Special Report

20 Celebrities Who Died Broke

Being wealthy and renowned brings undeniable benefits, but it’s far from simple. Celebrities contend with both pros and cons: While fame offers advantages, it also exposes them to exploitation by acquaintances seeking financial gain. Managers and accountants may deceive them, and their privacy is often compromised. They face relentless pressure to maintain an image of flawlessness and constant performance.

It’s no wonder that a troubling number of film and music icons succumb to dependencies on substances, alcohol, or gambling, which not only carry their own costs but also result in missed career prospects.

Celebrities may also make ill-advised financial choices, indulge in extravagant spending, or experience unfortunate circumstances. Some neglect tax payments to the IRS, and many meet untimely demises — unlike these 35 musicians with legendarily long careers.

Even stars of the magnitude of Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston, two of the most successful singers of all time, were vulnerable and ended virtually impoverished.

Click here to see 20 celebrities who died broke

24/7 Tempo has compiled a list of 20 celebrities who died with little money left or owing vast sums. Whether their ultimate financial condition was their own fault or not, it’s sad to see how these talented and once prosperous figures ended up.

1. Michael Jackson
> Died: 2009
> Circumstances at death: Reportedly $500 million in debt, estate bankrupt

The King of Pop, who died from an overdose of surgical anaesthetic, was reportedly in debt due to extravagant spending on cars, art, exotic animals, and jewelry as well as donating huge amounts of his dwindling fortune to charities.


2. Marvin Gaye
> Died: 1984
> Circumstances at death: $9 million in debt (about half of that to the IRS)

The Motown singer, who was shot to death by his own father, was in debt due to his struggles with drug addiction and multiple divorces. He even moved to Europe to avoid paying taxes owed to the IRS.

3. Judy Garland
> Died: 1969
> Circumstances at death: $4 million in debt

After a lifelong struggle with substance abuse, Garland died of a barbiturate overdose. She was notoriously overworked and underpaid, taken advantage of by managers and husbands, and — near the end of her career — unable to perform due to her addiction.

4. Bela Lugosi
> Died: 1956
> Circumstances at death: $1,900 in his bank account and $1,000 worth of real estate

The actor most famous for his role as the lead character in the 1931 horror classic “Dracula” spent much of his fortune on drugs and alcohol. Though he continued to work constantly, appearing in more than 50 films after that star turn, he could never hold onto his income. He died of a heart attack in his sleep.


5. Mickey Rooney
> Died: 2014
> Circumstances at death: Owed medical bills and back taxes

Allegedly suffering from physical and financial abuse at the hands of his eighth wife and her son, Mickey Rooney died with only a small fraction of the fortune he made acting. The $18,000 he had left was willed to his step-son, who had previously been accused of stealing $8.5 million from the elderly actor.

6. Corey Haim
> Died: 2010
> Circumstances at death: Had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, lived with his mother

“Lost Boys” star Corey Haim, who allegedly suffered sexual abuse as a child actor, struggled with a drug addiction that marred his career. Having no insurance, his frequent stints in rehab depleted his bank account and he died with medical debt and owing over $200,000 in back taxes.


7. Veronica Lake
> Died: 1973
> Circumstances at death: Penniless

A Hollywood femme fatale of the ’40s, Lake spent her fortune on booze as her career went south. A miscarriage and a string of failed marriages lent to her alcoholism, and she died at 50 of liver and kidney damage.

8. Omar Sharif
> Died: 2015
> Circumstances at death: “All alone and completely broke” (per Sharif shortly before his death)

The Egyptian film star, famous for his roles in “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Doctor Zhivago,” was also notorious for his drinking and gambling habits. After gambling his fortune away, he lived in a string of hotels and died of a heart attack in Cairo.

9. Anita Ekberg
> Died: 2015
> Circumstances at death: Reportedly destitute

Swedish actress Anita Ekberg, famous for her role in Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita,” enjoyed a successful series of acting jobs in the 1960s. Her roles, however, dried up in the ’70s. A divorce and multiple robberies left her living out her last days in seclusion in a run-down Italian villa.


10. Bobby Driscoll
> Died: 1968
> Circumstances at death: Penniless, living in an abandoned building

Child actor and the voice of Disney’s “Peter Pan,” Driscoll had a promising career in sight, which was cut short when he lost his Disney contract as a teen and became addicted to drugs. He died of heart failure at 31 and was buried in an unmarked grave in New York City.

11. Frances Farmer
> Died: 1970
> Circumstances at death: Penniless

A stage and screen actress who struggled with mental health and alcohol addiction, Farmer was eventually diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and institutionalized. She died of esophageal cancer after a life of heavy smoking.


12. Sammy Davis Jr.
> Died: 1990
> Circumstances at death: $5.2 million in debt to the IRS, many personal debts

This legendary singer’s fortune could not support his lavish spending habits. When Davis died from complications due to throat cancer, his $4 million estate wasn’t enough to cover his tax debts, forcing his widow to auction off his personal possessions.

13. Gary Coleman
> Died: 2010
> Circumstances at death: Reportedly penniless

Once one of the highest paid actors on television, Coleman declared bankruptcy after legal battles with his adoptive parents, agents, and lawyers. He died at 42 after a series of seizures and an accidental fall down a staircase.

14. Whitney Houston
> Died: 2012
> Circumstances at death: Reportedly almost penniless

After years of drug and alcohol abuse, stints in rehab, and an epic legal battle with her stepmother, Houston — one of the best selling singers of all time — was millions in debt when she drowned in a hotel bathtub at the age of 48.


15. Cliff “Ukelele Ike” Edwards
> Died: 1971
> Circumstances at death: Penniless, charity patient in a hospital

The singer and Broadway star famous for voicing Disney’s Jiminy Cricket declared bankruptcy four times after three divorces with hefty alimony payments. Edwards, who struggled with alcoholism and a gambling habit, died of a heart attack at 71.

16. Harry Nilsson
> Died: 1994
> Circumstances at death: Net worth listed at -$1 million

The singer-songwriter, who was born with congenital heart problems, died of heart failure at 52 after filing for bankruptcy. Most of his fortune was swindled by his former manager, who was eventually imprisoned for stealing millions from multiple clients.


17. Billie Holiday
> Died: 1959
> Circumstances at death: $750 in her bank account

The jazz legend, who repeatedly lent money to her mother to open a restaurant, was also plagued by legal troubles — which led to her being banned from performing in any venues that sold alcohol. Targeted by the FBI for her heroin addiction, she died surrounded by police guards who were serving drug possession charges.

18. Andy Gibb
> Died: 1988
> Circumstances at death: Reportedly millions in debt

The youngest of the three Bee Gees, Andy Gibb had some success as a solo artist, but it was short-lived. His depression and drug addiction led to lost opportunities as his binges took precedence over his work. The young singer ended up bankrupt and died at 30 from myocarditis caused by years of cocaine abuse.

19. Charlie Parker
> Died: 1955
> Circumstances at death: Reportedly penniless

The pioneering jazz saxophonist and composer developed an opiate addiction after fracturing his spine in a car accident. He struggled with mental health issues and gained a reputation for being unreliable, ultimately sabotaging his career. Parker died at 34 of pneumonia and a bleeding ulcer. The doctor who performed an autopsy on him reportedly thought Parker was a man of 60 based on the condition of his body.


20. Dana Plato
> Died: 1999
> Circumstances at death: Net worth of $1,000

The “Diff’rent Strokes” actress, whose fortune was stolen by an accountant, struggled with drug and alcohol addiction for much of her career. After losing most of her money, she was arrested for robbing a video store. Plato died at 34 from a prescription drug overdose.

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