In honor of the second month of the year, Selfmade is profiling famous duos all month, but you might be wondering: do two people have to work together to make it big? Based on Chip and Joanna Gaines and Jay-Z and Beyoncé you might think so. But at Selfmade, we’ve seen more than once how partners’ differences can make them both stronger. So for this week’s profile we’ve chosen a different kind of team: George and Amal Clooney.
If you don’t know much about Clooney’s story, you might not think there’s much to him—and it’s true that he and Amal come from very different backgrounds. But both of their stories are of people who have chased their own vision tirelessly all their lives. When they met in 2013, Clooney was already 52 and internationally famous: the end result of decades spent overcoming all the obstacles to becoming an actor—including facial paralysis during his teenage years. Amal was at the top of her game in the vastly different world as an attorney, taking her own experience as a refugee and using it the U.N. to help stand up for the underprivileged and helpless around the world.
It’s hard to imagine backgrounds more different and yet when the pair met they were instantly drawn to each other. And in the years since, both George and Amal have only become even more successful in their own endeavors, in spite of seemingly being mis-matched. From a $1 million donation, to a $1 billion sale, this is the story of two people who prove that partners don’t have to be the same to be great together—and that sometimes those differences combined can make for much better outcomes for each.
BORN IN HIS FATHER’S SHADOW
George Clooney was born in Lexington, Kentucky, where his father Nick Clooney was a local anchorman and his mother was a beauty queen. The family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio when George was young so that his father could get an even more prominent news anchor job, making Nick famous throughout the state. And even Goerge’s aunt, Rosemary Clooney, lived in California and worked as a famous musician and actress. Which means that growing up, everyone referred to George as “Nick Clooney’s son”. It not only set an expectation for success, but challenged George to exceed it.
This would not be easy—particularly because, while Clooney is known for his good looks today, as a Freshman in High School he came down with a condition called Bell’s Palsy. It causes facial paralysis similar to one who has suffered a stroke, and during that time his classmates were horrified by it. Rather than shrink from the spotlight, Clooney took his illness and turned it into a learning experience, developing his comedic skills. Since his classmates were scared of his face, the only way he could make friends was to make people laugh. So when his Bell’s Palsy went away a year later, Clooney was left with both his looks, and the comedic instincts he had developed.
This did not mean that Clooney was automatically interested in being an entertainer. He had other dreams in mind. His whole life, he thought he would grow up to be a professional baseball player for the Cincinnati Reds—even going so far as to try out for the team. But when he did, he failed miserably.
With his dream on the rocks, but his natural good looks and charisma intact, George made the decision to start looking for acting gigs. Thanks to his family connections in California, he was able to get acting gigs on TV, building his way up until he became famous as Dr. Doug Ross on the show “E.R.” As the years went on, Clooney was able to land roles in increasingly big Hollywood films, eventually starring in everything from Batman & Robin, to Ocean’s Eleven, and O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Now a household name, George Clooney had officially left behind being remembered as “Nick Clooney’s son.” But he didn’t leave behind all the lessons he learned from his father. As a child, his parents were adamant about teaching him the importance of giving back to his community. Since he was on the news, Nick Clooney would receive letters from fans telling them that they lost their job and couldn’t afford Christmas presents. And even though Nick wasn’t wealthy, he still put money aside to go shopping for these families in need. On Christmas day, The Clooney family would take presents to these stranger’s houses—something George hated as a child, wanting to just have a normal Christmas at home like everyone else—but as an adult, it’s an experience he looks back on as crucial for teaching him how he should treat people for the rest of his life.
I have this Irish Catholic guilt. Like, you hit the jackpot. You better spread some of this luck around.”-George Clooney
FROM A BEIRUT REFUGEE, TO U.N. ATTORNEY
Although Amal Alamuddin became a lawyer in London, she was actually born in Beirut, Lebanon. There, her mother was a political journalist, and at the age of two, she and her parents were forced to leave and move to England to escape the Lebanese Civil War. With a new life in England and star-like good looks, Amal could have been an aspiring model or actress—but instead she devoted her life to studying international law to help families like her own.
First, Amal received her Bachelor’s of Jurisprudence at Oxford University, then attended the American University of Beirut to earn her MBA—then she went on to NYU Law School to qualify as a lawyer. From there she moved to London, and became a human rights lawyer to defend people from around the world.
