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Orphaned at age 4, Abramovich was raised by his uncle and grandmother. He dropped out of college and eventually made a fortune after taking over Russian oil giant Sibneft, which he later sold. A rabid soccer fan, he owns the U.K.'s storied Chelsea club and a home that reportedly cost $100 million.
Son of a Boston cabdriver, he borrowed $200 from an uncle to sell newspapers at age 12. Later, he dropped out of college to become a court reporter. Now a casino and hotel magnate, Adelson took his Las Vegas Sands public in December 2004 and today is 12th richest person in the world.
After his parents divorced, Desmond lived with his mother in a garage apartment. Quit school at age 14 to become a drummer and worked in a coat-check room to help pay the bills. Started his first magazine at age 22 and now owns dozens of titles, including celebrity rag OK!.
Jagtiani flunked out of accounting school in London and took up driving taxis and cleaning hotel rooms to pay the bills and support a bottle of whiskey a day habit. He then lost his entire family to illness in the span of one year. Just 21 and alone in Bahrain with $6,000 of his and his family's savings, he took over the retail space his brother had leased before dying of cancer and started selling baby products. Chain is now one of the most profitable retail groups in the Middle East.
World's richest retailer and founder of furniture store Ikea, Kamprad struggled with dyslexia. As a youngster, he peddled matches, fish and Christmas decorations by bicycle. Reputed to be quite frugal: flies economy class, frequents inexpensive restaurants, furnishes his home with Ikea ware.
Li fled turbulent China in 1940 and resettled in Hong Kong. He was forced to quit school at age 15 to work in a plastics factory after his father's death. He later borrowed money to manufacture plastic flowers. He eventually turned that business into Cheung Kong Industries, a conglomerate with stakes in telecom, property and supermarkets. He is now Hong Kong's richest resident.
Son of Armenian immigrants, he dropped out of school in the eighth grade and took up boxing. Kerkorian was an amateur fighter before flying planes across the Atlantic in World War II. He made billions buying and selling movie studio MGM. Today his MGM Mirage owns more than half the hotel rooms on the Las Vegas Strip.
Son of a railway worker, he apparently got started as a clerk in a shirt store. With $25 and help from his then wife Rosalia Mera, now also a billionaire, he began making gowns in his living room. Today, Ortega heads up Inditex, one of the world's most successful apparel manufacturers, best known for its Zara brand. Avoids wearing ties.
Rowling moved to Portugal after the death of her mother from multiple sclerosis. She returned to the U.K. a single mother and lived on welfare while finishing her first Harry Potter story. Now one of the world's most successful authors, she published the seventh and final installment of the boy wizard series last July.
Born in rural Mississippi, Oprah spent her early years living in poverty on her grandmother's farm. She was sexually molested by male relatives, and at age 14 she reportedly gave birth to a premature baby, who later died. Now, the reigning queen of television just launched a new reality-TV series called Oprah's Big Give.