5 Famous People Who Succeeded Long After They Should've Quit
Picking a career is pretty hard, it turns out. Not only do you have to choose something you could see yourself doing for the rest of your life, but you also have to be somewhat competent at it. Most of us will just fall into something and go with it.
After all, if you haven't found your calling by, say, age 30, it's pretty much hopeless, right? If you were going to make it, you'd have made it by now.
Well ... maybe not. After all ...
Alan Rickman Got His First Movie Role at 42
If you are an aspiring movie actor, how long would you plug away at it before deciding it's not for you? Like, if you've made it to your 40s without ever appearing in a movie, that's probably a sign that you're never going to have an action figure made from you, right?
Mid-Life Crisis Man! Gets drunk, chats up the college-age waitress and crashes his Harley into a Dumpster!
The Rock Bottom Moment:
So there was this guy named Alan who had gotten an art degree (because enrolling in drama classes "wasn't considered the sensible thing to do"), and by his late 20s was doing as well as you'd expect anyone with a degree to do. He was running his own graphic design business ... and that's when he decided to drop absolutely everything and sign up for acting classes. He even left his own company to concentrate full-time on acting, which doesn't do a lot for your financial security, it turns out.
While studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, Rickman was pushing 30 and supporting himself by working as a dresser for other actors (and we mean literally helping them put their clothes on). He did get to meet stage actors like Sir Nigel Hawthorne, but their interaction at this point was probably limited to "fetch me my leotards, boy."
"Now put them on, very slowly. Yes. Yes."
And this went on for years. Rickman farted around the theater scene for over a decade.
Then finally Rickman was cast as one of the leads in the stage version of the book Les Liaisons Dangereuses. The play was a hit and was soon adapted by Hollywood as Dangerous Liaisons. Boom! Success! Everyone involved in it became internationally famous!
Except Rickman, because they replaced him with John Malkovich.
Everyone knows Alan Rickman is famously terrible at playing creepy, evil characters.
However, Rickman's performance did catch the attention of producer Joel Silver, who two years later asked him to star as the villain in some action movie with some TV actor named Bruce Willis. Something about a bunch of terrorists taking over a skyscraper.
Yep, Alan Rickman, the best bad-guy actor maybe ever, the man behind Hans Gruber and Professor Snape from the Harry Potter series, started his film career at age 42.
Above: Proof that you're never too pale or skeevy for greatness.
Roget Invented the Thesaurus at Age 73
It's not that Peter Roget went through life broke. By age 61, he was an accomplished doctor, lecturer and inventor. He was a respected man of science. He was also, however, pretty insane and most definitely miserable.
Which is standard for people who spend their days studying kaleidoscopes, we guess.
The Rock Bottom Moment:
Being nuts, it turns out, was in his blood: His grandmother was mentally unstable, his mother was nearly psychotic and his sister and daughter had suffered severe mental breakdowns. As if that wasn't enough, his father and wife died young, and one time his uncle slit his throat in front of him. Peter was actually the sane one in the family, or as it was known to people who weren't in his family, "still crazier than a shit house rat."
Roget himself was described as "humorless and judgmental" and a little bit paranoid. His obsessive personality slowly took over his life and led him to, for example, count his steps every day. He was also obsessed with cleanliness ... which was unfortunate, because he lived in 19th century London, which had no clean water or toilets.
Civilization didn't beat out nomadic tribalism with the invention of the British accent.
The only thing that seemed to calm him was making lists, a somewhat creepy hobby he'd had since childhood. When he retired from medicine at 61, he realized he might as well spend all day making one huge, all-encompassing list of all the things ever -- so that's exactly what he did.
Twelve years later, at age 73, Peter Roget published his giant list of words as a book, Roget's Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases ... otherwise known as "the thesaurus."
Or "wordbook" or "phrasehouse" or "table-leg prop."
