March 27, 2024 | Jamie Hayes

30 People Who Only Got Successful After 30

It's Never Too Late

The best time to start was yesterday. The second best time is right now. These mega-successful people eventually reached their tipping point—it just took a little longer than usual.


Momofuku Ando, 48

Momofuku ran a clothing company for years, but he lost everything after he was convicted of tax evasion and his company went bankrupt. But it's never too late for a fresh start.

He founded a food company next, Nissin Foods. After 10 more years of struggle, at 48, Ando invented instant ramen noodles and his company's success exploded.

Momofuku Ando, 94, founder of Japan's Nissin Food Products Co., smiles as he shows a cup of instant noodlesKAZUHIRO NOGI, Getty Images

Susan Boyle, 47

Susan Boyle is proof that you should never give up. Trained as a singer from an early age, Susan Boyle started trying to make a go of it as a singer as early as 1995, though she never saw success.

She was 47 when she made her first appearance on Britain's Got Talent, singing "I Dreamed A Dream". The rest is history.Portrait Photo of Susan Boyle singing at the Edinburgh Festival TheaterWasforgas, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Harry Bernstein, 96

Harry Bernstein worked a full career as a script-reader, freelance writer, and magazine editor before retiring in obscurity at age 62. At age 93, he lost his wife, and the loneliness he felt prompted him to write his first-ever book.

The Invisible Wall: A Love Story That Broke Barriers was published when Bernstein was 96—and he still went on to write three more books!

Close-up Photo of a man using a blue, retro style Smith Corona typewriterCartridgeSave Images, Flickr

Steve Carell, 43

Steve Carell took the long way 'round to stardom. After some unsuccessful attempts at a career (he lasted seven months as a mailman) Carell started performing at Second City in his early 30s. He was 37 when he first appeared on The Daily Show, and didn't land the role of Michael Scott on The Office until he was 43.

Portrait Photo of the actor Steve Carell wearing a dark suit and glassesTristan Reville, Flickr

Julia Child, 50

Julia Child wasn't born to cook—in fact, she could still barely cook when she was in her 30s! During WWII, Child worked as a spy in France. When the fighting ended, she stuck around and attended the Cordon Bleu cooking school.

She didn't publish her smash-hit cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking until she was 50.

Portrait Photo of Julia Child in her kitchen tasting food from a spoonLynn Gilbert, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Bryan Cranston, 44

Since starring in Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston is one of our most famous actors—but for decades, he was a struggling actor jumping from gig to gig. He didn't really pop until his guest appearances on Seinfeld, and he was already 44 years old when he landed his first starring role in Malcolm in the Middle.

Actor Bryan Cranston arrives at the 24th annual Palm Springs International Film Festival Awards GalaFrazer Harrison, Getty Images

Rodney Dangerfield, 46

It took years of failure and rejection to inspire Rodney Dangerfield to create a sad-sack character who never gets respect. When he was 46, Dangerfield crushed in front of a national audience on the Ed Sullivan Show, and became a household name overnight.

Press photo of Rodney Dangerfield on stageUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

Viola Davis, 43

Though she started acting in 1992, you probably hadn't heard of Viola Davis until 2008, when her breakthrough performance in Doubt earned her an Academy Award nomination, but by that time she was already 43!

Viola Davis speaking at the San Diego Comic-ConGage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Donald Fisher, 41

When Donald Fisher was 40, he realized that most department stores only carried clothes in a few sizes. That gave him an idea. In 1973, when he was 41, he and his wife Doris founded The Gap. By 1999, he was worth $4.3 billion.

Close-up Photo of Entrance of Gap Store with visible clothing itemsPhan Minh Tuấn, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Harrison Ford, 35

When Harrison Ford started acting, he couldn't find many good roles, so he started working as a self-taught carpenter to support his wife and two young children. Then, at age 35, he appeared in a little movie called Star Wars. Things changed pretty quickly after that.

Harrison Ford speaking at the 2017 San Diego Comic Con InternationalGage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Morgan Freeman, 50

Although he had a drama scholarship, Morgan Freeman decided to enlist in the Air Force after high school. He served for four years before moving to Los Angeles to pursue acting and dancing—but I guess that lost time cost him.

Though he got some small jobs, Freeman didn't break through into Hollywood stardom until the film Street Smarts, and by then he was already 50 years old.

Portrait Photo of the actor Morgan Freeman wearing dark grey suit and a blue shirtNathan Congleton, Flickr

James Gandolfini, 38

After getting his BA in communications, James Gandolfini worked as a bartender and managed a club to pay the bills. Then his friend took him to a Meisner Technique acting class and he decided to give it a go—but he was making a late start.

He didn't see breakthrough success until he was cast in The Sopranos when he was 38 years old.

Portrait Photo of the actor James Gandolfini in a gray shirt sitting on a coffee tableDiariocritico de Venezuela, Flickr

Jon Hamm, 37

Jon Hamm moved to Los Angeles in 1995 when he was 24, but it did not go well. Within three years, his agency dropped him because he was unable to land any work.

He kept trying, though, and when he was 37, he landed a role as a guy named Don Draper.

Actor Jon Hamm on the red carpet at the 2010 Vancouver OlympicsJohn Bollwitt, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Samuel L. Jackson, 46

It feels impossible to imagine Hollywood without Samuel L. Jackson—he's one of the highest-grossing actors of all time—but he was going to be a marine biologist. He switched majors late, and didn't make his professional acting debut until he was 32.

He eventually started finding steady acting work, but it wasn't until he appeared in Pulp Fiction at age 46 that he finally became a star.

Samuel L. Jackson speaking at the 2013 San Diego Comic Con InternationalGage Skidmore, Flickr

Ken Jeong, 38

They don't call him Dr. Ken for nothing! Ken Jeong was a working physician for years before he was fittingly cast as a doctor in Knocked Up at the age of 38.

