25 Celebrities Who Died Poor
Most A-list celebrities lead a glamorous life completely free of money worries…or do they?! In the list below, we’ve brought you 25 surprising public figures who you might not realise actually died in complete and utter poverty. Although many of the celebs in question earned a fortune thanks to their talents, they often ended up frittering away their money on bad investments, drugs, alcohol and ex-spouses (sometimes all four at once!).
In the article below, we reveal which hugely popular actor died in an abandoned building, surrounded by empty bottles of beer. Plus you can read about the tragic tale of one successful child actress who eventually turned to softcore porn as a way to make money before she eventually passed away in a motor home.
This list definitely goes to show that money isn’t everything, and even when you have lots of it – you’re always in danger of losing it anyway. Scroll down the article below to find out more about 25 celebrities who died poor.
25. Michael Jackson
With all of the millions of records that Michael Jackson sold over his career – both as a solo artist and part of the Jackson 5 – you would think that he died a very, very rich man.
However, this simply isn’t the case. Jackson sold over 750 million albums and earned a grand total of 13 Grammy Awards, but at the time of his sudden death in 2009, the singer reportedly owed a whopping $500 million and his estate had gone bankrupt.
Jackson’s financial woes came to light when the IRS stated that the Thriller star owed over $700 million in federal estate taxes. Woah! Not only that, the singer’s money had been seriously mismanaged…
Considering the size of his Neverland estate and Jackson’s fondness for pet monkeys and eye-catching outfits, it’s not hard to see how he managed to squander a lot of his fortune.
Furthermore, a lot of his debt has been attributed to the legal fees that the singer racked up during his lengthy trials for child sexual molestation.
However, since Jackson’s death, it’s been estimated that his estate has racked up over $200 million in record sales and other ventures. As of 2018, experts believe that Jackson’s total career pretax earnings in life and death are around the $4 billion mark.
24. Marvin Gaye
Marvin Gaye is the American singer responsible for some of R&B’s most popular hit singles…
Gaye recorded popular tracks such as ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’, ‘Sexual Healing’ and ‘How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)’. Despite winning multiple Grammys and selling millions of records, Gaye is another singer who just couldn’t keep hold of his money…
Gaye’s main source of money problems were his divorces. The singer was forced to hand over a significant portion of his royalties to his two ex-wives, and Gaye himself was spending a sizeable amount of money on his drug addiction.
Things got so bad that for a while, Gaye tried to hide from the IRS in London. After living out of a van in Hawaii and trying to record a disco album, Gaye went on a European tour in 1980.
After the tour was over, Gaye relocated to London after fearing that he would be imprisoned in the US for failure to pay back taxes. At that time, the total amount of money he owed was upwards of $4.5 million. Woah!
Gaye eventually died in 1984 after being fatally shot by his own father. The singer had been living in his parents’ house and owed more than $9 million to the IRS at the time of his passing.
23. Judy Garland
On screen, Judy Garland is remembered as a smiling, happy and talented actress.
But away from the screen, the Wizard of Oz star lived a troubled life plagued by mental health issues, drug addiction and financial problems. Although she was a hugely successful actress, Garland owed $4 million in unpaid debts when she died in 1969.
After a dip in her career, Garland made a comeback in the film A Star Is Born, but never managed to get her financial troubles under control. Often her money problems led her to pursue projects she wasn’t interested in.
Garland had once vowed never to do a weekly TV series, but in the early 60s the actress owed several hundred thousands dollars to the IRS and was forced to take the work as a means to paying that money back.
She had also failed to pay taxes in 1951 and 1952, and eventually the government repossessed her home in the early 60s in order to get some of their money back.
Garland eventually died in 1969 from an accidental drug overdose, and left her estate with $4 million in unpaid debts. Yikes.
22. Corey Haim
Corey Haim is one of the most recognisable actors of the 1980s.
He was a Canadian star who landed his first Hollywood role at the age of 13, before going on to star in some of the greatest movies of the 80s, including The Lost Boys, Silver Bullet and Lucas.
Unfortunately, Haim led a troubled life and his success as a teen actor in Hollywood was overshadowed by a Valium addiction and serious financial problems.
Despite starring in a string of successful films in the 80s (plus a handful of different movies in the 90s), Haim’s money situation got so bad that he was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
When he died at the age of 38 years old, Haim was living with his mother in Los Angeles – according to his friend frequent co-star Corey Feldman, Haim had died ‘destitute and alone’.
