100 celebrities who grew up in small towns
100 celebrities who grew up in small towns
Anyone who wants to admire and envy the world's biggest stars needs only to look on Instagram. From A-list movie stars and major musicians to pro ball players and comedians who landed their own sitcoms, there's no shortage of evidence of just how good the good life is. They post pictures of themselves with other big shots on rooftop bars, at exclusive clubs, at backstage parties, and at restaurants where regular people can't get a reservation.
Many of them were born and raised in New York, Los Angeles, or other big cities where celebrities tend to settle down once they hit the big time. Others were born into families of famous actors and musicians and never knew anything else.
However, some found their way to the bright lights and big money of superstardom from obscure beginnings in regular small towns that most people have never heard of. This list is a tribute to them. Using news reports, celebrity biographies, and a range of other sources, Stacker developed a list of 100 celebrities who trace their roots to small towns.
They went to regular schools, lived ordinary lives, and did normal things—until they didn't. Some were middle class. Others were downright poor. All, however, proved that where a person starts does not determine where they end up, and no matter where a person is from, all it takes is talent, hard work, and a whole lot of luck to wind up tantalizing the masses with glimpses of the good life through social media profiles of their own.
It's important to note that there is no concrete definition of "small town." That's because the concept is based not only on population but also population density, geographic size, and regional culture. A small town of 8,000 people in the New York metro region of North Jersey, for example, is likely to be much more urban in both feel and function than a town of the same size in the rural Midwest.
Keep reading to meet the stars who turned humble roots into worldwide fame.
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One of the greatest rags-to-riches stories in show business history is Dolly Parton growing up in rural poverty in the tiny mountain enclave of Locust Ridge in Eastern Tennessee. The fourth of 12 children, she was born in a one-room cabin and was raised poor. But she was raised in a happy atmosphere that centered around her family, community, and faith. She has repeatedly commented that her upbringing was the driving force behind her remarkable career, which lands her in a tiny and exclusive club of entertainers who have received at least one nomination for all four major awards: an Oscar, a Tony, an Emmy, and a Grammy.
One of the biggest movie stars in the world for nearly three decades, Brad Pitt's life began far from the bright lights of Hollywood in Shawnee, Okla. He went to Kickapoo High School in the town of Springfield before moving on to the University of Missouri, where he studied advertising. Before finishing college, however, he went to Hollywood with the dream of becoming an actor, and as it turns out, he never had to go back and finish his degree.
Daytime talk goddess Ellen DeGeneres was born in Metairie, La., which is not a particularly small town, but she went to high school in Atlanta, Texas, which even today has a population of just 171. She went to the University of New Orleans and studied communications, but like Brad Pitt, she never finished college and dropped out after only one semester. Like Pitt, she rolled the dice on a bigger dream—stand-up comedy, in her case—and went onto becoming one of the most successful and celebrated entertainers in the world.
Country superstar Martina McBride is still a familiar face around her hometown of Sharon, Kan., a speck on the map that claims fewer than 150 residents. According to the Alva Review-Courier, one resident stated, "When everyone else sees Martina McBride pull up in a 1980s Wrangler van with her dad, they see a country music superstar. What we see is that, but we also see Martina Schiff from tiny Sharon, Kansas, in the Wrangler van that we remember her winning in high school and seeing that same van cruise around Sharon with her and her high school friends in it, including my older brothers."
In the tiny town of Kentwood, La., visitors still flock to a shrine/unofficial museum dedicated to Kentwood's pride and joy, Britney Spears. Although she was born in McComb, Miss., Kentwood—home to just over 2,000 people—is her hometown. The museum there chronicles every stage of Spears' career, from the "Mickey Mouse Club" before she was even a teenager to her ascent to becoming the biggest pop star on Earth in her 1990s heyday.
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Like Dolly Parton, Oprah Winfrey is a self-made woman and real-life Horatio Alger story who was born in extreme poverty and rose to extraordinary wealth and fame. She remains one of the most famous and instantly recognizable human beings on the planet. Unlike Parton, her childhood was filled not with happiness that masked her poverty, but horrific abuse after being born to an unmarried teenage mother in Kosciusko, Miss., during the Jim Crow era. She went on to become a television pioneer, one of the most influential women on Earth, and the first female African-American billionaire in U.S. history.
