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.
Jerry Labranche, sketch comedy videographer. He dropped out of college when his Vine videos started to go viral. As he noted, “School wasn’t really my strong suit. I’m better at just being me.”
Michael Lacey, multimillionaire publisher for New Times newspapers. He dropped out of Arizona State University to co-found the Phoenix New Times alternative newspaper. Also the co-founder of Backpage classified ad website.
Nick Lachey, singer and actor. “I was trying to be an athletic trainer. That’s what I was studying in school when I quit to do music.”
Dichen Lachman, actress. She dropped out of the University of Adelaide to pursue acting.
James Lafferty, actor. He has not yet attended college. But he did note in an interview that if he weren’t an actor, he’d “be a junior in college.”
Don LaFontaine, voice-over artist who narrated more than 350,000 commercials, thousands of TV promos, and more than 5,000 movie trailers. After graduating from high school and serving in the Army, he went into business as a voice-over artist. He never attended college.
Karl Lagerfeld, fashion design billionaire. He finished school at the age of 14 and then studied drawing. He never attended college.
Peter La Haye, Sr., inventor of plastic replacement lenses for cataract patients, owner of La Haye Laboratories and Neoptx. He dropped out of high school.
Frederick “Freddy” Laker, billionaire airline entrepreneur. He dropped out of high school.
Miranda Lambert, country singer. She began singing as a professional while still in high school. She did not attend college.
Edwin Land, inventor of the Polaroid camera, founder and CEO of Polaroid. In 1937, he dropped out of Harvard to work on his light polarization inventions. His technological breakthroughs included infrared night vision products, instant color film, and the Polaroid camera. As he once noted, I “never took the trouble to graduate from Harvard.”
Sasha Lane, actress. She attended Texas State University briefly but then dropped out. She has not returned to college yet.
Sharmen Lane, millionaire mortgage wholesaler, life coach, motivational speaker. He was a high-school dropout.
Cathy Lanier, Chief of Police of Washington, DC. She was a 14-year-old pregnant high school dropout.
Angela Lansbury, Tony and Golden Globe award-winning actress. She was contracted by MGM while still a teenager and nominated for an Academy Award for her first film, Gaslight, in 1944. Her Broadway stage work earned her four Tony Awards in sixteen years for Mame, Dear World, Gypsy, and Sweeney Todd. But she never won an Emmy for her work on the Murder, She Wrote television series. She also won six Golden Globes and was nominated for 18 Emmys and 3 Academy Awards. She never attended college.
Claude Lanzmann, filmmaker, editor, and lecturer. At the age of 17, he joined the French resistance during World War II. After the war he became a protégé of Jean-Paul Sartre and long-time lover of SImone de Beauvoir. He never attended college.
Ring Lardner, sportswriter and short story writer. He began his career as a teenager writing for the South Bend Tribune. He continued writing for many other newspapers, eventually landing a nationally syndicated column for the Chicago Tribune.
Stan Lark, rock musician, Fireballs. He dropped out of New Mexico State University (actually dropped out days before classes were to begin) to become a rock star.
James Larkin, multimillionaire publisher for New Times newspapers. Also co-founder of the Backpage classified ad website. He had dropped out of college before partnering with Michael Lacey to build the New Times empire.
Brie Larson, nee Brianne Sidonie Desaulniers, Oscar-winning actress, screenwriters, director, and activist. She was home-schooled, but she did attend the American Conservatory Theater when she was young. She has not yet attended college.
Don Larson, Major League baseball pitcher. He pitched the first and thus far only perfect game during a World Series in 1956. He signed with the St. Louis Blues right out of high school. He never attended college.
Albert Lasker, advertising pioneer, CEO of Lord & Thomas. After graduating from high school, he started at an advertising agency as an entry-level salesman.
Tommy Lasorda, baseball manager. He dropped out of high school.
Queen Latifah, ne Dana Elaine Owens, singer, songwriter, rapper, actress, television producer, record producer, talk show hostess. She left college to pursue a music career. She has won the following awards: Golden Globe, Grammy Award, and Screen Actors Guild (and been nominated for many more).
Brendan Lauber, multi-millionaire president and CTO of Harbortouch. He dropped out of high school at the age of 16 but got his GED. He also dropped out of the Rochester Institute of Technology to work with his friend Jared Isaacman.
