The Biggest Celebs Have Been Fired Too — Here Are Their Stories Of Failure

We live in a time of economic instability brought about by a number of factors, not least of which is the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, tens of millions of people were let go from their jobs in the first few months of the pandemic, and job insecurity has continued as COVID has stretched into its third year. Being laid off or fired is never easy. "Grief can be a very real response," a former psychotherapist named Aricia Shaffer told Live Career. "... If work is their entire life, it can be devastating."

Losing a job is a common experience that a lot of people go through at some point in their lives, and that includes celebrities. Some of the most famous people in the world have been there, working day jobs one minute and finding themselves unemployed the next. As with normal people, sometimes it was their fault; sometimes it wasn't. What all of the stars on this list have in common, though, is that they were able to turn things around, and they have all enjoyed long and fruitful careers since their days on the chopping block. Here are their stories of failure.

Can Julianne Moore ever forgive her director?

The 2018 film "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" starred Melissa McCarthy as Lee Israel, an author-turned-forger. The film was critically acclaimed and was nominated for three Oscars, including for McCarthy. However, she almost never got the chance to star in the film; when the project was originally announced, Julianne Moore was meant to play Israel. Variety reported in 2015 that Moore exited the film one week before shooting was supposed to start, supposedly due to "creative differences."

However, years later, once the film had been released and was getting awards buzz, Moore revealed on "Watch What Happens Live" that dropping out of the project wasn't her own decision. Screenwriter Nicole Holofcener was originally going to direct the film as well, and apparently the two didn't get along. "Nicole fired me," Moore admitted. "I think she didn't like what I was doing... Her idea of where the character was, was different than where my idea of [where] the character was, and so she fired me." Furthermore, Moore said she hadn't actually seen the resulting movie (which wound up being directed by Marielle Heller instead). "It's still kind of painful," she confessed, though she made sure to add that she "worships" McCarthy.

The experience of being let go from the film brought up memories from her childhood. "The only other time I was fired was when I was working at a yogurt stand when I was 15," Moore recalled. "So, yeah, it felt bad."

Nicki Minaj served seafood

Many struggling actors and musicians work food service jobs while they get their entertainment careers off the ground, and a young Nicki Minaj was no exception. The budding rapper worked at multiple Red Lobster locations, she told Jimmy Fallon years later. "I have gotten fired from all three or four of them," she revealed to the talk show host, grinning proudly. She clarified that she was given the boot because she confronted a customer who stiffed her on the tip and stole her pen. "I walked up to the car, I banged on the car window, and I said, 'Give me my pen!'" She added that she gave them the finger with both hands, and that didn't go over well. "My manager fired me on the spot," she recalled.

Minaj has spoken on her history of failed pre-rapper jobs before, telling GQ that she worked as a customer service rep for a bit. "I like dealing with people, but I don't really like a lot of bulls***, so maybe customer service wasn't the best job for me," she admitted.

The "Super Freaky Girl" rapper has amassed an impressive estimated net worth of $100 million since her time serving seafood. When the hitmaker announced a retirement from music that would ultimately be short-lived, her former employer teased her on Twitter. "Now that you've redeemed yourself as a server, you're welcome to come out of retirement with us!" Red Lobster wrote.

George Clooney has both fired and been fired

While promoting the 2009 film "Up in the Air," a movie where his character fires people for a living, George Clooney was frequently asked about his own experiences having gotten the axe. "It's been a while since I've been fired," he told Access Hollywood, adding that he was able to weather the storm because he was single at the time. "I did not have a family to support so I did not have the same sort of pressure that other people have," he explained. Before he became an Oscar-winning leading man, Clooney's previous, ill-fated jobs included selling insurance. 

However, Clooney's tentative job security didn't stop when he became an actor. He has also recalled having been fired from various TV gigs, including a TV show spinoff of the movie "Look Who's Talking." He admitted to OK!, "I'm not sure if I was fired or quit from that one." Clooney wasn't the only one who was shown the door on that show; he recalled, "We had a baby that we shot for three weeks with, and [the director] hated the baby so much that he fired the baby. Can you imagine if you're twelve weeks old and you've already been s***canned?" 

Pharrell Williams made history with McDonald's

Pharrell Williams is known nowadays for his legendary songwriting skills, his "Happy" hit song, and his wacky choices in "but-is-it-fashion" headwear. However, Williams wasn't always as successful as he is now. In fact, he was fired multiple times from his fast food jobs at McDonald's. "I wasn't the best employee," he admitted in an interview with supermodel Naomi Campbell, for her "No Filter with Naomi" series. "I got fired every time from my McDonald's jobs. I don't know, I wasn't very driven, work-wise, in my teen years." 

The artist went into more detail about his past with the chain on "Late Night with Seth Meyers," explaining that he was thinking too much about music when he should have been focused on his job. "At a certain point, you know, they realized that I was no help," he said. "I was only good at eating the chicken nuggets."

