A-list movie stars can earn 20 times the lifetime earnings of the average bachelor’s degree holder for a single film. Top athletes can easily pull down $20 million, $30 million, $40 million, or more per year, depending on how their contracts are structured. After accounting for endorsements and business ventures, these stars’ earnings can be much higher.
Despite earning “just” $93 million in salary during his NBA career, former Chicago Bulls superstar and current Charlotte Bobcats majority owner Michael Jordan was worth some $1.6 billion in 2023. Hip-hop mogul Dr. Dre banked $700 million after selling his Beats by Dre headphones line to Apple and continues to earn tens of millions per year in royalty payments from the technology giant.
But making a lot of money doesn’t always mean you can hang onto it. Multiple celebs have made some seriously questionable decisions or simply trusted the wrong people and ended up broke or bankrupt.
Rich Celebrities Who Went Broke or Declared Bankruptcy
Despite raking in vast sums of money during sports, performing, and business careers, a shocking number of celebrities face financial ruin when work dries up or the consequences of poor past decisions finally rear their heads.
These public figures earned tens of millions or more during their careers. Some have declared personal or business bankruptcy at least once. Others have squandered a vast fortune due to crushing tax debts. Some bounced back, financially and professionally. One even got elected president of the United States.
If you’re facing financial pressures of your own or dealing with a life-changing windfall, these stories are cautionary tales. Each teaches important personal finance lessons — if you’re willing to learn them.
1. Johnny Depp
Net Worth: $150 million (Celebrity Net Worth)
Johnny Depp has been acting since the 1980s. He’s earned as much as $20 million per film and shared in the profits of some of his biggest hits, including the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise. His movies have grossed more than $3 billion worldwide.
Yet as his star faded and outrageous spending habits began to bite, Johnny Depp nearly lost everything. He’s back on the upswing today — financially at least — and never officially declared bankruptcy. But it was a close call, and his road from riches to near-ruin offers some important insights for non-A-listers too.
Johnny Depp Went Broke — How & When It Happened
Depp’s financial troubles became more than mere rumor in 2017, when he sued his longtime business managers Joel and Robert Mandel for fraud, among other things.
In 2016, the Mandels hit him with an ultimatum: His cash was nearly gone, so he’d have to sell his beloved French estate and other valuable possessions or face financial ruin. To say that Depp was hands-off with his own finances was an understatement, but even he was shocked that he’d managed to burn through $650 million since 2000, when he first retained his business managers.
Depp’s lawsuit accused the Mandels of breach of fiduciary duty and unjust enrichment — essentially, that they’d mismanaged his fortune and taken way too much for themselves. They fired back in a countersuit accusing him of refusing to curtail his “selfish, reckless, and irresponsible lifestyle.”
And they had a point. Depp owned 14 properties, a 156-foot yacht and several smaller boats, dozens of cars, enough memorabilia to fill several storage units, and a massive fine wine collection. At the height of his spending in the mid-2010s, he reportedly burned through nearly $4 million per month to cover a 40-person payroll, private jet travel, and more wine.
Johnny Depp’s Post-Downfall Activities
Johnny Depp managed to avoid declaring bankruptcy thanks in large part to the long-running success of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, from which he earned more than $300 million in combined salary and profit-sharing. Latter-day hits like “Alice in Wonderland” didn’t hurt either.
Unlike many other actors struggling with out-of-control spending and substance use issues, Depp never had a long unproductive period and had enough residual income to see him through either way. Today, his net worth is back in the nine figures, though it’s still a fraction of what it was at its peak.
Depp continued to make headlines offscreen, though. A nasty legal battle between Depp and fellow actor and ex-wife Amber Heard culminated in an even nastier trial tailor-made for tabloids. Financially speaking, Depp came out ahead, with the jury ordering Heard to pay Depp $10 million and Depp to pay Heard $2 million — though it remains to be seen whether the affair will damage his reputation and dent his earning power.
Ironically, Heard reportedly declared bankruptcy to blunt the verdict’s financial impact.
What We Can Learn From Johnny Depp’s Financial Troubles
Johnny Depp certainly worked hard to become an A-list actor, but let’s be honest. He also got lucky. Really lucky.
He also managed to avoid complete financial or personal self-destruction. Many high-flying celebrities don’t.
Crucially, Depp’s representative negotiated an incredibly favorable contract for the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, a long-running success that earned Depp hundreds of millions and sustained staggering levels of consumption for years on end.
