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Top 10 Famous People Who Died Broke

by John Munoz
fact checked by Rachel Jones

Famous people seem to have it all, the reputation, the money, and the glamorous lifestyle. Of course, on top of this is that they get to call Hollywood home. For most fans, the lives of these celebrities are so interesting because they can do whatever they want and still manage to look fancy. But, while the grass always seems greener for famous people, the sad reality is that they are still human. Beneath all the glamour, flashlights, and record-breaking paychecks, things can still go asunder.

Just like the rest of us, famed people make costly mistakes that rob them of their hard-earned wealth. It only goes to show us that stars can also suffer from debt, drugs, and bad luck. These are the top 10 famous people who died broke.  

10 Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye – Sexual Healing (Official HD Video)

In the world of classic R&B, Marvin Gaye is not just a legend; he is a god. Each time he went into the studio, he churned out one chart-topper after another. As a pro singer, Gaye recorded hits like “Sexual Healing,” “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” and “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You).” These tracks are timeless for old and young fans alike, and new artists can’t resist sampling them. Yet, despite being a musical genius, the Grammy winner’s story is completely different where money is involved.

By the end of his life, Gaye was at least $9.2 million in debt. Before that, he had escaped to Europe to avoid paying the IRS at least $4.5 million in back taxes. The main causes of Gaye’s financial troubles were the settlements from his two divorces, alimony, and an unfortunate cycle of drug abuse. Tired of running from his life, Gaye moved back with his parents in the end, a decision that led to his death. On a fateful night, his father, Marvin Gay Sr., a Pentecostal minister, shot him to death.

While he was never able to personally pay his debts, Gaye’s lawyers turned the royalties to his songs, image, and story rights into profit after his death. In the end, Gaye’s legacy became a lifeline for his three children, but he never got to enjoy it while he was alive.

9 Judy Garland 

The Tragic, Real-Life Story Of Judy Garland

Judy Garland is best known as Dorothy from the timeless classic, “The Wizard of Oz,” and she was a fascinating personality for millions. Her incredible talents on the silver screen and her sweet vocals were beloved, and to many, her star shone brightly. However, behind the scenes, Garland was a victim of embezzlement after her managers mismanaged her cash.

While her success on screen made her millions, Garland suffered from financial woes and a struggle with drug addiction. By the time she died from an overdose at 47, Garland had sold off her fancy Bel-Air home for cheap and even had $4 million in unpaid debts. Her sudden death caused much controversy since even her inheritances could not be fulfilled.

In a wonderful turn of events, Liza Minelli, Garland’s daughter, was able to settle her debts. With the assistance of Frank Sinatra, a family friend, Garland’s legacy was kept intact. In the end, she was remembered fondly.

8 Mickey Rooney

Remembering Hollywood legend Mickey Rooney

Mickey Rooney is one of the most prolific actors of all time, whose legacy is almost unmatched. Unlike most actors, Rooney could brag that he had a 90-year-long career where he starred in over 300 films. But, despite his illustrious career, the “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” star just couldn’t keep money in his pocket.

Throughout his career, Rooney was called “the original Hollywood train wreck,” and his story was simply a tragedy. Struggling with alcoholism and an addiction to prescription pills, Rooney’s personal and public life was action-packed. Between instances of mismanagement and a total of 8 divorces, Rooney’s finances suffered heavily.

When he died of natural causes in 2014, reports claimed that his family members had drained his finances. In a classic Hollywood disaster story, after a long and successful career, Rooney left behind medical bills and back taxes. When his $18,000 estate was settled, the remainder was not even enough for a public funeral. Rooney’s family had to seek public assistance to lay him to rest. So unfortunate.

7 Corey Haim

The Tragic Life Of Corey Haim

The 1980s were incredible for film, and Corey Haim was synonymous with the silver screen. Starting as a teen actor, Haim starred in high-grossing films like “Silver Bullet,” “The Lost Boys,” and “Lucas.” But, with great fame comes great pain.

At the height of his fame, Haim was troubled by persistent financial management and drug-related issues. Haim’s drug habits were a challenge, but his troubles started when his insurers sued him for failing to disclose his drug addiction. After a $375,000 loss, acting jobs got scarce for the actor, and in 1997, he filed for bankruptcy.

Just before he died, Haim had moved back in with his mother. After succumbing to pneumonia at only 38, he had nothing. His family sought help from fans to cover the funeral expenses, ending a sad story of a fall from grace.

6 Nikola Tesla

The Tragic Story of Nikola Tesla

Elon Musk’s Tesla is a successful company, but the man whom it’s named after, Nikola Tesla, was one of the most incredible inventors in history. Tesla, who rubbed shoulders with Thomas Edison, gifted the world with some incredible things. He’s responsible for alternative current (AC), wireless technology, X-Rays, and neon lamps. Still, this famed innovator somehow died broke.

