Melissa McCarthy and 34 Other Celebrities Who Got Rich and Famous Later in Life

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“It’s never too late” is a cliche  — and one that’s just not true for a whole lot of people in a whole lot of situations. But some of the biggest stars in the world got to where they are by not giving up on their dreams.

For example, there’s Melissa McCarthy, who is celebrating her 51st birthday today. She didn’t really hit it big until her breakout role in Bridesmaids just 10 years ago when she was 41.

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If you’re worried that you’re behind in your career, rest easy by knowing that these 35 actors, designers, singers and more didn’t gain fame and fortune until at least their 40s.

Last updated: Aug. 26, 2021

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Steve Carrell

  • Net worth: $80 million

Before he was Michael Scott on “The Office,” Steve Carrell got his first major movie role in 2004 with the movie “Anchorman.” The movie came out the year Carrell turned 42.

Carrell most recently starred on “The Morning Show,” which earned him a whopping $600,000-per-episode paycheck, according to Variety.

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Judi Dench

  • Net worth: $45 million

Dame Judi Dench was an acclaimed theater actress before she made her way to the big screen in 1995 — at the age of 61 — as M in “GoldenEye.” Now she’s a veritable movie star with seven Oscar nominations under her belt.

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Morgan Freeman

  • Net worth: $250 million

Today, Morgan Freeman has one of the most recognizable voices in the world, but he wasn’t so widely known when he first started acting. He had some success with the TV series “The Electric Company” and “Another World,” but it wasn’t until the late ’80s that he truly made his mark as a movie star — first with “Street Smart” in 1987 and two years later with “Driving Miss Daisy,” which was his breakout role. Freeman was 52 the year “Driving Miss Daisy” was released.

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Julia Child

  • Net worth (deceased): $50 million

Famed chef Julia Child landed her first cooking show in 1963, the year she turned 51. Child forever influenced American cuisine through her cooking school, popular cookbooks and acclaimed television programs that made preparing French food more approachable.

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Ty Burrell

  • Net worth: $26 million

Ty Burrell got his first acting credit in 2001, but it wasn’t until landing the role of Phil Dunphy in “Modern Family” in 2009 that the actor really gained fame. Burrell turned 42 the year the show premiered. He’s gone on to earn two Emmy Awards for his work on the beloved sitcom.


Joy Behar

  • Net worth: $30 million

Comedian Joy Behar worked as a schoolteacher before landing her co-hosting gig on “The View” in 1997 — when she was 55.

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Alan Rickman

  • Net worth (deceased): $16 million

Alan Rickman’s first major Hollywood film was 1988’s “Die Hard,” which came out the year he turned 42. After that fan-favorite movie, he starred in the holiday favorite “Love, Actually” and played Professor Snape in the “Harry Potter” movies.


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Larry David

  • Net worth: $400 million

Larry David was a writer on a few episodes of “Saturday Night Live” in his late 30s, but he really made it big as the creator of “Seinfeld.” The show premiered in 1994, the year David turned 42. David continues to flex his comedic muscle as a writer and star of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

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Martha Stewart

  • Net worth: $400 million

Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart ran a successful catering business that served celebrity and corporate clientele before taking her knack for cooking and meal presentation to the masses with the publication of her first book, “Entertaining.” The book was published in 1982 when Stewart was 41. Stewart now sits at the throne of a cooking-based media and product empire.

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Simon Cowell

  • Net worth: $600 million

Simon Cowell wasn’t well known outside of the U.K. before launching “American Idol” in 2002, when he became famous for his blunt judgment of the aspiring pop star contestants. Cowell turned 43 the year the show premiered — and he hasn’t stopped judging. He’s currently a judge and executive producer on “America’s Got Talent” and “America’s Got Talent: The Champions.”

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Lucille Ball

  • Net worth (deceased): $60 million

Comedic legend Lucille Ball was 40 when she gained fame as Lucy Ricardo on “I Love Lucy.” Ball went on to be nominated for seven Golden Globes and received the Cecil B. Demille Award.