If there’s any lesson regular folks can draw from his experience, it’s the importance of demanding what you’re worth in salary or contract negotiations. Depp was critical to the “Pirates” franchise’s success; can you imagine anyone else as Captain Jack Sparrow? And to his credit, he got paid accordingly.
2. Donald Trump
Current Net Worth: $3 Billion (Forbes)
Former President Donald Trump came to fame as a brash New York real estate developer with an outrageous hairstyle, high-profile romantic exploits, and a gift for self-promotion.
That gift helped him gloss over some real professional setbacks. Between 1991 and 2009, Trump-owned businesses declared bankruptcy no fewer than six times.
Trump inherited the family business from his father, Fred Trump, a successful New York City builder and landlord. His father made his fortune building single-family homes and managing apartment complexes in New York’s outer boroughs.
The younger Trump went for bigger, flashier prizes, such as Manhattan high-rises, Atlantic City casinos, and Florida resorts. Eventually, he presided over a network of branded hotels, casinos, golf courses, luxury residences, and media productions. He even had several seemingly random business ventures: Trump Steaks, Trump Water, Trump Vodka, and a failed regional airline known as Trump Shuttle.
Many of his later ventures were low-risk licensing arrangements that found Trump charging impressive fees to attach his name to projects financed by others. During the 2000s, Trump devoted much of his personal attention to high-profile media ventures, such as “The Apprentice,” “Celebrity Apprentice,” and the Miss Universe pageant.
Donald Trump Declared Bankruptcy — How & When It Happened
Six Trump-owned businesses filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the 1990s and 2000s. Five were gaming enterprises, including the famed Trump Taj Mahal and its parent company, Trump Hotels and Casinos Resorts. Most occurred during or following the major real estate downturns of the early 1990s and middle to late 2000s.
The first bankruptcy, filed in 1991, was arguably the most devastating for Trump’s lifestyle. Trump funded the $1 billion Trump Taj Mahal with loads of high-interest debt. Within a year of opening, the property was more than $3 billion in the hole, and Trump was personally on the hook for $900 million. The eventual settlement required Trump to sell off Trump Shuttle and offload his personal yacht.
Subsequent Trump bankruptcies also involved eye-popping numbers. For example, Trump Hotels and Casinos Resorts was more than $1.8 billion in debt when it first filed for Chapter 11 in 2004.
However, these bankruptcies didn’t affect Trump’s personal finances or lifestyle to the same extent. That’s largely because Trump didn’t personally guarantee the loans that financed the struggling projects. And Trump’s latter-years pursuit of low-risk licensing arrangements makes it less likely his ventures will face serious financial problems going forward.
Donald Trump’s Post-Bankruptcy Activities
Following his most recent bankruptcy, Donald Trump sought the spotlight with renewed vigor. In 2011, he flirted with a presidential run before abandoning his quest for the Republican nomination in 2012. But he returned to politics for the 2016 presidential cycle. Trump won the general election and was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States on Jan. 20, 2017.
Trump probably made good on his campaign pledge to donate his entire presidential salary to various federal agencies, though some details are murky. But the $1.6 million he received in salary over his four years as president was a drop in the bucket compared to his business’ cash flow during his presidency, which Forbes pegs at around $2.4 billion.
Unfortunately, the Trump International Hotel lost some $70 million between 2016 and 2020, despite being a magnet for political operatives and foreign dignitaries looking to curry favor with Trump. But Trump stood to pocket about $100 million on the hotel’s sale in a 2022 deal valued at $375 million.
Notably, the Trump administration scuttled the FBI’s long-planned move out of its aging headquarters down the street from Trump’s hotel, preventing a competitor from building a hotel that would have competed with Trump International in its place.
Trump lost the 2020 presidential election to former Vice President Joe Biden amid a raging global pandemic and civil unrest in major U.S. cities. Leaning on baseless claims of widespread election fraud, he became the first sitting U.S. president to actively oppose the peaceful transition of power after losing an election.
Trump’s ultimately unsuccessful effort to change the election results culminated in a deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of his supporters on Jan. 6, 2021, delaying official certification of the election results by several hours.