In fact, the actor was so poor that his family were forced to ask fans to help chip in for the cost of the funeral. A website called Startifacts raised $20,000 and the actor’s family sold some of his personal items in order to raise money for ceremony.
21. Gary Coleman
Everyone knows Gary Coleman as Arnold Jackson from Diff’rent Strokes.
At the height of his fame on the programme, Coleman was reportedly earning a whopping $100,000 an episode. But that didn’t stop him from losing money on a number of failed ventures which quickly forced him into filing for bankruptcy.
In 1999, Coleman filed for bankruptcy protection and sued his parents for mismanaging his wealth. The actor won a staggering $1.3 million from the case…but blew all of the money within ten years.
The actor claimed that multiple parties were responsible for his financial woes, “from me, to accountants, to my adoptive parents, to agents, to lawyers, and back to me again.” Coleman once lost $200,000 on an arcade he invested in named the Gary Coleman Game Parlour.
Coleman’s ongoing health issues didn’t help his bank account either, and the actor often resorted to bizarre fundraising projects to try and raise some money for his medical bills.
He once partnered with UGO Networks to start an online auction entitled ‘Save Me!’ which sold the actor’s couch, pimp suit and Nike trainers for money. He put on an eBay auction in 2008, and comedian Jimmy Kimmel bought a signed pair of Coleman’s pants for $500. Despite these efforts, when Coleman died in 2010 he was basically penniless.
20. Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde is one of the most celebrated writers of all time.
So how exactly did he end up broke and penniless upon his death in 1900? Wilde had a good start in life, having been born into a wealthy and successful family in Dublin, Ireland. His connections allowed him to move in some prestigious social circles upon his transfer to London, England.
However, Wilde was famously imprisoned for two years in 1895 after being found guilty of gross indecency (Wilde was a homosexual in a time when this was still very much illegal).
His prison stint turned out to be the beginning of the end for Wilde. Despite being one of the most successful playwrights in Europe during the 1890s, Wilde left prison and drifted across Europe.
Although he initially vowed to change his ways, Wilde fell back into relationships with other men and his family threatened to withhold money from their son unless he changed his ways.
Consequently the playwright died in 1900 of meningitis, with hardly a penny to his name.
19. Sammy Davis Jr.
Sammy Davis Jr. was a highly successful entertainer and prominent member of the Rat Pack.
He led a glamorous lifestyle involving movie sets, Vegas shows and of course his friends Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and the rest of his Rat Pack crew. Which it makes it all the more baffling that Davis passed away with millions of dollars worth of debt!
Davis died of throat cancer in 1990 (he smoked four packs of cigarettes a day for over forty years). Sadly his estate revealed that the much-loved entertainer owed $5.2 million in back taxes.
The performer also owed thousands of dollars in debts to other organisations and individuals. This meant that Davis’ estate subsequently became the subject of a lot of legal wrangling.
Davis left his ‘inheritance’ to his wife Altovise Davis. Unfortunately though, the executors of his will had to sell off many of Davis’ keepsakes in order to raise the necessary funds.
After Altovise’ death in 2009, their son Manny was named executor and he now holds all of the intellectual property rights relating to his father.
18. Mickey Rooney
Mickey Rooney had a career in entertainment spanning nine(!) decades.
He was once named by Laurence Olivier as “the best there has ever been” and at the time of his death he had starred in hundreds of popular films, including Breakfast At Tiffany’s. However, Rooney was also known as ‘the original Hollywood trainwreck’. Why?
Rooney struggled with alcoholism and was also reportedly addicted to prescription pills. The actor also had a fondness for marriage and got hitched eight times in total.
Despite a hugely successful career in the spotlight, which saw him earning millions of dollars for his performances, Rooney was forced to file for bankruptcy in 1962 due to financial mismanagement (and a lot of alimony payments).
The actor’s financial troubles took a darker turn when in 2014, shortly before his death at the age of 93, the actor testified before Congress that some of his family members were exploiting and physically abusing him.
When Rooney passed away, he owed money relating to medical bills and back taxes. His million-dollar estate had been reduced to only $18,000 which was left to his stepson, Mark Aber. There wasn’t enough money to pay for Rooney’s funeral so public contributions were solicited.
17. Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson is one of America’s most celebrated poets.
However, in her own lifetime she was barely recognised for her work. Dickinson lived a very solitary life in Massachusetts and quietly wrote thousands of poems in her spare time.
During her lifetime, only a handful of these poems were published, and even then she did so anonymously. Dickinson was a recluse who lived off other members of her family to survive.
She died with hardly any money to her name, which is incredible when you think about just how popular her poems are in today’s society.