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Ricky Gervais

  • Net worth: $140 million

Comedian Ricky Gervais got his big break as the creator, writer and star of the original British version of “The Office,” which ran from 2001 to 2003. Gervais turned 40 the year of the show’s premiere. He earned a Golden Globe for his performance on the show in 2004 and went on to host the Globes five times.

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Viola Davis

  • Net worth: $25 million

Viola Davis had found success as a theater actress before making the transition to Hollywood. She scored her breakout role in 2008 — the year she turned 43 — with the movie “Doubt.” The film earned Davis her first of three Oscar nominations. She’s gone on to be nominated for “The Help” and “Fences,” the latter of which earned her the Academy Award for actress in a supporting role.

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Bryan Cranston

  • Net worth: $40 million

Bryan Cranston will forever be ingrained in pop culture history for his epic portrayal of Walter White in “Breaking Bad,” but his first major TV series was “Malcolm in the Middle.” The sitcom began airing in 2000, the year Cranston turned 44.

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Kathy Bates

  • Net worth: $20 million

In 1990, when she was 42, Kathy Bates starred as Annie Wilkes in “Misery” — the role that really put her on the map. “Misery” scored Bates her first Oscar win, and she has gone on to be nominated for three more.

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Melissa McCarthy

  • Net worth: $90 million

True Melissa McCarthy fans might remember her for playing Sookie on “Gilmore Girls,” but she became known to a much wider audience when she starred in “Bridesmaids” in 2011. McCarthy turned 41 the year the hit comedy premiered.

Since “Bridesmaids,” McCarthy’s helmed numerous successful films. She’s currently starring in “Nine Perfect Strangers” on Hulu.

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Susan Boyle

  • Net worth: $40 million

Susan Boyle was just one of the many hopefuls to audition for “Britain’s Got Talent” back in 2009. The then-48-year-old singer’s performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” ended up going viral, and her debut album, “I Dreamed a Dream,” went on to become the most pre-ordered album of all time on Amazon, according to her website.

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Patrick Stewart

  • Net worth: $70 million

Patrick Stewart was primarily a theater actor until later in his life, when he moved to Los Angeles to star on “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” The show began running in 1987 — the year Stewart turned 47 — and ran until 1994. Stewart went on to star in a number of “Star Trek” films and currently stars on the spin-off show, “Star Trek: Picard.”


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Betty White

  • Net worth: $75 million

Betty White first gained acting acclaim as Sue Ann Nivens on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” White began acting on the show at the age of 51. Now 99, White continues to act, most recently voicing the character Bitey White in “Toy Story 4.”

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Rodney Dangerfield

  • Net worth (deceased): $10 million

Comic Rodney Dangerfield appeared on a number of talk shows in the late ’60s and ’70s and gained some fame on the nightclub circuit. But it wasn’t until he appeared on “Saturday Night Live” in 1975 — the year he turned 54 — that he broke through to a wider audience. He cemented his spot in comic history five years later as a star of “Caddyshack.”

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Leslie Jones

  • Net worth: $7 million

Comedian and actress Leslie Jones got her big break in 2014 as a cast member on “Saturday Night Live.” She turned 47 the year she got the gig. Although it took a while for Jones to really make it big, her patience has paid off — she has been nominated for three Emmy Awards for “SNL.”

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Samuel L. Jackson

  • Net worth: $250 million

Samuel L. Jackson has racked up nearly 200 acting credits dating back to the ’70s, but it took a long time for him to truly break through. His first big hit was “Pulp Fiction” in 1994, which came out when Jackson was 46. His performance earned him an Oscar nomination, and he’s had numerous noteworthy roles in big movies since then, including “Jackie Brown,” “Snakes on a Plane” and “The Hateful Eight.”