It’s not yet clear that Trump personally profited from the insurrection, but deep-pocketed Trump campaign donors appear to have given considerable financial support to its organizers. And had the coup attempt succeeded, Trump would have retained the legal protections of the presidency, putting him in a stronger position to counter a multidirectional legal assault on his person and business. In 2023, Trump faces no fewer than six civil or criminal cases:
- A fraud lawsuit brought by the New York State attorney general against the Trump Organization
- Election-related criminal prosecution by the district attorney of Fulton County, Georgia
- Federal prosecution related to his efforts to retain power after the 2020 election
- Federal prosecution related to his willful retention and mishandling of highly classified documents after leaving the White House
- State criminal prosecution related to fraudulent business dealings in New York State during the 2016 election
- Multiple civil cases related to Trump’s alleged sexual assault of journalist E. Jean Carroll in the 1990s
Despite those multiplying legal threats, Trump remains active in his family real estate business — and new ventures too. Trump responded to his permanent banishment from Twitter by launching Truth Social, a competing microblogging platform. The company went public with much fanfare in 2021, but uptake has been disappointing, and a pending SEC investigation could spell further legal and financial trouble for Trump.
Trump, it should be noted, is also running for president in 2024.
What We Can Learn From Donald Trump’s Bankruptcy
Trump’s legacy is complicated, to say the least. His bankruptcies are all but footnotes in the larger context of his presidency and its aftermath.
Still, Trump’s business record teaches a crucial lesson about U.S. bankruptcy law: its potential as a financial escape hatch for entrepreneurs facing financial problems. Trump successfully used bankruptcy to salvage at least some of his fortune and keep his business empire intact when the going got tough. Aside from the 1991 bankruptcy, Trump’s successive brushes with insolvency didn’t adversely affect his personal wealth or lavish lifestyle. Whether his reputation survived unharmed is another question entirely.
3. Mike Tyson
Net Worth: $10 million (Wealthy Gorilla)
Widely regarded as one of the greatest boxers of the modern era, “Iron Mike” Tyson exploded onto the scene as a junior boxer in the early 1980s. He earned the WBC Heavyweight Champion title just four months after his 20th birthday, becoming the youngest boxer ever to reach that mark. He won an astonishing 26 out of 28 fights by knockout, an impressive feat in an increasingly safety-conscious boxing culture.
According to a comprehensive 2003 report by The New York Times, Tyson earned approximately $400 million during the first 18 years of his boxing career. But all the money in the world couldn’t help Tyson.
Out of the ring, he had multiple run-ins with the law, including a sexual assault conviction that landed him in prison for three years. Despite his early successes in boxing, he’s perhaps best remembered for the ill-fated 1997 comeback bout known as “The Bite Fight” in which he bit opponent Evander Holyfield’s ear hard enough to take a chunk out of it.
Tyson finally declared personal bankruptcy in 2003. He has devoted his time since to rehabilitating his reputation.
Mike Tyson Declared Bankruptcy — How & When It Happened
Tyson raked in $30 million per fight at the peak of his career, but he bled money as readily as he earned it. In 2003, The New York Times detailed his lavish spending on everything from jewelry, mansions, and vehicles to Siberian tigers. In December 2002, he bought a $173,000 gold chain on credit, adding it to the $27 million in debts listed in his 2003 bankruptcy filing.
Tyson’s largest debts included $17.4 million in tax liabilities to U.S. and British authorities, a $9 million divorce settlement with former wife Monica Turner, several million in obligations to a gaggle of lawyers and producers, and more than $300,000 to a limousine company. His largest assets included a Connecticut mansion he sold to fund the divorce settlement and two extravagant Las Vegas properties.
At the time of his bankruptcy filing, Tyson was pursuing a $100 million lawsuit against boxing promoter Don King, who Tyson claimed bilked him out of millions of dollars in revenue. In 2004, he settled with King for $14 million, trimming but not eliminating his debts. Tyson exited bankruptcy after losing most of his physical assets and setting aside a substantial share of his future earnings to pay his creditors.
Mike Tyson’s Post-Bankruptcy Activities
Far past his prime, Tyson continued boxing for several years after emerging from bankruptcy, most memorably in a 2006 comeback tour with a veteran boxer in even worse shape than he. He returned to the ring yet again for a series of exhibition matches in 2020 and 2021.
Tyson also sought endorsement relationships to help pay the bills. He found some success, though most major brands remained wary due to his criminal history and uncouth image. Tyson also pursued acting and music, making an extended self-cameo in the 2009 comedy hit “The Hangover” and starring in a Spike Lee-produced one-man show that hit 36 cities and culminated in an HBO special.
After a series of arrests, including for driving under the influence and fighting a reporter in Los Angeles International Airport, Tyson sought sobriety and calmed his personal life. In 2013, he released a bestselling book, “Undisputed Truth,” and he guest-sang on a Madonna track two years later.
