Famous, Rich, and Successful People Who Were High School or College Dropouts
You don’t have to go to college to be a success. Even if you go for awhile, you don’t have to graduate to be a success. Here are just a few of the people who have become famous and/or successful without graduating from college and/or high school.
Alexandra Anna Daddario, actress. She attended Marymount Manhattan College before dropping out to pursue acting full-time.
Ariane Daguin, founder of D’Artagnan, a food distributor. She dropped out of Barnard College to start her company.
Gary Dahl, creator of the Pet Rock, copywriter. He attended Washington State University for a brief time but then dropped out to work in advertising.
Nic Dahlquist, Android developer at Snapchat. He took a leave of absence from Stanford University to work at Snapchat.
Dick Dale, born as Richard Monsour, guitarist and inventor of surf rock. He graduated from Washington High School in Westmont, California, but never attended college. He started out playing for country bands before he invented surf rock. He became known as the king of the surf guitar.
Cameron Dallas, multimillionaire social media celebrity. He has not attended college.
John Daly, professional golfer. He dropped out of the University of Arkansas to launch his career as a professional golfer.
Claire Danes, actress. She attended Yale University where she did all the rebellious things—getting drunk and partying—that she’d missed out on as a teenager. She left after two years to return to acting, but did say that “College was just so essential for my sense of self and my development.”
I was told that my going to college wouldn’t be good for my career. But I think that’s nonsense. It’s good to empower yourself by cutting yourself off from this business every once in a while. — Claire Danes
Beverly D’Angelo, actress. She headed to California at the age of 17. At first she worked as an inker and painter at a cartoon shop, then sang and even performed on Broadway, before starting her movie career.
Sharon Daniels, author, The World of Truth. She dropped out of college to get real knowledge:
Eventually I came to conclude that I could not find real knowledge in academic life, only hierarchies of knowledge that led, ultimately, to more hierarchies, not to more knowledge. I began to see university learning as limited, human, and relative. What was seen as absolutely up-to-date did not consider the infinite and timeless.
Jim Danielson, founder of Makt Systems. He dropped out of Purdue University for at least two years to work on developing an electric motor that can be retrofitted into any car. The motor development is funded by Peter Thiel, co-founder of Paypal, via his college dropout project.
G T (George Thomas) Dave, founder of GT’s Kombucha. He dropped out of Beverly Hills High but later got his GED and even took a few community college classes. But he never finished college.College Dropouts Hall of Fame includes Gary Dahl, John Daly, Claire Danes, Sammy Davis Jr., Rosario Dawson, Dorothy Day, Michael Day, Bob Dylan, James Dean, and others Click To Tweet
Fred N. Davis III, political advertising copywriter and director. He attended drama school in college but never graduated. He left school to take over his family’s PR business in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Sammy Davis, Jr., singer, actor, comedian. He never finished high school.
Chris Dawson, billionaire co-founder of The Range discount stores (along with his wife Sarah). Having never learned to read until the age of 27, he dropped out of school at the age of 15 and started selling cookware in open-air markets.
Rosario Dawson, actress and political activist. She did not graduate from college, but she did take pre-calculus and calculus at the Cooper Union and a civil-engineering course at Columbia. She is a firm believer in the value of education.
Doris Day, nee Doris Mary Ann von Kappelhoff, actress and singer. At the age of 17, she began singing with big bands at a local club, moved on to singing hits (like her million-selling Sentimental Journey), and then began starring in musicals for Warner Bros. She became known for starring in upbeat movies like Pillow Talk and That Touch of Mink. She never attended college.
Dorothy Day, journalist, socialist, political activist, pacifist, anarchist, suffragist, and co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement. She attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on a scholarship, but dropped out after two years to move to New York City to become a social activist.
Michael Day, co-founder of Chewy.com pet sales. He dropped out of the University of Georgia.
James Dean, actor. He attended Santa Monica College to study pre-law and then transferred to UCLA to study acting where he dropped out during his sophomore year to pursue a career as an actor.
Jimmy Dean, singer, songwriter, actor, multimillionaire founder of Jimmy Dean Foods. He dropped out of the 9th grade to join the Merchant Marines at the age of 16. He joined the Air Force at the age of 18. After getting out of the Air Force, he and his band, the Texas Wildcats, developed a following in Washington state.
Darwin Deason, billionaire entrepreneur, founder of ACS. He left his hometown the day after graduating from high school and headed to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he got into data processing. He later took over MTech, which he sold in 1988.
Arnaud de Borchgrave, journalist. As a teenager he enlisted in the British Merchant Navy during World War II. After the war, he went to work for United Press. He never attended college.
Paula Deen, restaurant owner, TV chef, bestselling cookbook author. She did not attend college. After high school, she married at the age of 18 and soon learned how to cook great meals.
