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14 Ironic 'Failures' of Wildly Successful People

From Oprah to Einstein, your favorite famous people have seen their fair share of failures, mistakes, mishaps, and losses.


By Emily DiNuzzo, Reader's Digest

Martin Luther King, Jr. got a C in public speaking


One of the many memorable moments of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life is his 'I Have a Dream' speech, but Dr. King wasn't always a gifted public speaker. He actually got a C in his public speaking course during his first year of seminary school in Chester, Pennsylvania, according to the National Constitution Center. This 'failure' didn't stop him from hitting the books as Dr. King became a straight-A student and the class valedictorian. This below-average grade also didn't deter Dr. King's speech-giving abilities—he gave more than 2,500 speeches during his lifetime.


Michael Jordan didn't make the varsity team


The NBA All-Star didn't make the varsity basketball team his sophomore year of high school. Instead, he was a starter for the junior varsity team for a few reasons, according to his former coach, Forbes reports. The coach had lots of seniors on the roster that year, Jordan was only 5-foot-10 at the time, and putting Jordan on JV gave him more playing time than being a varsity benchwarmer. Some might look at this JV status as a 'failure,' but it seems the extra play time did him well. Jordan won six NBA championships and four MVP awards, and is in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, according to Biography.


Twelve publishers rejected J.K. Rowling's original Harry Potter


The Harry Potter universe spans many different mediums including books, movies, theme parks, toys, stage shows, and more. The most recent estimate is that Potter Inc. is a $25 million business, Fast Company reports. Before all this success, author J.K. Rowling sent her synopsis to many different publishers and was rejected 12 times, according to Business Insider. Rowling tweeted two of the letters on social media to inspire other writers since her first rejection letter went up on her wall, encouraging her to persist. Millions of fans are glad she did because, in 1997, Bloomsbury Publishing published the first 500 hardcover copies of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. 


A film school rejected Steven Spielberg three times


Director Steven Spielberg has directed Oscar-winning films and cult classics alike. His humble beginnings as an amateur child filmmaker, however, didn't impress the film school at the University of Southern California. In fact, the university reportedly rejected Spielberg three times. Although his lack of a degree didn't deter Universal Studios who ultimately hired him, making him one of the youngest directors in the 1960s, according to Biography. Spielberg did eventually receive an honorary degree from the university in 1994 and became a trustee in 1996, the LA Times reports. 


Walt Disney's first cartoon character tanked


Mickey Mouse and Walt Disney go together like macaroni and cheese, but before mouse ear mania, Disney had another character—Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Universal hired Walt Disney studios to make 26 shorts staring Oswald. You've probably never heard of him, however, because Universal and the cartoon's distributor, Charles Mintz, forced Walt out and took over the rights to the Rabbit series, the BBC reports. Disney's next creation involved no middleman and a different animal—a mouse. As Mickey popularity ensued, Oswald didn't keep up. Even though the Rabbit wasn't successful, Walt Disney and his other creations are.


Apple fired Steve Jobs from his own company


The late Steve Jobs knows equally about success and failure. Apple's founder dropped out of college to co-found Apple Computer before eventually clashing with the CEO that Jobs recruited for the company. Apple's board sided with the CEO and stripped Jobs of his responsibilities, according to ABC. Jobs left the company without a definite plan, but he eventually started a new computer company, NeXT, and Pixar Animation Studios. In 1996, Apple Computer acquired NeXT after struggling, returning Jobs to his role before eventually starting the iPod and iPhone craze. 'I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me,' Jobs said in a speech to Stanford graduates.


Beyonce Knowles' group lost Star Search


Girls Tyme might not sound familiar, but you know one of the members—Beyonce. The group performed on Star Search in 1993 losing to a rock band, but Beyonce didn't let that stop her. The singer went on to be part of Destiny's Child, a successful solo artist, and a multi-Grammy award-winner—her current net worth is $355 million, per the Evening Standard. It's clear that Queen Bey can acknowledge her 'failures.' In her song 'Flawless,' an audio clip from her Star Search performance plays, Rolling Stone reports. 


