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    16 Famous People Who Mentored Their Fellow Celebrities And Proved The Value Of Paying It Forward

    According to Margaret Cho, Joan Rivers was "everybody’s mom."

    1. Denzel Washington is one of the most accomplished actors of all time, having earned two Academy Awards, three Golden Globes, and a Tony Award over the course of his career (and that's naming just a few of his accolades). As if that wasn't enough, he also had a hand in launching the career of the late, great Chadwick Boseman.

    Denzel Washington accepting a lifetime achievement award

    Before he was Jackie Robinson or King T'Challa, Boseman was a student at Howard University being taught by Phylicia Rashad. When Rashad learned that Chadwick and a few of his fellow students had earned admittance to the British American Drama Academy's Midsummer program but couldn't attend due to its cost, she spent "about five minutes" on the phone with Washington before he said he'd help her cover the bill.

    Chadwick on the red carpet for Marvel

    Boseman, who had been called "the next Denzel Washington," spoke about the impact of the gift at the ceremony where Washington was awarded the American Film Institute's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019.

    Chadwick describes his reaction upon hearing his tuition was paid for by "the dopest actor on the planet"

    Following Boseman's death in 2020, Washington released a statement that read in part, "He was a gentle soul and a brilliant artist, who will stay with us for eternity through his iconic performances over his short yet illustrious career."

    2. Maya Angelou was a poet and writer who earned both the National Medal of Arts and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, among many other accolades, for work such as her memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Oprah Winfrey was a fan of the book and "connected to the author's life story." The pair met in the 1970s, at the beginning of Oprah's career.

    Maya Angelou reads as the inaugural poet at Bill Clinton's inauguration

    In a preamble to an interview she conducted with Angelou, Oprah wrote, "When I first met Maya, in the ’70s, I couldn’t have guessed what the next few decades would bring — or that she would be there for me every step of the way, a wise, loving presence and the greatest mentor I’ve ever known."

    Oprah gives a talk at the NAACP Image Awards

    In that same interview, Angelou called Oprah her daughter, and Oprah called the great writer "my mother, my sister, and my friend, from the very first day we met." Following Angelou's death in 2014, Oprah's tribute read, "Without the density of her body, I can better feel the intensity of her spirit."

    Maya Angelou and Oprah hold hands onstage

    3. Joan Rivers was a groundbreaking comedian with a frankly intimidating work ethic and an impressive commitment to raunchiness. Her mentee Margaret Cho said about her, "I was always shocked, because she was so filthy. It’s really hard to shock me, and I was really shocked."

    Joan Rivers on stage

    Cho started touring as a comedian when she was only 17, and Rivers was one of the comics who looked out for her. She described Rivers as "everybody's mom," though they didn't agree on every point (Rivers was "puzzled by Cho's tattoos," for instance).

    Cho performing on stage, with tattoos on display

    Following Rivers' death in 2014, Cho said, "She lived very lavishly, but she was also very lavish with gifts and with her time and with her affection and with her advice. She was so present and there for you.”

    Joan Rivers and Margaret Cho, both in blazers

    4. Jane Fonda is a Hollywood icon, and in an interview on Good Morning America, she said, "I didn’t see myself as a mentor, but enough other people tell me so, so I guess I am." But she noted that only one performer had asked her the "endless questions" of a protégé: Meryl Streep.

    Jane Fonda at the Sydney Opera House

    Fonda and Streep met while filming Julia (1977), and during a speech given in Fonda's honor at the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award ceremony, Streep reflected, "You had this almost feral alertness...[that] made me feel like I was lumpy and from New Jersey, which...I am." In addition to giving Streep on-set guidance, Fonda further boosted her career by recommending her for roles.

    Meryl Streep on the red carpet

    In the same speech, Streep said she tries to pay forward Fonda's generosity by mentoring other young actors and passing down the "lesson and kindness" she first experienced on the set of Julia.

    Jane Fonda and Meryl Streep

    5. Woody Guthrie was a hugely influential figure in American folk music, notable for his song "This Land Is Your Land" and for owning maybe one of the most famous guitars of all time (it killed fascists), and he just so happened to be a young Bob Dylan's hero.

    Woody Guthrie holding his "this machine kills fascists" guitar

    Dylan and Guthrie met for the first time while Guthrie was living at the Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital in New Jersey, where he had spent the past four years as a result of Huntington's disease, a neurodegenerative disease that killed him in 1967. But at the end of that initial conversation, Guthrie gave Dylan his card, pointing out that, "I ain't dead yet."

    Bob Dylan Performs for the BBC

    Dylan later wrote "Song to Woody" and played it for the folk singer, and when Woody approved of it, the song ended up as "one of only two original compositions that made Dylan's 1962 debut." In 1963, Dylan was asked to write 25 words about what Guthrie meant to him for an upcoming book, and he ended up composing a 1,705-word poem entitled "Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie."

    Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan in their younger days

    6. Christian Dior was one of the foremost designers of the 20th century, and the brand he started remains a fashion powerhouse to this day. In the final years of his life, Dior nurtured the talents of Yves Saint Laurent, the designer who would become his successor when he was just 21 years old.

    Christian Dior with a group of models wearing his looks

    Saint Laurent started working with Dior when he was still a teenager, and he spent two years "learning the secrets of haute couture from the master himself." In 1957, Dior told his business partner Jacques Rouet that, "Yves Saint Laurent is young, but he is an immense talent. In my last collection, I consider him to be the father of 34 out of the 180 designs. I think the time has come to reveal it to the press. My prestige won’t suffer from it."

    Yves St Laurent dressing a dancer

    In 1986, Saint Laurent wrote of Dior, "He taught me the essentials. Then came other influences that, because he had taught me the essential, blended into this essential and found it to be a wonderful and prolific terrain, the necessary seeds that would allow me to assert myself, grow strong, blossom, and finally exude my own universe.”

    Dior examining mannequins, and Dior holding a dog

    7. Among other musical accomplishments, Ray Charles won 18 Grammy Awards and a National Medal of Arts. When he was 16, he befriended a 14-year-old Quincy Jones, and the pair became very close.

    Ray Charles performs on stage

    Jones wanted to learn how to write and compose music, so Charles taught him. Charles described working from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m., getting home at 6 a.m., and being woken up by Jones three hours later for another lesson. Charles said, "I mean, I loved him so much I’d get up out of bed — sleep just didn’t matter anymore because it was him...I love Quincy very much. If I got a dime, he got a nickel. I mean, that’s just the way it is."

    Quincy Jones at work in the studio

    Jones said that Charles often told him, "Quincy, play the music the way it was originally conceived because that’s the original soul of the music, and every music has its own soul." The advice stuck with Jones for the rest of his life.

    Ray Charles and Quincy Jones laughing together

    8. Steven Spielberg has directed some of the most famous and widely seen films of all time, and he's used his success to springboard the careers of multiple other creatives, including Super 8 and Star Wars director J.J. Abrams and Cloverfield director Matt Reeves.

    Steven Spielberg holding two Oscars

    In the early '80s, Kathleen Kennedy (who was a cofounder of Amblin Entertainment, Spielberg's production company, and is currently the president of Lucasfilm) learned that a man living in Spielberg's childhood home had discovered the 8 mm films he made as a kid. She decided to hire two teenagers who'd just won a filmmaking award to transfer the films to tape, since she knew they would "probably give anything just to meet [Spielberg]." The teens were Abrams and Reeves.

    J.J. Abrams and Matt Reeves

    The duo impressed Spielberg, who has "been a friend and mentor ever since."

    Spielberg and Abrams at an event together

    9. Alan Rickman certainly left his mark on the entertainment industry, and his acting résumé extended far beyond what became his most famous role: Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films. Following his death in 2016, Colin Firth wrote for the Hollywood Reporter that Rickman "took me under his wing," and that he had an "instinct for people who were in need of guidance of some kind."

    Alan Rickman at the premiere of one of his films

    Firth met Rickman after his graduation from drama school, when Firth was, in his own words, "quite green and unsure of myself." They kept running into each other and soon became friends, and Firth started calling Rickman to ask for advice.

    Firth on the red carpet

    Rickman "offered personal wisdom, not actor-y advice," and was on at least one occasion able to offer Firth guidance on a role he himself had previously played: Valmont in Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Rickman told him, "Playing it can have a strange effect on a person.” The pair's friendship lasted for 30 years.

    Alan Rickman and Colin Firth on the red carpet together

    10. David Bowie was (and remains today) a pop legend who has undoubtedly influenced many a musician, but perhaps none so much as his friend Iggy Pop, to whom he offered help at a difficult time in Pop's life and career. Following Bowie's death in 2016, Pop said, "The friendship was basically that this guy salvaged me from certain professional and maybe personal annihilation — simple as that." He added that Bowie was "more of a benefactor than a friend."

    David Bowie performs on stage in the 70s

    The two musicians met in 1971, and in 1976, Bowie invited Pop to "travel along with him as a 'fly on the wall'" on the tour following the release of Bowie's album Station to Station. Afterwards, Bowie produced Pop's debut album, The Idiot. The pair went on to live together in Berlin, where they continued to make music. Pop met all sorts of cultural luminaries through his friendship with the "worldly" Bowie.

    A young Iggy Pop with his feet on the table

    Bowie once visited Pop's parents' trailer in Detroit, where Pop's father thanked him for "what you're doing for my son." Pop recalled thinking, "Shut up, Dad. You’re making me look uncool.”