His relationship with McDonald's wasn't ruined irreparably. In fact, Williams was a co-writer of the iconic "ba da ba ba ba... i'm lovin' it" jingle for McD's, which was first released in a full Justin Timberlake song, according to Pitchfork! From Williams' chicken nugget days to his career high of multiple Grammy Awards, the singer-songwriter-producer extraordinaire has racked up a staggering estimated net worth of $250 million.

Hillary Clinton asked too many questions

Hillary Clinton has held a lot of jobs in her adult life, many of them with impressive titles like Senator and Secretary of State. (Adding "President" to the resume, though, famously didn't work out the way she'd hoped.) When she was younger, the former first lady had a favorite job that she even told David Letterman about in 2007. "Best preparation for being in Washington that you can possibly imagine," she reflected (via Politico).

That job? Working at a salmon cannery. At a town hall in 2015, she told "Today," "I went to Alaska after I graduated from college, and we worked our way... we washed dishes, and then we ended up in Valdez, Alaska." Clinton recalled being handed a spoon to clean out the salmon, but apparently she was moving too slowly; instead, the future politician got put on a conveyor belt and was asked to arrange the fish for packing. She noticed that the fish didn't look right — "They were purple and black and yucky looking," she told The New York Times back in 1992 — and when she tried to raise the alarm, Clinton herself got canned.

Since leaving public office, Clinton has had another job: public speaker. Thanks largely to various speaking fees, Celebrity Net Worth estimates that her total fortune sits at $120 million.

Cardi B helped out a friend

Nowadays, Cardi B is world-famous as the rapper behind hits such as "WAP" and "Bodak Yellow," but back in the day, she was a supermarket cashier looking out for her friends. She told Fader that she was let go from her job because she gave a coworker a discount they weren't technically allowed to have. However, the manager who dismissed her had a suggestion for Cardi. Some might call his advice unconventional; others might call it "inappropriate." Regardless, it wound up changing the path of Cardi's life. "He was like, 'You're so pretty, you got a nice body,'" she recalled. "He told me to go across the street to New York Dolls, the strip club. That's when I started stripping."

At first, Cardi was unsure about her new career. "I felt a little bit of shame," she admitted to Complex. "I imagined my mother shaking her head." Still, the star noted, she made more money in one day than she had in an entire week selling groceries. Her job at New York Dolls led to Instagram fame, which led to a stint on "Love & Hip Hop," and the rest is pop culture history.

In the years since she was fired, Cardi has built up an impressive fortune. According to Celebrity Net Worth, she's now banked around $40 million. That's a lot of shifts at the supermarket!

Def Jam dropped Gaga

Before the fame, and before "The Fame," Lady Gaga was a young singer just trying to be heard. She signed a deal with Island Def Jam, led by "X Factor" judge LA Reid. Reid told Access Hollywood (via CMU) that he recalled telling Gaga, "You are an amazing artist, a true star, and you will change music." Unfortunately, he wasn't happy with the demos that came from the first sessions for her debut album, and the future Oscar winner lost her recording deal.

Eventually, in true Gaga fashion, she turned her pain into art. The music video for "Born This Way" single "Marry the Night" was a representation of what she later told E! News was "one of the worst days of my life." The video sees her being hospitalized, training harder than ever, and dancing in the rain. After the pain she suffered, Gaga notes in the video, "You may say I lost everything, but I still had my bedazzler." The clip ends as she's on her way to a meeting with Interscope, which has been her label ever since. "If you give up after something like that, you were never destined to be an entertainer," the musician told E! News.

Gaga became one of the most successful singers to emerge from the 2000s. According to Forbes, she now sits on a fortune worth more than $150 million. Reid, for his part, said that dropping Gaga "was the worst thing I've ever done."

Oprah Winfrey wasn't a good reporter

Oprah Winfrey is now one of the richest women on the planet. Forbes, which named her the 23rd most powerful woman in the world in 2021, estimates her net worth to be $2.6 billion. They note her investments in Weight Watchers, her profitable, long-running talk show, and ownership of her OWN network as major contributors to her staggering wealth, more than earning her the title of "media mogul."

However, it wasn't always that way. Before she became a beloved household name known worldwide, Winfrey worked as an anchor on WJZ in Baltimore. It was, evidently, not a good time in her life. "It shook me to my very core, and I didn't even know at the time that I was being shaken," she later told Baltimore's Sun Magazine. Winfrey described a work environment filled with sexual harassment. 

She was ultimately demoted from reporter to daytime talk show host, leading a program called "People Are Talking." She reflected to Bloomberg that she had often been written up as a reporter for being "empathetic" to the people she was covering, which wasn't what the network was looking for. "This is what I now know with age and perspective: that many times getting demoted [or fired] is an opportunity for something else to show up," she advised. You get a pink slip! You get a pink slip! 

Even Anna Wintour got sacked

Anna Wintour has been the Editor-in-Chief of Vogue since 1988, according to Business of Fashion, which calls her "the most influential figure in fashion." The tastemaker runs the celebrated Met Gala, acts as Chief Content Officer for the entire Condé Nast brand of magazines, and even reportedly served as the inspiration for Meryl Streep's fearsome character Miranda Priestly in "The Devil Wears Prada." Fittingly, Wintour claimed she had no idea who author Lauren Weisberger was; Weisberger was in fact her former assistant, according to Wintour biographer Amy Odell (via Literary Hub). 

