6 Inspiring Rags to Riches Stories (That Are Bullshit)

6 Inspiring Rags to Riches Stories (That Are Bullshit)

Everyone likes a good "rags to riches" story. After all, if some dude can go from living in a cardboard box to being the CEO of a major corporation, we can do it too!

Unfortunately, it doesn't take a lot of digging into most of these stories to find out they've been, well, inflated a bit. And sometimes, they're complete bullshit.

Bill Gates

The Rags to Riches Story:

Bill was a college dropout who finessed his way into the upper echelons of IBM to sell his operating system. Now he sleeps on a bed made of solid gold. According to the media, Bill Gates is the Rocky Balboa of the business world. They've compared him to other college dropouts; from Kanye West to some guy who runs the IT Department at Bradley College. Gates proved that if you're smart and willing to work hard, you can build an empire! And you don't even have to go to college! Yay!

Why it's a Load of Crap:

First of all, the college Gates left was Harvard, not the community college that most of the people who cite his story are thinking of leaving. He entered Harvard by scoring 1590 out of 1600 on his SAT--the man was, and still is, a genetically mutated genius. But one with the type of parents who could afford Harvard.

Luxury office, giant window. Just your average college dropout.

In fact, Gates's parents have a lot to do with his success, and even why he was able to drop out of school. At a very young age, Bill was staying up all night experimenting with computer programming. Keep in mind, this was the late 60s and early 70s, so having access to a computer was like having access to a helicopter. He gained incredible amounts of experience because his upper class parents were able to enroll him in an exclusive prep school that had a computer available. This was only possible because Bill's father was a prominent attorney, and his mother's side of the family wasn't exactly poor either.

Later, Gates left college because it didn't provide the training in computer programming that he needed for the software business he was running on the side. It wasn't that Gates couldn't keep up at Harvard; Harvard couldn't keep up with Gates. Again, this is the kind of risk you can take when you have well-to-do parents who can get you right back into school if things don't work out. If the dude scraping by on student loans and corn dogs tries the same thing, he's probably going to wind up bussing tables at Chili's the rest of his life.

Of course here is where Gates used his genius and creativity to invent the modern operating system...

Oh, wait, no. It turns out he bought the program that would later become MS-DOS from another programmer, for a one-time fee of $50,000. He then took it to IBM and other PC manufacturers and made a pile of money big enough to ski down it.

Now, we're not saying Bill Gates isn't a smart guy or that he didn't work hard. By all accounts he puts in more hours working than most people put into being awake. But, an "Upper Middle Class Guy With an Extraordinarily Fortunate Background to Riches" story is a completely different deal than a "Rags to Riches." The dude wasn't exactly an orphan begging for scraps. And it's not like he was turning tricks as a male whore to put his start-up capital together, the way Steve Jobs did .

Debbi Fields (Founder of Mrs. Fields Cookies)

The Rags to Riches Story:

According to the "About Us" section of MrsFields.com:

"Debbi Fields, a young mother with no business experience, opened her first cookie store in Palo Alto, California in 1977. They told her she was crazy. No business could survive just selling cookies. Humble beginnings launched Mrs. Fields into a worldwide celebrity."

If you're willing to ignore people who call you crazy, you too could be the nemesis of diabetics everywhere.

Why It's a Load Of Crap:

It's true Debbi Fields had no business experience. But you know what helps when you're a 20-year-old bravely entering the world of business with nothing but savvy and a cookie recipe? Being married to Randy Fields, a man who was both a decade older than her and owned a successful investment firm.

Mr. Fields, CEO.

The capital they raised to get started came via Randy's contacts. Yes, the cookies were good enough to attract customers; we would never try to disparage the power of a really good cookie. But the real success came when Randy and the company's IT Manager developed software that efficiently handled supply chain management. This kept costs low while still charging outrageous prices for the cookies.

Debbi had the financial backing of a business maverick, and sold a product everyone loved. So why did everyone call her crazy when she opened her first store? The picture gets a lot clearer when you read the bio on her personal web page. Debbie gives credit to herself, her innovations and her determination.

Did you know she invented cookies?

She also places herself in the same company as three of the world's greatest history-changing innovators: Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell. Apparently, keeping America's cookie jars full ranks up there with changing they the world talks, travels and learns. We're stunned she hasn't had her image carved on Mount Rushmore.