Her family discovered 40 volumes of poems that Dickinson had been busy writing in her bedroom, and they published the contents, introducing the world to a unique poetic voice.
Dickinson’s writing was so popular that Amherst College later turned her house into a museum. Sadly though, she died without a penny to her name.
16. Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston is best known as an artist of the Harlem Renaissance.
She was an author and anthropologist responsible for classic books such as Their Eyes Were Watching God and Jonah’s Gourd Vine. Despite being extremely well-educated, Hurston struggled to find a good job in segregationist America.
Living in the South and struggling to make ends meet as a journalist, Hurston worked as a substitute teacher after being fired from her library job for being too educated for the role.
Things got so bad that in her old age, Hurston was forced to work as a maid on Miami’s Rivo Alto Island. Struggling with health and financial issues, the writer checked herself into a welfare home.
Hurston is now a titan of American literature, but she died in 1960 without a penny to her name.
Sadly, Hurston’s remains were in an unmarked grave for several years until Alice Walker (who wrote The Color Purple) bought a headstone for the burial plot.
15. Vincent Van Gogh
From one under-appreciated artist to another.
Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings are celebrated the world over. Some of his most famous artworks include ‘Sunflowers’ and ‘The Starry Night’, and now museums clamour to get hold of his pieces.
Van Gogh was a drifter for part of his life and eventually turned to painting as an outlet. His brother Theo supported the artist financially and they corresponded frequently by letter.
Sadly Van Gogh never received any kind of artistic celebration in his own life, and committed suicide in 1890 at the age of 37 years old, after several stints in psychiatric units (and the famous incident with his left ear).
Now the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam regularly receives 1.9 million visitors every year and his paintings fetch millions of dollars at auction.
His Wheat Field with Cypresses was bought in 1993 for a whopping $57 million, while in 2015 L’Allée des Alyscamps sold for $66.3 million at a Sotheby’s auction in New York. Strange to think that he died without any money to his name.
14. Veronica Lake
Actress Veronica Lake was a film noir icon in the 1940s.
She was born in Brooklyn but moved to Beverly Hills as a teenager to pursue her dream of acting. Lake ended up doing just that and starred in some of the most popular movies of the 1940s, including Sullivan’s Travels and So Proudly We Hail!.
Lake was tipped to be a big star but unfortunately she starred in a string of box office failures and her career in Hollywood ended before it had really begun.
Despite receiving a fair chunk of change for her film noir roles, the actress died in poverty just before her 51st birthday.
After divorcing for the third time, Lake drifted around a number of cheap hotels in NYC. She formerly glamorous actress was forced to work as a waitress at a cocktail bar to make ends meet.
When a journalist discovered what she was up to, the public promptly sent her thousands of dollars – which Lake returned!
She was always a proud woman, and once stated: “It’s as though people were making me out to be down-and-out. I wasn’t. I was paying $190 a month rent then, and that’s a long way from being broke”.
13. Bela Lugosi
Bela Lugosi is best-known for playing Dracula in the classic 1931 horror film of the same name.
When most people think of blood-sucking vampires, they think of Lugosi (even in a time after the Twilight franchise). The role shot Lugosi to stardom…but it also ruined his personal life and brought on a number of different addictions to alcohol and drugs.
The Hungarian-American actor was constantly reduced to supporting roles after his initial success, and grew frustrated with how he was being treated by studio executives.
Like many other people on this list, Lugosi married five times during his life, which left a financial burden that the actor simply couldn’t support.
Eventually he was reduced to starring in low-budget B movies to try and pay his way, before dying of a heart attack at the age of 76 in 1956.
The actor was broke at the time, with only $1,900 in his bank account and a some real estate valued at around $1,000.
12. Andy Gibb
Andy Gibb was the younger brother of the Bee Gees and a successful teen heart throb in his own right.
However, his fame would be short-lived. By the late 70s, Gibb had recorded six top-ten singles in America and had become extremely popular amongst young women thanks to his good looks and singing voice.
However, Gibb became heavily addicted to cocaine, an addiction which quickly ate away at the money he was earning from his music career.
Gibb became so hooked on the white stuff that it’s been reported he was spending upwards of $1000 a day on the drug just to keep going.
Gibb tragically died in 1988, only a few days after his 30th birthday. He owed millions of dollars to his managers and debt collectors.
Earlier that year, the Bee Gees had announced that Robin would be joining the group, which would have saved him from financial ruin.
Sadly he passed away before seeing that success.
11. Nikola Tesla
Nikola Tesla helped invent electricity as we know it today – so how did he manage to die poor?!
