Lucky Breaks That Made These Average People Celebrities

By Jake SchroederLast Updated Apr 2, 2020 5:32:48 PM ET
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Photo Courtesy: Joella Marano/Wikimedia Commons

The vast majority of us live normal lives, working regular jobs for a (hopefully) livable wage. Maybe we dream about becoming rich and famous, but we know the chances of it happening are slim to none. But then we hear these stories about simple people who do or say something outrageous, and suddenly everyone knows their name. The media goes crazy, their social media accounts are bombarded with followers, and they are suddenly awarded "celebrity" status.

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So, what gives? How could something so ridiculous happen? With no clear answer in sight, we can do little besides puzzle over the qualifications for fame these days. Here’s a look at some famous people who became celebrities for all the wrong reasons.

Monica Lewinsky

Monica Lewinsky lived an average life. After graduating from high school, she attended community college for two years while working two part-time jobs for the Beverly Hills High School drama department and a necktie shop. In 1993, she enrolled in a psychology program at Lewis & Clark College.

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Thanks to a family connection, Lewinsky was offered a summer internship at the White House, where she attracted the attention of President Bill Clinton. Following nine sexual encounters in the Oval Office — yes, someone counted — word got out, and the scandal spread like wildfire. Since then, she has tried her hand as an author and TV personality, but she is mostly remembered for her inappropriate relationship with a president.

Levi Johnston

Levi Johnston grew up in Alaska, away from the hustle and bustle of the lower 48 states. He attended Wasilla High School, where he played hockey. Johnston dropped out of high school to work full-time as an apprentice electrician in the Alaskan North Slope oil fields.

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He was also the boyfriend of Bristol Palin, daughter of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. His name began circulating when Sarah Palin became John McCain's running mate during the 2008 presidential election. He then became infamous for impregnating Palin’s underage daughter, followed by their two failed engagements in 2009 and 2010.

Bristol Palin

Bristol Palin is the oldest daughter of former Vice-Presidential nominee and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. She had dreams of becoming a sportscaster, but she set that ambition aside when she became pregnant as a teenager. A tidal wave of media coverage focused on her pregnancy at the time. During an interview with Fox News, she claimed abstinence was not realistic for teenagers.

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The interview didn’t help her mother's conservative cause, so she made appearances on morning shows to back-pedal her remarks about abstinence. She later claimed that people took her quote on Fox News out of context. She was offered a reality show and has made a living as a public speaker.

Nicole Arbour

Nicole Arbour was just an above-average cheerleader when she began her cheerleading career at Humber College. She also led the school’s dance team, the Humber Hype, to two national championships. Her dancing career peaked when she became an NBA cheerleader for the Toronto Raptors.

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Arbour tried to break into entertainment as an actor and comedian, and she landed a few minor roles in television and film. However, she rose to fame in 2015 when she released a controversial viral video on her YouTube channel called "Dear Fat People." (Yes, you read that right.) She received widespread criticism and lost a job doing choreography for an anti-bullying video. You think?

Robert Norris

Philip Morris & Co. originally introduced the Marlboro brand as a cigarette for women. To turn it around and portray the company as a man's product, advertisers created the Marlboro Man. The fictional cowboy attempted to trigger feelings of ruggedness and manliness in the ads. Many people modeled over the years as the Marlboro Man, but Robert Norris was the first and the most famous.

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The company recruited Norris because he was a friend of John Wayne. He appeared on billboards and magazine advertisements for 12 years. However, Norris wasn’t a smoker, and he eventually quit working as the Marlboro Man because of the potential influence on his kids.

Courtney Stodden

Courtney Stodden was born in Tacoma, Washington, where she experienced a wonderful childhood. She admits that she was quite spoiled as a kid. Her parents entered her in beauty pageants, and she loved to write music. The future looked quite bright for this young beauty queen.

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She rose to the heights of notoriety when she was 16 years old, but it wasn’t because of her stunning beauty or her life-changing music. She gained national attention when she married 51-year-old actor Doug Hutchison. Since then, she has released 13 singles, six music videos and one album while making multiple television appearances and one feature film.