Cyndi Lauper, singer, songwriter, actress. She dropped out of high school and left home at 17 to work a number of odd jobs and to sing in bars until she was able to break through as a bestselling singer.
Jillian Lauren, author. She quit New York University during her freshman year to become a party guest for a wealthy Singapore businessman. She went on to live in the harem of the prince of Brunei for a year-and-a-half. She then wrote about her experiences.
Ralph Lauren, billionaire fashion designer, founder of Polo. He dropped out of the City College of New York business school (Baruch College) to design ties for Beau Brummel. He launched Polo later that same year.
Avril Lavigne, singer, songwriter, actress, fashion designer. She dropped out of high school.
Peter Lawford, actor. He never finished high school.
Annie Lawless, co-founder of Suja Juice. She dropped out of law school to become a yoga instructor.
Jennifer Lawrence, actress. She started acting at the age of 14 and has been in demand since then. She has not yet attended college.
I’m always very self-conscious of my intellect because I didn’t finish school. I dropped out of middle school. — Jennifer Lawrence
Vicki Lawrence, actress. She started acting in The Carol Burnett Show right out of high school. She never attended college.
Jeff Lawson, multimillionaire founder of Twilio. He began coding software while at the University of Michigan and founded Versity.com soon thereafter. He dropped out of college once that business started pulling in advertising money. However, he later finished his college degree.
Christos Lazari, billionaire real estate investor. At the age of 16, he dropped out of high school and moved from Cyprus to England where he began working as a dishwasher.
Mike Lazaridis, billionaire founder of Research in Motion.
“Two months before I graduated from college, I answered a request for proposal from General Motors with a five-page pitch to develop a network computer control display system. They offered me a half-million dollar contract…. I went to the president of the university to get his permission to take a leave of absence. He tried to persuade me to finish out my year, but when I told him about the contract, he wished me the best of luck.” Since that time, he hasn’t had time to go back and finish.
David Lean, Oscar-winning director. He dropped out of high school.
Gene Lee, CEO, Darden Restaurants. He went to Worcester State University for one year before entering the management training program at York Steak House. Later, in 1996, he did graduate from Sawyer Business School at Suffolk University.
Harper Lee, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, To Kill a Mockingbird. She dropped out of college during her senior year. She then moved to New York to become a writer.
Sandra Lee, TV show host, entrepreneur, cookbook author, magazine editor. She spent three years at the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse before founding a craft company.
Stan Lee, comics creator, Marvel Comics (Spiderman, The Hulk, X-Men, The Fantastic Four). He started working when he was still in high school. He never attended college.
Michel Jean Legrand, jazz pianist, Academy award-winning film score composer. He entered the Paris Conservatory at the age of 9, but never attended college.
Anna-Lou “Annie” Leibovitz, portrait photographer, cover photographer for Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone magazines. She attended the San Francisco Art Institute, but apparently did not graduate. As she has said, “I was very lucky, in working for these magazines, to learn by doing, but I always regretted not having a formal education. I had to teach myself.”
Dick Leitsch, gay rights activist. He dropped out of Bellarmine University and moved to New York City to work as a bartender and a journalist.
Tim Leiweke, CEO of Anschutz Entertainment Group. He skipped college to get into sports management.
Annie Lennox, singer and songwriter. She moved to London at the age of 17 to start a career in music. There she met Dave Stewart and formed Eurythmics.
Tia Leoni, actress. She dropped out of Sarah Lawrence College as a 20-year-old to model and act.
James Leprino, billionaire founder of Leprino Foods. He joined the family grocery business at the age of 18 after graduating from high school. After his family business was destroyed by competitors, he founded what is now the world’s largest mozzarella producer.
Doris Lessing, novelist. At the age of 14, she chose to end her formal schooling. She then worked as a nanny, telephone operator, office worker, stenographer, and journalist. Her first novel was published when she was 31. She won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2007.
Aaron Levie, multi-millionaire software developer, co-founder of Box.net. Dropped out of the University of Southern California in 2005 to create Box.net.
Aaron Levine, fashion designer, vice president of Club Monaco. He left Virginia Tech to work at Abercrombie & Fitch. He never finished college.