Driving into the small town of Checotah, Okla., visitors are greeted by a sign that reads "Checotah Home of Carrie Underwood American Idol 2005." The hometown girl done well is a local hero—a country music superstar, Underwood has spent both time and money supporting Checotah, and it's not unusual to see her there. "My hometown is extremely supportive of me, and I feel blessed to be able to create something as a way of giving back, to say thank you," Underwood told a local ABC affiliate.
Widely considered to be the greatest actresses of her generation, Meryl Streep was born in Summit, N.J., moved to Basking Ridge as a child, and then to Bernardsville, where the future three-time Oscar winner (21 nominations) went to high school. At a recent film festival in the Garden State, Streep said of her small-town upbringing, "It was great to grow up here, it was just fantastic," according to nj.com.
Born Alecia Moore, pop superstar Pink grew up in Doylestown, Pa., a small town north of Philadelphia, where she learned to love her future craft at a local music shop. According to The Intelligencer, she said in 2010: "I remember going to Siren every day, and I loved it. I loved that it had albums and magazines. There was music there."
Johnny Depp is, of course, a big movie star, but according to a 2016 interview with Classic Rock, his first and true love is music. He described using music to escape what he called his "unpredictable" childhood household, which started in Owensboro, Ky., although his family moved a lot. He played guitar in bands for years before he began acting and has never stopped playing recreationally.
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Supermodel Gisele Bundchen moved from Sao Paulo to New York City, where her career took off, but she did not grow up in a big city in either the United States or Brazil. Her home town is Horizontina, Brazil—where she lived until she was roughly 15—which was originally colonized by Germans and Italians. That early exposure to diversity is part of the reason the helicopter pilot and wife of Tom Brady can speak five languages: English, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and French—she learned German in school, but can no longer speak it.
Roswell, N.M., is famous not just for aliens, but also as the hometown of the movie star from "Ghost." Demi Moore was born and raised in the famous/infamous epicenter of the extraterrestrial-believer movement, and her time there shaped her life and career. According to the Carlsbad Current-Argus, Moore credits her success to the self-reliance she was forced to learn at a young age in a dysfunctional family that often left her caring for herself and her siblings as the family moved from place to place.
Chris Pratt was born and spent his early childhood in his hometown of Virginia, Minn., in a hospital where his grandmother worked as a nurse. Not much is known about his time growing up there, but it's well documented that he endured a spell of homelessness while living out of a van and working as a waiter at a Bubba Gump in Hawaii. However, he rebounded and became one of the biggest stars of both the big and small screens.
Actress, model, and pop culture icon Jessica Biel is also from Minnesota, but she hails from the town of Ely. IMDb actually maintains a list of the most popular actors from Ely, and not surprisingly, Biel commands the #1 spot. The only other person on the list is a guy named Jerry Berrigan, who has a single IMDb credit from 1970 playing himself on a TV series news drama/documentary called "NET Journal."
Also hailing from Minnesota is actress Winona Ryder, who was born and raised in the town she was named for: Winona. Born Winona Laura Horowitz, the actress was born in a barn in Olmsted County. She was indoctrinated into the arts at a young age by her hippie/intellectual parents, who were friends with significant figures from the beat and counterculture movements.
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In the 1990s, Scottie Pippen was Michael Jordan's right-hand man during the Chicago Bulls' legendary repeat three-peat dynasty era. He learned to shoot hoops on a dirt court at his grandmother's house in the tiny rural town of Hamburg, Ark. He has long credited his humble upbringing—and the desire for a better life that preoccupied him there—to the relentless work ethic with which he backed up his enormous talent.
Crossover country music megastar Taylor Swift grew up on an 11-acre Christmas tree farm in Wyomissing Township, Pa., which borders the city of Reading. That's where she first began writing songs and eventually performing—albeit at much smaller venues than what she's gotten used to now. According to The Morning Call, she told the audience at a 2018 concert: "Every year as I come home to Pennsylvania, it gets more and more special, and the fact that it went from that to playing two nights at a sold-out stadium is amazing."
Anyone who visits Lindale, Texas, can stop by a boutique shop called The Pink Pistol to do some shopping or pick up a few bottles of wine at the Red 55 Winery Hemingway Room—they're both owned by Miranda Lambert, a country music superstar and Lindale native. Lambert is still a familiar face in her hometown, where she pops in once a month or so to hang out and check on her business interests. When she toured Texas in February 2020, Lambert shared her enormous stage with her high school's small-town choir.