The Rags to Riches Story:

Jewel lived in a van!

Jewel lived in a van!!

Jewel lived in a van!!!!!!

This line is shouted in every single story ever written about Jewel. And just in case that doesn't melt your frozen heart, the van story is almost always followed up with the fact that her family was so poor growing up that they didn't have running water.

Why it's a Load of Crap:

First, the stuff about her childhood. Her family didn't go without running water because they were poor. Jewel's father elected to drop out of society to live of the land, and settled in Alaska to do so. They were hippies, not hobos. Jewel's upbringing was unconventional, sure, but at least she didn't grow up in homeless shelters like true badasses such as KRS One, Tupac Shakur and ... Shania Twain.

"How will I take long, luxurious showers without water?"

Later, Jewel followed in her father's footsteps, choosing to quit work and live in a van to keep costs down and focus on her music. Ballsy? Sure, but all musicians live in their car for a while. Legally, you're not allowed to call yourself a musician unless you've got some sort of transient-living under your belt.

Again, we're not just talking about hard asses like Kurt Cobain, whose biography includes a spell camping out under a bridge. Creed lead "singer" Scott Stapp and Matchbox 20 front"man" Rob Thomas lived in their cars while pursuing the dream.

Don't take our word for it, take it from those celebrated rock and roll historians, Boston:

Well, we were just another band out of Boston
On the road to try to make ends meet
Playing all the bars, sleeping in our cars
And we practiced right on out in the street

Sleeping in a car is rock and roll! And she had a van; hell, that's a freaking mansion in the struggling musician world.

The inside of Jewel's van.

So common is the van in rock and roll, that there is a website dedicated to giving the van dwellers of rock an occasional couch to sleep on (at BetterThanTheVan.com).

So why don't we hear about Scott Stapp, Rob Thomas and Shania Twain's hard ass upbringings as much as Jewel's? Well, it would seem that Jewel's tale of unprecedented hardship might be part of a calculated PR strategy. For instance, if you're tired of the van story, her online bios will have you know that she also "washed her hair in public restrooms, subsisted on carrots and peanut butter, fell in with street gangs, dated older men and even shoplifted." Come on guys. This isn't high school, it's rock and roll. If you're going to be the bad girl, you're going to have to give us something a little worse than "dating older men," and a little less hilariously far-fetched than "gang involvement." Stevie Nix's PR team should have some suggestions.

Abraham Lincoln

The Rags to Riches Story:

We know what you're thinking. "Lincoln? You found a way to put Lincoln on a list with fucking Jewel?"

Relax; Lincoln is not complicit in this. American History did it for him.

Everybody who went to school in the USA (or reads inspirational email forwards) has heard about Lincoln's dirt-poor childhood and climb to the top:

1. He grew up in a small cabin, doing his homework by scratching the equations into his dirt floor;

2. His family was forced out of their home and he had to work to support them;

3. His business failed repeatedly;

4. He ran for Vice President, but got only 110 votes;

5. He overcame his long, long string of hardships and failures and finally was elected President of the United States.

Why it's a load of Crap:

Yes, he did grow up in a small cabin. Just like most everybody else whose father decided to make their mark on the great American frontier. Your choices were farming on the frontier or slaving in the factories of an increasing industrialized society. Lincoln's father decided he'd rather rough it than, say, get his arm melted off in an iron smelting furnace.

So while Lincoln didn't have a flushing toilet or a plasma screen TV, he grew up in a reasonably normal home for the time. His father was a successful farmer and the only reason they left Kentucky was over a legal issue with the land title.

As Snopes points out, once Lincoln was on his own, he did have one business go under (a general store in Illinois) but the very next year after opening it he won a seat in the Illinois legislature. So his long hard string of business failures actually consisted of a few months in 1833-34, after which his political career bloomed.

"It took courage, but I eventually overcame my temporary and painless unemployment."

Then there's the retarded thing about him running for Vice President and getting "only 110 votes." One, this wasn't a popular election, these are delegate votes (and there were only 363 of them). And Lincoln didn't run for the office, he was nominated without his knowledge. The votes he got came despite the fact that he didn't campaign and was barely known outside of Illinois. That's actually pretty impressive. He was a rising star; the very next election put him in the White House.

Again, we're not saying Lincoln wasn't a great man. He was. But tell the story in context, guys. Besides, why are we focusing on that "log cabin" bullshit when we should be talking about how he could have become a professional wrestler if he had wanted.