Tesla was a celebrated inventor who introduced the world to radio, wireless technology, X-rays and a host of other significant contributions to modern life. But sadly for all his intelligence, Tesla was extremely bad with money management.
He often failed to capitalise on investment opportunities – Thomas Edison once turned down Tesla’s $50,000 bonus offer in exchange for the rights to Tesla’s work on currents. Doh.
This wasn’t the end of Tesla’s unwise financial dealings. He fell victim to several other dodgy investments, which makes us glad that he wasn’t around during an era of spam e-mails.
Tesla’s fall-out with Edison, plus a string of other failed business relationships, meant that Tesla ended up living in a series of New York hotels for the last few years of his life.
Tesla eventually died in 1943, with a string of unpaid bills to his name.
10. Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe is known the world over for his ground-breaking literary work.
Poe is responsible for some of America’s best-loved pieces of writing, including his creepy poem ‘The Raven’ and his famous series of detective novels featuring C. Auguste Duphin.
Although Poe attained widespread literary fame during his lifetime, the writer died in poverty in 1849. He drank heavily after his wife became ill and soon began to behave erratically in his later years.
Bizarrely enough, on the night of his death Poe was found wandering the streets of Baltimore “in great distress, and… in need of immediate assistance” according to one eyewitness.
Poe wasn’t wearing clothes that belonged to him and was unable to explain why he had been wandering around on the streets.
Countless theories have been spawned about the circumstances behind his death, but one thing is for sure – Poe died in extreme poverty and never reaped the rewards of his literary career.
9. Billie Holiday
Bille Holiday was one of the most popular singers of the jazz age.
Her songs can still be heard today, and her haunting voice was the sound of a generation in the 1930s and 40s. However, her career was overshadowed by alcohol and substance abuse issues.
Holiday started off life in poverty – she was evicted from her parents home at the age of 19 for becoming pregnant and turned to prostitution as a way to make money. She and her mother both spent time in jail for solicitation before Holiday began singing in bars.
Eventually she made it big in the music industry and signed record deals with Columbia and Decca. Her success allowed Holiday to leave behind her poor start in life and tour the world.
However, Holiday’s addictions to drugs and alcohol damaged her voice, and her career began to wane. In 1959, she was diagnosed with cirrhosis and died in hospital later that year.
Business associates had already swindled Holiday out of any money she made during her musical career, and in the end she died with only $750 to her name.
8. Dana Plato
Dana Plato is another sad story to come out of Diff’rent Strokes.
In fact, thanks to her and Coleman’s troubles (not to mention Todd Bridges), fans have theorised about a ‘Diff’rent Strokes curse’ haunting the former cast members. Plato played Kimberly Drummond on the show and her career seemed to be on the up and up…
…but of course things just didn’t pan out quite how the actress intended. The actress struggled with drink and drugs from an extremely early age and had already suffered a drug overdose by the time she was 14.
After leaving Diff’rent Strokes, Plato’s mother died and she separated from her long-time partner. In a state of despair, the actress signed over power of attorney to a dodgy accountant, who stole most of her millions.
The accountant was never found and Plato claimed that he was also responsible for stealing $11 million of other people’s money. Plato was forced to work in a dry cleaners and even robbed a video store with a pellet gun.
Plato turned to softcore porn to make a living, before dying of a drug overdose in her Winnebago motor home. A tragic end to a tragic life.
7. Anita Ekberg
If you’ve ever seen La Dolce Vita then you’ll definitely know who Anita Ekberg is.
The Swedish-born Italian actress was a blonde bombshell in the 1950s and 60s – she won a contract with Universal after competing in the Miss Universe competition in 1951. And it’s not hard to see why…
Ekberg starred in a number of popular films opposite actors such as Dean Martin, John Wayne, Jerry Lewis and Audrey Hepburn. But her starring role came with La Dolce Vita, in which she played a glamorous ‘dream woman’.
Sadly though, in later years Ekberg’s life became anything but glamorous.
The actress claimed that she had lost most of her millions to thieves, medical bills and a devastating house fire.
An Italian newspaper reported that she was living in poverty in Italy – the actress ended up applying to the charitable Fellini Foundation for financial help.
She eventually died ‘destitute’ in 2011 at the age of 83.
6. George Best
George Best is as well-known for his life away from the pitch as he is for his footballing skills.
Best burst onto the scene in the early 60s and quickly became Manchester United’s top goalscorer. He is widely considered to be one of the greatest players of all time – but his personal life drew as many headlines as his sporting achievements.