Back in 1805, he had compiled a small indexed catalog of words for personal use, presumably to help him cheat in crossword puzzles. Roget kept building on his initial list over the years, but only as a pointless hobby, because as we explained before, he was pretty much insane. It wasn't until he retired that he decided to devote himself seriously to creating a collection of synonyms and antonyms that writers could use as an easy reference.
The thesaurus was an instant success and made Roget's name synonymous with, well, synonyms. He kept working on it until his death at age 90, and in the meantime managed to not kill himself or anyone else. Pretty impressive, we think.
Look out! He's going to off, rub-out, liquidate or slay somebody!
The Author of the Book Behind Apocalypse Now Was a Sailor, Drifter and Part-Time Criminal Until Age 37
Now it's true that a lot of writers don't publish their big novel until after a lot of years of trying. In the days before everybody had a blog, you'd maybe you get your English degree and then write some short stories that get published in some magazine, or take work writing greeting cards -- whatever pays the bills.
"I don't know what this is. It just makes me look unattainable and interesting."
But others, well, they take a more roundabout approach.
The Rock Bottom Moment:
In 1878, Jozef Teodor Konrad Nalecz Korzeniowski, a young Polish sailor working for the French marine service, tried to commit suicide by shooting himself in the chest. The reason? Pick one: His family was exiled from his country, he was orphaned by age 11, he was involved in a gun smuggling plot, he had just gone through a disastrous love affair that apparently ended in a duel and his gambling had left him riddled by debt.
So he tried to shoot himself. The bullet didn't seem to hit anything important, though, so Jozef shrugged it off and kept working. In the same year, he joined the British Merchant Marines, even though he was already in his 20s and didn't know a word of English. Over the following decade, Jozef slowly picked up on the language during his many voyages around the world -- which, by the way, he barely survived.
English is a notoriously dangerous language.
A trip to Congo in 1890, for example, left him physically and psychologically drained. During his tour of Africa, Jozef witnessed enough horror and evil to shatter anyone's faith in humanity. It was almost like in Apocalypse Now.
No, wait, it was exactly like Apocalypse Now -- he wrote it. All that shit Martin Sheen's character goes through in the movie is based on Jozef's own experiences as a merchant sailor in the Congo, which Francis Ford Coppola updated to the Vietnam War for the film.
The book's surfing scene was left unchanged.
You see, after 20 years of being a full-time sailor, one day Jozef decided to switch careers and become a novelist. He published his first novel in 1894, at age 37, under a name you are slightly more likely to recognize: "Joseph Conrad." This didn't exactly come out of nowhere: His father had tried to instill in him a love of literature before, you know, dying, and Conrad's life going to shit for the next 30 years gave him some material to work with.
In 1899, Conrad began publishing Heart of Darkness, the novel that Apocalypse Now is based on, and by the early 20th century he was recognized as one of the most important writers in the English language -- a language he didn't even speak until adulthood and that, perhaps most impressively, he apparently taught himself while listening to sailors.
Which explains why Marlon Brando's character is pretty much incomprehensible.
An Unemployed Nurse Became an Emmy Award Winning Actress at 56
In 1995, Kathryn Joosten moved in with a family member in Los Angeles because she wanted to make it in Hollywood. Like most girls following the same hopeless dream, she had no agent, no contacts and close to nothing on her resume. Seems like a pretty typical story.
The Rock Bottom Moment:
Unlike most girls, however, Joosten was 56. The family member was her son.
"I expect you to do your share of chores and be in bed by 11 ... um, Mom."
In the '60s and '70s, Joosten had a promising career as a nurse in Chicago, but she gave it up after getting married. Her husband was a psychiatrist and did pretty well -- he was also, however, a deadbeat alcoholic. Ten years later, they divorced. Joosten found herself a 40-something single mother with two kids and three jobs, struggling to make ends meet. So, she did the sensible thing and decided to drop everything to become an actress.
