Extremely rich people who went broke

For something I’m writing I’m trying to compile a list of people who at one point were extremely wealthy but who died- relatively- broke. This doesn’t mean that they died living under a bridge necessarily- some probably died in more comfortable circumstances than most of us live in- but they no longer had much money. Also, I’m not talking “moderately wealthy” or “comfortable” (e.g. Gary Coleman, Anna Nicole) but people who were once worth or at least earned many millions of dollars.

Examples from Show Biz:

Ed McMahon- easily earned more than $100 million in his career, died in a beautiful mansion but deeply in debt and cash poor.

Sammy Davis, Jr.- earned more than $50 million in the 1960s alone, died cash broke and deep in debt- his estate took years to get back into the black.

Elvis Presley- earned tens of millions in his own lifetime and today his estate is worth over a billion dollars; when he died he was on the verge of bankruptcy due to overspending, mismanagement, his TERRIBLE contract with Col. Tom, and declining sales and tour schedule.

Some figures like Marlon Brando and Michael Jackson left very complicated estates that will probably take years before it’s possible to figure out; like the Elvis estate Jackson’s estate is probably many times richer and more solvent now than when he was alive, while Brando’s estate is a quagmire of huge assets and huge liabilities that’s probably going to make a lot more for lawyers than for any of his many children.


Daniel Drew- 19th century contemporary of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt whose wealth at one time would have exceeded $100 million in today’s money but who died indigent and receiving charity from a church he started.

Horace A.W. Tabor- made millions from his silver mines, but between lavish spending and an expensive divorce and, most of all, the repeal of the Silver Purchase Act (i.e. the government stopped buying and minting silver) he died indigent working at a post office for which he had donated the land. His much younger widow Elizabeth “Baby Doe” Tabor, is a western legend though most of it based on fact: she was a locally famous beauty and showgirl before she became his mistress, was a flashy trophy wife during their early marriage. She stayed with him when he went broke and after he died she moved to one of his mines where she lived in a shack and dressed like a man, mining enough silver to keep her in booze and food and then being dead for days before she was found.


Thomas Jefferson- worth hundreds of millions of dollars at his height in 2010 USD, but when he died he was terrified of being dispossessed (and had he not been the author of the Declaration of Independence and former president almost certainly would have been) with debts that far exceeded his assets; there are descriptions of him in his final days sitting in a chair that was the only stick of furniture in a once elegant and overfurnished room- the rest had been sold.

Jefferson Davis- the master of a hugely successful cotton plantation and 179 slaves before the Civil War with a net wealth of $500,000 in 1860 ($10 million to $15 million in today’s money) after the war he was so broke for a time his wife took in sewing and he had to accept gifts of money and food from former slaves. The bequest of a house and 500 acres from a widowed admirer (and possible lover) and eventual return of his former plantation kept him from indigence in his later years, though his refusal to sell the land (in his famous “never admit defeat or error” stubbornness he refused to accept King Cotton would never return he kept pouring whatever money he could get into reviving the plantation, to no avail whatever) he was usually cash broke.

Ulysses S. Grant- The Christmas before the war he famously sold his heirloom pocketwach to buy presents for his children; fifteen years later he left the White House a millionaire and a few years later was, like TJ, worth in the low 9 figures in today’s money. By 1885 he was so broke due to complicated market fluctuations and fraud/embezzlement by his partners and bad investments he attempted to sell William Henry Vanderbilt his Civil War sword and memorabilia for a few thousand dollars. (W.H.V. essentially acted as pawnbroker, giving him $150,000 to pay his most pressing bills and accepting the sword et al as collateral not because he wanted it [he didn’t- he was extremely embarassed to accept them] but because 1- the general/president insisted 2- he was afraid if he didn’t accept them Grant would sell them elsewhere.) He famously restored his estate to the black by racing the clock to finish his Mark Twain produced memoirs before dying of cancer.
Speaking of-


Mark Twain/Sam Clemens- he earned more money than any other writer in U.S. history before him, more even than Dickens (who was one of the first authors to get rich from royalties) that more than funded a lavish lifestyle, but Mr. Clemens had a little problem: he didn’t want to be rich, he wanted to be R-I-C-H, and he thought his literary genius extended to business, which it didn’t. Grant’s memoirs were one of his few successful business ventures (though he intentionally let Grant get the better of the deal- far better than any other writer would have gotten- due to who he was [and perhaps also because Twain had no idea just how well they’d sell]). His other publishing ventures flopped, most famously his investment in a typesetting device that was supposed to revolutionize publishing flopped, his decision not to invest in AT&T cost him millions, and at his lowest he was penniless and deeply in debt and living on loans from rich in-laws and friends.
After many years of constant lecturing and writing that frequently left him exhausted he paid off his debts and was actually quite wealthy when he died. (His estate one hundred years ago was estimated at $700,000, or about $15 million in 2010 USD.)

Anyway, these are a few- you needn’t be this detailed. What I’m looking for though is people who really had great wealth and who when they went broke weren’t just “down to the last Gulfstream 5” broke but “could feel it/would be hard pressed to buy a decent used car” broke. The more modern the better.

I’m sure there’s a HUGE list of sports players who were rich and went broke. A very recent and interesting case is baseball player Lenny Dykstra, who made a fortune outside of baseball as a financial analyst, and then went tits up in the 2008 crash. Lots more information has come out that was a total fraud and possible insider trading dirtbag.

Henry Pellatt. He was a wealthy industrialist who at one time owned the largest home in Canada. But by the time he died he would have been homeless if one of his former servants hadn’t taken him in. The only reason he got a funeral service was because he was a veteran and received a military service.