One of the greatest NBA players in history, Larry Bird defined the Boston Celtics in the 1980s, and his rivalry with Magic Johnson is the stuff of legend—but it all started in the tiny Indiana town of French Lick, where Bird was a local celebrity before he was old enough to drive. According to NBA.com, "French Lick had a population of 2,059, most of whom came out to watch Springs Valley High School's home games in a state that takes its schoolboy basketball very seriously. Attendance often reached 1,600—and they were all there to watch the blond-haired shooting whiz with a funny smile named Larry Joe Bird."
Super Bowl Champion and longtime Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was born in Lima, Ohio, and was raised just outside of a nearby town called Findlay. On his website, he shares how his love of sports growing up drove his rise to greatness—and he never forgot where he came from. This fact was not lost on a fan who saw one of Big Ben's speeches and commented, "I was taken with how much emphasis and credit you give being from a small town and not forgetting your roots."
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The late Johnny Carson is arguably the biggest name in the history of American television. The longtime comedy kingmaker—for generations, a spot on "The Tonight Show" meant you had made it—was born in tiny Corning, Iowa. To this day, the Johnny Carson Birthplace Society keeps his memory alive there.
Utah Jazz great Karl "The Mailman" Malone was born and raised in the tiny town of Summerfield, and he's still such a presence there—he lives in and owns a string of businesses in the immediate area—that locals call it "Malone Land." In an interview with Closeup 360, Malone said of moving back home after retiring from the NBA in 2004: "It's just one of these places that have allowed me to grow and thrive as a young man, and to be able to come back home, things still don't seem real."
According to the Clarion-Ledger, 49ers legend Jerry Rice—the undisputed greatest wide receiver of all time—credits his upbringing in Crawford, Miss., for his NFL greatness. The paper quotes him as saying, "I think growing up in a small town, I was hungry. I kept the same approach once I got to the NFL, collegiate-wise also. I never got to the point where I felt like I had arrived. I was always hungry."
Leighton Meester was born in a federal prison in Texas where her mother was serving a drug-smuggling sentence, but she grew up in Marco Island, Fla. In 2018, the "Gossip Girl" actress told V Magazine, "I lived there from the time I was two until I was 11. A lot of my family ended up staying down there, and then I moved to New York when I was 11. I still see Marco Island as my hometown."
A-list movie star Channing Tatum told al.com that, "Anywhere where they say y'all. That's where I call home." Born in Cullman, Ala., the "Magic Mike" actor grew up "all around the South," including stints in small towns in Florida and Mississippi, after leaving Alabama at the age of six.
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Steve Carell was born in Concord, Mass., but he grew up in neighboring Acton. A star of both the big and small screens—not to mention a successful voice-over career—Carell recently published a YouTube video thanking the staff at Emerson Hospital in Concord. His mother worked there for more than 30 years.
Grammy-winning singer-songwriter John Legend is known to post pics on Instagram for #FlashbackFriday. In 2017, one of those throwbacks was a picture from a local newspaper in Springfield, Ohio, published in 1989. That's where he grew up, and the paper profiled him for winning a spelling bee there when he was 10 years old.
Anyone with an Internet connection knows that John Legend is married to supermodel Chrissy Teigen, and her half of the famous power couple grew up in Delta, Utah. Although she spent time during her childhood moving around, the fashionista, culinary maven, and Twitter clapback queen considers her hometown to be Delta, which had just 3,329 residents in 2010.
It can reasonably be argued that Walter Payton is the greatest football player of all time, and his childhood in Columbia, Miss., helped form the champion he became. He went to an all-black school until Columbia was integrated when the future Bears great was in 11th grade, a moment that exposed his gridiron talent to a much wider audience. Although the small town—which like so much of Mississippi, has a troubled past in terms of race—was criticized for not celebrating their Payton as much as his fans thought he deserved, Columbia did host a Walter Payton Day when he was drafted #1 in 1975.
Marshall Mathers III, the rapper known as Eminem, is most closely associated with Detroit, but before he moved to the Motor City, he grew up in St. Joseph, Mo. His dysfunctional childhood and broken home have been well-documented for more than two decades—most frequently by the rapper himself. At nearly 50 years old, much of his work still involves crabbing about his lousy mother and his lousy childhood.