Courage, as they say, is contagious. People who have had the courage to change their societies...inspire each other and create rights for future generations.”-Amal Clooney
In London, Amal began working with the United Nations, focusing on helping small marginalized groups. She learned to speak French and Arabic fluently in addition to English, which helped her to connect with her clients from around the world—such as Yazidi women who have been kidnapped and tortured by ISIS. Many of Amal’s refugee clients could not pay for representation, but for Amal money was never the object. Through her work with the United Nations, Amal instead made a career out of giving a voice to the downtrodden, and bringing about true justice by bringing wrongdoers into court to pay for their crimes.
BROUGHT TOGETHER BY GIVING BACK
In 2006, George Clooney was already a millionaire actor. He had already achieved the title of “Sexiest Man Alive” not once, but twice. Most would relish these accomplishments by sitting poolside all day, but Clooney wanted to do something more with his life. So he went with his father, Nick, to Darfur. They wanted to turn a spotlight on the genocide happening there, with the war in Sudan. Nothing was being done to change the situation, despite plenty of awareness. So they hired forensic accountants from the FBI to follow the President of Sudan, and see where money was going—and in doing so, put a huge spotlight on the situation in the international media.
Peace is a full-time job. It's protecting civilians, overseeing elections, and disarming ex-combatants. Peace, like war, must be waged.”-George Clooney
Seven years later, in 2013, George’s talent agent wanted to set him up with a woman, and brought her over to a small family get-together. Her name was Amal Alamuddin. From the minute George and Alma met, it felt perfectly natural to be together. They had fascinating conversations, talking all night long and into the early morning. When it was time for her to leave, they exchanged email addresses. Their conversations continued over emails and phone calls for the next few months before they finally went out. And in spite of the fact that Clooney had been, famously, a bachelor since his divorce twenty years beforehand, in 2014 George and Amal were married—opening up a whole new chapter in their generosity.
George and Amal do an enormous amount of charity work together, but rarely seek the spotlight for their good works. They’ve taken in refugees and given them a place to stay in the United States. In 2017, they donated $1 million to the Southern Poverty Law Center. And George has launched multiple organizations, like Not On Our Watch and The Sentry, which encourages other celebrities to use their voices to speak up about world issues. Together, George and Amal even founded The Clooney Foundation for Justice, which seeks to hold human rights abusers accountable for their crimes against humanity.
THE SUCCESS NEVER STOPS
2013 turned out to be a pivotal year for George Clooney. It was the year he met Amal, and their philanthropic journey together began, but it was also the year that he co-founded Casamigos Tequila with his friend Randy Gerber. For two years, Randy and George would spend their vacation time in Mexico sampling the local tequila until they found the best. After requesting some adjustments to the flavor, they found the perfect recipe. They bottled up their own custom brew to give to family and friends as Christmas presents. But it was so good, everyone told them to start selling it.
Both Clooney and Gerber were already well-off financially. So when they launched the company, rather than focus on a profitable business they just wanted to make their tequila affordable so anyone could buy it. But it turns out that once again, this generous approach to paid off big time for Clooney — when he and his partner sold the brand to Diageo in 2017, they got a jaw-dropping $1 billion for it. George Clooney never planned to become an entrepreneur, but he knew how to take advantage of a good opportunity when he saw it. And after all the good work he and Amal had both done, some might wonder if there wasn’t some sort of payoff coming his way.
There’s no hiding that both George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin were both born with a few lucky traits that set them apart from the rest: namely, good looks, charisma, and talent. But they have also both decided to use their platform to help people in need by bringing attention to issues from around the world. And by focusing so much time and energy into fostering peace, abundance has come back to them tenfold. After he and Amal married, George Clooney became the world’s highest paid actor with a total net worth of over $1 billion.
And Amal has no intention of stopping work either, no matter how much money there is in her marriage. She continued to defend people in court, even after giving birth to twins. That’s why we love their story at Selfmade —that no matter how much success they have for themselves, they always insist on giving back in bigger ways than most would ever consider. And if this is how far they’ve come since 2013, there’s no telling how else George and Amal will make the world a better place in the years to come.