JK Rowling

The Rags to Riches Story:

Every single article and every single Harry Potter book jacket seems to work in JK Rowling's humble beginnings as a single mother on government assistance. She then pulled herself up by her bootstraps and wrote one of the most successful series of books in the history of words.

Why it's a Load of Crap:

It's one thing to be born into poverty and claw your way out of it. However, it's a whole different game when your two-year stint on welfare is part of your business plan. Welcome to the Rowling School of Writing.

Rowling's welfare assistance wasn't out of total desperation, it was out of choice. She was an educated teacher who left her job when she had a child. After that, she chose not to work and, instead, collected welfare to get the time to write her book.

While we are not denying for one moment that trying to care for a child, write a book and work full time would be very difficult, we will say that it's not impossible. People do it. Instead, she basically got her book advance courtesy of UK citizens. She also got a generous arts grant (unprecedented for an unknown author) to complete her work when the welfare check wasn't cutting it.

So this was a person who did spend a very brief time in rags, but she went to the store and hand-picked the rags she chose to wear.

And now she has a throne.

Kurt Warner

The Rags to Riches Story:

We've all gotten the email about a young man named Kurtis and a pretty girl named Brenda, who worked at a local super market together. They met, got married and the (twist) ending is that Kurtis became Kurt Warner: The man who went from stocking groceries to winning a Superbowl MVP!

So all you dudes out there, grinding away long hours in the stockroom stacking dog food and altering the expiration dates on the sour cream; you used to play some ball in school, right? This could be you! Hanging onto those dreams doesn't make you like that sad uncle in Napoleon Dynamite! You're just the next "Kurtis" Warner!

Why it's a Load of Crap:

You know how long Kurt Warner actually stocked groceries for? According to Warner himself, "A few weeks." So how did he have time to meet his wife, and reenact the entire plot of a romantic comedy? He didn't. The tale is just as fictional as the above rags to riches stories. And even worse, the real story is actually more interesting.

More interesting than he looks, somehow.

Just like Gates, Warner was incredibly gifted from a young age. He was his college conference's offensive player of the year as a senior. He and Brenda met when he was a promising college quarterback, and when he couldn't land a job in the NFL, he went to the Arena league and was a star there. He went to play in Europe, starred there, then got picked up on an NFL roster.

So he was never "Kurtis the Stockboy." He was always Kurt Warner, that guy waiting for a roster spot to open up in the NFL. Finally, he got his chance with the Rams thanks to the inspirational drive and determination of safety Rodney Harrison, who destroyed the knee of the guy starting ahead of Warner (Trent Green) in an exhibition game. The rest is history.

Inspiration strikes!

But as Deadspin recently pointed out, the real tragedy of this particular heaping spoonful of sugar-coated bullshit is that it downplays what the couple--particularly Kurt's wife--really went through.

In reality, Brenda caught more bad breaks than most blues musicians sing about in an entire career. She's a former Marine, and was married to another Marine before she met Kurt. Her first husband developed a brain tumor that would cause immense seizures. So much so, that one attack caused him to drop their newborn baby, resulting in permanent brain damage. Their marriage fell apart.

A few years later, her parents were killed by a goddamn tornado.

Brenda, in a rare moment of not getting shit on by life.

The fact that she didn't collapse into a drunken heap--or go on a shooting spree--means she should have a fucking email forward of her own, instead of being the female prop for Kurt's tale. She's the one who made it to hell and back; he's just one of countless dudes who "persevered" as a pro athlete because he wasn't qualified to do anything else (see: grocery bagging job).

Also, they appear to be aging in reverse like Benjamin Button.

But now he's set to play in the Super Bowl--again--and they're both filthy rich. Good for them (and by them, we mean Brenda). It's not like they don't deserve it. But like with Mr. Gates, the real moral of the story is that talent and hard work are great ... but success may never have come without a whole bunch of help along the way. We just hope that every Christmas the Warner family sends a very large gift basket to one Mr. Rodney Harrison.

For riches to rags stories, check out 6 Famous People Who Pissed Away a Fortune. Or find out about some crazy stories that are actually true, in The 6 Most (Certifiably) Insane Tales of Rock Star Behavior.

And find out more about our rags to riches story in Cracked.com's Top Picks (it's loaded with boobs).

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