Big names, big debt: Stars with financial problems
you're feeling alone and depressed because you have money problems, cheer up
-- you're in the company of the (fleetingly) rich and (mostly) famous.
Heck, arguably the most famous composer of all time,
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, fell heavily into debt in his early 30s and when he
died at age 35, was buried in an unmarked pauper's grave.
He's one of a slew of stars who have struggled mightily
with debt, including Lorraine Bracco of "The Sopranos," musician Elton
John, actress Kim Basinger and an early president of the United States, Thomas
Can't white-wash debts
1873, Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, built a large home in Hartford,
Conn. He hired Associated Artists, run by famous jewelry-and-glass designer
Louis Comfort Tiffany, to decorate the home's first floor. But Twain's financial
difficulties from a number of failed investments forced him to move his family
to Europe 17 years later.
By 1894, Clemens was effectively bankrupt. He began
worldwide lectures in an attempt to pay off his creditors and three years later
he succeeded by paying all his debts in full.
Burt Reynolds, however, didn't seem to have the same drive to pay off his debts.
Reynolds declared bankruptcy in 1996, citing more than $8 million in debts,
yet hanging on to his $2.5 million estate Florida.
While addressing the Senate about the homestead amendment last
year, Sen. Herb Kohl said Reynolds was one of many examples of "rich debtors
taking advantage" of the system. Wonder what the Wisconsin Democrat would
have said about fellow politician, third president of the United States and
principal author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson?
Moving on down
was no stranger to debt. When he left office in 1809, his wine bill alone exceeded
$10,000. Add that to his 40-year project, Monticello, a lavish house that
boasts 43 rooms and 13 skylights, and you'll understand why Jefferson ended
up more than $107,000 in debt.
When he died in 1826, his large estate and all his possessions,
including 130 slaves, were auctioned off to pay his creditors.
And then there's the other famous Jefferson.
Actor Sherman Hemsley, better know as George Jefferson from the
CBS sitcom "The Jeffersons" which ran from 1975-85, filed for bankruptcy
in 1999, owing, among other things $15,500 in unpaid taxes.
Turning the television star debt dial to NBC, consider Gary Coleman
from the 1978-86 sitcom "Diff'rent Strokes." Coleman estimates that
he earned $18 million from the show, but says the money was squandered by his
parents and former manager.
In an attempt to raise money in 1999, he sold some of his personal
items in an online auction, including his size 4 ½ bowling shoes and
some Afro picks. On Aug. 18, 1999, he filed for bankruptcy.
You can't touch this debt
No tragic saga of child stars would be complete without mention of the two Coreys
from the '80s -- Feldman and Haim. Presumably, they made money from the "Call
the Coreys Hotline" (a 900 number fans would call and pay to hear messages
from Corey and Corey) and their films, yet both Coreys ended up in debt by their
Haim, the star of 1987 teenage-vampire horror film "The Lost
Boys," filed for bankruptcy in 1997 citing debts including nearly $104,000
to the IRS, $100,000 in state taxes and a variety of medical expenses.
While Feldman never declared bankruptcy, his mounting debt virtually
destroyed his career.
I first got out of rehab," Feldman told the Phoenix New Times in late 2000,
"I was very much in debt ... I had to do stuff that probably wouldn't
have been my choice. If I had known the damage that it would do to my career,
then I probably wouldn't have made those (bad movie) choices."
Feldman, who had shown great promise as an actor in successful
films including "Stand By Me" and "The Goonies," was cast
down to the pit of flop films. He says he had earned $1 million by the time
he was 13 or 14. Then it was all gone.
"I've made great amounts of money in my lifetime, but I've
made many mistakes," Feldman told Bankrate in July. "I took part in
it, and my parents obviously did what they did, and the next five years was
spent trying to build up the stockpile again. I ran into my problems, and due
to those problems I lost it all. I went very far into debt, and then several
years after that it became trying to catch up on debts. When you're living behind
the ball, so to speak, it makes it much harder to get out on top."
