Life

Hitting the tools: Celebrities who were tradies before they were famous

27th July 2017

We take it for granted that celebrities weren’t just born into fame and fortune. In fact, more often than not, actors and singers struggle for years to support themselves while waiting to be discovered. Who knew that learning a trade could be a great foundational career for the arts?


In celebration of Insuranceline’s tradie month, we’ve looked back at the careers of some world renowned stars who learnt a trade before getting their big break. Who knows – a future Oscar winner might be fixing your dodgy wiring or blocked pipes as we speak.

Whoopi Goldberg

It’s true – before breaking through as a world famous comic and actress, Whoopi Goldberg worked as a tradie. Back when she was a struggling performer in Brooklyn in the 1970s, Goldberg worked as a bricklayer while studying and appearing in amateur theatre performances.

Later on, Goldberg would give career-making performances in The Colour Purple, Ghost and Sister Act. One Emmy, Tony, Grammy and Oscar win later, it’s probably for the best that she gave up the bricklaying.

Harrison Ford

If Harrison Ford hadn’t worked as a tradie, Star Wars as we know it may have never happened. Dissatisfied with the small roles he was being offered in Hollywood, in the late 1970s Ford became a self-taught carpenter.

This turned out to be a great career switch – Ford built sundecks for actresses, recording studios for Brazilian band leaders, expanded director Francis Ford Coppola’s office (he in turn gave him small roles in The Conversation and Apocalypse Now) and was even a stagehand for The Doors. His most important client? A director by the name of George Lucas who needed a cabinet made. Lucas hired Harrison Ford to appear in 1973’s American Graffiti, which lead led to his casting in Star Wars in 1977. Of course even the photos of Ford as a carpenter look like magazine shoots.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Before he became The Terminator (or the Governor of California) Arnold Schwarzenegger worked in construction back in Austria. The action star is something of a chameleon when it comes to career changes, also starting a bricklaying business with a friend while training to be a professional bodybuilder.

Although he would go on to appear in blockbuster hits like Commando, True Lies, Total Recall and Predator, if Arnold Schwarzenegger hadn’t supported his passion through tradie work, we may have never heard him say, “I’ll be back”.

Elvis Presley

Did you know that The King was once a sparky? When Presley was trying to make a name for himself playing small shows in Memphis in the 1950s, he became an electrician’s assistant to help get by.

You know how the rest goes: Elvis Presley went to electrify a generation with his racy performances and kick started a cultural shift by introducing rock n’ roll into mainstream popular culture. It’s probably for the best that he didn’t get serious about fixing faulty wiring.

John Farnham

Before being signed in 1967, The Voice did an apprenticeship in plumbing while on his school holidays in Melbourne. John Farnham was so serious about pursing a career in plumbing that he actually left school to spend more time on his apprenticeship.

Very wisely, Farnham took two years leave from his plumbing job to try his hand at pop music and was signed by EMI soon after. Once his novelty pop song ‘Sadie (The Cleaning Lady)’ became a smash in late ’67, it was clear that Farnham was unlikely to go back to the plumbing. John Farnham remains one of the most successful solo artists Australia has ever produced.


Want to look after your future? Get a quick Income Protection quote. Purchase a policy with Insuranceline before 30 September 2017 and get a bonus Huawei smartphone after your first three months’ cover.^

Products issued by TAL Life Limited ABN 70 050 109 450 AFSL 237848. Involuntary Unemployment Cover issued by St Andrew’s Insurance (Australia) Pty Ltd ABN 89 075 044 656 AFSL 239649.

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