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Pop superstar Miley Cyrus grew up in Franklin, Tenn.—and she can visit home anytime she likes. Cyrus is so fond of her hometown that in 2017 she shelled out $5.8 million for a sprawling 33-acre property anchored by a super-sweet farmhouse with an elevator and wet bar right there in Franklin.
Yankees great Derek Jeter spent most of his childhood in Kalamazoo, Mich., but he was born and spent his early years in Pequannock Township, N.J. Those roots contributed to his rise to stardom—not to mention a fierce rivalry with his own father. The senior Jeter was a big Tigers fan, but because the future All-Star shortstop started his life in North Jersey, he rooted for the team he would one day lead to multiple World Series—the New York Yankees.
Before she was an Oscar-winning actress, Jennifer Lawrence was a regular girl growing up in the regular small town of Indian Hills, Ky., a suburb of Louisville. In 2013, she arrived at the Oscars with her parents and siblings, who, according to the New York Daily News, insist their famous family member is still a small-town girl at heart.
Mel Gibson is widely known as one of the most accomplished Australian actors in Hollywood, but he was actually born in Peekskill, N.Y., where he spent the first 12 years of his life before moving with his father Down Under. His father, Hutton Gibson, was a fundamentalist religious extremist, notorious anti-Semite, and Holocaust denier who was expelled from several religious groups considered to be extreme because his views were too fringe even for them. Those skeletons came out of the younger Gibson's closet over the last decade and a half as he was embroiled in scandals involving offensive racial language.
Neil Armstrong was born on Earth, walked on the moon, and grew up in Wapakoneta, Ohio, a sleepy town of about 10,000 people. The Apollo astronaut and first man on the moon is still a hero in the town, where Armstrong learned to fly a ramshackle airplane when he was just 16 years old—the town is about an hour away from the Wright brothers' hometown of Dayton. After leaving NASA, Armstrong lived and worked around the region for most of the rest of his life.
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In 2017, mlive.com reported that pop superstar Madonna was not happy when Universal acquired the rights to "Blonde Ambition," a biopic about her early days. Like so many others, the script mistakes Madonna as being a native of Detroit, but she's actually from much smaller Bay City, Mich., which the singer once called "a smelly little town." She also, however, once said, "I have great affection for Bay City."
Born in Uvalde, Texas, Academy Award-winning actor Matthew McConaughey isn't shy about his love affair with his home state and credits his upbringing for the places he's gone. In 2019, he told Southern Living, "The Texas I grew up in was not insular at all, there is a certain thing that goes about Texans that says, 'Go, out, use your passport, go travel all around the world, go see other places, go as a Texan, go venture out there.' You know, the rugged individual."
The Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minn., boasts "the world's largest Judy Garland and Wizard of Oz collection…" The museum is located inside the iconic actress's childhood home, where a baby girl who would go on to become Dorothy was born in 1922.
The town of Marion, Ind. still maintains a memorial at the birthplace of James Dean, a cultural icon and movie star who died in a car wreck before his third and final movie ever even hit theaters. He was born and lived his early childhood in an apartment in what was known as The House of the Seven Gables.
Josh Hutcherson of "Hunger Games" fame was born and raised in Union, Ky. Not long after he entered the world in 1992, however, he split his time between small-town life and big-city dreams. By the time he was 10, Hutcherson was spending half his time in New York and Los Angeles on movie and TV sets as a budding child actor.
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In 2014, as the celebrity cooking show host was emerging from a scandal involving offensive racial language, Paula Deen sought comfort—and marketing—in her hometown of Albany, Ga. Deen projects the friendly, small-town feel of Albany in her show and her many best-selling cookbooks, and she clearly revels in the support her townspeople continue to give her. According to the Savannah Morning News, Deen stated, "I am thrilled to be home, because like they say, there's no place like home."
Rachel Ray is another cooking-show-superstar-turned-entrepreneur. She's based in New York City these days but is an upstate girl at heart. Ray grew up in Glens Falls, New York, and moved with her family to Lake George when she was 8. Ray is still deeply connected to her native region, with a house in neighboring Lake Luzerne.