What We Can Learn From Mike Tyson’s Bankruptcy
Tyson grew up in the roughest parts of New York City back in the 1970s, when the city was on the verge of municipal bankruptcy. His father abandoned his family two years after his birth. Homelessness was a constant threat, and sometimes a reality, during his childhood. His mother died of cancer when he was 16, leaving his boxing trainer and mentor as his only adult role model. He escaped poverty only by virtue of his athletic talent and dogged work ethic.
Given the emotional scars etched by his difficult childhood, it’s understandable that Tyson would struggle with powerful demons as an adult. His story is a cautionary tale about the perils of having it all when you’re young, immature, and perhaps not fully ready to handle the demands of fame. Happily, Tyson’s relatively quiet post-bankruptcy years support the contention that anyone can change.
4. Michael Vick
Net Worth: $16 million (Celebrity Net Worth)
Gifted NFL quarterback Michael Vick is best known for the infamous dogfighting scandal that brought his career to a temporary halt and forever tainted his legacy. Vick’s 2007 dogfighting conviction resulted in a 21-month prison term and forced him to declare bankruptcy the following year.
Previously, Vick racked up some major achievements. In 2001, he was selected first in the NFL Draft, becoming the first Black quarterback to earn that honor. He reached the playoffs twice with the Atlanta Falcons and made three Pro Bowl rosters.
And then it all fell apart.
Michael Vick Declared Bankruptcy — How & When It Happened
Three threads led to Vick’s financial downfall.
First, he spent money freely during his early career and managed his wealth poorly. According to ESPN, he earned nearly $40 million per year at his peak, an outrageous rate at the time, even for a top-tier NFL quarterback.
Vick helped out some 30 family members and associates, some lavishly. His younger brother got a new car every year on his birthday, for instance.
And Vick made some poor investing decisions too, including a $1.6 million bet with a business partner who used his money to buy cars and inflate his own salary.
Secondly, Vick ran a sophisticated and brazen interstate dogfighting ring out of his Virginia property for five years. Dogfighting didn’t cause Vick’s financial troubles, but his legal issues made them far worse. After his conviction, his earning power crumbled.
Thirdly, even as Vick racked up wins on the field, his first agent was aggressively pursuing a $45 million lawsuit stemming from a 2001 contract dispute. The parties finally settled for $4.5 million in 2008 shortly before Vick declared bankruptcy.
Vick might have been able to avoid bankruptcy had the agent not demanded full payment right away. As it happened, Vick filed his bankruptcy petition in 2008, listing assets of less than $50 million against debts of up to $50 million. Vick lost most of his physical assets in the ensuing proceedings, and the Atlanta Falcons added insult to injury by clawing back approximately 20% of Vick’s $37 million signing bonus.
Michael Vick’s Post-Bankruptcy Activities
When Vick finished the house arrest term that followed his prison sentence, the Falcons released him, and it was not clear that he’d ever play in the NFL again. He eventually landed with the Philadelphia Eagles, playing backup to veteran QB Donovan McNabb.
During the 2010 season, after the Eagles traded McNabb and his replacement was injured on the field, Vick stepped into the starting role. The rest of the season was an unqualified success, with the Eagles going 10-6 and making the playoffs. The following year, Vick signed a six-year, $100-million contract with $40 million guaranteed.
Vick’s performance dropped in 2011 due to persistent injuries. He lost the starting job in 2012, briefly regained it in 2013, lost it again due to injury, and was traded to the New York Jets in 2014. He earned $5 million with the Jets that year but played just a few games.
In 2015, he went to the Pittsburgh Steelers before retiring at the end of the 2016 season. In June 2017, the Atlanta Falcons — his original team — honored him with a retirement ceremony at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, bringing his career full circle.
What We Can Learn From Michael Vick’s Bankruptcy
Vick made strikingly poor choices as a young man and lost tens of millions in future earnings as a direct result. He struggled to say no to friends and family who asked him for money or favors. He didn’t properly vet potential investments and business opportunities. During what should have been his peak earning years, he squandered much of his fortune.
Most seriously, Vick’s criminal activity dramatically reduced his earning power for several years. As he worked to put his life back together and repair his reputation, his outcast status, while temporary, made his financial comeback all the more difficult.
That said, Vick’s comeback was heartening. He showed what appeared to be genuine remorse for his actions and was rewarded with a second chance to play the game he loved. His reputation has improved somewhat, despite the lingering ethical stain.
