Six celebrity career comebacks


‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again’…

As difficult as it sometimes seems to adopt the proverb above as your personal mantra, more often than not, persistence pays off. Need some proof? Here are six of our favourite career comebacks to help keep you inspired:

JK Rowling

After graduating from university with a degree in French and Classics, Rowling was a struggling writer looking for her big break while working as a bilingual secretary for Amnesty International. Then, on a journey from Manchester to London, her train was delayed for four hours. Suddenly, the idea for Harry Potter came to her and her fate as a one-woman children’s literary phenomenon, renowned the world over, was sealed.

But it wasn’t really. Over the course of the next five years, Rowling lost her job, moved to Portugal, got married, had a child, got divorced and moved back to the UK, this time to Scotland. She was a single mother, living on benefits, barely being able to cover the cost of food. Even when she finally finished the first Potter novel, all 12 publishing houses she showed it to rejected it.

She went on to write seven Harry Potter books, inspire a multimillion pound movie franchise, and is now one of the richest women in the UK. She also invented quite a lot of words (See also: Quidditch).

Inspirational comeback quote: 'It is impossible to live without failing, unless you live so cautiously you might as well not have lived at all. In which case, you fail by default' – JK Rowling

Steve Jobs

After dropping out of college just six months into his degree, Jobs spent his time taking some occasional creative classes, sleeping on friends’ floors, and resorting to returning Coke bottles for money. He’d also take weekly free meals at a local Hare Krishna temple just to get by.

However, when he founded the Apple Computer Company with friend Steve Wozniak in 1976, everything started to move in the right direction for Jobs. That is, of course, until he was ousted from the company in 1985.

He went on to found NeXT Computer, essentially help found Pixar, be brought back to Apple as CEO and oversee development of the Mac, iPod, iPad and iPhone, before passing away in 2011.

Not bad, as comebacks go…

Inspirational comeback quote: 'The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.' Steve Jobs

Colonel Sanders

No, we haven’t made a mistake. It wasn’t quite as easy for young Harland Sanders (yes, that is his real name) as just coming up with that secret blend of 11 herbs and spices. He worked as a mule handler, steamboat pilot, insurance salesman, railroad fireman and farmer before opening his own restaurant in 1930. For the first time in his life, things seemed to be going well for Sanders.

That is, of course, until a new road opened, which meant most of his customers now bypassed the diner. The restaurant subsequently closed down, and the Colonel went bankrupt. Using his $100 social security cheque, he went on to try and franchise his recipes, and was reportedly rejected 1,009 times before he got his first buyer.

By the time he died in 1980, he had singlehandedly launched a fast-food empire. Colonel Sanders: millionaire, philanthropist, and all-round snappy dresser.

Inspirational comeback quote: 'I made a resolve then that I was going to amount to something if I could. And no hours, nor amount of labour, nor amount of money would deter me from giving the best that there was in me.' – Colonel Sanders

Walt Disney

By the time he was just 22 years old, Disney had already experienced bankruptcy and the failure of his first cartoon studio. Eventually he managed to get a job with Universal, and helped create his first character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Although successful, unfortunately Disney didn’t own the character, and he subsequently left employment again as soon as he found out.

To cut a long story short, things worked out for Walt in the end. He just needed a new character and a snappy name…

Inspirational comeback quote: When you wish upon a star  'Everyone falls down. Getting back up is how you learn to walk.' – Walt Disney

Simon Cowell

Another college dropout, Cowell famously started his career in the music industry working in the mailroom at EMI, and rapidly moved his way up in the company to become a talent scout. He started his first record label, Fanfare Records, in 1985 and set out towards global domination. Unfortunately, Fanfare closed in 1989.

In financial crisis, Cowell moved back in to the family home and started again from scratch. He went on to help sell millions of albums, produce numerous number one singles, revitalise the TV talent show (you’re welcome Ant and Dec), and launch the careers of Westlife, One Direction, Leona Lewis, 5ive and many more. Also, Robson & Jerome and Zig & Zag.

Inspirational comeback quote: 'Work hard, be patient, and be a sponge while learning your business. Learn how to take criticism. Follow your gut instincts and don’t compromise.' – Simon Cowell

Michael Jordan

Often considered as the greatest basketball player of all time, Jordan is almost certainly the most successful. However, life wasn’t always easy for MJ, and he was even cut from his high school basketball team for being too small. Following a growth spurt, his meteoric rise to NBA stardom culminated with three consecutive team titles in the early 90s.

However, bored of basketball, ‘Air’ Jordan decided to try his hand at baseball, and quit the league. The problem was, he wasn’t actually that good. After a year out, he came back to his first love, went on to win another three championships in a row and become a living legend. Pretty much as inspirational as it gets.

Inspirational comeback quote: 'I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.' Michael Jordan

Honourable mentions: Henry Ford, Robert Downey Jnr., Noel Edmonds, Flares.

Image Credits

JK Rowling –

Steve Jobs –

The Colonel –

Walt Disney –

Simon Cowell –

MJ –


Got your own inspirational comeback story? Share them with us below, or tell us on twitter @reedcouk