Singer, songwriter, and actor Nick Jonas was born in Dallas but was raised in the small town of Wyckoff, N.J. with his siblings. The children of religious clergy, the Jonas Brothers recently produced a documentary called "Chasing Happiness" about their experience in the Wyckoff Assembly of God Church while growing up and during their rise to stardom.
Sarah Jessica Parker
Sarah Jessica Parker is most famous for "Sex and the City," but her rise to fame in New York and Hollywood began in Nelsonville, Ohio. Parker lived in the small town before moving to Cincinnati when she was four. According to Cincinnati.com, Parker still fawns over the culture of arts and theater she discovered there growing up.
Sarah Silverman was born and spent her early childhood in Bedford, N.H., before moving to Manchester. She graduated from the Derryfield School there before briefly studying at NYU. She dropped out to perform stand-up comedy, and the gamble paid off big time for the famous actor and comedian.
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In the small town of Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, Wales, visitors are greeted by a 12-foot statue of Christian Bale as Batman—he was born there in 1974. According to the Western Telegraph, it's not known if Bale maintains a connection to his hometown, but his friend and colleague Russell Crowe filmed the movie "Robinhood" in Pembrokeshire.
Famous for her role as a woman from a small town in the Midwest on "The Golden Girls," Betty White's real-life origins aren't too far off. Although her character Rose Nylund hailed from St. Olaf, Minn., the beloved Betty White was born and raised in Oak Park, Ill.
In 2011, when Melissa McCarthy accepted an Emmy for her role in the hit comedy show "Mike and Molly," the actress said, "I'm from Plainfield, Ill., and I'm standing here, and it's kind of amazing." According to Patch.com, it's not uncommon for McCarthy to reference her Midwestern roots and Plainfield in the media.
Legendary actor and pop culture icon Bill Murray was born in Evanston, Ill., but raised in nearby Wilmette. Murray grew up in a cramped house with nine siblings. According to Sheridan Road, the notoriously eccentric actor first learned to hone his comedic timing at his crowded childhood dinner table.
Actor and Highland, Mich., native Dax Shepard returns to Michigan frequently, according to mlive.com. He knows all the best spots to eat and hang out, he gets to be a local celebrity instead of just a regular celebrity, and the region is sentimental beyond the fact that it's where he spent his childhood. Shepard is married to Kristen Bell, who he met at a Detroit Red Wings game.
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Hailing from the town of Huntington Woods, Mich., actress Kristen Bell is married to fellow Michigander Dax Shepard. She's still deeply connected to her roots. In 2016, Bell discussed going on a summer vacation back home. The pair had 21 guests staying at their house, including many of the couples' high school pals.
Magician and myth-buster Penn Jillette is from the town of Greenfield, Mass. He frequently returns to visit his family and old friends. In fact, he still owns a home there.
When people think of Elvis Presley's home, Graceland immediately comes to mind. But the King of Rock and Roll is not from Memphis, Tenn.—he was born and raised in Tupelo, Miss. The town has turned his childhood home into a museum/shrine/tourist attraction that draws more than 100,000 visitors every year.
Basketball legend Charles Barkley rose to greatness out of the small town of Leeds, Ala., and his heart is still close to home. He's the majority owner of a distillery in nearby Birmingham. He said in a recent radio interview that he plans to acquire derelict properties blighting the black section of Leeds and turn them into affordable housing.
G-rated everyman comedian Jim Gaffigan is from Chesterton, Ind., and he still returns home about once a year. According to nwi.com, he said of his roots, "I'm very much this strange combination of unique Midwestern, which is Northwest Indiana. It's not farmland Indiana. It's not specifically Chicagoland. It's Northwest Indiana."
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Soccer legend and World Cup champion Mia Hamm grew up in Selma, Ala. before she became a global icon. She's known for referencing her hometown in the media and at awards ceremonies so frequently that the Selma-Times Journal quoted a local soccer coach as saying, "Wherever she goes, she has been a one-person ambassador for Selma." In 2016, she returned home to speak at a benefit for a new youth soccer facility launched by that same local coach.
Before she went on to Olympic gold medal superstardom, track star Wilma Rudolph learned how to handle adversity growing up in the tiny town of what was then St. Bethlehem, Tenn.—it's now part of larger Clarkesville. The 20th of 22 children in a poor African-American family in the Jim Crow South, Rudolph was born prematurely, weighing only four-and-a-half pounds. She nearly died from pneumonia at the age of four and contracted polio, which temporarily paralyzed the legs that would one day carry her to greatness.
