The Hard Knock Life of a Celebrity

Imagine being so strapped for cash you can't afford cable television or are forced to wear hand-me-down clothes.

They may sound like small hardships, but these are just some of the trials celebrities have recently revealed suffering through before they became wildly rich and famous.

Pop princess Britney Spears' million-dollar navel was sometimes covered by previously worn clothes as a child, according to testimony on VH-1's Driven.  

"It was not unheard of for [the Spears children] to wear hand-me-down clothes," a family friend said on the program, followed by a childhood friend stating: "It's kind of one of those things where you know it, you just don't talk about it."

And during her lean years as a struggling actress in New York, Sopranos star Edie Falco "commuted around Manhattan on skates and was so broke she couldn't even afford cable TV," reported the New York Post.

As celebrities try to seem more down-to-earth -- and journalists battle for yet undiscovered examples of hardships -- the stories of stars' difficult beginnings seem increasingly trivial.

"Every person who had a sibling got hand-me-down clothes," said New York Post entertainment reporter Bill Hoffman. "Saying you got hand-me-down clothes isn't a biscuit as far as reporters are concerned. We want to hear you wet your bed 'til you were nine."

The increasingly rarefied world that celebrities inhabit seems to distort their view of common folks, Hoffman said.

"These stars who live in mansions in Hollywood Hills say they had rough and tumble upbringings: 'Oh I had to take the school bus to school,'" he said. "While we think of this as normal, they've grown out of the mindset of what's normal."

But the success of shows like Driven, which tracks a celeb's life from childhood to stardom, proves that viewers find these biscuits of information are worth watching.

"There is a voyeuristic quality in everyone," said Suzanne Ross, executive producer of Driven. "Most stars seem untouchable and bio shows like Driven make them more accessible and more human. Fans see themselves in them."

Indeed, some say that fans like to compare themselves to their favorite stars.

"People that watch those shows are either feeling, 'Wow I could be that,' because they see some resonance with their life," said Jeff Boucher, pop culture writer for the Los Angeles Times. "Or they are thinking, 'That person is no better than me,' which makes them feel better."

And in today's celebrity-saturated world, audiences want to get to know the real person behind a star's glossy image.

"For so long stars were sanitized -- made to be these perfect beings," said Hoffman. "In some ways after 9/11 people wanted a little more reality and don't care about the hype and glamour as much -- we want to see real people."

Some celebs are more than willing to open up and reveal their hardships, which can sound like whining after they've made it big.

Wealthy, famous and still selling out concert halls, Billy Joel would seem to have it all but recently said he's actually singing the blues these days.

"I want what everybody else wants: to love and be loved, and to have a family," he said in a New York Times magazine interview. "Being in love has always been the most important thing in my life."

But whatever the gems of information, fans like to see that celebrities aren't perfect.

"People love to laugh at the stars ... to see them with frizzy hair and braces, to see the perfection stripped away," said Ross. "It's like seeing the most popular girl in high school walking down the prom aisle and trip -- you gotta love it."

The Cinderella hand-me-down-to-riches stories like the ones about Spears and Falco appear frequently in the media for two reasons, Boucher said.

"Sometimes it's a calculation on part of celebrity who wants to be heart-to-heart with their fans. Other times it's the journalists, filling out the whole back story," he said.

But mentioning "meager" beginnings in an attempt to garner sympathy doesn't always work, said Hoffman.

"Lance Armstrong beating cancer, that is one thing. But these tales of not having toys or being a struggling actor is probably one of the biggest laughs for journalists."