Ellen DeGeneres, comedienne, actress, talk show host. She dropped out of the University of New Orleans after one semester to start her career in stand-up comedy. As she noted in an interview with Us Magazine, “I didn’t go to no college.”
John Paul DeJoria, billionaire co-founder of John Paul Mitchell Systems hair care products and founder of Patron Spirits tequilla, Gustin Energy, DeJoria Diamonds, ROK Mobile, and other companies. He joined the U.S. Navy right out of high school. After the Navy, he spent time doing many odd jobs, sometimes living out of a car, before finding work selling hair care products.
I learned sales and marketing from knocking on a hundred doors a day. You quickly discover that you’ll get 99 slammed in your face before you make a sale. — John Paul DeJoria, quoted in The Education of Millionaires by Michael Ellsberg
You’re going to run across a lot of rejection. You need to be as enthusiastic about door Number 100 as door Number One. — John Paul DeJoria (Forbes magazine)
Cara Delevingne, model and actress. She began modeling at the age of 16 and landed her first major gig at the age of 18. She has not yet attended college.
Michael Dell, billionaire founder of Dell Computers, among top ten wealthiest Americans. He founded his company out of his college dorm room. He eventually dropped out of the University of Texas at the age of 19 to run the company.College Dropouts Hall of Fame includes Paula Deen, Cara Delevingne, Ellen DeGeneres, Dom DeLuise, Michael Dell, John Paul DeJoria, Laura Deming, Jonathan Demme, and others. Click To Tweet
Dom DeLuise, comedian, actor. He graduated from high school, but never attended college. Instead, he began acting at the Cleveland Play House.
Leonardo Del Vecchio, billionaire founder of Luxottica. He began as an apprentice to a tool and dye maker of molds for auto parts and eyeglass frames. Skipping college, he started Luxottica at the age of 23. Loxottica is now the world’s largest maker of sunglasses and prescription eyewear.
Patrick Demarchelier, fashion photographer. His stepfather gave him a Kodak camera when he was 17. He started working at a photography store right away and never attended college.
Mike Demarais, founded Handprint 3-D printing company. He dropped out of college.
Jonathan Demme, Oscar-winning director. He flunked a few science classes and dropped out of the University of Florida after a year. He became a film reviewer, a scriptwriter, even a publicist, before becoming a director.
Laura Deming, founder of the Longevity Fund (biotech venture capital firm). As a Thiel Fellow, she skipped college to start her fund.
Jude Demorest, singer, songwriter, and actress. She left high school early to move to Los Angeles with her sister to find work as an actress. She has not attended college.
I didn’t even tell my school I was leaving, didn’t get my books out of my locker. — Jude Demorest
Patrick Dempsey, actor, Dr. McDreamy, juggler, race car driver. He dropped out of high school in Lewiston, Maine, to travel as a juggler, unicyclist, and singer. He went on to a stage-acting career and finally stardom on TV.
Robert De Niro, Oscar-winning actor, producer. He dropped out of high school to pursue acting. He later received an honorary degree from Bates College.
In many ways, leaving school when I did was an advantage. I saved nearly $6,000 by not having to pay tuition and expenses for four years of education. — Robert De Niro in a talk while receiving the honorary degree
Felix Dennis, multimillionaire magazine publisher, Maxim, Blender, and others. He left home before his sixteenth birthday and later dropped out of art college.
I got rich without the benefit of a college education or a penny of capital but making many errors along the way. I went from being a pauper, a hippie dropout on the dole, living in a crummy room without the proverbial pot to piss in, without even the money to pay the rent, without a clue as to what to do next… to being rich. — Felix Dennis, magazine publisher, How to Get Rich
Gerard Depardieu, actor. He dropped out of elementary school.
Johnny Depp, actor. He dropped out of high school at the age of 15. He worked odd jobs and played in a band until he became a success as an actor.
College Dropouts Hall of Fame includes Jude Demorest, Patrick Dempsey, Robert De Niro, Felix Dennis, Gerard Depardieu, Johnny Depp, Zoey Deschanel, Richard DeVos, and others. Click To Tweet
Zoey Deschanel, actress. She attended Northwestern University for a brief time, but then dropped out during her freshman year when she was cast in Almost Famous.
I read a lot. I try to teach myself anything I want to learn. I would have liked to finish, but I would have missed a ton of opportunities. — Zoey Deschanel in Time magazine
Richard Desmond, billionaire publisher. He dropped out of high school.
Richard DeVos, billionaire co-founder of Amway (now Alticor), owner of Orlando Magic basketball team. He served in the Army after high school. He later founded Amway along with his best friend Jay Van Andel.
Bradley Deyo, co-founder of Mars Reel. He dropped out of college to pursue Mars Reel.