Arguably the most consequential athlete in sports history, Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier when he started for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947—but his life started far away from the bright lights of New York City. Before he moved to California, he was born to sharecroppers in Cairo, Ga., in 1919.
Rock superstar Billy Joel has been synonymous with New York City for his entire career, but he's actually from the small town of Hicksville, Long Island, in 2017, he returned to give a commencement speech to his old high school's class of graduates—a moment he never experienced after failing to complete his senior year. Anyone who's uncertain of the impact that Long Island had on Joel needs only to listen to his body of work.
There's only one museum dedicated to Tina Turner in the entire world, and it's located in the blacks-only, one-room schoolhouse the rock icon attended in Brownsville, Tenn., near where she grew up in Nutbush. The global superstar, who recalled picking cotton as a young child where her father worked as a sharecropper overseer, worked directly with the museum in supplying it with historical memorabilia and artifacts.
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Sugar Ray Robinson
Just a few hundred people live in tiny Ailey, Ga., and in 1921, a baby was born there that would put the town on the map. Considered by many to be the greatest pound-for-pound boxer in the history of the sport, Sugar Ray Robinson won 109 of his 175 victories by knockout and tallied a 91-fight undefeated streak that lasted from 1943 to 1951.
Few celebrities have leveraged their small town roots more successfully than John Mellencamp—the most famous of the singer's many #1 hits, after all, is "Small Town." He was born and raised in Seymour, Ind., and when local artists painted a mural of him at a Seymour music shop in 2019, Mellencamp visited his former stomping grounds to check it out for himself and paint his initials with the artist's brush.
Pioneering World War II war correspondent Ernie Pyle brought combat journalism into the modern era. He was born on a tenant farm just outside of Dana, Ind., where he spent his childhood. A museum dedicated to his life, career, and exploits remains in Dana to this day.
Larry the Cable Guy
Despite his Southern redneck stage persona, Blue Collar Comedy Tour icon Larry the Cable Guy was born Daniel Lawrence Whitney in the Midwestern town of Pawnee, Ind. The persona and stage name were just one of the many characters he performed in his early days in comedy and radio. The Pawnee City Historical Society recently relocated the Whitney family's old barn for preservation in another part of town.
Although he's known for his career with the Houston Astros, Nolan Ryan was born and raised in Refugio, Texas. One of the greatest pitchers in MLB history, Ryan still holds the record for all-time strikeouts as well as for the most no-hitters thrown. He threw an astonishing seven no-hitters, three more than any other pitcher in history.
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Bad-boy comedian Sam Kinison was born in Yakima, Wash., but he grew up in East Peoria, Ill. Before he died in a car wreck, Kinison famously said of his hometown roots, "When I was little, my parents decided that Yakima, Wash., wasn't quite bad enough. So they were going to move to Peoria. Then they said, 'No, no. Let's go to East Peoria."
Just like Kinison, Richard Pryor was a brilliant, controversial, and tragic, comedic figure—and he grew up right next door in Peoria, Ill. The two shared many of the same struggles with substance abuse, toxic relationships, and highly publicized personal problems. According to the Peoria Journal Star, however, Kinison loved spending time back home—Pryor did not.
Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain helped put Seattle's grunge movement on the map, but he was born and raised in Aberdeen, Wa., where, according to a local publication, "While Kurt was alive, he and Aberdeen had a tumultuous relationship at best." From the town's mural to its memorial park, reminders of the grunge god and his music are everywhere—the town's welcome sign reads: "Welcome to Aberdeen, Come as You Are." J.M. Weatherwax High School lists him among its notable alumni despite the fact that Cobain dropped out.
Talk show diva Wendy Williams grew up on Central Ave. in the Jersey Shore town of Asbury Park. In 2014, town officials renamed Central Ave. "Wendy Williams Way" in a secret ceremony that included the unveiling of a new street sign. The moment was then played for Williams on the 50th birthday party episode of her national TV show—but Williams is not the only famous person associated with Asbury Park.
Few singers are more synonymous with their native state than The Boss, Bruce Springsteen, who famously became famous at the Stone Pony in Wendy Williams' hometown of Asbury Park—but he actually grew up in nearby Freehold, N.J. Today, reminders of The Boss are everywhere in Freehold, and Springsteen tours, landmarks, and historical sites are easy to find.