And from a financial perspective, he’s far from destitute today. According to Business Insider, Vick passed $100 million in career earnings in 2014. Were it not for the dogfighting episode, his total career haul would undoubtedly have been higher, though it’s impossible to say how much. Vick’s experience is a reminder that financial troubles don’t have to be permanent, especially when we overcome the circumstances that cause them.
5. Curt Schilling
Net Worth: $1 million (Celebrity Net Worth)
Veteran Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling played through a nasty ankle injury in the 2004 World Series, helping his team win the championship and erase an 86-year “curse” in the process. He retired a few years later, his legacy seemingly secure.
It wasn’t. Schilling didn’t simply whittle away his baseball fortune after he retired. He also bilked the state of Rhode Island to the tune of $75 million, landing in serious legal trouble.
Long an avid computer gamer, Schilling founded a small game development company in 2006 and deepened his involvement after retiring in 2009. Known as 38 Studios (for Schilling’s jersey number), the company announced ambitious plans to develop a massively multiplayer online role-playing game in the World of Warcraft mold. A slimmed-down version of the game titled Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning debuted at Comic-Con 2010.
Curt Schilling Declared Bankruptcy — How & When It Happened
The fact that 38 Studios was helmed by a well-regarded New England sports icon made the company’s ambitious plans easier to swallow.
In 2010, the hard-up Rhode Island state government approved a $75 million economic development loan to 38 Studios. The loan road on the company’s promise to complete its planned game and create 450 jobs in the small state within two years.
Under the best circumstances, building a rival to World of Warcraft in two years would have been an optimistic goal. For a startup development shop run by someone with no experience, it was a pipe dream.
Within a year, it had become obvious that 38 Studios would not meet its delivery timetable. As sales of Kingdoms cratered, the company failed to make a $1.1 million loan payment to Rhode Island, stopped making payroll, laid off its entire staff by email, and went bankrupt.
The backlash was swift. Schilling, an outspoken critic of government spending, faced jeers for accepting and then squandering millions in state aid. The deal sparked years of litigation, eventually netting the state of Rhode Island a little more than half its initial investment.
Separately, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) accused the state of Rhode Island and Wells Fargo, its primary financial go-between, of misleading investors about the bonds sold to Schilling’s company.
Though Schilling avoided criminal penalties and personal bankruptcy, his reputation as a businessman was ruined and his personal finances suffered greatly. According to the Toronto Star, his $50 million net worth at retirement shrank to just $1 million four years later, forcing him to sell off prized personal possessions. That included a bloody sock from the 2004 championship run.
Curt Schilling’s Post-Bankruptcy Activities
Schilling’s experience with 38 Studios called his business acumen into question, but it didn’t hurt his marketability as a baseball expert. Already a color commentator for ESPN, Schilling deepened his relationship with the network after his bankruptcy filing. In 2014, he started working as an analyst for ESPN’s popular “Sunday Night Baseball,” though a cancer diagnosis shortly thereafter prevented him from working for much of the 2014 season.
Schilling’s cancer treatments were successful, and he rejoined the ESPN crew in 2015. He didn’t last long, though. ESPN suspended him for much of 2015 after it discovered he’d shared a racist Twitter meme, then fired him for good in early 2016 when he shared a second offensive post, per The New York Times.
What We Can Learn From Curt Schilling’s Bankruptcy
First, Schilling’s experience reminds us that on-field success and business success require very different skill sets, especially when the business venture in question has little or nothing to do with athletics. Things may have worked out differently for Schilling had he pursued a post-MLB venture better aligned with his skills as a ballplayer.
Secondly, social media behavior is extremely important. Schilling caused serious offense twice in less than a year, and the second time proved fatal for his commentating career. Losing that job further damaged his already diminished earning power.
6. 50 Cent
Net Worth: $40 million (Celebrity Net Worth)
Curtis James Jackson III — better known by his stage name, 50 Cent — was an instant sensation when he burst onto the hip-hop scene in the early 2000s.
Over his career, 50 Cent sold more than 30 million albums and earned dozens of music awards, including a Grammy and 13 Billboard awards. At one point, he was the second-wealthiest hip-hop artist in America behind Jay-Z.
50 Cent’s performing heyday spanned only a few years in the mid-2000s, but he made the most of his time in the spotlight. Within two years of the 2003 release of “Get Rich or Die Tryin’,” his first major-label album and most successful to date, 50 Cent was a legitimate business mogul with major investments in several different industries.
His most successful investment was an early stake in Glaceau, the maker of Vitaminwater. Forbes reports he earned $100 million when Coca-Cola bought the company in 2007.