Best famously suffered from alcoholism his entire life and also had a penchant for beautiful women and an extravagant lifestyle. The footballer himself once joked: “In 1969 I gave up women and alcohol—it was the worst 20 minutes of my life.”
Best stayed true to this mind set for much of his life, and eventually his heavy dependence on alcohol eroded the fortune he had made from his footballing career.
In later life, Best’s addiction turned him into a shadow of his former self and in 2005, the footballing legend checked himself into a private clinic.
In the end, the hospital was forced to provide his treatment for free because he didn’t have enough money to pay the bills.
5. Glenn Quinn
Roseanne fans will definitely remember Irish actor Glen Quinn.
He played Mark Healy on the popular 90s show before going on to appear in Angel as Allen Francis Doyle. But despite these high-profile acting jobs, Quinn died homeless and in extreme poverty.
How? Like many of the other people on this list, Quinn had a few demons and struggled with heroin addiction throughout his short life.
Despite trying to get help, the actor eventually had to be thrown out of a rehab facility after being caught taking drugs on the premises.
Of course, his drug addiction cost the actor a lot of money and it eventually ran him into the ground.
Quinn never got over his struggles and tragically died in 2002 at a friend’s home in North Hollywood.
He had been living on the streets before being taken in by his friend, and didn’t have any money left.
4. Whitney Houston
Whitney Houston is one of the most popular singers of all time.
But most of her fans will be aware that Houston lived a troubled life away from the spotlight, which eventually ended up costing her a lot of money.
The singer’s rampant drug abuse meant that she was often forced to borrow money from family and friends, despite selling millions of records the world over.
When Houston did make the decision to attend rehab, she had blown so much of her own earnings on drugs that she had to borrow money to pay for her time in the facility.
Houston’s estate became a focus of attention after her sudden death in 2012. Her family began to bicker over the financial woes associated with her legacy.
Despite being widely considered as one of the best vocalists of all time, Houston barely left her family any cash upon her death thanks to her problems with drug abuse.
3. Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker was a hugely popular saxophonist and composer in the 40s and 50s.
But at the same time his career was on the rise, Parker found himself battling mental health problems and heroin addiction. His problems affected his behaviour, which grew more and more erratic over the years.
Despite being one of the founding fathers of bebop (alongisde Dizzy Gillespie), Parker was basically penniless when he died at the age of 34 years old.
This meant that his family couldn’t afford to pay the funeral costs – which led his old friend Gillespie to chip and cover the funeral arrangements himself.
Gillespie ordered quite the send-off for Parker, and despite the fact that he was broke when he suffered a fatal heart attack, his coffin was paraded through Harlem before lying-in-state.
Parker’s royalties and earnings are now managed by Jampol Artist Management – his children passed away a few years ago.
2. Bobby Driscoll
Bobby Driscoll was the king of child actors in the 40s and 50s.
He starred in hundreds of films during this time and had a hugely successful and lucrative contract with Walt Disney Studios. However, by the mid 50s, the fame machine had spat out Driscoll thanks to his drug addiction.
Driscoll’s star began to fade when he became addicted to narcotics and received a jail spell for his substance abuse.
This prevented him from earning any significant film or TV parts.
He spent much of the rest of his life as a drifter, attempting to revive his career in New York City by tapping into the underground arts scene. But sadly he died at the young age of 31 years old.
At the time of his death, the former child actor was living in an abandoned building and had no money to his name. His body was found lying on a cot surrounded by beer bottles.
His body was unidentified, despite the police handing out photographs around the neighbourhood, and eventually Driscoll was buried in an unmarked grave in NYC.
1. Joe Louis
Joe Louis was the reigning heavyweight champion of the world from 1937 to 1949.
Boxing has always been known as a lucrative profession, and Louis himself earned plenty of money from his hugely successful sporting career. He was the world’s longest-reigning heavyweight champion in history, after all!
Reports have stated that Louis earned himself a very healthy wad of cash during his career – $4.6 million to be exact. However, he made a series of bad investments and encountered tax problems, which dwindled this prize money considerably.
Many people were disgusted with the IRS’ treatment of Louis and some of his celebrity friends contributed money to Louis which allowed him to live comfortably in later life. However, he died in 1981 in relative poverty.
His lifestyle in later years was definitely no comparison to the glamorous life Louis led at the height of his career, but as he said himself ‘I did the best with what I had’.
In fact, Ronald Reagan waived special rights and allowed the boxer to be buried at the Arlington Memorial Cemetery with full military honours thanks to his wartime service.