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Fred Rogers is probably the most universally beloved individual in the history of American television—generations of children grew up with "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" on public TV. Rogers grew up in Latrobe, Pa., where he came up with the idea of creating a land of make-believe through an educational program that taught children to like themselves just the way they are. As a grown professional, Rogers lived close by in the Pittsburgh area.
Singer and actress Selena Gomez grew up in Grand Prairie, Texas, which, despite its six-figure population, is small by Texas standards and is famous for its small-town feel. Gomez frequently shares photos and memories about the town with her more than 132 million Instagram followers, including this from 2018: "I visit this place every chance I get. In many ways, it very well could have been better than my life today… I love you, Grand Prairie. Thank you."
The man who would go on to become the King of Pop—at one point arguably the most famous person on Earth—Michael Jackson began with humble roots in Gary, Ind. The leader of one of history's greatest entertainment families grew up with eight siblings in a two-bedroom house ruled over by a notoriously strict disciplinarian father. According to Biography, Jackson reflected, "My childhood was taken away from me. There was no Christmas, there were no birthdays, it was not a normal childhood, nor the normal pleasures of childhood. Those were exchanged for hard work, struggle and pain, and eventually material and professional success."
Mariah Carey comes from a small town on Long Island, right near where Billy Joel grew up, called Huntington, N.Y. Unlike Joel, however, most of her memories aren't fond. In an interview with Inquisitr, she confessed that the dysfunctional nature of her household made her not want to ever get married or have children—until she did.
Television talk show healer Dr. Phil McGraw grew up in the small town of Vinita, Okla. According to a local news affiliate, he said, "I'm proud to be from Oklahoma, I'm proud to have grown up here."
Country star Blake Shelton is from Ada, Oklahoma, and like Dr. Phil, he takes pride in his Oklahoma roots. The cover of his 2014 album "Bringing Back the Sunshine" features a front-and-center photo of his hometown's water tower, emblazoned with the letters "ADA."
The most successful woman in racing history, Danica Patrick, traces her roots to Roscoe, Illinois. According to ESPN, the retired Indy and NASCAR superstar said, "I was very glad I grew up in a small Midwestern town. I run into people all the time who have done that, and I like them. Roscoe was just a great place to be a kid."
The historic and insular island town of Nantucket, Massachusetts. was once the mecca of the global whaling world—but in more recent times it's become famous as the hometown of pop music star Meghan Trainor. She has fond memories of the town where she caught the music bug, reminiscing to Nantucket.net, "I always liked my music classes on Nantucket. In elementary, we had Miss Moores, then in jazz band, we had Mrs. Thompson."
Known for his hot-pink driver, golf star Bubba Watson grew up in the tiny Gulf Coast town of Bagdad, Floridaa. He learned his craft there, picking up golf at the tender age of six when his father gave him a sawed-off nine iron. Soon, the future PGA pro was using it to curve wiffle-balls around his family's house.
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Although John Walsh used to work in law enforcement, it's almost certain that he caught most of the criminals he collared indirectly through the television. The longtime host of "America's Most Wanted," Walsh comes from Auburn, New York. He recently bought a $1.7 million house in neighboring Skaneateles, but he had to tear it down because of problems with the foundation.
Known as the Say Hey Kid, New York Giants legend Willie Mays is without question the greatest five-tool player in baseball history. His lifetime statistics are nothing short of spectacular. He was born in Westfield, Alabama, and was raised in a steel town close by called Fairfield, which is located on the outskirts of Birmingham.
David Lee Roth
David Lee Roth of Van Halen fame gave the Brisbane Times an intimate and personal account of his childhood in the Midwest. "I grew up playing outdoors in Bloomington, Indiana," the rocker said in an interview that touched on his dysfunctional household. "It's near the Kentucky border, a corn and cattle area."
George Clinton is the most celebrated funk musician of all time. Known as the Prime Minister of Funk, Clinton is best known as the frontman for Parliament-Funkadelic (P-Funk)—but his rise to stardom started humbly. Clinton was born in an outhouse in Kannapolis, North Carolina, although his family eventually moved to Washington, D.C., and later to Plainfield, New Jersey.
