Thought Catalog

35 Famous People Who Were Painfully Rejected Before Making It Big

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1. Walt Disney


Walt Disney was fired from the Kansas City Star in 1919 because, his editor said, he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”

2. JK Rowling

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She got fired when working at the London office of Amnesty International because she would write stories on her work computer all day long.

3. Michael Bloomberg

Bloomberg was let go when he was working as a partner at Salomon Brothers, an investment bank. Specifically, it was after the company was bought out by the company that eventually became Citigroup in 1998. His severance check is what he used to jumpstart his career, which has now led him to become the 18th richest person

4. Anna Wintour

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While a junior fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar, Wintour did lots of shoots, but apparently Tony Mazalla thought they were too edgy, and so she got fired after 9 months. After which she became fashion editor at Viva.

5. Madonna

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She dropped out of college, moved to new york, and took a job at Dunkin’ Donuts in Times Square, where she apparently didn’t last a day. What sealed the deal was when she squirted jelly filling all over a customer

6. Oprah Winfrey

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Oprah Winfrey was an evening news reporter and apparently got fired because she couldn’t sever her emotions from her stories. Eventually she was fired from the producer of Baltimore’s WJZ-TV.

7. Jerry Seinfeld

He was fired after a poor performance on his very minor role on the sitcom Benson. Apparently no one told him he had been fired and he only found out about it when he showed up for a read-through and discovered his part was missing from the script.

8. Truman Capote

He dropped out of high school to take a job as a copy boy for the New Yorker. He was eventually fired by the New Yorker, not because he was a bad employee, but because two years after being hired he went to go see Robert Frost read and, deeply sick, Capote left in the middle of the performance. Apparently Frost was deeply insulted and, knowing where Capote worked, demanded that he be fired. Which he was.

9. Howard Stern

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He was fired by NBC when he was working as a DJ on WNBC. Then he found XM and the rest is history.

10. Elvis


After a performance at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, Elvis was told by the concert hall manager that he was better off returning to Memphis and driving trucks (his former career).

11. Thomas Edison


He worked at Western Union where he used to secretly conduct experiments. Then, one night in 1867, he spilled some acid and it ate through the entire floor. He was fired and subsequently decided to just pursue inventing full time.

12. Kerry Washington

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Before making it on Scandal, she had done two pilots. The shows of those pilots got picked up, but unfortunately Kerry was replaced in both shows by a different actress.

13. Steve Jobs

Jobs was fired from his own company.

14. Lady Gaga

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When she was finally signed onto a major record label, Gaga was dropped and only after three months of being signed.

15. Wilco

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Shutterstock.com“>Carl Bjorklund / Shutterstock.com

When Wilco released Yankee Hotel Foxtrot in 2001, an album that wasn’t quite in line with their previous music, their label Reprise Records refused to release the album and dropped Wilco from its roster. Wilco ended up streaming the album on their website for free and it was eventually given a commercial release in 2002.

16. Bill Gates


When he dropped out of Harvard he started a business with Paul Allen called Traf-O-Data, which flopped. Luckily, they tried their hand at business again and this time Microsoft was born.

17. Albert Einstein


He didn’t speak until he was four and didn’t read until he was seven. He was subsequently expelled from school and was not admitted to the Zurich Polytechnic School. Long story short, he came around.

18. Charles Darwin

Darwin was not hell-bent on becoming a scientist his whole life, thanks to his dad, who called him lazy and too dreamy. Darwin once wrote, “I was considered by all my masters and my father, a very ordinary boy, rather below the common standard of intellect.”

19. Isaac Newton


Sure Newton was a wiz at math, but he did not excel when it came to other subjects. He never thrived in school and when he was once put in charge of running the family farm, he failed terribly. That was when he was sent off to Cambridge and the rest is history.

20. Socrates

He was a visionary but at the time he was living, his innovative ideas labeled him an “immoral corrupter of youth” and lead him to his death sentence. Despite this, he persevered until the moment he was forced to poison himself.

21. Abraham Lincoln


When Lincoln was young and entered war, he entered as a Captain but came back as a much lower Private. Later on, he tried to start up a ton of businesses, all of which failed, and before becoming president, he lost several runs for public office

22. Lucille Ball


Before her iconic show I Love Lucy, Lucille Ball was considered a failed actress, a B-list actress. So much so that her drama instructors urged her to try another profession.

23. Marilyn Monroe


When she was trying to start her career, modeling agencies told her she should consider becoming a secretary.

24. Vincent van Gogh


It’s hard to believe, but during his lifetime Van Gogh received hardly any acclaim for his work. While alive, he only sold one of his paintings, and that was to a friend for a very small amount of money. Despite this, he continued working throughout his life, never seeing success himself, though his paintings now are worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

25. Emily Dickinson

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Shutterstock.com“>gorGolovniov / Shutterstock.com

Though loved now, Dickinson was not so during her waking hours. In fact, while alive, less than a dozen of her poems were published out of about 1800 complete works.

26. Steven Spielberg

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Ironically, Spielberg was rejected from the University of Southern California School of Theater, Film and Television three times. He was eventually accepted by another school, a school which he dropped out of to pursue directing. In 2002, Spielberg finally completed his BA.

27. Stephen King

King’s most renowned and first book, Carrie, was rejected thirty times. King decided to toss the book, which his wife then went through the trash to rescue and convinced him to re-submit it.

28. Claude Monet

While alive, Monet’s work was mocked and rejected by the artistic elite, the Paris Salon.

29. Michael Jordan

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He was cut from his high school basketball team. He once said, “I have missed over 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the gam winning shot, and I have missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

30. Babe Ruth


His home run record is 714 during his career. But he still had a total of 1330 strikeouts. At one point, he held the record for strikeouts. He once said, “Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.”

31. Don Imus

The talk show host on MSNBC was fired in 2007 because he referred to Rutgers University women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed hos.”

32. Stephen Glass

He was fired in 1998 from associate editor of The New Republic because he fabricated all or parts of twenty-seven reported pieces

33. Robert Redford


He was fired from his job as Unskilled worker for Standard Oil in 1954 because he was found asleep in an oil tank he was supposed to clean.

34. Rudyard Kipling

He was fired as his role as contributor to the San Francisco Examiner in 1889 because he was told by an editor, “I’m sorry Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.”

35. Henry Hudson

In 1611, he was fired from his role as Commander of the Discovery while exploring the New World because he was suspected of favoritism and food hoarding. Apparently the crew members rebelled, setting him, his son and others off in a skiff in what is now the Hudson Bay. TC mark

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