Amber Rose

Amber Rose grew up in South Philadelphia in a single-parent home. To help support her family, she began exotic dancing at age 15 under the pseudonym "Paris." She also admits to unsuccessfully attempting a career as a drug dealer. She eventually put her dancing talents and beauty to good use and started appearing in multiple music videos.

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That's when she got the attention of Kanye West. The recognition led to multiple cameos in music videos for Nicki Minaj, Wiz Khalifa and Ludacris. Since then, she has started a modeling and music career and has appeared on multiple reality shows.

Stedman Graham

It isn't fair to say that Stedman Graham was just an average New Jersey resident before he met Oprah Winfrey. He successfully graduated with a bachelor's degree in social work before completing a master's degree in education. Standing at 6 feet, 6 inches tall, Graham unsurprisingly played basketball as an undergraduate. He is now a successful businessman.

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Still, Stedman's name wouldn’t stand out from all the millions of successful business people in America if it wasn’t for one little detail. His name has appeared in countless tabloids since 1996, thanks to the notoriety of his lengthy and ongoing relationship with media mogul Oprah Winfrey.

Farrah Abraham

Farrah Abraham must have lived a boring life while growing up in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The daughter of divorced parents, she was selected as a featured character for MTV's new show 16 and Pregnant in 2008. The reality series followed pregnant teenagers in different parts of the country.

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The appearance ruined her relationship with her mother, but it jump-started her career. MTV cast her for the spin-off series Teen Moms before she finished college. Since then, Abraham has tried her hand at acting and writing. She even released one music album called "My Teenage Dream Ended."

Rick Astley

Rick Astley was already famous for his song "Never Gonna Give You Up," which made it to the top of the music charts in 25 countries upon its release. By the time he retired from music, he had sold around 40 million records across the globe.

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Astley experienced another surge of fame in 2007 — but not in a way he could have guessed. "Never Gonna Give You Up" became a meme for internet trolls to use a technique now known as "rickrolling" to link to the video. He simply took advantage of the attention and released an album in 2016, debuting at number one on the U.K. charts.

Blac Chyna

Angela Renée White would have probably lived in relative obscurity like the rest of us. Like many exotic dancers before her, she began stripping to pay for her tuition, but she ultimately dropped out of college to pursue a dancing and modeling career using her stage name, Blac Chyna.

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She worked multiple modeling gigs before her well-endowed rear end captured the attention of Nicki Minaj, who used the dancer as a stunt double. With every body enhancement surgery, Blac Chyna's career grew. She has since established a career based on reality television and intense social media feuds.

Joey Buttafuoco

Joey Buttafuoco could have just as easily lived an average life as an auto shop owner from Long Island. He attended Massapequa High School before beginning his body shop career. He was obviously in a less-than-ideal relationship with his wife, Mary Jo, because he started cheating on her.

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Of course, Joey chose the wrong woman for an affair. Amy Fisher, an underage customer of Joey's, wanted him all to herself, so she went to Joey's house and told Mary Jo all about her husband's infidelities. Apparently, that wasn’t good enough, because then she shot Mary Jo in the face. (She survived.) Even before the internet, the news spread far and wide, thanks to grocery store tabloids.

Richard Jewell

Richard Jewell was just your average security guard who was assigned to watch over Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. Jewell spotted a suspicious package during a concert to commemorate the festivities, so he alerted the authorities. The bomb exploded, injuring multiple spectators and killing two.

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The country treated Richard as a hero for the first few days, but then a local Atlanta publication reported that the FBI was treating Jewell as a suspect. The media frenzy that followed led to nationwide condemnation of the man. He passed a polygraph and was never charged with a crime, but his life was still ruined.

Sydney Leathers

Having an inappropriate relationship with a politician is nothing new. Most people involved with a sitting public servant don’t even merit a second glance these days. Sydney Leathers was an administrative assistant for a local law firm when she decided to forward some photos of New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner's, ahem, weiner.

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Her life immediately changed, and she took to the road to tell her side of the scandal. She claims she did not want the notoriety, but since then, she has posed for photos, sold her story and even acted in a couple of pornographic films.