Albert Einstein failed his school entrance exam


Albert Einstein is arguably one of the most important and influential figures of physics in the 20th century. One might assume he'd be good at traditional learning, but the physicist and mathematician wasn't exactly a whizz at school. After dropping out of his school in Munich at 15, Einstein took the entrance exam for a polytechnic school in Zurich. He flunked the botany, zoology, and language sections, but passed the math one, according to History. Einstein kept studying and passed the exam the next year, although he struggled before eventually graduating. Struggling in school didn't prevent him from developing the special and general theories of relativity and explanation of the photoelectric effect show, per Biography.


Katy Perry only sold 200 copies of her first album


Before she was Katy Perry, the 'Firework' and 'Roar' singer was Katy Hudson. Perry's music was different at the time, too. Critics liked her debut gospel record, Katy Hudson. Sales, however, show that listeners weren't so keen on the album. According to Complex, the album was a 'commercial flop' for Red Hill Records, selling only 200 copies. The American Idol judge made up for it later though, and became the world's highest-paid woman in music in 2019, Forbes reports.


Producers rejected 30 of Sylvester Stallone's screenplays before Rocky


Before his overnight success, Stallone was an out-of-work actor desperate for a gig. Thirty screenplays were rejected before Stallone wrote the 80-page script in three days for Rocky, according to the Guardian. There are also some reports claiming 1,500 talent scouts rejected the actor, too. Stallone got his time in the spotlight as he insisted on playing the titular role of Rocky. The film won an Oscar for best picture in 1977, beating out Taxi Driver and All The President's Men, and it also sparked a Rocky franchise making Stallone a star.


The Grand Ole Opry fired Elvis Presley


In 1954, Elvis Presley covered Bill Monroe's 'Blue Moon of Kentucky' at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee. His act was so disappointing that talent manager Jim Denny reportedly told him to go back to driving a truck, according to Taste Of Country. Presley had the last laugh as he signed a deal with Opry's biggest competitor, the Louisiana Hayride, for 52 Saturday night appearances, launching his career and helping him reach new audiences.


Oprah's first big-budget movie was a flop


Oprah Winfrey's success in Hollywood spans TV, books, and 15 movies, but not all of them were a success. The first big-budget movie Oprah produced and starred in was an adaptation of Toni Morrison's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Beloved. The movie tanked at the box office during the fall 1998 release, according to an interview Oprah gave to Vogue. Although her talk show was at the high of its popularity, it wasn't enough to beat Chucky in theaters. Oprah recovered from her disappointment and learned a valuable lesson, 'It taught me to never again—never again, ever—put all of your hopes, expectations, eggs in the basket of [the] box office,' she told Vogue. 'Do the work as an offering, and then, whatever happens, happens.' This strategy has obviously worked for her.


Music played Jim Carrey off the stage during his first performance


It's hard to think of Jim Carrey as anything but successful and funny. His first stand-up performance, however, was less than encouraging. Carrey told People that he had his first 'real horrible experience' in comedy when he was just 15 years old, performing at Yuk Yuk’s Comedy Club in Toronto. His act was reportedly so horrible that they played him off the stage and called him 'totally boring.' Carrey came back on the scene two years later in New York before relocating to Hollywood where he had some TV appearances before his big-screen debut in Finders Keepers.


Only 30 people came to Tyler Perry's first play


Oprah Winfrey told her TV show audience that writing about difficult experiences could lead to personal breakthroughs, according to Biography. This tidbit of wisdom inspired Perry to write a series of letters to himself. They are the basis for his first musical, I Know I've Been Changed. The show covered topics such as child abuse, faith, and forgiveness. It ran for one weekend drawing a measly 30 people, total. Perry paid for the show, and also directed, produced, and starred in the production. Although his first time around wasn't a hit, the show went on in several other cities unsuccessfully before a critical and commercial breakthrough performance in Atlanta. One of his next projects introduced Madea. The popular character appears in ten different films.

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Juicy: 14 Ironic 'Failures' of Wildly Successful People
14 Ironic 'Failures' of Wildly Successful People
From Oprah to Einstein, your favorite famous people have seen their fair share of failures, mistakes, mishaps, and losses.
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