It’s hard to believe that some of the world’s richest celebrities, millionaires and billionaires worked for free — but it’s true. Some millionaires put the hours in before they were famous and others have forgone paychecks out of generosity.
In any case, these are just a handful of the nation’s elite who have taken home a big “zero” on their paychecks. Click through to see which millionaires and billionaires didn’t receive fat paychecks.
Elon Musk Doesn’t Take Wages
When you’re a superhero-like tech genius with big, bold ideas and a net worth of $20.7 billion, you don’t necessarily need an hourly paycheck. While plenty of mega-wealthy CEOs work for minimum wage or accept something like $1 a year as a token, we can’t honestly say they made zero dollars.
As CNN Money reported in 2015, Elon Musk is entitled to compensation of about $35,360 per year from Tesla, based on California state minimum wage requirements. However — and here’s the differentiating factor between Musk and $1-earning CEOs — he doesn’t accept the wage at all, likely preferring the cash to stay in Tesla’s coffers.
Don’t lose sleep over Musk’s financial situation, though. He prefers to work on a pay-for-performance model, profiting when his company does well. Of all his companies, he owns more than 35 million Tesla shares alone.
Mickey Rourke Takes His Chances
Before “The Wrestler” brought Mickey Rourke an Academy Award nomination for best actor in a leading role in 2009, his reputation was at an all-time low. As he told the Los Angeles Times that same year, director Darren Aronofsky was repeatedly advised not to work with the unhirable, unreliable, uncontrollable madman. Aronofsky’s solution? Take charge of the situation.
In the same article, Rourke recalls his first meeting with Aronofsky, who told him, “You’ve been difficult. You’ve thrown your career away. You can never disrespect me. You can never [mess] around with girls at night. You can’t go to Miami over the holidays because I know you’ll be out partying every night. And by the way, I can’t pay you because I have no money.”
Everything worked out for the underdog in the end. Nowadays, Rourke has a net worth of $15 million.
Sean Combs Moves Uptown
Imagine Diddy — one of hip-hop’s wealthiest artists and valued at $820 million — fetching coffee and making deliveries. If you were at Uptown Records in the late ’80s and early ’90s, you wouldn’t have to imagine — that’s exactly what he did as an unpaid intern.
But Diddy wasn’t just fetching lattes. He took obsessive notes and climbed the ranks like a pro. By the time he joined R&B group Jodeci in 1991, he had been promoted to head of A&R at Uptown.
Kennedy and Hoover Donate Their Salaries
Herbert Hoover — who was valued at $75 million, according to UPI — and President Kennedy, born of a family valued at $1 billion when he took office, both donated the entirety of their presidential salaries.
The former gave his to a variety of charities or as a supplement to the income of his associates, while the latter gave all $100,000 he earned as president in 1961 to a slate of six charitable organizations.
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Evan Spiegel Chugs Red Bull
You might not have heard of Evan Spiegel, but chances are you’ve heard of Snapchat. As CEO of the uber-successful social media app, Spiegel’s net worth is $3.8 billion, enough to turn down Facebook’s $3 billion offer to buy the company out.
Though Spiegel was born into extreme wealth and privilege, he opted to spend his senior year of prep school working an unpaid internship with Red Bull, where he was supposed to learn about graphic design and marketing. Instead, Spiegel went on the record saying, “I learned how to throw great parties, and I had a blast,” reports CNET. Close enough.
CMA Fest Musicians Do It for the Fans
The performers at the annual CMA fest aren’t hurting financially. Garth Brooks sports a net worth of $310 million, Carrie Underwood clocks in at $85 million and Brad Paisley at $95 million, just for starters.
Every year, country stars like these and dozens of others — surely accustomed to hefty paychecks on the massive and lucrative festival circuit — gather to donate their time and performances for free. While plenty of free shows act as a way to give back to fans, festival proceeds go toward the in-school and after-school programs supported by the charitable CMA Foundation, which contributes to the needs of 1 million students nationwide.
Adam Levine Begins Again
As the frontman of Maroon 5 and a coach on NBC’s “The Voice,” Adam Levine is able to maintain plenty of healthy self-awareness about his privileged position in life.
When he took his first acting role opposite Keira Knightley in 2014’s “Begin Again,” Levine told USA Today, “I did this movie for no money. I’m very lucky that I’m in that position. […] I have the very fortunate luxury of not having to think in terms of money.”
Nicolas Ghesquière Gets Paid in Clothes
Nicolas Ghesquière wasn’t always the millionaire artistic director of women’s collections at Louis Vuitton. From age 15, he bounced around various fashion-industry internships before becoming a design assistant for Jean Paul Gaultier in 1991.
Though Taddlr now estimates his net worth at around $15 million, he once worked for a lot less. During an internship with French designer agnès b. Ghesquière was paid in clothes, according to Business of Fashion. But, hey, every fashion designer has to start somewhere.
Steven Spielberg Edits Out the Cash
From “The Sugarland Express” to “The BFG,” 40 years of Spielberg-directed cinema has raked in over $9.36 billion at the worldwide box office, according to Box Office Mojo. To get there — and to eventually attain the $3.6 billion net worth reported by Forbes — Spielberg had to fail first.
When his application to study film at the University of Southern California got rejected, the budding filmmaker joined Universal for an unpaid internship in the studio’s editing department. Apparently, he learned a thing or two while he was there.
Conan O’Brien’s (Unpaid) Dream Team
Speaking of internships, in 2016, The Intern DC called the Conan Internship Program — yes, that’s the program of work-study for Conan O’Brien’s late-night show — “the internship that never quits.” In any case, “The Office” owes Coco for grooming a pretty big swath of its cast, with actors and creators such as Mindy Kaling, John Krasinski and Ellie Kemper all having made copies and fetched coffees for Conan.
Nowadays, the “Mindy Project” creator is valued at $24 million, Krasinski at $16 million and the “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” lead at $4 million. According to the Conan Internship Program’s website, interns work a minimum of three full days per week with no pay to speak of.