Kim Davis

The life of a county clerk is rarely exciting. Kim Davis of Kentucky took it upon herself to ignore a federal court order to issue a same-sex marriage license, which earned widespread criticism from left-wing groups. She was defeated for the clerk’s seat in a 2018 election, but that wasn't the last the world heard from Davis.

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She has been the subject of numerous books and parodies on Funny or Die and Saturday Night Live. Conservative and religious groups have applauded her for her bravery in putting what she believed to be God's law over that of the state's.

Dan Bilzerian

If Dan Bilzerian weren't a trust fund baby, people would probably think he was your average jerk. It’s a good thing he received a sizable trust from his father, because he has failed as a Navy SEAL and as a professional poker player. (He finished in 180th place during the 2009 World Series of Poker Main Event.)

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He is mostly known for promoting his lavish lifestyle on Instagram. Oh! And he was banned from a Miami nightclub for kicking a model. Nice guy. Porn star Janice Griffith also sued the well-known misogynist for throwing her off a roof during a photo shoot for Hustler. That’s when you call the cops, Janice.

The Duggar Family

Unfortunately, some people become famous for breeding. Shocked by that phrasing? Well, what’s truly shocking is treating fertility like a measure of talent and giving parents a spot on television for choosing to have 19 kids — at last count. Apparently, TLC's 19 Kids and Counting didn’t see it that way.

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The family was embroiled in controversy when their son, Josh Duggar, was accused of fondling five girls, including four of his sisters. TLC canceled the show after most of the sponsors pulled their ads from the show. A few of the kids have since received spin-off series.

Kylie Jenner

The Kardashian-Jenner experiment should have ended long ago. However, the media can’t seem to stop focusing their attention on what Kim and Kanye are doing every moment of their lives. For some reason, people remain enthralled with the family and continue to support Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

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Kylie Jenner doesn’t have much to offer by way of talent, but she’s got plenty of vanity, and vanity comes in quite handy when it leads you to build a billion-dollar cosmetics company. Her career first took off on social media when she became one of the most followed people on Instagram. She is the youngest person recognized on the Forbes Celebrity 100 list.

Kim Kardashian

Life might have been quite different for the Kardashians if OJ Simpson had made better life choices. The media whirlwind that swirled during the Simpson trial exposed a lot about American pop culture, and it also thrust Simpson's attorneys — Robert Kardashian among them — into the limelight.

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However, most fans of the Kardashians today probably couldn’t tell you anything about Robert Kardashian, who passed away in 2003. Kim, on the other hand, didn’t have any problem using her father's name to become one of the most well-known figures in entertainment — even though she offers little value as an entertainer.

LaVar Ball

If not for his sons, LaVar Ball's name would have been inevitably lost in the annals of NFL history. He had a brief career as a tight end with the New York Jets and the Carolina Panthers, but that influence wouldn’t have amounted to much without his sons, who became professional basketball players.

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Ball openly stated that his son Lonzo played better ball than Steph Curry. He also claimed he could beat NBA legend Michael Jordan in a game of one-on-one. For some reason, society likes to reward braggarts with successful careers.

Logan Paul

Thanks to YouTube, anybody has the opportunity to become famous these days. If the person is controversial, it could be a recipe for disaster or the perfect game plan. People like Logan Paul are the result when it succeeds. Paul earned his title as a famous influencer for posting ridiculous six-minute videos on the now-defunct video platform Vine.

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Since then, his YouTube channel has accumulated more than 20 million subscribers and boasts nearly 5 billion views. Paul's YouTube famousness led to a career as a musician, professional boxer and actor. He sparked a lot of criticism for claiming he was "gonna attempt to go gay for just one month."

June Edith Shannon

In any other existence, June Edith Shannon, better known as Mama June, would have lived a quiet life in the South. Then the reality television explosion happened, and we were forced — kicking and screaming, right? — into the world of child beauty pageants on Toddlers & Tiaras. That's when we were introduced to Mama June's daughter, Honey Boo Boo.

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Mama June had her first child at age 14. Life would have undoubtedly been a struggle for her if it hadn’t been for our obsession with reality television. After all, other celebrities don’t generally have relationships with not one, but two men who are convicted sex offenders.