Now, here's where our story gets inspirational, right? Hell, no! Joosten started auditioning for parts and ... nothing happened. And then, more nothing. For several years. In the meantime, she supported her family by hanging wallpaper and painting houses, among other gigs. In 1992, she was finally cast by Disney in her first important role: "Streetmosphere" performer in the Orlando theme park.
Where dreams go to be processed and sold for twice the price.
She stayed in that city for three years -- the job lasted for one. By 1995, she had decided to try her luck in L.A., even if it meant moving in with her son.
And then Urkel changed everything. A spot in Family Matters saying two lines with Jaleel White landed Joosten an agent who evidently marketed the shit out of her sassy older woman image. Soon she got herself guest parts in pretty much every sitcom made in the following decade, from Seinfeld to Frasier to Will & Grace to Scrubs. If you watch TV at all, you've probably seen her face at least a couple dozen times. She was the president's secretary in The West Wing:
And the little old lady in Desperate Housewives:
Aka the one we'd be most scared of asking for our ball back.
Kathryn Joosten has won two Emmys for that Desperate Housewives role, and it's all because of her uncanny perseverance. And Urkel.
Colonel Sanders Was 65 When He Launched Kentucky Fried Chicken
Harland Sanders had one of the most ridiculous resumes in human history. It starts with him dropping out of school in the sixth grade, not because he was lazy, but because he had to take care of his younger brothers. Life dealt him a shitty card, and it would just keep piling those up over the next 50 years and a dozen failed careers.
According to his autobiography, Sanders' many jobs included farmhand, army mule-tender and motel operator ... plus other shadier-sounding ones like aspiring lawyer, failed political candidate and, um, "amateur obstetrician."
"And you say this small person is inside of you, yes? Mighty peculiar."
By age 40, Sanders was running a crappy service station and decided to make a little extra cash by serving full meals to busy people -- the place was so small that they had to eat in the same room where he lived.
But eventually, people started coming in purely because of his food, getting to the point where he could no longer cram them inside his bedroom. Eventually Sanders moved to a bigger place across the street. His restaurant was a hit, and everything was perfectly fine from then on!
End of article! Nice work. Fried chicken and chest pains for everyone.
The Rock Bottom Moment:
That is, until a new highway was built, directing all of the traffic miles away from his restaurant. Business dried up, and the now-elderly Harlan Sanders was profoundly screwed.
So, at age 65, the restaurant was bankrupt and things weren't looking so bright for Sanders. Now retired from his jobs, he cashed his first ever Social Security check ...
... and used it to open a franchise. And then another, and then another. Hell, there might one down your street, with Sanders' face plastered all over it.
China knows Colonel Sanders as "Comrade General Demon Hair."
Harland Sanders (named honorary Kentucky Colonel in 1935 solely on account of his fine cooking) was so confident in his ability to fry chicken that he used the last money he had in the world and invested it in his restaurant. Less than 10 years later, Sanders had more than 600 Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises in the U.S. and Canada. In 1964, he sold his interest in the company for $2 million to a group of investors. He was in his mid-70's.
Today, more than 12 million people eat at KFC each day in 109 countries. There are more than 5,200 restaurants in the United States and more than 15,000 locations worldwide. His face continues adorning buckets of chicken, and his ghost continues haunting Japanese baseball teams.
One day he'll return as a mecha and wreak havoc on Tokyo.
For more celebrity gossip, check out 6 Insane True Stories Behind The Stage Names of Celebrities and The 6 Most Misguided Causes Ever Made Famous by Celebrities.
And stop by LinkSTORM to see which columnist is doing this as a side-gig while he trains for the opera.
Do you have an idea in mind that would make a great article? Then sign up for our writers workshop! Do you possess expert skills in image creation and manipulation? Mediocre? Even rudimentary? Are you frightened by MS Paint and simply have a funny idea? You can create an infographic and you could be on the front page of Cracked.com tomorrow!