Brandon Deyo, co-founder of Mars Reel. He dropped out of college to pursue Mars Reel.
Cameron Diaz, model and actress. Moving from modeling in her teens to acting in her 20s, she never attended college.
Maria Diaz, CEO and founder of Pursuit of Excellence. She dropped out of college as a recent widow to work three jobs and care for her son. She later worked for Jenny Craig and then set up a coaching practice that led to founding Pursuit of Excellence.
Melonie Diaz, actress. She dropped out of New York University to pursue acting. At the age of 29, she still had the intention to complete her degree, but hadn’t done so yet.
Leonardo DiCaprio, actor. At the age of 14, he signed with an agent and began doing commercial work as well as acting. He completed his high school GED with the help of a tutor, but put off college. As he has noted, “Life is my college now.”
Charles Dickens, bestselling novelist. He left elementary school to work in a factory after his father was thrown into debtors’ prison. Although he had little formal education, his early poverty drove him to succeed.College Dropouts Hall of Fame includes Cameron Diaz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Charles Dickens, Bo Diddley, Barry Diller, George Dillman, Joe Dimaggio, Walt Disney, and others. Click To Tweet
Charles “Chip” Dickens, co-owner of The Vineyard (or The Mountain or The Billion Dollar Property), the largest undeveloped piece of real estate in Beverly Hills, California. He played football before he dropped out of Tennessee Tech after three years to start doing business deals.
Cintia Dicker, model. Discovered at the age of 14 in a shopping mall, within hours she was on her way to becoming a major model.
Emily Dickinson, poet. She attended Mount Holyoke Female Seminary for 11 months but then dropped out to spend most of the rest of her life living at home in Amherst, Massachusetts.
Bo Diddley (aka Ellas Otha Bates), rock & roll singer, songwriter, and guitarist. He never attended college.
Barry Diller, billionaire, Hollywood mogul, Internet maven, chairman of IAC/InterActive Corp (owner of Ask.com, Match.com, OkCupid, Ticketmaster, CitySearch, Evite, LendingTree.com, etc.). The son of a wealthy real estate developer, he attended Beverly Hills High School but dropped out of UCLA after four months to work in the mail room of William Morris. He has also worked at ABC, Paramount, and Fox overseeing the development of hits like Cheers and The Simpsons.
George Dillman, martial arts champion and book/DVD author. After high school, he serve in the U.S. Army for 12 years. He then opened a karate school.
Joe DiMaggio, baseball player, husband of Marilyn Monroe. He was a high school dropout.
Arturo Di Modica, sculptor. He left home at the age of 19 to start sculpting in Florence, Italy.
Andy Dinh, online gaming entrepreneur. He dropped out of college, borrowed $5,000 from his mother, and started his first online gaming guide site.
Walt Disney, producer, director, screenwriter, animator, developer of Disneyland, winner of 26 Oscars and 7 Emmy awards. While attending McKinley High School, he also took night classes at the Chicago Art Institute. He dropped out of high school at the age of 16 to join the army. Rejected because he was under aged, he joined the Red Cross and was sent to war in Europe. Upon his return from war, he began his artistic career.
Steve Ditko, comics artist and writer. After high school, he served in the army. He then studied at the Cartoonist and Illustrators School before he began working with various comic book publishers. He created or co-created many memorable characters, including Dr. Strange, Spider-Man, the Question, the Creeper, and Squirrel Girl. He never attended college.
Mark Dixon, billionaire founder of International Workplace Group (formerly known as Regus). He dropped out of high school at the age of 16 to start up a sandwich delivery service. He later sold encyclopedias and was a lumberjack before starting up his first shared office space in Brussels, Belgium.
Oliver Dlouhy, founder of Kiwi.com. He never attended college.
Sean Dobson, founder and CEO of Amherst Holdings and Main Street Renewal. He dropped out of college to work in mortgage trading.
Snoop Dogg, rapper and actor. He has never attended college.
A lot of people like to fool you and say that you’re not smart if you never went to college, but common sense rules over everything. That’s what I learned from selling crack. — Snoop Dogg
Laurann Dohner, erotic romance novelist. She has made the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists. She dropped out of high school during the 11th grade.
Lexa Doig, model and actress. She dropped out of high school to work in modeling. She started acting at the age of 19. She has not attended college.
Charles Dolan, billionaire founder of HBO which he traded to Time Inc. for Cablevison cable provider. He also owns Madison Square Garden, the New York Knicks, and the New York Rangers. He dropped out of college.
Thomas Dolby, musician, composer, music producer. He dropped out of high school.
Fats Domino, aka Antoine Dominique Domino Jr., rock ‘n roll pioneer, singer, and songwriter. He never attended college.
