General Education

7 High School Dropouts Who Went On To Do Incredible Things

7 High School Dropouts Who Went On To Do Incredible Things
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Adam D'Arpino July 9, 2014

These seven musicians, entrepreneurs, actors, and entertainers went through the tough decision to drop out of high school, but yet they continued on to achieve great success.

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"Stay in school" is generally used as shorthand for uncontroversially sound life advice, especially when it comes to grabbing a high school diploma. But there are still people out there with big brains, ridiculous savvy, and huge ambition who dropped out and still went on to accrue enough accomplishments to make academics with even the most thoroughly degree-adorned walls jealous. Here are just a few of those self-starting folks:

# 1. Richard Branson

!<a href=" "Richard Branson"" target="_blank">Picture of Richard Branson

You know Richard Branson must be a pretty important British bloke, because the word "Sir" frequently appears in front of his name. Maybe the world's most eccentric billionaire, Branson’s empire, includes Virgin Records, Virgin Mobile, and Virgin Atlantic. Most recently, he pulled the ultimate rich person power move by unleashing his space tourism enterprise Virgin Galactic, which is scheduled to kick off commercial flights this year. Because of dyslexia, Branson was a poor student, and ditched high school at 16 to begin his first of many business ventures: a magazine somewhat ironically named "The Student."

# 2. Ray Kroc

!<a href=" "Ray Croc"" target="_blank">Ray Croc

Like many Americans who came of age during the first half of the twentieth century, Ray Kroc lied about his age to drop out of school and serve his country. At fifteen, Croc left for Europe to serve in World War I, where he drove an ambulance for the Red Cross. He would later go on to make McDonald’s the biggest restaurant with the weirdest ragtag band of mascots in the known world after buying the property from Dick and Mac McDonald, and eventually go on to be worth $500 million, which, adjusted for inflation or not, is a massive amount of dough.

# 3. Whoopi Goldberg

!<a href=" "Whoopi Goldberg"" target="_blank">Whoopi Goldberg

If you’ve watched enough “30 Rock" you’re no doubt familiar with the EGOT, an abbreviation for winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony — the Holy Grail of entertainment awards. Only twelve folks in the history of human beings have done it, and one of them is comedian, actress, author, and late-morning talk show person Whoopi Goldberg, who dropped out of high school due to struggles with an undiagnosed dyslexia problem. She then picked up a series of odd side jobs while getting her comedy and acting career off the ground before breaking through to the mainstream in Steven Spielberg’s 1985 film adaptation of “The Color Purple."

# 4. Harry Houdini

!<a href=" "Harry Houdini"" target="_blank">Harry Houdini

Harry Houdini was born with the significantly less cool name Erik Weiss in Budapest, Hungary before moving to the United States as a youngster. He dropped out of school at 12 to help support his family, but still was great at pretty much everything, including working as a trapeze artist (starting at nine — kids were much tougher back then) and being a top cross country runner. He also worked as a locksmith's apprentice, which we're guessing probably paid dividends since he would go on to be the most famous escape artist ever to escape from locked things.

# 5. Ringo Starr

!<a href=" "Ringo Starr"" target="_blank">Ringo Starr

Beatles beat man Ringo Starr, born Richard Starkey (we, too, were shocked to find out Ringo Starr wasn't his birth name), dropped out of school when a series of bouts with childhood illness left him too far behind to keep up. Shortly after, Starkey took an interest in music, taught himself drums, and started gigging around Liverpool. He would eventually land a spot drumming in some band that would go on to attain a modest level of popularity and even star in some movies.

# 6. Robert De Niro

!<a href=" "Robert De Niro"" target="_blank">Robert De Niro

Sometimes, people know what they're meant to do from a young age, and formal schooling isn't a part of those plans. Bobby D dropped out of high school at 16 to pursue formal acting training, and landed his first major movie role in Brian De Palma's film “The Wedding Party" at age 20 — the movie would sit on the shelf for another six years. In the meantime his legendary acting chops got major notices in off-Broadway plays. His career entered the next stratosphere when he teams up with another New York native, Martin Scorsese, for 1973's “Mean Streets."

# 7. Benjamin Franklin

!<a href=" "Ben Franklin"" target="_blank">Ben Franklin

Benjamin Franklin is one of the most important Americans who ever lived, and is notably the only person in human history to completely pull off the simultaneous bald/long hair look. His abridged resume is as follows: helped found the United States, invented bifocals and lightning rods, revolutionized humankind's understanding of electricity, posthumously appears on the most coveted of American bills, and came up with awesome sayings like, "Three can keep a secret if two of them are dead." Like many kids of his time, Franklin didn't have enough money to pursue schooling past a young age, and went to work for his family.


Allen, S. (2009, October 30). 11 famous people who overcame dyslexia. CNN. Retrieved July 8, 2014, from CNN.

Benjamin Franklin. (n.d.). Retrieved July 8, 2014, from USPS.

Franzese, R. J. (2009). Case Study: Ringo Starr. The Sociology of Deviance Differences, Tradition, and Stigma. Springfield: Charles C Thomas Publisher, LTD.

Harry Houdini Biography. (n.d.). Retrieved July 8, 2014, from Biography.

Lee, J. (2010, December 8). Multimillionaires Without High School Diplomas. Forbes. Retrieved July 8, 2014, from Forbes.

NPR Staff. (2012, October 10). Virgin's Richard Branson Bares His Business 'Secrets'. NPR. Retrieved July 8, 2014, from NPR.

Ray Kroc Biography. (n.d.). Retrieved July 8, 2014, from Biography.


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