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.
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.