Michael Jackson
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22 Celebrities Who Died Broke (or Close to It)

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Michael Jackson
KMazur / Contributor / Wireimage / Getty Images
Michael Jackson
Steve Granitz / Contributor / WireImage / Getty Images

Michael Jackson

Tax troubles are the downfall of many a performer, and this was no different for the King of Pop when he died in 2009 at the age of 50 due to a drug overdose. Due to lavish spending, legal fees, and a debt to the IRS of about $500,000, his estate was briefly bankrupt. However, there was a surge in music sales following his death, and Sony paid $250 million to extend its rights to Jackson's back catalog, which were due to expire in 2015, until at least 2017.

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Judy Garland
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Judy Garland

After winning the hearts of audiences in “The Wizard of Oz” and “Meet Me in St. Louis,” to name a few of her most beloved films, Garland struggled with drug addiction, and, after managers embezzled most of her earnings, had to sell her Bel-Air home for far less than its worth. When she accidentally overdosed at age 47, she had just $40,000 left of the millions she had earned in her lifetime. In her final will, many bequests she had made could not be fulfilled due to a lack of funds. Her daughter Liza Minelli ultimately paid off her mother’s debts with the assistance of crooner and family friend Frank Sinatra.

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Marvin Gaye
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Marvin Gaye

The “Sexual Healing” singer died in 1984 after being shot by his father (ironically, he died April 1, the day before his 45th birthday). At the time of his death, Gaye was in hot water with the IRS, which wanted $1 million to cover unpaid taxes. Gaye also owed back alimony of $300,000 and had a total of $1.9 million in debt. Royalties from his work eventually paid off those debts after his death.

Related: 27 Big Celebrities Who’ve Had Tax Troubles

Mickey Rooney
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Mickey Rooney

The beloved child star never seemed to stop working, scoring roles in vaudeville, radio, film, television, and theater. He made 300 films in his lifetime and earned millions. However, he didn’t hold on to the cash. In addition to the expenses he incurred by marrying eight times and divorcing six, he filed for bankruptcy in 1962 for mismanagement of his earnings. Things didn’t improve when he later entrusted his finances to a stepson who used the money to bankroll his own upscale lifestyle. The Hollywood Reporter claimed in 2015 the actor was frequently abused and financially drained by family members in the last years of his life. When he died of natural causes at age 93 in 2014, he had only $18,000 as well as medical bills and back taxes. Once his estate was settled, there wasn’t enough left over for a public funeral.

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Sammy Davis Jr.
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Sammy Davis Jr.

“The Candy Man” singer was a part of the Rat Pack in the ’60s and died of throat cancer in 1990 at age 64. While Davis Jr. died with a sizable estate of $4 million, he owed $5.2 million in taxes, which ballooned to $7 million with penalties and interest. His widow was forced to auction his personal property and real estate to cover some of the bill, and friends including Quincy Jones and Ed Asner participated in a fundraising concert in Las Vegas to help with the rest.

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Gary Coleman
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Gary Coleman

The child star of “Diff’rent Strokes” successfully sued his parents and managers for misappropriation of funds in 1993, but declared bankruptcy in 1999. Coleman was plagued with health problems throughout his life, undergoing frequent dialysis sessions and two kidney transplants. In 1999, to raise funds for his continuing medical care, he auctioned off personal items including an ice scraper and what was described as a “tiny pimp suit.” When he died of an epidural hematoma at age 42 in 2010, he was said to have $70,000 in debt.

Corey Haim
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Corey Haim

The one-time teen star of “The Lost Boys” and “License to Drive” slipped into drug addiction, dying of pneumonia at age 38 in 2010. His financial problems began after he was sued by Lloyd’s of London for $375,000 for failing to disclose his drug addiction on an insurance form. After that, acting jobs were few and far between. He filed for bankruptcy in 1997, claiming to owe $100,000 to the IRS and have $100,000 in debt with just $100 in cash, $31,000 in a pension fund, and royalty rights of $7,500. After his death, his family asked fans to help cover his funeral expenses.