George Zimmerman

George Zimmerman was an average guy, a Florida-based insurance agent who was a devout Catholic with hopes of becoming a United States Marine. He ran into legal trouble a few times in his life. Authorities arrested him for assaulting an undercover police officer at a bar, and his former fiancé filed a restraining order against him at one point. Okay, so maybe he only seemed like an average guy.

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Now, Zimmerman will always be known for fatally shooting an unarmed teenager. The incident happened when he was serving as the neighborhood watch coordinator for his private community. Due to Florida's "stand your ground" laws, the state didn't charge him with murder until six weeks later, but he was acquitted of all charges.

Kate Middleton

Most people who grow up in wealthy households stay out of the limelight — crazy but true! Catherine Elizabeth Middleton grew up in a small village in Berkshire, England, and studied art history at the University of St. Andrews. However, her life completely changed when she met Prince William at school.

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Now, Kate Middleton goes by the title Duchess of Cambridge, thanks to her marriage to Prince William. If everything proceeds on course, her husband will eventually become the King of England, making her a future Queen Consort. Of all the celebrities on this list, no one has improved their prospects quite as much as Kate.

Lorena Bobbitt

Lorena Bobbitt allegedly suffered at the hands of her husband, John Wayne Bobbitt. She accused him of beating, raping and sodomizing her regularly. Some couples go through therapy to try to change things, some divorce and move on, some suffer in silence — and then there’s Lorena Bobbitt.

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Pushed to the limits of her endurance, she snapped and took justice into her own hands. After her husband went to sleep, she cut off his member with an 8-inch carving knife. She then fled the house and threw it out of a moving car window. She eventually called 9-1-1, and John's organ was (unbelievably) found and reattached.

Kato Kaelin

Kato Kaelin grew up in Wisconsin with dreams of becoming a television personality and actor. He was accepted to Cal State, Fullerton, where he created his talk show called Kato and Friends. However, he never expected his name to be associated with the most famous murder trial in history.

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He rented the guest house on OJ Simpson's Rockingham estate, and he was there the night of the infamous murders. He served as a witness for the prosecution, although they ultimately had to declare him a hostile witness. More than two-thirds of the country knew all about Kato Kaelin after the trial.

Nicole Polizzi

Nicole Polizzi, better known as Snooki from the MTV reality show Jersey Shore, is a Chilean-born Italian-American. She was the first of her friends to kiss a boy, which earned her the nickname Snooki after a male character in Save the Last Dance.

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In any other universe, Snooki would not have ever been famous. MTV introduced her in an early show about women who date obnoxious men. Her demeanor and actions captured the attention of fans, and she became one of the most popular celebrity Halloween costumes in 2010.

Danielle Bregoli

Even though she became one of the most famous memes of the 2010s, Danielle Bregoli's real name isn't that famous. However, once you mention the "cash me outside" girl, everyone knows exactly who you’re talking about. Bregoli first appeared on an episode of Dr. Phil about kids who are out of control.

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Thanks to the internet, she capitalized on that to become both famous and wealthy. She is now a well-known rapper going by the stage name Bhad Bhabie. She was even nominated for a Billboard Music Award for Top Rap Female Artist and is worth an estimated $4 million. How 'bout dat?

Tila Tequila

If you're old enough to remember MySpace, then you probably know exactly who Tila Tequila is. She became famous by accepting friend requests from total strangers who wanted to know her based on her racy photos and exotic look. She eventually became the most famous person on the social media platform.

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Since then, she starred in a reality show called A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila. Even though she has verbally supported Adolf Hitler's ideals and promoted flat Earth conspiracy theories, she still has a career and is worth around $1.5 million.

Paris Hilton

Before the internet, rich socialites were people who showed up at celebrity events and occasionally popped up in gossip magazines. Some of them possessed acting or musical talent, but that wasn’t the case with Paris Hilton. The reality television star is simply an heir of the hotel mogul of the same name.

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If Paris hadn’t been born into a wealthy family, she might have had a shot as a model. She’s leggy and beautiful. Because she is a member of the Hilton family and once released a sex tape, the media forces stories about her exploits on us with great enthusiasm.