9 wildly successful people who were bullied as kids

Successful people are rallying around Keaton Jones, a Tennessee middle-school student who described the bullying he’s endured in a video that has gone viral.

In many cases, the celebrities hailing Jones for coming forward were once the victims of childhood bullying themselves.

For instance, Mark Ruffalo tweeted at Jones: “Little buddy, I was bullied when I was a kid. You are right #ItGetsBetter! You are my own personal super hero. Protect Yo Heart. You got a pal in the Hulk.”

From Elon Musk to Justin Timberlake to Rihanna, bullying has shaped the experiences of countless successful people.

Here are nine of the celebrities who know what Jones is going through:


As a child growing up in Barbados, Rihanna was bullied by classmates because of her appearance.

“I got teased my entire school life,” the singer told Glamour in 2013. “What they were picking on I don’t even understand. It was my skin colour [which was lighter than her classmates]. Then when I got older, it was about my breasts.”

Kate Middleton

Getty Images / Chris Jackson

Kate Middleton is in the top echelon in British society, but even she couldn’t escape bullying as a teenager.

Middleton’s brief stint at Downe House girls’ boarding school was marred by bullying over her appearance and reputation “as quite a soft and nice person,” Middleton’s childhood friend Jessica Hay said in 2011.

Her experience was so traumatic that upon her wedding to Prince William, the couple directed their wedding guests to donate to the charity BeatBullying, among other organisations.

Elon Musk

Business mogul Elon Musk was relentlessly bullied as a child in South Africa, his family said in 2012.

Musk was picked on for being “the youngest and smallest guy in his school,” his mother told Esquire. Musk’s brother added that “Kids gave Elon a very hard time.”

“It’s pretty rough in South Africa,” she told Esquire. “If you’re getting bullied, you still have to go to school. You just have to get up in the morning and go. He hated it so much.”

Musk’s first wife, Justine, said, “I don’t think people understand how tough he had it growing up. He was a really lonely kid.”


Theo Wargo/Getty

As a child who moved from school to school, Eminem was frequently bullied for being an outsider.

“I was beat up in the bathrooms, in the hallways, shoved in the lockers – for the most part for being the new kid,” Eminem told CNN’s Anderson Cooper in 2010.

One incident even left the rapper with a serious head injury,leading his mother to sue his Michigan school district for failing to protect her child.

Michael Phelps

Clive Rose/Getty

As a middle school student in Baltimore, Michael Phelps was tormented by bullies who mocked him for his hyperactive personality and big ears.

The future Olympic legend wore hats much of the time to conceal the size of his ears, Phelps’ mother told Yahoo Sports.

Phelps even got suspended from school for fighting one of his bullies. After that, he learned to keep his composure and challenge his frustration into success in the swimming pool.

“I kind of laugh at it now,” Phelps told Yahoo. “I think it made me stronger going through that.”

Now that Phelps has become one of the most successful athletes of all time, he said he frequently has to brush off people from his past.

“They will try to talk to me and I’m thinking, ‘Yeah, why are talking to me now? You were picking on me then,'” Phelps said.

Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga said she was mercilessly bullied in school for being different.

“Being teased for being ugly, having a big nose, being annoying,” she told Rolling Stone. “‘Your laugh is funny, you’re weird, why do you always sing, why are you so into theatre, why do you do your make-up like that?'”

“I used to be called a s—, be called this, be called that, I didn’t even want to go to school sometimes.”

Eva Mendes

Eva Mendes said she endured a torrent of bullying between 7th grade and 9th grade because of her small frame and unassuming personality.

One bully in particular “preyed on the fact that I was so scared and would avoid her,” Mendes told HLN. “It was torture.”

The actress added that she was afraid to turn to her family or school administrators to step in.

“I literally had to deal with it on my own and it took me two years to figure out how to do that,” she said, adding that the bullying finally stopped when she confronted and lashed out at her tormentor.

Chris Rock


Comedian Chris Rock was one of the only black students at his high school in working-class Brooklyn, and was routinely beat up and bullied by white students.

Rock said the experience motivated him to succeed, and called his bullying “the defining moment of my life” on a 2007 episode of “Inside the Actor’s Studio.”

“It made me who I am,” Rock said, going so far as to thank the people who “kicked my a–, spit in my face, and kicked me down the stairs.”

Justin Timberlake

Buda Mendes/Getty

Justin Timberlake opened up in 2015 about his childhood bullying at the hands of his fellow classmates.

“Growing up in school, no one ever called me anything close to an innovator,” Timberlake said at the iHeartRadio awards. “They called me different, they called me weird, they called me a couple of other words I can’t say on TV.

“Thankfully, my mother taught me that being different was a good thing, that being different meant you could actually make a difference.”

NOW WATCH: Ideas videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.