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Jane Lynch

  • Net worth: $16 million

Actress Jane Lynch scored some minor roles early in her career, but it wasn’t until 2000 that she landed her first major role in “Best in Show” — the year she turned 40. She’s probably best known now for playing Sue Sylvester on “Glee.”

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Regis Philbin

  • Net worth (deceased): $150 million

Talk show and game show host Regis Philbin landed his first major hosting gig on “The Morning Show” in 1983 — the year he turned 52. Philbin’s fame reached even higher heights when he became the host of “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?” which he hosted from 1999 to 2009. On July 24, 2020, the legendary TV personality died at the age of 88.

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Kim Cattrall

  • Net worth: $40 million

Kim Cattrall began acting in the ’70s and landed some pretty decent movie parts in the ’80s and early ’90s, but she didn’t land her most iconic role — Samantha Jones in “Sex & the City” — until she was 42. Cattrall won a Golden Globe for her acting on the show.

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Ken Jeong

  • Net worth: $14 million

Acting wasn’t Ken Jeong’s original career path. He worked as a doctor before making it big as a comedic actor at age 40, with breakout roles in “The Hangover” and “Community” in 2009.

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Bea Arthur

  • Net worth (deceased): $25 million

Bea Arthur first appeared as Maude Findlay on “All in the Family” in 1971 and landed her own spin-off show, “Maude” the following year — when she was 50. Arthur became even more rich and famous as a star of “The Golden Girls,” which ran from 1985 to 1992.

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Helen Mirren

  • Net worth: $100 million

Helen Mirren had her first critical success with “The Madness of King George,” which came out the year she turned 49. But it wasn’t until seven years later that she truly became a star when she played Mrs. Wilson in “Gosford Park.”

Mirren has been nominated for four Oscars and won her first in 2006 for “The Queen” — when she was 61.

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Liam Neeson

  • Net worth: $145 million

Liam Neeson worked as a forklift operator, a truck driver, an assistant architect and an amateur boxer before making it big as an actor. Although he starred in some well-received films throughout the ’80s, it wasn’t until he starred in “Schindler’s List” in 1993 — the year he turned 41 — that he really became famous.

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Vera Wang

  • Net worth: $650 million

Designer Vera Wang worked as a figure skater and journalist before making the transition to fashion. She didn’t open her first bridal boutique until she was 40, Time reported.

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Leslie Nielsen

  • Net worth (deceased): $20 million

Leslie Nielsen’s acting career began in the 1950s, but his most famous performance came in 1980 with “Airplane!” when he was 54. He starred in a number of comedy hits following that, including the “Naked Gun” series.

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Ang Lee

  • Net worth: $32 million

Director Ang Lee has said that he almost gave up on his dream of making movies when he turned 30 and hadn’t broken through in the industry. Fortunately, he kept pushing to make his dreams come true, creating a series of Taiwanese films in the early 1990s before directing his first mainstream Hollywood film, “Sense and Sensibility,” in 1995 — the year he turned 41. Since then, he’s gone on to direct “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “Life of Pi” and more. Lee has won two Oscars for directing.

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John Mahoney

  • Net worth (deceased): $16 million

John Mahoney didn’t take the leap to pursue acting until he was almost 40. He started in the theater world and landed his first big Hollywood role in 1993 as the father on “Frasier.” Mahoney was 53 when he got his start on the hit show.

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Christoph Waltz

  • Net worth: $30 million

Austrian-German actor Christoph Waltz got his big break in 2009 — the year he turned 53 — with Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds.” He has gone on to win two Academy Awards.

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F. Murray Abraham

  • Net worth: $10 million

F. Murray Abraham began acting in the ’70s, but it wasn’t until the release of “Amadeus” in 1984 — when Abraham was 45 — that his star really rose. He won an Oscar for his performance and has gone on to land a number of other notable roles in films that include “Mighty Aphrodite,” “Star Trek: Insurrection” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”

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Andrew Lisa contributed to the reporting for this article. 

All net worths are sourced from Celebrity Net Worth and are accurate as of Aug. 26, 2021