I don’t know any details (and maybe shouldn’t even bother posting this) but I have heard MC Hammer used as the poster boy for this situation in a couple of different sit-coms. (The Simpsons, The King Of Queens)

Apparently at one point Hammer was really, really wealthy (I remember when he was certainly a very well known celebrity, though I didn’t know he made such a huge pile of $$$) and afterwards he was presumably dead broke, so much so that he was a punchline in at least two different pop culture references…

Yeah, I didn’t even think about them. I think Muhammad Ali’s in good shape financially but he’s about the only major boxer who is; so many wind up greeting at Caesar’s Palace or grubbing for change like Mike Tyson. George Foreman was broke until the grill made him richer than he’d ever been.

Charles M. Schwab. No, this ain’t the discount brokerage guy.

Muti-millionaire steel magnate in the 1920s. Died in 1939. His estate was overdrawn about $1.7 million at his death, but he lived out the good life because no one called him on his debts.

snopes link.

Another one from the snopes link. Samuel Insull, utilities magnate. Worth between $75-300 million before the 1929 Wall St. crash. Died with 20 cents in his pocket. At least, that’s the way snopes reports it. They usually check out their stuff.

I never heard of him and pulled up pics of his house. Damn. I think I see part what made him go broke. (Interior pics.)

William Randolph Hearst was’t a pauper by any means but did fall dramatically from his zenith and feel the pinch and came close to freefall that would have made him one. At one point he owned over a dozen literally palatial residences all over the U.S. and Mexico that included a 5 story penthouse in NYC, San Simeon, Wyntoon (80,000 acre Bavarian style estate north of California), a 110 room beachhouse, European castles and churches and other buildings he bought and never even visited (one medieval monastery he bought ended up in Florida after being dismantled, shipped to the U.S. and stored in NYC warehouse for many years) and if he liked a painting or an antique he didn’t ask the price but just said “send it over”. When $5,000 per year would support an American family in a very comfortable middle class lifestyle he earned $1 million per month and spent more.

When the Depression hit and his (whatever a word that connotes twenty-times-lavish) spending had to stop he had to borrow money from his mistress, sell the bulk of his art and bric-a-brac collection at department stores through the nation, completely close down San Simeon and Wyntoon (an equally vast estate in northern California), sell several of his properties and altogether stop entertaining (which almost killed him) for several years. The end of the Depression, World War II causing an explosion in the popularity of newspapers, and his sons forming a conservatorship that put the old man on a strict allowance and close to house arrest in Beverly Hills and his girlfriends 110 room beachhouse restored the estate to solvency and allowed him to pay Marion back; without it there would have been scraps.

I have a mansion
Forget the price
Ain’t never been there
They tell me its nice.

“Stepin Fetchit” (born Lincoln Perry) was the first African-American actor to become a millionaire. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. But by 1947 he declared bankruptcy claiming he had $146 dollars left.

What I’m taking away from this thread is that no matter how rich you are, you can still have debts five times your total assets. People find a way to spend money.

Sports Illustrated had an article on this a year or two ago? Their figure was something like 2/3rds of professional players are broke within 5 years of their retirement. They come into gobs of dough, no one tells them how to manage it, and friends and family hover around demanding money. They hire relatives with no clue what they’re doing to manage their fortunes, and it all slips away.

Chico Marx was another great spender, while his brother Groucho was well off. I remember in an interview I heard on OTR, when asked how much money he earned in his life, he said, “Ask Groucho how much he has, and that’s what I’ve earned and lost.” He was a compulsive gambler.

“Fatty” Arbuckle, who had a million-dollar-a-year movie contract, then was ruined by scandal.

I looked up the story of Horace A.W. Tabor and thought it would make a great movie. I was surprised to see that it WAS made into a movie (with the names changed) in 1932, starring Edward G. Robinson.

Was it Gary Coleman who went from riches to rags in his lifetime? I thought I read somewhere that at the height of his career he owned something ridiculous like a dozen Rolls Royces?

As I recall most of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were wealthy in 1776, but most of them died broke. John Adams was nearly broke in '76, but died well off. Ben Franklin may have been another exception, unless he spent it all on hookers and blow.

The was a Jewish finacier who personally funded much of the American Revolution, but went broke. I’m drawing a blank on the nane. :smack:

In science and engineering, Nikola Tesla and Philo T. Farnsworth come to mind.

Haym Salomon?

Cullen Davis? He’s sort of like the O.J. Simpson of Fort Worth… (Many people believed he was guilty of murder and managed to weasel out of the charges.) It wasn’t long though, after all the murder charges, bribery accusations, wrongful death settlements and murder-for-hire accusations, that he was reportedly broke. Davis was massively, massively wealthy to start with. Mostly inherited wealth, probably in the hundreds of millions range. My guess is that the lawyers, his ex-wives, the 80s oil bust, his massive white elephant of a home and legendary spending sprees were enough to blow through all his millions.

Anyway, his former mansion stood empty for many years. It was (and still is) a spectacular-looking place. Eventually, they built an apartment complex around it on the former grounds, and the mansion itself was converted into a restaurant, and then a church. Now they do weddings and special events there. Because who doesn’t want to celebrate their marriage at the scene of a double murder?:eek: The house was a monument to wasteful spending - Elvis would have loved the place. Underground tunnels, secret rooms, the whole nine yards.

He was working as a rodeo clown at some point, but I don’t know if that was due to him being pretty much broke, or that being a rodeo clown was his childhood dream, as was reported at the time. Probably a little of both. He lives pretty quietly these days and hasn’t been in the news for many years now, but it’s doubtful that he ever returned to the high life he once enjoyed. Rodeo clowns don’t get paid much.

25 Rich Athletes Who Went Broke

Donald Trump isn’t dead yet, but it’s a toss-up what part of his cycle he’ll die in.

There’s Henry Selfridge, founder of a successful chain of department stores in Britain.