It is said that in the face of death, we are all equal, meaning that everyone will face the same fate, whether rich or poor. Many envy celebrities because of their often luxurious lifestyles and, at first glance, quickly amassed wealth. However, fame isn’t exactly a gift that keeps on giving. Fame makes it easy to go down the rabbit hole of addiction, poor money management, and mental health issues, to which many celebrities who died poor became victims.
There aren’t many stories about famous deceased people who were left with nothing or very little to their name. In fact, there’s just a handful of famous people who were poor by the end of their lives. However, substance abuse and terminal health conditions are no surprise in the world of the famous. In fact, a 2015 study found that the entertainment industry had higher rates of substance abuse when compared to several others. Thus, while not exclusively, alcohol or illegal substance abuse is a viable factor in the passing of some famous people who died poor.
While often a factor, it’s not always the primary cause. Unfortunately, the many unresolved questions of deceased celebrities are now taken to the grave. What is left are reports and allegations. Below, we’ve compiled a list of famous people that passed away, reportedly with very little, nothing, or huge debts to their names. Do you know of any more such cases of celebrities who died broke? Perhaps you know something more regarding a deceased famous person? Share your thoughts in the comments!
The slinky King of Soul, Marvin Pentz Gaye Jr., perished just a day before his 45th birthday after being shot by his own father. Despite his numerous achievements, Gaye’s later 1970s were characterized by financial difficulties and illegal substance abuse. His two ex-wives received a substantial share of his profits. Later, he filed for bankruptcy. According to reports, in 1984, when Gaye passed away, he owed more than $9 million.
Gary Coleman, a comedian and former child TV star, rose to fame after starring in the 1978 series Diff’rent Strokes. Throughout his life, Coleman experienced both financial and physical challenges. He sued his parents for mismanaging his fortune and won $1.3 million, only to declare bankruptcy ten years later. He apparently had little money when he passed away in 2010 at the age of 42.
Right after high school, Constance Frances Marie Ockleman pursued a career in acting. The actress, later known as Veronica Lake, appeared in important 1940s movies, including So Proudly We Hail! and Sullivan’s Travels. Her early professional achievement was quickly eclipsed by her roles in several poorly rated movies. She reportedly battled drinking and passed away in poverty just before her 51st birthday.
A member of the Rat Pack, the “bad boys” of the late ’50s and ’60s, the multi-talented entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. quickly rose to fame. Reportedly, the executors of his estate had to auction off his possessions after he passed away from throat cancer in 1990 due to a $5.2 million tax bill and other obligations totaling thousands of dollars.
After declaring bankruptcy, the musician, who had congenital heart conditions from birth, passed away at age 52 from heart failure. Harry Nilsson’s old manager, who was ultimately imprisoned for stealing millions from several customers, was responsible for most of his wealth.
Although Judy Garland appeared in several movies and musicals, her role as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz is probably her most well-known. Although she had a brilliant career, a large portion of it was marred by drug abuse and money troubles. Garland supposedly had her house taken by the IRS. When she passed in 1969, she still owed around $4 million in bills.
Michael Jackson, the King of Pop and one of the greatest musicians of all time, reportedly owed more than $400 million when he passed away in 2009, and his estate went bankrupt.
The actor most known for playing the title role in the 1931 horror film Dracula wasted a large portion of his income on illegal substances and drinking. After that, he worked nonstop and appeared in more than 50 movies, but he was never able to preserve his salary. He passed away in his sleep from a heart attack.
One of the most gifted footballers Britain has ever produced, George Best, struggled with severe alcohol addiction. He admitted himself into a private facility, and the hospital treated him for free because he was indigent. His son Calum Best said his father went bankrupt twice, leaving him with debt when he passed away.
Zora Neale Hurston was an American author and anthropologist. Their Eyes Were Watching God, the author’s second work, became the classic of the Harlem Renaissance. According to reports, Hurston passed away with nothing to her name. Her tomb was unmarked until The Color Purple author Alice Walker purchased a headstone for Hurston’s burial site.
American boxer Joseph Louis Barrow held the title of the record holder for the longest-reigning heavyweight champion in history for nearly 12 years between 1937 and 1949. Despite having a peak gross income of almost $4.6 million, he reportedly passed away in debt due to poor investments and tax issues.
The Broadway performer and vocalist filed for bankruptcy four times after going through three divorces with significant alimony obligations. At age 71, Edwards, who battled alcoholism and gambling addiction, passed away from a heart attack.
The jazz star, who frequently gave her mother loans to build a restaurant, was also troubled by legal issues, which resulted in her being prohibited from performing in any locations that served alcohol. Apparently, Holiday had $750 in life savings tied to her thigh at the time of her demise, all in $50 bills. There were only 70 cents in her bank account.
Ballard, a former member of the 1960s band The Supremes, passed away in 1976 at the age of 32 from a coronary blood clot. For years Ballard struggled with alcoholism and despair. As a single mother of three with little success in her solo career, she asked for welfare in the 1970s.
Over his 90 years in the entertainment business, Mickey Rooney won various accolades, including two Golden Globes. However, Rooney subsequently lost most of the money he had amassed. He had eight marriages, and when he passed in 2014, it was stated that there wasn’t enough money to pay for a public funeral.
Bobby Driscoll had a 17-year career in cinema and television. During that time, he received an Academy Award for best juvenile actor and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Apparently, he struggled to find employment after prison for unlawful drug use. Driscoll reportedly had little money left when he was buried in an unmarked tomb in New York City after passing away at the age of 31.
Due to her depressive issues, the American sitcom actress struggled to find work following the show’s cancellation in 1984. According to the Daily Mail, Moran spent her final years homeless and broke after being ejected from her mother-in-law’s trailer park house during a fight over alcohol. She passed away from throat cancer in 2017 at the age of 56.
When Aaron Hernandez took his own life at the age of 27 in 2017, he was serving a life term in jail for the homicide of Odin Lloyd, a semi-pro athlete who had been dating Hernandez’s fiancée. At the time, he had a $50,000 net worth, and his estate was appraised at $0.
Canadian actor Corey Haim appeared in many movies throughout the 1980s, including Lucas and Silver Bullet, adapted from the Cycle of the Werewolf novel by Stephen King. Yet, Haim’s career was hampered by drug addiction and financial issues, which eventually prompted him to file for bankruptcy. When Haim passed away at the age of 38, his family reportedly had to ask his fans to contribute to the expense of his burial.