Florence Ballard
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Florence Ballard

A member of the ’60s supergroup The Supremes, Ballard died at age 32 in 1976 of a coronary blood clot. Though many considered her the strongest singer of the group, she was fired after showing up drunk at a performance, and she battled alcoholism and depression for years. A solo career went nowhere, and as a single mother of three she applied for welfare in the 1970s.

Rick James
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Rick James

The “Super Freak” singer died at age 56 of pulmonary and cardiac failure in 2004. Having battled ongoing drug addiction — he was said to have paid $7,000 for drugs every week for five years — he was sentenced to five years in prison for crimes stemming from the assault of one woman and was also ordered to pay $1 million to another woman he was accused of assaulting. When he died, he left $250,000, an uptick in revenue likely due to a career resurgence stemming from an appearance on “Chappelle’s Show.”

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Andy Gibb
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Andy Gibb

The younger brother of Bee Gees’ singers Barry, Maurice, and Robin Gibb, Andy Gibb scored a hit with “I Just Wanna Be Your Everything” but descended into a $1,000 a day cocaine addiction and depression. At the time of his death from myocarditis in 1988, Gibb was just 30 years old but owed millions to creditors and his managers.

Joe Louis vs. Schmeling, 1936
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Joe Louis

Joe Louis Heavyweight boxer and longtime world champion Louis was both overly generous and swindled by his handlers throughout his career. Despite earning $4.6 million in winnings over his lifetime, Louis saw only $800,000 of it. Worse, engaging in charitable fights for the military during WWII landed him in hot water with the IRS that would last for the rest of his life (and beyond). The IRS claimed, despite all the money raised going to charity, that Louis owed taxes on it, a fee that ballooned to over $1 million with taxes and penalties. Further diminishing his resources, Louis bought homes, cars, and schooling for his parents and siblings, and he also paid back the government for any welfare funds that they had received. To pay his enormous tax bill, he turned to professional wrestling and repeatedly came out of retirement to box with diminishing results. Ultimately, former rival Max Schmeling and mobster Frank Lucas (who was disgusted with how the government had treated Louis) provided financial assistance, and the IRS ultimately agreed to limit its collections to amounts based on his post-retirement income. Though he was broke, these dual donations allowed him to live comfortably until he died of a heart attack at age 66 in 1981.

Related: 23 Tax Horror Stories That Will Make You Fear the IRS

Oscar Wilde
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Oscar Wilde

While “The Picture of Dorian Gray” author was one of the most popular playwrights in London in the 1890s, but when he was convicted of sodomy and gross indecency, his career was ruined. He spent two years in prison and emerged to eventually move to Paris, where he lived in a dingy hotel. He wrote his publisher, “This poverty really breaks one's heart: it is so sale [filthy], so utterly depressing, so hopeless.” He contracted meningitis and died in 1900 at age 46, penniless and reliant on his long-suffering wife to send money.

Harry Nilsson
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Harry Nilsson

The singer/writer of “Everybody’s Talkin’” who was known as the “American Beatle,” Nilsson died of a heart attack at age 52 in 1994. After scoring hits in the ’60s and ’70s, his career cooled and Nilsson lost his earnings when his financial adviser, Cindy Sims, embezzled all his money. Due to Sims’ swindling, he was left with $300 and significant debt which was unresolved at the time of his death.

American actress Erin Moran, best known for her turn on the legendary TV series, Happy Days
American actress Erin Moran, best known for her turn on the legendary TV series, Happy Days by Popular Press Media Group (CC BY-SA)

Erin Moran

The “Happy Days” actress found it difficult to find work after the show ended in 1984 due to her problems with depression. Her California home went into foreclosure in 2010, and she was served with eviction papers. She moved into her mother-in-law’s trailer in Indiana, but was reportedly kicked out after a drunken fight with the older woman. Moran, who was living with her husband bankrolled by a dwindling $56,000 settlement for unpaid merchandising revenue from CBS, died in 2017 at age 56 of throat cancer.

David Duerson
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David Duerson

The Chicago Bears safety died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 2011 at age 50. In the notes he left behind he revealed part of his motive for taking his own life was his fall from being a multimillionaire to being unable to pay his condo fees. He also asked that his brain be studied for CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a condition often caused by the physical trauma of playing football.

