The only thing more inspiring than a great success story is a great success story that happened later in one’s life. After all, who doesn’t love a late bloomer, whose many years of struggle and persistence have finally paid off?
Believe it or not, there are plenty of late bloomers these days who are household names. Actors like Steve Carrell, Viola Davis, and Morgan Freeman—all ubiquitous in films today—struggled for what probably felt like a lifetime before striking it big. Even major TV hosts like Julia Child lived in anonymity until well into middle age. So, to inspire you to chase your dreams and never give up, here are 40 people who didn’t get famous until after 40. And for more great celeb trivia, here are 30 of your favorite stars who are aging in reverse.
Samuel L. Jackson
After struggling with a drug addiction, Jackson didn’t strike it big until his role in Jungle Fever at the age of 43. Pulp Fiction arrived when he was 46. And for great ways to age gracefully yourself, here are the 20 Best Ways to Erase Wrinkles.
This English actor left the graphic design business when he was in his 20’s and decided to go to acting school. From there, he went on to become infamous villains in films like Die Hard and the Harry Potter series in his early 40’s.
This beloved chef started in the OSS during WWII before her cooking show The French Chef premiered in 1963 when Child was 51.
Previously a figure skater, Wang went on to make a name for herself in fashion at the age of 40.
Stewart didn’t gain fame until her 40s, when she began to write multiple books and then host long-running TV shows. And if you want to channel your own inner Martha, try your hand at the 40 Dishes Everyone Over 40 Should Master.
Jones was living the life of an unknown stand-up comedian until she struck it big on Saturday Night Live in her late 40’s.
The actress was 43 when she had her first role in Christopher Guest’s 2000 mockumentary Best in Show, and later gained even more fame after her role in The 40 Year Old Virgin at the age of 45.
This Austrian-German actor made himself a household name after playing Colonel Hans Landa in Inglorious Bastards at age 53.
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Starting out as a teacher before becoming a writer, Wilder was 65 when Little House on the Prairie was published.
Though she had minor roles in TV and film over the years, Britton struck it big on TV’s Friday Night Lights at 40. And for more great aging advice, check out the 40 Life Secrets You Need After 40.
The explosively funny McCarthy had several small screen roles and a recurring stint on Gilmore Girls before Bridesmaids launched her into stardom at age 41.
Before directing hit movies such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain in his early 40’s, Lee was stay-at-home dad.
Carell was 43 when he landed his big lead role in The Office.
Bates got her big breakout role as psycho fan Anne Wilkes in Misery when she was 42.
Freeman earned some fame during his tenure with TV series The Electric Company when he was in his mid-30’s. However, he’s been quoted saying that he considers his breakthrough role to be Fast Black in Street Smart, which he filmed when he was 50.
Before he was Walter White, he was Malcom’s dad Hal. Even though he’s had two long-running successful series, Cranston was 44 when he premiered in Malcom in the Middle.
Dame Judi Dench
Dame Judie Dench became famous on the stage and in England, but didn’t become a Hollywood name until she played M in the James Bond film GoldenEye at age 61.
Before she was on Golden Girls, White earned an Emmy as Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show when she was 51-years-old.
This British comedian is best known for the original iteration of The Office, which didn’t premier until Gervais was 40.
After struggling as a stand-up comic for years, Behar became co-host of The View at 55.
Though he was pretty well known in England, Simon Cowell started to gain international fame thanks to American Idol, which premiered when he was 43.
Ross, known for his gentle voice and brushstrokes on his TV program The Joy of Painting, didn’t become a household name until well after he left the Air Force to paint his happy little trees.
After hosting many failed variety and talk shows, Philbin began co-hosting Live! With Regis and Kathy Lee in 1988 when he was 57.
This two-time Emmy award winner didn’t start acting until she was 42, soon after earning roles in The West Wing and Desperate Housewives.
The British actor began his career in theater and didn’t land his first major TV role in Star Trek until he was in his 40’s.
Tommy Lee Jones
Although he was a star athlete at Harvard, Jones went on to gain national fame when he was 47, after his Academy Award nominated role in The Fugitive.
After making minor appearances in small TV shows, Leakes gained household fame at 41 in reality series The Real Housewives of Atlanta.
Even though the comic book writer started Timely Publications when he was just in his teens, the company that would later become Marvel Comics wasn’t successful until 1961, when it published The Fantastic Four. Lee was 40 at the time.
When he was 46, this legendary comedian earned fame when he stepped in as a last-minute replacement on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Billy Bob Thornton
It wasn’t until Thornton wrote, directed and stared in Sling Blade that he gained major success at the age of 41.
Spencer made a name for herself after winning an Academy Award in her breakthrough role as Minnie Jackson in The Help when she was 41.
After acting in small roles for many years, Nielsen was 54 when he landed his breakthrough role in Airplane!, which has often been voted one of the funniest movies of all time.
It wasn’t until Cattrall was 42 that she landed her role as Samantha Jones in Sex and The City.
Although she won an Emmy in her 30’s, Davis gained major Hollywood success following her role in Doubt with Meryl Streep and Phillip Seymour Hoffman when she was 43.
As a writer on SNL, David only ever got one sketch on air. It wasn’t until he was 42 and co-created Seinfeld that he made a name for himself.
Even though she was signed with MGM, she never reached fame until I Love Lucy premiered at age 40.
Surprisingly, this comedic actor played lead roles like Macbeth on Broadway, but didn’t become a household name until landing his role as Phil Dunphy on Modern Family at 42-years-old.
The TV host started as a disc jockey in the Virgin Island, DC, and New York City before getting her own talk show, The Wendy Williams Show, at 44.
“Colonel” Harland Sanders
Yes, the KFC Colonel Sanders. Harland began selling fried chicken on the side of the road during the Great Depression but didn’t earn success for his fast food chain until he was 65.
Burt Reynolds might have been your mom’s crush growing up (and might still be), but the Academy Award-nominee didn’t star in hits like Deliverance and Smokey and the Bandit until well into his 40s.
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