Celebrity first jobs

Before rock 'n' rolling all night and partying every day, Gene Simmons delivered the Long Island Star Journal in Queens, New York, for $37.50 a week.
Before rock 'n' rolling all night and partying every day, Gene Simmons delivered the Long Island Star Journal in Queens, New York, for $37.50 a week.Christopher Barth / AP file
/ Source: Forbes

Who doesn't remember their first job?

For many people, it came during their high school years. Maybe it was schlepping boxes at the local Wal-Mart, serving up burgers at McDonald's or sweeping the floor at Home Depot. But no matter where you worked, you probably shared some common first-job experiences: the trepidation of showing up that first day, the fear of an unfamiliar boss, the thrill of a first paycheck.

Sound familiar? It's common for celebrities, too. Most big achievers in business, law, politics and entertainment can trace their working lives back to humble beginnings — busing tables, delivering newspapers, hauling packages or shining shoes.

Donald Trump didn't always command respect in the boardroom or on the real estate scene. As a teenager, he walked around to his father's properties and collected rent from tenants who were generally unhappy to see him.

As a baseball star in the 1980s and 1990s, Cal Ripken Jr. always tipped the clubhouse boys well. That's because he spent much of his youth sweeping up and folding towels at dingy minor league ballparks.

And long before brokering agreements between bickering world leaders in her capacity as President Bill Clinton's Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright learned how to deal with people in uneasy situations by selling bras behind a department store counter in Denver.

For many, that first job was also their first experience dealing with people outside the comfort zone of their immediate family and friends. Most learned what they liked and disliked in a boss, and how to relate to other people.

What better way to learn about dealing with customers than by delivering their newspapers, as high-powered attorney David Boies did, or by hauling a cooler of sodas around a golf course, serving thirsty players, a la future artist Jeff Koons?

Some bound for future fame, like business maven and philanthropist Jon Huntsman or Court TV anchor Nancy Grace, hailed from working class families and worked out of necessity. But many famous people who were lucky enough to come from relative wealth weren't spared a tough first job. New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner's father was so opposed to paying allowances to his children that young George had to sell eggs from the family chicken farm to his rural Ohio neighbors.

Whatever their backgrounds or career disciplines, high-powered people tend to look at their jobs in similar ways. Many say they're in it for the love of the work itself, and they claim they rejected short-term economic gain during their early years in favor of a happy and fulfilling career path. Getting rich was just a natural long-term byproduct, they say.

But others roll their eyes at the idea and say it's an attitude designed to allow wealthy folks to convey a humble image and not look like money-grubbers. There's nothing wrong with being in business just for the bucks, they say.

"The best thing about work is that you get paid. I love money," says Gene Simmons, lead singer of the rock band KISS, who in recent years has expanded into marketing, promotion work and other ventures. As a 13-year-old, Simmons delivered the Long Island Star Journal in Queens, New York, for $37.50 a week.

In the end, the most common work habit shared by high achievers is putting in long hours. Steinbrenner, 75, claims he still works until 11 p.m. most nights. And even some who have moved on from the positions that made them famous — such as Ripken's retirement from the baseball field or Michael Eisner's resignation as CEO of Disney Corp. — continue to put in as many or more hours each day as they always did. There are always investments to make, boards to sit on and minor league ballparks to build.