Omar Sharif
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Omar Sharif

The Egyptian actor who starred in “Doctor Zhivago” and “Funny Girl” was also considered one of the best 50 contract bridge players in the world at one time. Though he spoke (and acted) in six languages, his reputation for carousing, drinking, and gambling ultimately cost him dearly. He lived in Paris for years to have better access to the city’s casinos and the nearby racetrack. He only gave up roulette after losing almost $1million in one night and having to sell his home to cover the debt, though that didn’t stop his spending. He died of a heart attack in an Egyptian hospital at age 83 in 2010.

"Portrait of Billie Holiday and Mister, Downbeat, New York, N.Y., ca. Feb. 1947"
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Billie Holiday

Lady Day was a beloved jazz singer whose renditions of “Strange Fruit” and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” are still played. But after she was arrested for narcotics possession in 1947, she lost her cabaret card (a performing license) and was no longer allowed to perform in venues that sold alcohol, substantially reducing her potential earnings. She continued to be a target for the police, and she was placed under arrest for heroin possession as she was dying of liver and heart disease in a New York’s Metropolitan Hospital. She was 44, and at the time of her death she had just 70 cents in the bank.

Zora Neale Hurston
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Zora Neale Hurston

“Their Eyes Were Watching God” author Zora Neal Hurston was an esteemed anthropologist and writer, but toward the end of her life worked as a substitute teacher and maid to pay her bills. She suffered financial and medical problems that ultimately led her to St. Lucie County Welfare Home, where she had a stroke and died of heart disease in 1960 at age 69. She was buried in an unmarked grave until 1973, when writer Alice Walker bought a headstone to be placed in the area her body was believed to be.

Bela Lugosi
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Bela Lugosi

The Hungarian star of “Dracula” was troubled by typecasting as well as a dependence on methadone and morphine for his sciatic neuritis. His career dwindled before his death — he was taking bit parts in director Ed Wood’s low-budget films and living alone in a Los Angeles apartment. During this time, he decided to seek treatment for his longtime drug addiction. When Frank Sinatra heard of Lugosi’s difficulties, he not only helped with his expenses but visited the actor in the hospital despite having never met him. A year later, Lugosi died of a heart attack at age 73 in 1956 with $1,900 in the bank and $1,000 in real estate.

Charlie Parker
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Charlie Parker

The alto saxophonist credited with creating bebop, Parker was also a heroin addict, a drug problem exacerbated after a near-fatal car accident. Things got worse for Parker after the death of his daughter Pree at age 3 in 1954, and he tried to take his own life twice that year due to depression. In 1955 he died of a heart attack, and though just 34, the coroner who performed his autopsy estimated his age to be between 50 and 60 years old. Due to his drug use, being fired from jobs, and the unfair practices of the recording industry, he was broke when he died except for a $1,000 insurance policy. Lifelong friend Dizzy Gillespie paid for the transport of his body to Kansas for burial.

Aaron Hernandez, a National Football League player.
Aaron Hernandez, a National Football League player. by Jeffrey Beall (CC BY)

Aaron Hernandez

The New England Patriots tight end had more than money troubles to worry about at the end of his life. He was serving a life sentence in prison for the murder of Odin Lloyd, a semi-professional player who had been dating the sister of Hernandez’s fiancée when he took his own life at the age of 27 in 2017. At the time of his death his net worth was $50,000 and his estate was valued at nothing.

Bobby Driscoll
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Bobby Driscoll

A child actor and the voice of “Peter Pan,” Driscoll started using drugs, primarily heroin, at age 17 after he was no longer working for Disney. After several arrests for stealing, forging checks, and assault with a deadly weapon, he ultimately served time in prison for narcotics possession. After being released, he was unable to find acting work. Though he briefly became part of Andy Warhol’s art community known as The Factory, that did little to revive his career. In 1968, he was found dead of heart failure caused by years of drug use at just 31 years old. Found penniless and without identification, he was buried in a pauper’s grave in New York City.

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