However, Wintour wasn't always as powerful and respected as she is now. Early in her career, she worked for Vogue competitor Harper's Bazaar, and she didn't rise through the ranks the way she eventually would at Vogue. "They fired me," she confessed at a fashion industry conference (via the Independent). In fact, Wintour has some advice for workers everywhere. "I recommend that you all get fired," she said. "It's a great learning experience."

Jenny Slate's short SNL stint

In 2009, then up-and-coming comedian Jenny Slate joined the cast of "Saturday Night Live." Her time on the show turned out to be short-lived. In her very first episode, Slate ad-libbed an f-bomb, which is, of course, not allowed. "SNL" creator Lorne Michaels fired her. While everyone naturally assumed that her accidental cursing was to blame, Slate revealed years later that she just didn't fit in. "That's not why I got fired," she told InStyle. "I just didn't belong there. I didn't do a good job, I didn't click."

After her time on "SNL" was cut short, Slate struggled with stage fright. "I was incredibly disappointed in myself," she said on "Off Camera with Sam Jones," recalling that being a cast member on the long-running sketch show was something she had been working toward since she was little. "After I got fired, I was so humiliated in every way."

Nowadays, Slate is super-successful. She's starred on hit shows like "Parks & Recreation" and "Big Mouth," been in films like "Venom" and "Everything Everywhere All at Once," and she created the critically-beloved character "Marcel the Shell with Shoes On." According to Celebrity Net Worth, she has an estimated fortune of $6 million. "I think I would tell myself that there are secret doors in every experience," she reflected to Entertainment Tonight.

Madonna messed around at Dunkin' Donuts

Superstar singer Madonna moved to New York in 1978, after attending the University of Michigan for a couple years. "It was the first time I'd ever taken a plane, the first time I'd ever gotten a taxi cab," she reportedly told a New York audience (via Metro). "I came here with $35 in my pocket. It was the bravest thing I'd ever done." Her brother, author Christopher Ciccone, wrote that the $35 story was "pure mythology." Whatever the truth is, the future "Material Girl" took on a series of day jobs to scrape together more cash, including working at Dunkin' Donuts.

"I think I stayed there for maybe a week," she told Howard Stern in 2015. The shock jock asked her if it was true that she was let go because she squirted jelly on people, and she admitted, "I was playing with the jelly-squirter machine." That wasn't the only job Madonna lost in her early days; she added that she wore fishnet stockings to her gig at The Russian Tea Room, which was against dress code. She agreed with Stern, "It's just my nature to do the opposite of what people tell me to do."

Turns out Madonna didn't need those jobs. She's since gone on to win seven Grammy Awards, star in multiple hit films, and revolutionize the pop music industry along the way. Good thing she didn't listen to what she was told to do!

Ellen DeGeneres' coming out caused problems

Ellen DeGeneres' celebrated daytime talk show ended in 2022 after 19 seasons on air (per NPR), but the "Finding Nemo" star has been through a number of controversies over the course of her career. As Barack Obama noted when he awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, she was not received as the trailblazing example of lesbian representation on television that fans now celebrate her for. "She did pay a price," Obama said (via PinkNews). "We don't remember this. I didn't remember this. She did. For a pretty long period of time — even in Hollywood."

He was referring to the fact that she famously came out on her sitcom "Ellen" as she was going public with her sexuality in real life, and the reaction was not positive. Her ratings fell off a cliff, and the show was canceled the following year. "It's just too controversial, nobody wants to deal with it," DeGeneres told Entertainment Tonight at the time (via the Associated Press); she later admitted on ABC News' "20/20," "It destroyed me."

Her talk show, though, was a successful comeback, and DeGeneres' net worth now stands around $380 million (via Forbes). But she once again faced public backlash; as Page Six noted, numerous former employees went public with allegations of toxic workplace harassment on her talk show, which is no longer around.

Howard Stern got dropped by WNBC

Shock jock radio DJ Howard Stern is no stranger to controversy. He doubled down in Rolling Stone supporting violence against Rodney King, appeared in blackface, insulted gay men in his writing, and frequently trash-talks any number of celebrities.

It comes as no surprise, then, that Stern is also no stranger to being fired from a few radio stations over the years. The Washington Post reported on one such firing all the way back in 1985, noting that he was three years into a five-year contract when WNBC canceled his show. "I'm pretty shocked at this one," Stern reacted. "We just had our highest ratings ever. I guess it's the nature of the beast to get fired." He even appeared on the "Heart of the Matter" news program the following day, trying to find answers. "I had a lot of people listening to me," he insisted. "I had a million plus listeners, and a lot of people are feeling robbed." His co-star, he added, was also let go. "Robin [Quivers] and I are looking for work."

They found it. Within a decade, his film "Private Parts" debuted, and Stern was successful all throughout the rest of his career. He still has a radio show, this time on Sirius XM, and the show is so lucrative that Celebrity Net Worth now estimates his fortune at about $650 million.