10 Celebrities Who Died Penniless

Those individuals we all love and / or hate, celebrities have got to the position in their lives where they can afford to swan around in their expensive cars with their swanky designer clothes and an endless stream of assistants who will fulfil their every need.  Having the world at their feet, it can often seem that everything they touch turns to gold, which only means they find themselves even richer.

These are the rock stars.  The movie actors.  The sport stars.  These are the people who can earn astronomical amounts of money, very often for doing what comes naturally to them or from where their developed talents lay.

Bringing endless pleasure to a vast array of people, many willing to pay whatever it costs to catch a glimpse of their idol, whether they are singers, comedians, dancers or writers, if they are on the top of their game, they will always have a very strong and committed fan base.

Over the years, the rewards for these people can be huge and the majority of celebrities, if they act wisely, will lead a long and prosperous life.  On the flipside, however, there are some who, despite making fortunes over the length of their career, simply cannot handle it and ultimately end their lives with nothing.

Looking at 10 such individuals here – and in no particular order – they are all alleged to have met their maker with next to nothing left in their pockets.

1.  Michael Jackson

Image:  Leslie Wong

Image:  AllardJanssen (Flickr)

Widely recognised as the ‘King of Pop’ and one of the masters of making music that appealed to a huge audience, during his career, Michael Jackson was always way ahead of everybody else when it came to innovative and pioneering music videos.

Making millions through commercial endorsements, as well as being what could be defined as a shrewd investor (he bought The Beatles music rights, which alone could be classed as one of the best investments in history), when he departed this life in 2009, it was thought that the vast majority of his fortune (of which estimates range between $100m and over $1bn) would be gone before his will was executed, largely because of his debts (and this still hasn’t been resolved as of September 2012).

2.  Oscar Wilde

Image:  trialsanderrors (Flickr)

Image:  trialsanderrors (Flickr)

Born in Dublin, Ireland on October 16th 1854, Oscar Wilde would go on to be one of the most famous and indeed infamous playwrights in the world.  After moving to London, he became a very flamboyant public figure who was dressed not by the best tailors, but by theatre costumiers who he thought would understand the effect he wanted to achieve.

By 1895 and with what is regarded as his finest piece, ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’, about to be premiered, Wilde was well on his way down the slippery slope.  After a two year jail sentence, he tried unsuccessfully to recreate his previous literary genius, but failed miserably and died alone and penniless in a Paris hotel in 1900.

3.  Sammy Davis Jr

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Image:  Alan Light (fotopedia)

Known to his adoring fans as Mr Bojangles, Sammy Davis Jr was the people’s entertainer who took to the bright lights of showbiz like a duck to water at a very young age.  Working in some of best venues on the planet alongside some of the biggest stars of the time, it was often at the request of others, such was his endearing popularity.

When he died on May 16th 1990, the lights on the Las Vegas strip were dimmed for 10 minutes as a tribute to one of the best all-round entertainers.  Despite his worldwide success, however, he died in debt to the Inland Revenue Service, allegedly leaving his family with nothing.

4.  Judy Garland

Image:  Clarence Sinclair Bull (Wikipedia)

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Once described by the great Fred Astaire as “the greatest entertainer who ever lived”, Judy Garland will probably be best known for her role as Dorothy in the 1939 film ‘The Wizard Of Oz’, in which she sang the memorable ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’.

Garland’s 40 year career as an actress and singer made her a perennially popular entertainer, but behind the mask she was a different person.  After five marriages, four divorces, mounting debt and a long and ultimately losing battle with alcohol and drugs, she died broke in London on June 22nd 1969 at the age of 47, reportedly owing over $4m.

5.  Joe Louis

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Image:  US Office of War Information (Wikipedia)

‘The Brown Bomber’ was a boxer who hit the heady heights of World Champion in 1937 and was so good that he stayed there for almost 12 years until 1949.  Over this time, Joe Louis made a great deal of money, but it seems there were people around him who took advantage to line their own pockets.  Relieving him of almost everything he earned by any means they could, by the time he realised what was happening later on in life, he was broke.

On April 12th 1981, the man widely acknowledged as one of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time passed away having almost nothing left of his once enviable fortune.

6.  Bela Lugosi

Image:  Richard Arthur Norton (Wikipedia)

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Best remembered for his role as Dracula in the 1930 horror movie of the same name during the formative years of the ‘talkies’, Bela Lugosi was a 6 foot 1 inch actor and looked every bit the part of Dracula, being so comfortable that he went on to star in several other vampire movies.

Unfortunately, various typecasting issues meant that as the years went by and film content changed, Lugosi found it increasingly harder to find work.  The consequent five marriages and four divorces may well have played their role in parting man from money, as he died impoverished on August 16th 1956 aged 73.

7.  Charlie Parker Jr

Image:  William P. Gottlieb (Wikipedia)

Image:  The Library of Congress (Flickr)

One of the all-time great – and most influential – jazz saxophonists the world has ever seen, ‘Yardbird’ – or simply ‘Bird’, as he became known – first started to play when he was 11 and continually progressed until at 15, he dropped out of school to focus on becoming a professional musician.

Achieving his ambition of fame and fortune, it cost him dearly in the long run as he ended up fighting very expensive battles on two fronts – one against drugs and the other against alcohol.

It was only a matter of time before he lost one of the battles and he passed away on 12th March 1955 having enjoyed life, but leaving nothing behind, with the autopsy carried out suggesting he had the body of a 60 year old, not one matching Charlie Parker Jr’s actual age of 34.

8.  Hedy Lamarr

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Seen as the most beautiful girl in the world by many, Hedy Lamarr caused an absolute sensation when she appeared in a nude swimming scene in a 1933 film.  Going on to star in a variety of films right throughout the thirties, forties and fifties, by 1965, the six times married and six times divorced beauty was reduced to shoplifting, a crime she repeated in 1991.

Becoming more and more reclusive as the years went by, Lamarr died from natural causes on January 19th 2000, said to have left her family with not much more than memories.

9.  Veronica Lake

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Born Constance Frances Marie Ockelman on November 14th 1922 in Brooklyn, New York, this beauty grew into a World War II pin up and although starred in several films with the legendary Alan Ladd, may well be remembered for her ‘peek-a-boo’ hairstyle which became phenomenally popular during the 1940s.

Making her mark in a few television shows during the 1950s, Lake’s career quickly began to decline and after several broken marriages, mental illness and alcoholism began to take hold.

After a long struggle, she died from Hepatitis, penniless, on July 7th 1973 aged only 50.

10  Gary Coleman

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Image:  Aaron Fulkerson (Wikipedia)

Forever remembered for his catch phrase “Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout, Willis?” from the hit show ‘Diff’rent Strokes’, which ran from 1978 to 1986, at the height of the show’s popularity, Gary Coleman is thought to have earned as much as $100,000 per episode.

Unfortunately for him, Coleman was better at acting than he was at looking after his money and he was very soon parted from it by his parents and advisors.  As his career went into free fall after ‘Diff’rent Strokes’ ended, he underwent two kidney transplants, heart surgery and began having seizures, one of which is thought to have caused the fall that killed him at the age of 42, leaving almost nothing behind.

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