Tesla’s financial problems were caused by his failures in business and poor money management. One of the most popular blunders by Tesla was his failure to get a $50,000 bonus offer from Thomas Edison for his work. Similar unfortunate and unwise dealings trailed Tesla for most of his life.

In his last years, Tesla had meager savings that forced him to live in a series of New York hotels. After passing away in 1943, Tesla left a string of unpaid bills, a legacy that belittled his achievements.

5 Billie Holiday

Tragic Details About Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday was one of the most influential jazz vocalists of all time. The “Strange Fruit” singer was so popular that her autobiography was made into a film titled “Lady Sings the Blues.” Yet despite her fame, Holiday’s life was filled with trouble from her early life.

Raised by a single parent, Holiday had a difficult upbringing and, as a child, and was a victim of sexual assault. The pain and grief from her formative years caused grief for the young star. She subsequently found solace in drugs and alcohol. Yet, despite addiction, the artist experienced great success as a signed artist who was renowned both locally and overseas.

By the time she died from drug complications, Holiday had just $750 to her name. In 2000, her contributions to music were recognized as she was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

4 Gary Coleman

Gary Coleman: Another Child Star Dies

Gary Coleman started as a childhood star on the famed American sitcom “Diff’rent Strokes.” For his stellar performance as Arnold Jackson, Coleman was easily one of NBC’s highest-paid comedy stars. Reports had it that per episode, Coleman was making $100,000, an impressive payday by any standards.

However, the success on-screen led to troubles for the young star. In 1993, Coleman sued his parents, lawyers, and agents for mismanaging his estate and won. Yet, the $1.3 million wins did not make life any easier for Coleman, who suffered other financial mistakes and persistent health problems. In 1999, Coleman filed for bankruptcy.

In the 2000s, the anguished star even started an online auction titled “Save Me,” where he sold his signature objects. Selling his pimp suit, couch, and even pants, Coleman was forced to rely on goodwill. When he died in 2010, Coleman was dead broke, with about $70,000 in debt. A very sad ending.

3 Bela Lugosi

We all know and love “Dracula,” a horror classic, and Bela Lugosi’s role in the film made him an instant superstar. After his stunning performance as Count Dracula, Lugosi’s star shone bright, but soon, his success proved to be a curse.

Because of his huge success as Count Dracula, Lugosi was unable to land other roles in film, and after five divorces, he was losing cash fast. In addition to the pressures of being a star, Lugosi’s fame also invited an addiction problem. The fancy lifestyle and partying made alcohol and drugs major weaknesses for Lugosi.

The high costs of being a celebrity led Lugosi to low-budget films that he relied on to survive. Sadly, when he died, Lugosi had little to show for his work as an actor, leaving just $1,900 in the bank and $1000 in real estate. What started as a promising career became a sad story of disgrace and bad luck.

2 Joe Louis

Joe Louis – America’s Hero – Betrayed.

Joe Louis, aka “The Brown Bomber,” was one of the greatest American professional boxers. Joe Louis was so talented that he’s considered the finest heavyweight champion to ever live in the history of boxing. However, while Louis made millions from his fame and performance in the ring, he left little behind.

Louis was a generous man and after splitting his winnings with his handlers, he lavishly gifted it to relatives, friends, and spent the spare on poor investments. Estimates indicate that out of the $4.7 million he ever made boxing, he only ended up with about $800,000, a small sum that he still gave away. After retirement, Louis even worked as a greeter at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas to earn some extra cash.

Like other celebrities, Joe Louis’ woes were made worse by his debts to the IRS that rose to the tune of $1 million. Louis’ woes were so severe that his rival Max Schmeling and Frank Lucas, a mobster, joined hands to assist him. In the end, ‘The Brown Bomber’ died a humble man who did not enjoy the toils of his youth.

1 Michael Jackson

Dr. Conrad Murray: ‘Michael was penniless”

Michael Jackson, The King of Pop, was one of the most celebrated musicians of all time. As an artist who started his career with the Jackson 5, Jackson’s career was bright and by the time he decided to go solo as an artist, he was unstoppable. Garnering 13 Grammy awards among other prestigious accolades, the ‘Thriller’ singer lived a most thrilling life.

However, while he sold an impressive 750 million albums, behind the scenes, Michael Jackson’s life was marked by lavish spending and tax debt. When he died in 2009, the world learned that the star owed the IRS $500,000 and for a short time, his estate was bankrupt. As millions around the world mourned his legacy, MJ’s estate managers looked for ways of solving the financial woes in his estate.

As luck would have it, MJ’s passing sparked new sales that made him the first artist in history to sell over 1 million tracks in a single week! Posthumously, Michael Jackson’s legacy turned into profit, and when Sony paid $250 million to extend the artist’s back catalog, his debts were more than solved. In death, Michael Jackson returned to his throne as one of the greatest artists of all time.

fact checked by Rachel Jones