In 2014, Julia Roberts returned to her hometown of Smyrna, Georgia, but the homecoming was not a joyous one—she was there to attend the memorial services for her late half-sister. According to TravelPulse, one resident there remarked, "She may be a huge movie star, but she was with people she has known her whole life and had no airs and graces."
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Born Robert Allen Zimmerman in Duluth, Minnesota, Bob Dylan grew up in nearby Hibbing. According to MPR News, the town of Hibbing still struggles with how to honor its most-famous onetime resident. While proud of his success, many in the conservative Iron Range community grapple with the outsized counterculture influence Dylan's heavily-political music has had on society.
Tommy Lee Jones
With the exception of maybe Matthew McConaughey, it's hard to imagine that any actor is more Texas than Tommy Lee Jones. Born in tiny San Saba on the outskirts of San Antonio, Lee has stayed true to his ranching roots. He is now the owner of a sprawling 3,000-acre cattle ranch in the Lonestar State.
Actress Kristen Wiig's journey to Hollywood began in Canandaigua, New York, although she was largely raised in Rochester and Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The longtime "Saturday Night Live" cast member claimed in a 2009 interview with a local paper called the Daily Messenger that her small-town roots always made her feel like a show business outsider. "I always get the feeling that I'm not supposed to be here just for that reason alone," she said in an interview.
Although she's been known as one of Hollywood's biggest bombshells for much of the 21st century, Megan Fox comes from a small town. The "Transformers" actress was born and raised in the town of Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
"Late Show" host Stephen Colbert wasn't born in James Island, South Carolina, but that's where he grew up. In a YouTube video, Colbert recalled, "On James Island, I lived on a dirt road when I was a kid. We had dogs sleeping in the middle of the street, we had alligators in the backyard, there were a lot of snakes. I spent all my time in the woods as a kid, and that neighborhood is nothing like that anymore."
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Comedian and actor Zach Galifianakis is a native of Wilkesboro, North Carolina—and proud of it. He once told Stephen Colbert, "I'm more proud of being from North Carolina than you should be from being from South Carolina."
Sheryl Swoopes, the woman who long defined the WNBA, was born and raised in Brownfield, Texas. Before she was known as the Michael Jordan of women's basketball, Swoopes led the Brownfield High Lady Cubs to the 1988 3A state title. In 2019 she returned to where it all started to attend a ceremony when the school retired her number—23, the same as Jordan.
The Walter Cronkite of his generation, legendary newsman Tom Brokaw was born and raised in Webster, South Dakota, and he frequently references his roots. He once said, "I could not be the man I am today without the boy I was yesterday, in a far-off place and long ago."
Long known as "the most trusted man in America," Walter Cronkite was the most defining newsman in the history of American broadcast journalism. Like Eminem, who chose a slightly different career path, the longtime anchor of "CBS Evening News" was born and raised in Saint Joseph, Missouri.
The late soul legend Isaac Hayes was born and raised in Covington, Tennessee. The son of sharecroppers, he grew up working on farms and singing in the church choir—the latter would provide the foundation for his rise to global superstardom. In 2017, Covington declared Aug. 19 to be Isaac Hayes Day.
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Actress Dakota Fanning hails from Conyers, Georgia, and her success inspired at least one local to try to follow in her footsteps. In 2010, a high school senior there cited Fanning as an inspiration when she won a major acting competition and landed a starring role in a television pilot.
Before he was a "Beverly Hills, 90210" heartthrob, Luke Perry was just a kid growing up in Mansfield, Ohio, and later, the more-rural Fredericktown. According to a report from the Mansfield News Journal, which highlighted the actor's enduring Ohio connections, "Perry said he was happiest when the family moved to the country."
Like Luke Perry, model, actress, dancer, singer, TV personality, and author Carmen Electra was born in small-town Ohio—Sharonville, in her case. Born Tara Leigh Patrick, Electra grew up in nearby White Oak.
NFL Hall of Famer Randy Moss was the greatest wide receiver of his generation, and growing up in West Virginia, he is remembered as the greatest high school football player in the history of the state. He was born in Charleston but grew up in the tiny town of Rand.
Actress Meg Ryan was best known for her supporting part in "Top Gun" before she hit the big time with the lead role in 1989's "When Harry Met Sally." She was born in Fairfield, Connecticut, and grew up there as well as in nearby Bethel.
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