In a strange twist of fate, Feldman was married on Oct. 30, 2002, to
student Susie Sprague on the set of his new WB show, "Surreal Life,"
with fellow debtor MC Hammer, now an ordained minister, presiding over the marriage.
Rapper Hammer's 1990 release of "You Can't Touch This"
made him a star. But his money was spent on racehorses, legal battles and an
entourage described by VH1 as "sizeable enough to successfully invade Switzerland."
In 1996, he declared bankruptcy.
Either Hammer doesn't learn from example, or he isn't a country
music fan. He was probably too swept up in 1990 releasing "Please Hammer,
Don't Hurt 'em," to turn on the news and see what was happening to country
music star Willie Nelson.
A tale of tacos, tapes and Texas
In November 1990, the IRS raided Nelson's home in Texas and seized everything
-- including his 44-acre home, gold records and his children's bronzed baby
Nelson blamed his financial predicament on mismanagement of his
funds by his accountant. However, his lavish spending might have been part of
This spending included a huge entourage with all expenses paid
entirely by Nelson. On the payroll was Paul English, who became recognized in
the "Guinness Book of World Records" as
the world's highest-paid sideman drummer. Texas Monthly reported that fans would
stand outside concerts and ask, not for autographs, but for money for things
like wheelchairs, iron lungs and funerals. Nelson's standard reply was reportedly
"Will a personal check do?"
The IRS auctioned off Nelson's home and his property, though friends
and fans bought most of his things and gave them back later.
Nelson released the mail-order album "The IRS tapes: Who
will buy my memories?" to help pay his taxes. Fans will remember this period
as the Taco Bell years -- when Nelson lent his image to endorse
of the fast food chain.
In 1993, Nelson settled the $16.7 million delinquent tax bill.
Despite Nelson's well-publicized example of what not to do, an
ocean away, English rock star Elton John kept spending.
Yellow brick road of debt
a 20-month period between 1996 and 1997 Elton John spent $205,774 on flowers
alone -- and that's just a smidgen of his spending.
In 1999, the BBC reported that John asked a merchant bank to help
him borrow $40 million to pay off his debts. A year later he admitted running
up debts more than $2 million a month. His spending sprees were reported to
include purchases of classic cars, clothing and jewelry.
John claimed his former accounting firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers,
misappropriated millions of dollars. He filed suit. But defense lawyers seemed
to think John's money problems lay elsewhere.
"I'm not a nest-egg person," said John when defense
lawyers questioned his spending habits. "I'm a single man. I like spending
In June, the London Court of Appeals shot down John's lawsuit.
The suit cost him an additional $11.8 million in legal fees.
Hits, flops and contracts
A disagreement over the film "Boxing Helena" pushed actress Kim Basinger
into bankruptcy in 1993. The film flopped and the lawsuit began. Main Line studio
said Basinger agreed to star in the film but pulled out.
court ruled Basinger violated a verbal agreement. She was ordered to pay $8.1
million. Five days later she filed for Chapter 11. Eventually, Basinger appealed
the Main Line decision to the court and won.
While that contract caused turmoil in Basinger's life, a 1999
contract gave Lorraine Bracco a new start.
Bracco, better known as Tony Soprano's psychiatrist, Dr. Melfi,
racked up over $2 million in legal fees during a six-year custody battle with
actor Harvey Keitel over their daughter, Stella. Bracco declared bankruptcy
But 1999 ended up as a good year for Bracco -- she was cast in
the HBO hit series "The Sopranos."
"I was troubled with the separation from Harvey and I had
two kids at home," she told Mervyn Rothstein of The New York Times. Bracco
said "The Sopranos" was "a big turning point. It allowed me to
put myself back on my feet."
Here's hoping everyone with debt problems will have the
-- Posted: Jan. 9, 2003