Ken Jeong speaking at the 2012 WonderCon in Anaheim, CaliforniaGage Skidmore, Flickr

Kathryn Joosten, 60

After spending years working as a psychiatric nurse Kathryn Joosten decided to join her community theater when she was 42 years old. She managed to work her way up into Hollywood and landed the role in The West Wing when she was 60.

Actress Kathryn Joosten at the 2009 Primetime Emmy AwardsGreg Hernandez, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Ray Kroc, 52

Ray Kroc spent half a century doing all kinds of jobs, mostly working as a travelling salesman. Then when he was 52 years old he met the McDonald brothers. By 1961, he'd bought them out of the company and become the sole president of McDonald's.

Portrait Photo of Ray Kroc in a dark suitUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

Stan Lee, 39

Marvel Comics, every heard of 'em? Thank Stan Lee for that. Spider-Man, the X-Men, Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Ant-Man, and more all came out of Lee's mind (albeit with plenty of help from artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko). But he didn't start on top.

Lee had to rise through the ranks of the comics industry for nearly 20 years, publishing his first hit comic—The Fantastic Four—when he was 39 years old.

Stan Lee speaking at the 2014 Phoenix Comicon on June 8, 2014.Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Toni Morrison, 39

Toni Morrison is one of the greatest novelists in American history—and she didn't publish her first book until she was 39.

Toni Morrison, the first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize in LiteratureWest Point - The U.S. Military Academy, Flickr

Grandma Moses, 78

Anna Mary Robertson "Grandma" Moses didn't start painting in earnest until she was 78 years old. She went on to become a greatly respected and prolific artist; in 2006, one of her painting sold for $1.2 million.

Grayscale Portrait Photo of Anna Mary Robertson Moses facibg the camera and smilingClara Sipprell, Wikimedia Commons

Liam Neeson, 40

It took Liam Neeson a while to figure it out. He drove a forklift and a truck for a time before making a go as an actor. He got his first professional role when he was 25, but he didn't break through until Schindler's List, when he was 40.

Actor Liam Neeson arrives at the Christopher Reeve memorial service October 29, 2004 in New York City.Stephen Chernin, Getty Images

Alan Rickman, 42

Alan Rickman thought he was going to be a graphic designer. He went to school for it and ran his own graphic design studio, Graphiti, for several years before deciding to give acting a try when he was 26.

He found steady work for years before landing the role of Hans Gruber in Die Hard, his first feature film, at age 42.

Screenshot from the movie Die Hard with Alan-Rickman as Hans Gruber, the ruthless leader of the terroristsSnape's True Love, Flickr

J.K. Rowling, 32

The best time to start writing your novel was yesterday. The second best time is today. J.K. Rowling had lived through poverty, a terrible divorce, and being a single-mother, but she still got her book written. The first Harry Potter novel was published when she was 32. Today she's a billionaire.

J.K. Rowling reads from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone at the Easter Egg Roll at the White House in 2010Daniel Ogren, Wikimedia Commons

Bob Ross, 41

Bob Ross served in the United States Air Force for 20 years. He wasn't just some grunt either—he was the guy screaming at you and making you scrub the latrines when you're late. When he left, he wanted to do something that didn't involve raising your voice, so he became a painter and art instructor.

Portrait Photo of Bob Ross in a white shirt smiling and facing the cameraJosiah Sanchez, Flickr

Colonel Sanders, 62

Born in 1890, Harland David Sanders worked a lot of jobs in his life. He pumped gas, stoked steam engines, sold name it, he probably did it. Then during the Great Depression, he found his calling: selling fried chicken.

It took many years of devoted service, but in 1952, Colonel Sanders opened the first Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise, featuring his "secret recipe". By that time, he was already 62 years old.

Portrait Photo of the Founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Colonel Harland SandersBettmann, Getty Images

Sylvester Stallone, 30

Sylvester Stallone spent his 20s trying to make it, but show business is tough. He was homeless at one point, and even took a role in an adult picture to make ends meet. Then, in 1976, at age 30, he wrote and starred in Rocky and it won best picture.

Actor Sylvester Stallone on the Expendables panel at the San Diego Comic ConGage Skidmore, Flickr

Martha Stewart, 41

Martha Stewart didn't publish her first cookbook until 1982, when she was 41 years old. But seeing as she worked as a model and a stockbroker before that, I guess you could say she was already pretty "successful".

Portrait Photo of Martha Stewart at the 2010 Time 100David Shankbone, CC BY 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Billy Bob Thornton, 41

Sometimes, if the roles aren't coming, you have to make one yourself. Billy Bob Thornton was sick of working in telemarketing and fast food, so he wrote, directed, and starred in Sling Blade in 1996.

The movie made Thornton a star and earned him an Oscar—but he was already 41 years old at that point.

Billy Bob Thornton is looking at camera - 2003Featureflash Photo Agency, Shutterstock

Danny Trejo, 41

Danny Trejo's uncle introduced him to hard drugs when he was 12. He spent his youth in and out of jail and struggling with addiction. 

By the time he was 41, Trejo was a substance abuse councilor when one of his clients landed him a role in the film Runaway Train, kickstarting his acting career despite no prior training.

Danny Trejo speaking at the Phoenix Comicon, ArizonaGage Skidmore, Flickr

Oprah Winfrey, 32

Oprah got her first job as a news anchor in her 20s, but she was quickly fired for being "too emotional". It took nearly a decade for her to get another shot, but she she was 30, she got the chance to host AM Chicago.

When she was 32, they changed the name to The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Oprah Winfrey at the Kathy Hutchins, Shutterstock


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