Celebrities prove over and over that they are just normal people and that includes not always being able to handle their money. Excess, drugs and just plain bad math has led to many a star’s downfall. Nicolas Cage went broke because he bought too many castles and dinosaur skulls, MC Hammer went broke because he had an entourage of 200 based on one hit album and Kim Basinger bought a town in Georgia which she quickly came to regret.
However, there are times when the darkest days of a famed person’s financial life led to the beginning of a fresh start and permanent success. Here is a surprising group of celebrities from the past and present that built an empire on the rubble of their financial bankruptcies.
Samuel L. Clemens, penned some of the best loved American novels of any age including, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “Tom Sawyer”, under the name of Mark Twain. In his 60s, he chose to go into the book publishing business with his nephew, Charles L. Webster. The venture was a spectacular failure. During these years, his nephew developed a drug problem, while also signing insignificant writers and paying them too much in royalties.
In 1894, Twain had to file a Assignment for Benefit of Creditors with the courts. As there was no discharge of debt at the time, he was 100% responsible for all of the debt the company had incurred. At the age of 66, Twain took on the burden and began lecturing and actively writing. He paid off all of the company’s debt within two years. When he died in 1911, Twain’s estate was worth $600,000.
At the beginning of his career in Kansas City, Disney created a company called Laugh-O-Gram which specialized in short advertising films and cartoons. He sought and received funding from a banking partner in New York City and began hiring animators. It was his ultimate goal to animate fairy tales in long form on film. The legend has it that the offices of Laugh-O-Gram suffered an infestation of mice, including one with a lot of personality that the staff named, Mickey. Then, the banking firm that was backing his business went broke a year later.
Disney could no longer pay his bills or his staff. He filed for bankruptcy in 1921 and saved up his money for a bus ticket to Hollywood. With an estimated net worth of $1.1 billion at his death, Disney rebounded nicely.
Known for such hits as, “True Colors” and “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”, Lauper was a major pop star of the 1980s. However, before she hit it big she was a singer with a band called Blue Angel. Their first album was a major flop. On top of that, the band was sued by their manager for $80,000 and won his suit. Lauper had to file for bankruptcy and work retail while putting together her next venture. Which gives another of her hits, “Money Changes Everything” a new meaning.
Our 16th president is known for his wisdom and eloquence in the complicated business of keeping the country together during the Civil War. Yet, even he struggled with issues in his personal finances. Before he became a politician, he tried his hand at shop keeping. He and a partner opened a general mercantile and sold items that they’d used credit to acquire from other merchants.
It did not go very well. Lincoln sold his stake in the enterprise. However, when his former partner passed away, the store’s creditors sought Lincoln for compensation. Although he had relinquished is portion of ownership, he was unable to avoid the debt and bankruptcy followed. Lucky for all of us, that didn't hold him back from accomplishing bigger and better things!
Briana Cameron is an accomplished blogger and marketing strategist out of Barrie & Toronto. Although she has never gone through bankruptcy herself, she understands the stress it can put on anyone, famous or not.