    David Bowie and Iggy Pop

    11. Amy Poehler has won all sorts of acclaim over the course of her comedic career as an actor, writer, and producer. Back when Broad City was still a web series, she saw and liked the show, and agreed to film a guest spot, shocking creators Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson. Then she went a step further and agreed to be an executive producer.

    Amy Poehler on the red carpet

    Poehler came on board right when Jacobson and Glazer were preparing to pitch the show to networks. Jacobson reflected that it was the "right time" to ask Poehler to executive-produce after her guest spot, since they'd already done a short film and two seasons of the web series.

    Poehler remained an executive producer on the show for the entire length of its run.

    Amy Poehler, Abbi Jacobson, and Illana Glazer pose together

    12. Usher, a mega-successful musician with eight Grammy Awards to his name, was certainly in a good position to mentor an up-and-coming pop star, so that's exactly what he did: He, along with manager Scooter Braun, helped build the career of Justin Bieber.

    Usher sings on stage

    Usher first met Bieber, who was a preteen at the time, in a "parking lot outside producer Jermaine Dupri’s studio." Bieber asked if he could sing for Usher, and Usher, who was running late for an appointment, said they could set up a more formal meeting. Once inside of the studio, he watched a video of Bieber performing and was impressed by what he saw.

    Bieber performs on SNL

    In an interview with Howard Stern, Usher said of Bieber, "He’s like a child to me, so I don’t necessarily feel like it’s business, you know what I’m saying?" When Stern brought up some of Bieber's recent controversies, Usher defended him, explaining that while they'd had some "stern talks," Bieber was human and allowed to "have moments."

    Bieber performing with Usher in 2009

    13. Jonathan Winters was an actor and comedian who in 1999 became the second-ever recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. He was also the reason Robin Williams became a comedian, according to Williams himself.

    Winters poses with comedy and tragedy masks made from his own face

    Winters first made an impression on Williams when the latter was a child, watching his father, "who was a sweet man, but not an easy laugh," lose it at one of Winters' performances. Williams insisted that Winters be written into his sitcom Mork & Mindy, and he referred to the elder comedian as the "Comedy Buddha."

    Robin Williams on the red carpet

    Williams once recalled that he'd called Winters his mentor, to which Winters quipped, "Please, I prefer 'idol.'"

    Robin Williams leans his head of Winters shoulder

    14. Garry Shandling was the legendary comedian behind The Larry Sanders Show and, as it turns out, Judd Apatow's career.

    Garry giving a talk about the Larry Sanders Show

    Apatow met Shandling when he was just 16 years old, and found his directorial debut in an episode of Larry Sanders. Apatow said in an interview, "Everything good that's happened to me since has been a result of me feeling like I could do because I pulled off that one episode."

    Judd Apatow at the Vanity Fair Oscars after party

    Apatow went on to say that, "I think his focus on mentoring and helping other people is rare. There are a lot of nice people who will help you out, but Garry really turned it into a guiding philosophy." Following Shandling's death in 2016, Apatow directed a documentary about his mentor's life titled The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling.

    Garry Shandling and Judd Apatow together at an event

    15. In a list of 50 of the bestselling musicians of all time, Sir Elton John ranks at #8. He also has a reputation for being a "down-to-earth counselor to celebrities," and one of his mentees is none other than Eminem (who comes in at #30 on that ranking, by the way).

    Elton John plays a piano and sings

    Though John was "critical of Eminem's comments about homosexuality," he and Eminem (who met at the Grammy Awards in 2001) still formed a strong friendship, and John supported Eminem during his recovery from addiction.

    Eminem on stage at the VMAs

    About his decision to ask John for help, Eminem said that Elton "had a substance-abuse problem in the past. So when I first wanted to get sober, I called him, because he's somebody in the business who can relate to the lifestyle and how hectic things can be."

    Elton John and Eminem onstage together in 2001

    16. Apple cofounder Steve Jobs was undoubtedly one of the most recognizable and influential CEOs in not only Silicon Valley, but the world. So it makes sense that he had some words of wisdom to share with a fellow billionaire founder: Mark Zuckerberg.

    Steve Jobs gives a keynote address at an Apple event

    In a 2011 interview with Charlie Rose, Zuckerberg said that he was touched by Jobs' approval of his decision not to sell Facebook, saying, "I know that's one of the ways in which we saw eye to eye on kind of what we were trying to do in the world."

    Zuckerberg gives a keynote address

    Prior to his death, Jobs described himself as one of Zuckerberg's mentors to his biographer Walter Isaacson. Jobs' advice about putting together a team as "focused on building as high quality and good things as you are" was particularly significant to Zuckerberg.

    Steve Jobs with an iPad and Zuckerberg speaking into a microphone