Stanley Donen, Oscar-winning movie director, dancer, choreographer. He moved to New York City to become a dancer. He soon became a choreographer working with Gene Kelly and others before taking over directing movies like the all-time great musical, Singin’ in the Rain.
Richard Donner, nee Richard Schwartzberg, director. After the Navy, he attended New York University to study business but dropped out to become an actor. He later discovered his natural talent as a director.
John Dooley, wireless technology consultant. He left college after a year.
Eliza Doolittle, aka Eliza Caird, singer and songwriter. She landed a songwriting publishing deal when she was 16. She has not attended college.
Bob Dorough, jazz musician. He never attended college. After serving as a composer for the Army band during World War II, he worked as a music director before putting together Schoolhouse Rock!
Jack Dorsey, billionaire founding CEO of Twitter, co-founder and CEO of Square. He dropped out of New York University twice and bounced betweens jobs before landing at Odeo, the forerunner of Twitter.
Kim Dotcom, aka Kim Schmitz, aka Kim Tim Jim Vestor, aka Kimble, co-founder of MegaUpload and Mega.co.za. He did not attend college.
Frederick Douglas, civil rights pioneer and freedom fighter. Because he worked as a slave on plantations, he never received any formal schooling. After getting his freedom, he published a newspaper, wrote many opinion columns, and fought for civil rights.
Brad Dourif, actor. At the age of 19, he dropped out of Marshall University and headed to New York City to become an actor.
Robert Downey, Jr., actor. He dropped out of Santa Monica High School during his sophomore year (another source says his junior year). He did get a GED while serving time in prison.College Dropouts Hall of Fame includes Snoop Dogg, Laurann Dohner, Lexa Doig, Thomas Dolby, Eliza Doolittle, Jack Dorsey, Drake, Robert Downey Jr, Brad Dourif, Eliza Dushku, and others. Click To Tweet
Xavier Dphrepaulezz, see Fantastic Negrito.
Drake, aka Aubrey Drake Graham, actor, rapper, singer, and songwriter. He dropped out of high school when he landed a role in the Canadian TV series, Degrassi: The Next Generation. He graduated from high school at the age of 26. As he noted, it was “one of the greatest feelings in my entire life.” He has not yet attended college.
Betsy Drake, actress, model, novelist. She dropped out of high school to model and act. Much later in life, she enrolled at Harvard where she earned a master’s degree of education in psychology.
Francis Drake, British admiral and explorer. He was home schooled.
Matt Drudge, multi-millionaire Internet blogger. He did not graduate from college.
Henrique Dubugras, billionaire co-founder of Brex fintech company. He dropped out of Stanford University in the spring of his freshman year.
Megan Duckett, millionaire founder of Sew What? and Rent What?. After graduating from high school, she skipped college to work as a freelance lighting technician for theaters.
C. Michael Dudash, artist, illustrator. After a semester at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, he was recruited by a publisher to illustrate for a sports medicine magazine.
Louise Duncan, author of young adult thrillers. She sold her first story to a magazine when she was only 13. She dropped out of Duke University to marry a classmate. At home, she began writing young romance novels. She later taught journalism and wrote articles for magazines before turning to write young adult thrillers. Her first thriller was called Ransom.
Michael Clarke Duncan, actor. He dropped out of Alcorn State University when his mother became ill. He worked as a ditch digger and bouncer to support her. He later moved to Los Angeles and became a bodyguard before finding success as an actor.
Steve Dunleavy, journalist, columnist, TV reporter. He skipped college to learn his trade on the streets.
Ronnie Dunn, Grammy-winning country singer and songwriter, member of Brooks & Dunn. He moved to Tulsa after dropping out of college. He started playing in bars and nightclubs before making it big with Brooks & Dunn.
Dominique Dunne, actress. She went to the University of Colorado to study acting, leaving after one year to pursue her career as an actress.
Eliza Dushku, actress, model, and producer. She planned to attend Suffolk University but instead got the job of Faith in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and never had time after that to go to college.
Lou Duva, boxing trainer, manager, and promoter. He never attended college, but instead worked for a few years with the Civilian Conservation Corps and then joined the Army during World War II. After forming a successful trucking company, he opened a gym and soon became a boxing manager.
Tom Dwan, millionaire online poker player. He dropped out of Boston University. He started with a $50 investment and built it into millions playing poker online.
Bob Dylan, singer and songwriter. He dropped out of the University of Minnesota and moved to New York City to seek out his idol Woody Guthrie. He has honorary degrees from Princeton University and St. Andrews (Scotland). He was the first songwriter to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Trent Dyrsmid, founder of Dyrand Systems. He did not attend college.
If you know of any other famous, successful, or rich people who did not graduate from high school and/or college, please comment below. Thanks!
More: The College Dropouts Hall of Fame