Huey Lewis, singer and songwriter. After high school, he earned a college scholarship but his father encourage him to travel instead. He hitchhiked across Europe before discovering his love of music and playing in bands. For the first ten years, he had little success as a band member. That is, until he formed his hall of fame band, Huey Lewis & the News, and released their biggest hit, The Power of Love.
Jerry Lewis, comedian, actor, singer, humanitarian. He was a high school dropout.
Jerry Lee Lewis, singer and songwriter. He was kicked out of high school and went straight into singing at clubs. He had a “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”.
Joe Lewis, billionaire businessman. He dropped out of high school.
Juliette Lewis, actress, singer, musician. At the age of 14, she left her parents and went to live with actress Karen Black, a family friend. She then dropped out of high school. She has never attended college.
Phil Liblin, multi-millionaire CEO of Evernote. He dropped out of Boston University to found and sell two startups.
Fran Liebowitz, humorist, speaker, and author. She was asked to leave high school and never attended college. She moved to New York City at the age of 19 and did odd jobs until she was hired to write for an alternative magazine.
Joseph Liemandt, billionaire founder of Trilogy Software. He dropped out of Stanford University to start up Trilogy.
Rush Limbaugh, multi-millionaire media mogul, the most popular radio talk show host ever, bestselling book author. He dropped out of college after being required to take ballroom dancing.
Abraham Lincoln, lawyer, U.S. president. Having finished barely a year of formal schooling, he self-taught himself trigonometry (for his work as a surveyor) and read Blackstone on his own to become a lawyer. Of the 45 people who have served as president of the United States, 8 never went to college.
Charles Lindbergh, aviator, first person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. He quit the University of Wisconsin after two years to learn how to fly an airplane.
David Linde, movie producer and CEO, Participant Media. He dropped out of Swarthmore College to follow his girlfriend to New York City: “I didn’t graduate—I fell in love and followed my girlfriend to New York.”
Carl Lindner, billionaire investor, founder of United Dairy Farmers, former owner of Chiquita Brands. He dropped out of high school at the age of 14 to deliver milk for the family store during the Depression.
Meg Lindsay, model. She has not yet attended college. She began working full-time as a model at the age of 17.
Blake Lively, actress. At the age of 16, she got her first major movie role in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. She started acting in the Gossip Girl TV series right after high school. She has not yet attended college, but has expressed a strong desire to do so.
Lizzo, nee Melissa Jefferson, rapper, flutist, and body positivity activist. After winning a music scholarship to the University of Houston, she dropped out to live with her parents and then in her car before having an epiphany about her body to overcome her funk.
John Llewellyn, labor leader, president of the United Mine Workers. He dropped out of high school.
Hank Locklin, country singer. He never attended college.
Marcus Loew, multi-millionaire founder of Loews movie theaters, co-founder of MGM movie studio. He dropped out of elementary school.
Lindsay Lohan, actress. She never finished high school.
Dan Lok, multi-millionaire business mentor, founder of Quick Turn Marketing. He is a college dropout.
His CreativitySucks website notes: A former college dropout, Dan Lok transformed himself from a grocery bagger in a local supermarket to a multi-millionaire. Dan came to North America with little knowledge of the English language and few contacts. Today, Dan is one of the most sought-after business mentors on the Web, as well as a bestselling author. His reputation includes his title as the World’s #1 Website Conversion Expert.
Jack London, bestselling novelist, The Call of the Wild. He dropped out of high school to work. Later he was admitted to the University of California but left after one semester to join the Klondike Gold Rush (on July 25, 1897).
Julie London, singer, actress. She dropped out of high school.
Fabiano “Neguin” Lopes, capoeira dancer. He started dancing at the age of 14. He never attended college.
Jennifer Lopez, singer, dancer, and actress. She left home at the age of 18 to pursue her dream of becoming a dancer and singer. She has not attended college.
Trini Lopez, singer and actor. Growing up poor as an immigrant in Dallas’s poor Little Mexico neighborhood, he dropped out of high school during his senior year to work to help support his family. He later hit it big as a singer and musician. His biggest hits were If I Had a Hammer, La Bamba, and Lemon Tree.
Lorde, see Ella Yelich-O’Connor.
Sophia Loren, aka Sofia Scicolone, Oscar-winning actress, author, model. She dropped out of elementary school.
