Few people are more associated with wealth and means than the planet’s biggest celebrities. While most of the time celebs are living the high life, that doesn’t mean fame makes them immune to financial woes.
In fact, many of the most profitable celebrities have actually gone broke or bankrupt at one time or another. Heck, many of your favorite actors, musicians, and the like were deeply in debt during the heights of their careers!
That was certainly the case with the following 16 celebrities. Luckily, they all had extraordinary comebacks!
1. Will Smith: The wildly successful actor, rapper, and producer’s first album with DJ Jazzy Jeff, He’s The DJ, I’m The Rapper, went multi-platinum almost immediately after it was released in 1989. After that, the 21-year-old went on a spending spree that ultimately led to him owing $2.8 million to the IRS.
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Luckily, roughly a year later, he got his starring role on the sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The IRS charged him 70% of everything he earned, but three years later, he was finally debt-free.
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2. Lady Gaga: Throughout her 2009 Monster Ball tour, the pop star was worth about $3 million, most of which went into her stage show. “I remember I went home and I was with my dad and he said, ‘I don’t understand. Bad Romance is out. You are all over the radio. Everyone is talking about you and you don’t have a pot to p*ss in,'” she said in an interview.
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“I said, ‘Just let me do this. Let me just put it on the stage because I think if I can do this I can get Arthur Fogel’s attention.’ And I did.” Shortly after the tour, Fogel—the Canadian music promoter and Live Nation CEO—wrote Gaga a $40 million check.
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3. Mike Tyson: Throughout his nearly 20-year boxing career, Tyson earned roughly $400 million, but he still filed for bankruptcy in 2003. After losing $9 million in a divorce, he was $23 million in debt, owing $13.4 million to the IRS, plus $4 million to British tax authorities. Over 10 years later, however, he’s out of debt.
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4. Donald Trump: While the reality television star—and 45th President of the United States—says he never personally went bankrupt, there have been six different occasions in which his companies did. “I’ve cut debt—by the way, this isn’t me personally, it’s a company,” Trump said in an interview. “Basically, I’ve used the laws of the country to my advantage… just as many, many others on top of the business world have.”
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5. 50 Cent: The rapper and entrepreneur was once worth roughly $155 million. Yet he filed for bankruptcy in 2015 after his ex, Lastonia Leviston, sued him for $5 million after he shared her sex tape online in an attempt to humiliate rival rapper Rick Ross. Thankfully, he paid off his debts in February 2017.
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6. Kim Basinger: In 1993, the actress was worth over $5 million, but she filed for bankruptcy after pulling out of the film Boxing Helena and was promptly sued for $8.1 million by Main Line Pictures for a breach of contract.
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Luckily, they settled for $3.8 million. After that, Basinger took a break from acting for three years, until director Curtis Hanson convinced her to come back for L.A Confidential. That film won her a Golden Globe, and now she’s worth about $36 million.
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7. Walt Disney: Disney and a partner started their own production company in 1922, Laugh-O-Gram, but the pair went bankrupt just a year later after an investor cheated them. Then, in 1928, he created Mickey Mouse—and soon enough his financial woes were a thing of the past.
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8. Meat Loaf: The classic rock singer is currently estimated to be worth roughly $45 million, but it wasn’t always that way. Shortly after the release of his 1981 album, Dead Ringer, Jim Steinman—who had been a songwriter for the rock star—sued him. This lead to him declaring bankruptcy; decades later, he developed a number of health problems, including Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome.
Christie D. Mallon
Meat Loaf was even unable to sing for a time after doctors found a cyst in his vocal cords in 2007. He managed to heal enough to sing again the next year, and his work as an actor in films like Fight Club have helped him recover financially.
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9. Cyndi Lauper: The singer-songwriter, now worth roughly $30 million, didn’t become a success until well into her career. Blue Angel, the band she started in 1978, only released one album, which was unsuccessful. Matters were made worse when, in 1981, their manager sued the band after they fired him.
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Lauper went into bankruptcy, which she recovered from after the release of her wildly successful first solo album, She’s So Unusual, bolstered by the single “Girls Just Want To Have Fun.”
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10. Abraham Lincoln: In 1823, the future 16th President of the United States opened a general store with a business partner in New Salem, Illinois, that was extremely unsuccessful. Worse yet, Lincoln’s business partner passed away, so his $1,000 in debt (which was worth a great deal more back then than it is today) fell squarely onto young Lincoln’s shoulders.
Other than some surveying equipment and a horse, Lincoln lost everything he owned. He was still paying off his debts until the 1840s. Luckily, he recovered before becoming president in 1861.
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11. Larry King: The television and radio host was accused of grand larceny by a former business partner in 1971, and even though the allegations were later proven to be false, he lost all of his broadcasting jobs because of it. He filed for bankruptcy in 1978.
Luckily, it was during that same year that he signed on to the national nightly broadcasting job that would ultimately make him a household name. By January of 1979, the Larry King Show had made its debut on the air, where it would continue for 25 years.
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12. Marvin Gaye: The legendary Motown musician declared bankruptcy in 1976 after it was revealed that he owed $600,000 to his ex-wife. He agreed to give her all of the royalties to his next album to settle the debt, with a record entitled Here, My Dear that included such tracks as “You Can Leave, But It’s Going to Cost You.”
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He made a comeback in 1984 with the smash-hit song “Sexual Healing” from his seventeenth and final album, Midnight Love. Unfortunately, that same year, he was shot and killed by his own father.
13. MC Hammer: Though he earned about $33 million for his 1990 album Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em, by 1996, the rapper was $10 million in debt and he was forced to file for bankruptcy protection. Several years later, he admitted to Oprah Winfrey that he had employed 200 people to work in his mansion, despite having previously insisted that he did not spend frivolously.
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Technically, he’s still in debt, but he’s doing much better now. He’s been seen at high-profile events with such contemporary celebrities as Kanye West, and he’s even releasing new music. The royalties from his big hit, “U Can’t Touch This,” also continue to help.
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14. Shane Filan: The former singer of the Irish boy band Westlife filed for bankruptcy in 2012 after finding himself roughly $26 million in debt. He had suffered from the recession, as he had invested a great deal in real estate. By the next year, though, he was halfway through paying it off, and he found additional financial success with the release of his first solo album, You and Me.
15. Burt Reynolds: After becoming an iconic movie star in the 1970s, Reynolds spent his earnings lavishly—and by 1996, he owed creditors $10 million. He declared bankruptcy in 1998, but made a comeback that same year with the film Boogie Nights. He didn’t even have to sell his Florida mansion, thanks to legal loopholes.
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16. George Foreman: The boxing champion became a preacher and moved back to his hometown in Texas after retiring from boxing, even opening up a youth center. Unfortunately, this lead him to the verge of bankruptcy, and he was urged by experts to close the center. He refused, instead opting to get back into boxing.
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He won 24 matches in a row (with 23 ending in knockouts), and at 45 years old, Foreman became the oldest heavyweight boxing champion in history. Plus, lending his name to and becoming a spokesman for the Lean, Mean, Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine helped lead to his current net worth of $300 million.
Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons
It’s amazing that anyone could bounce back after being millions of dollars in debt. Hopefully these troubles can teach us all how to be careful with money!
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