10 Celebrities Who Survived Financial Ruin

by Johnny Tisdale on December 31, 2012


Are you thinking about filing for bankruptcy? Obviously, this is not a decision to take lightly. But nor is it the end of the world. Bouncing back from bankruptcy is not at all uncommon. In fact, many a debtor has risen from the financial ashes to fly high as a phoenix of human history. Following is a list of celebrities who did just that.

  1. Francis Bacon was an enormously influential English philosopher, one of the founding fathers of the modern scientific method. He inspired generations of academic celebrities. But he didn’t begin his philosophical work in earnest until after a lifetime of monetary woes. He was imprisoned in London Tower at least twice – once for an unpaid debt to a merchant and once for accepting a bribe as a judge.
  2. Robert Burns, the Scottish poet, rose to fame upon the publication of his first collection of poems and even today is considered the national poet of his homeland. But his poems never made him wealthy. When he died at the young age of 37, the threat of debtor’s prison was looming over him.
  3. Francis Ford Coppola is best known for The Godfather, a series of films about the mafia. Apocalypse Now, released in 1979, was also enormously successful. But three years later, his strange “musical fantasy,” One from the Heart, flopped at the box office. With a budget of $26 million, the film grossed less than $650,000. Coppola spent the remainder of the 80s paying off his debts. During that time, he was forced into bankruptcy court on three separate occasions.
  4. Walt Disney is one of those celebrities who hardly require an introduction. He completely revolutionized animated film production, creating fantastical dreamscapes for children and adults alike. His case is a good example of how bankruptcy can be a blessing in disguise. Walt was not the best money manager. His first studio, Laugh-O-Gram, hired too many animators with high salaries. When profits were insufficient to cover payroll, the studio went bankrupt. But that’s when he decided to move to Hollywood, the land of celebrities, to set up his next studio.
  5. Zsa Zsa Gabor, a retired Hungarian-born American actress and socialite, was one of the first celebrities “to be famous solely for her celebrity.” Some see her as a forerunner of Paris Hilton, her great-niece. In 1993, Gabor became involved in an expensive libel suit with another actress, Elke Sommer, who had accused her of having a large behind. Gabor lost the suit, forcing her into bankruptcy.
  6. Stanley Kirk Burrell, better known by his stage name MC Hammer, skyrocketed to fame and fortune as a rap artist during the 80s. Who didn’t want their own pair of trademarked “hammer pants” during that time? But years later, Burrell was forced to file for bankruptcy because, on his own admission, he had allowed his priorities to get out of order. As is often the case for celebrities, his luxurious lifestyle got out of hand. He bounced back, undertook new projects such as a reality TV show, and is once more a successful entertainer.
  7. Thomas Jefferson, one of America’s founding fathers, signed the Declaration of Independence and served as the nation’s third commander-in-chief. For generations, Jefferson could do no wrong in the eyes of red-blooded American patriots. But more recent commentators have been critical of his habit of excessive spending. During his time at the White House, he made sure that his guests were comfortable, financing lavish dinners with the expectation that the government would reimburse him. When the Feds didn’t pay up, he was left with debt that would stay with him for the rest of his life. Three years after he died, his farm was sold to satisfy his creditors.
  8. Larry King is one of the most well known television and radio hosts to ever live. He began as a local journalist in Florida. His first radio broadcast was in 1957. By 1970 he was a color commentator for the Miami Dolphins. But he was arrested when a former business partner accused him of grand larceny. As a result, he lost his job. He was persistent, though. Not only did he revive his career; he became much more successful than before. From 1985 to 2010, he interviewed countless celebrities on Larry King Live.
  9. Donald Trump – with his European model wives, private jets powered by Rolls Royce engines, and controversial Scottish golf courses – is readily associated with the extravagant lifestyles of celebrities. But he is no stranger to debt. In the early 90s, his inability to repay loans on the construction of his third casino forced him into business bankruptcy (and almost into personal bankruptcy as well). His wife left him, moreover. Like many other celebrities, he was able to bounce back. Now he is on firm financial ground as a billionaire. He also remarried a (younger) European model.
  10. It’s nearly impossible to overstate the influence of Mark Twain on American literature. He self-published his Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the “Great American Novel,” with great success. His personal friends included many celebrities: American presidents, European royalty, and scientific geniuses like Nikola Tesla. Before rising to such prominence, however, he was familiar with all sorts of miseries. Severely depressed, he nearly took his own life in San Francisco in 1866. For reasons that are lost to history, he decided not to pull the trigger. His career picked up steam the next year. But after making a great deal of money from his writing, he lost it by investing in new inventions. His publishing house also failed after a short stint of success. He was forced to file for bankruptcy. But he made a full financial recovery and enjoyed many more years as one of America’s favorite celebrities.

I hope that this list of celebrities who bounced back from financial ruin has inspired you to forget about the stigma associated with bankruptcy. Thanks to modern bankruptcy laws, we don’t have to worry about being sent to debtor’s prison (unlike some of the celebrities in our list). The worst we have to worry about is paying slightly higher interest rates on credit cards.

Bankruptcy can be a blessing in disguise – if you have the right attitude. Look at it as an opportunity to reevaluate your life and the choices you make. See it as motivation to do bigger and better things than you’ve ever done before. You can recover from this situation. And you don’t have to do it alone. At the Dowe Law Firm, we’re here to help. Call us at 510-233-7700 to schedule your free consultation. Who knows? You may end up on a future list of celebrities who survived financial ruin.

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Johnny Tisdale

Paralegal at Dowe Law Firm
Johnny Tisdale is a paralegal, web designer, and writer at the Dowe Law Firm. He earned his BS in psychology and ABA-approved paralegal certificate from Auburn University Montgomery in 2011.

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