe has been in the public eye since she was a young woman starring as the lead in the award-winning film “Precious.” However, the Harlemite never thought about being an actor and in the early years spent her life studying psychology at college.

As a way to pay for her tuition in college, she took on a part-time job as a receptionist.

More surprisingly, right before landing the role in precious, according to Glamour Magazine, Sidibe took on a job as a sex worker, using her voice to tantalize men. She made the revelation in her 2017 memoir, “This Is Just My Face.”

‘I was 21, couldn’t afford to go to school, and couldn’t get a job,’ she says about the job she considered as “degrading.”

When talking about the details of the job, she said, “We learned that phone sex isn’t about getting the caller off; it’s about stalling so you can make money.”

“A good talker makes the caller forget he’s paying to talk to you. She makes her answers as long as possible to keep the money rolling in,” she explained in the book. “I had no idea what to say! I was 21 years old! I wasn’t a virgin, but I certainly wasn’t some hot and horny temptress.”

8. Wanda Sykes

While her life is about making people laugh, Wanda Sykes’ earliest job was about serious top-secret business. The writer, known for her stand-up and writing with Chris Rock’s comedy team, said she used to work for the National Security Agency.

She revealed this on “TODAY with Hoda and Jenna” and when they asked her if she had a security clearance, she said “yeah.”

Sykes appeared to be very tight-lipped as Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush (who had her own dealings with federal security) prodded to know more. Finally, Sykes said, “I was a contracting specialist. So, I bought stuff.”

Sykes, who has an estimated net worth between $10 million and $12 million, also said she likes to cook and thought if she wasn’t in entertainment she would have been a chef.

9. Deion Sanders

Super athlete Deion Sanders, who once played for both the Atlanta Falcons professional football team and the Atlanta Braves professional baseball team at the same time (even suiting up in person for two games in both sports on the same day in different cities on Oct. 11, 1992), started out grinding in a local chicken spot in his hometown.

According to the now-coach of the Jackson State football team, he used to work for Bojangles while a student at North Fort Myers High School in Florida. Despite having an estimated net worth $40 million, Mr. Primetime still enjoys getting some grub from the company he used to work for, saying the place is “dear” to his heart.

He captioned on Instagram, “I was on the cash register and drive Thru, my homey Peter Rice was on the biscuits and another homey Lu Lu was on the chicken.”

10. Kevin Hart

Box office blockbuster Kevin Hart has been called one of the hardest-working men in Hollywood. However, during a stop at Spelman College in Atlanta, he revealed comedy and acting were not his first occupations.

The Philadelphia native said at one point in his life, he was a “check-to-check guy.” At 18 years old, he went to community college but dropped out. And then revealed he was a lifeguard and a sneaker salesman to help pay the bills.

He said, “I was a lifeguard, and when I got a check I spent it that day. When I worked at a sneaker store, I spent every check I got on sneakers because it was more important to look good than to have.”

For Hart, he was then living for the perception of success versus actual financial stability. Now, with a net worth of $450 million, he is far from living off of a weekly check.

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