Caity Lotz, actress, dancer, stuntwoman, model, singer. She has not gone to college. She started out as a background dancer for music videos and tours. As she noted, “After I stopped going to school, my life was changed forever.”
Christian Louboutin, fashion designer. He was kicked out of school at the age of 12. As a teen, he found work repairing the costumes of showgirls at the Folies Bergère.
Joe Louis, boxer. He dropped out of high school.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Emmy-winning actress and producer. She dropped out of college to work on Saturday Night Live.
Demi Lovato, singer and actress. She has not attended college.
Nat Love, member of the National Cowboys of Color Hall of Fame, known as Deadwood Dick, one of the first American cowboys to write his autobiography. He was born into slavery. After being emancipated, he won a horse in a raffle and headed west to become a cowboy.
Tom Love, billionaire founder of Love’s Travel Stops. After dropping out of the University of Oklahoma, he and his wife opened a gas station in Watonga, Oklahoma. They later also opened a convenience store. They now operate more than 300 travel stops in 39 states.
Rob Lowe, actor. At age 17, he left home to act in his first move. He never went to college.
Evan Lowenstein, member of Evan and Jaron folk rock band. They began performing folk-pop in coffee houses in the Atlanta, Georgia area. As Evan noted: My brother Jaron and I are proud dropouts. 😉
Jaron Lowenstein, member of Evan and Jaron folk rock band. They began performing folk-pop in coffee houses in the Atlanta, Georgia area. As Evan noted: My brother Jaron and I are proud dropouts. 😉
Forrest Lucas, long-haul trucker, multi-millionaire founder of Lucas Oil Products, race team sponsor. He left home at the age of 15 to work for a small cattle ranch. When he was 21, he bought his first semi. He later formed a trucking company.
Josh Lucas, actor. After high school, he started acting in local theater before moving to Los Angeles to act in movies. He has never attended college.
Keith Lucas, comedian and screenwriter. He dropped out of Duke Law School just before graduation to pursue standup comedy as the comedy duo, The Lucas Brothers.
Kenny Lucas, comedian and screenwriter. He dropped out of New York University just before graduation to pursue standup comedy as the comedy duo, The Lucas Brothers.
Palmer Luckey, billionaire founder of Oculus VR (virtual reality). As a youngster, he was home-schooled by his mother. He dropped out of California State University, Long Beach, to develop his new virtual reality tool.
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Brazilian president. With a fifth grade education only, he shined shoes on the streets of Sao Paulo as a kid but later became a steelworker union leader.
Sidney Lumet, film director. He dropped out of Columbia University after one year.
Diego Luna, actor. He began acting in telenovelas in his teens. In recent years, he has been acting in the Star Wars universe. He has never attended college.
Peder Lund, publisher of Paladin Press. He dropped out of Kenyon College and headed to Miami to join the fight against Castro. He later enlisted in the Army where he attended Officer Candidate School, jump school, and Ranger training.
Dolph Lundgren, actor, model, bodyguard. After winning the European karate championships in 1980 and 1981, he was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to MIT. But he lost interest in college after he was hired to be a bodyguard for singer Grace Jones, who helped him build a career as a model and actor.
Toby Lütke, co-founder of Shopify. He left high school at the age of 17 to work as a computer programming apprentice. He has not attended college.
Kellen Lutz, actor. After graduating from high school, he relocated to California to attend Chapman University to study chemical engineering, but he left to pursue a career in acting.
Barbara Lynch, chef, owner of a $10 million group of restaurants in Boston. She dropped out of high school to be a runner for local bookies. She later worked for celebrity chef Todd English.
“I started my first business venture in high school, placing bets for some of my teachers with bookies in Southie…. I never did homework. I was failing everything. Senior year, they said I would have to go to summer school. There was no way I was doing that, so I dropped out.”
Susan Lyne, journalist, editor in chief, Hollywood executive, multimedia mogul. She never finished college at the University of California at Berkeley. As she noted, “The lure of taking a job in the grown-up world was greater.”
Loretta Lynn, hall of fame country singer and songwriter. She got married at the age of 15, so she never finished high school or attended college.
Mary Lyon, education pioneer, teacher, founder of Mount Holyoke College (America’s first women’s college). She dropped out of high school, yet she started teaching at the age of 17.
Natasha Lyonne, actress. She was accepted by New York University intending to study film and philosophy but she never went to class.
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