His investment in G-Unit Films, a production company, was less successful, though it did earn him some screen time. His founding investment in SMS Audio was downright troubled though. The company later faced accusations of copyright infringement for the design of its Street by 50 headphones.
Things got more interesting from there. The rapper was briefly the subject of an SEC insider trading investigation, though no charges were ever filed. Later, he participated in a bizarre scheme to launch a line of 50 Cent-branded platinum in partnership with a South African precious metals mine.
50 Cent Declared Bankruptcy — How & When It Happened
50 Cent’s music sales steadily declined after peaking in the mid-2000s, along with his income. Despite scattered business successes, notably his Glaceau investment, the rapper spent heavily on a lavish lifestyle featuring Rolls-Royce automobiles and the same Connecticut mansion Mike Tyson lost a few years earlier.
Like many wealthy celebrities from impoverished backgrounds, 50 Cent generously supported a small army of friends and family members, including his grandfather and a former long-time girlfriend. He also gave freely to worthy charitable causes, such as HIV treatment and prevention in Africa.
But 50 Cent suffered from self-inflicted wounds as well. He publicly shared a sex tape featuring a rival rapper’s ex-girlfriend, triggering a lawsuit that cost him $5 million. He also lost more than $2 million on Sleek by 50, another headphone venture, and was then hit with a judgment totaling more than $18 million for allegedly stealing the design for that product.
And though the exact extent of his losses and subsequent recoveries are unclear, he has publicly stated that he lost millions in the stock market during the 2008 financial crisis.
All told, 50 Cent racked up more than $20 million in liabilities against assets of less than $15 million. In 2015, he declared bankruptcy to restructure and slim down these obligations, losing much of his fortune in the process.
50 Cent’s Post-Bankruptcy Activities
50 Cent isn’t worth as much as before he declared bankruptcy, but he’s definitely not hurting either. He has been active in business and media ventures since discharging his debts, rebuilding much of his fortune in the process.
He also managed to hold onto his Connecticut mansion for a few more years, though it didn’t help his net worth. The place finally sold in 2019 for less than $3 million, or about 65% of what he paid Tyson for it.
What We Can Learn From 50 Cent’s Bankruptcy
50 Cent’s post-stardom life followed a familiar path as the rapper struggled to keep up appearances and living standards amid declining income, questionable business ventures (branded platinum, anyone?), and poor personal decisions.
His experience offers two lessons for anyone following in his footsteps: Have a plan to support yourself and your family comfortably when the spotlight fades, and look before you leap into sketchy business dealings or score-settling.
Also, that house in Connecticut probably carries some sort of financial curse. If you strike it rich and decide to relocate to that particular neighborhood, buy the place next door instead.
7. Nicolas Cage
Net Worth: $25 million (Celebrity Net Worth)
Many people don’t realize Nicolas Cage is Hollywood royalty. He’s legendary director Francis Ford Coppola’s nephew and is related to director Sofia Coppola and actor Jason Schwartzman. He claims to have changed his name to “Cage” as a young man to avoid the appearance of favoritism.
Somehow, it worked. The prolific Cage found success in a string of romantic comedies through the 1980s, then switched to dramatic and action roles through the 1990s, doggedly earning his way onto the Hollywood A-list. He pocketed an Academy Award for 1995’s “Leaving Las Vegas” and was nominated for 2002’s “Adaptation.”
Cage’s hard-charging approach to movie stardom earned him a lot of money. According to FinanceBuzz, he pocketed $150 million between 1996 and 2011. During that time, he earned $20 million apiece for blockbusters like “Gone in 60 Seconds” and “National Treasure.” However, by 2009, much of Cage’s fortune had vanished in a hurricane of lavish spending, and the star faced mounting legal troubles that further added to his financial woes.
Nicolas Cage Went Broke — How & When It Happened
Starting in the 1990s, Cage embarked on a decade-long buying spree to rival Mike Tyson’s. His rumored purchases extend from the mundane to the bizarre, but all are expensive, including:
- Several supercars, including a rare Ferrari and the deposed Shah of Iran’s vintage Lamborghini
- Rare jewelry
- A shark
- A crocodile
- Two king cobras
- At least one dinosaur skull
- A collection of shrunken pygmy heads
- A private jet
- A pyramid tombstone in a New Orleans cemetery
Cage also bought and sold a slew of exotic real estate:
- A 26-acre Rhode Island estate, which at the time was the most expensive home ever sold in the state
- European castles
- A private island in the Bahamas
- A “haunted” New Orleans mansion, purportedly the site of a string of grisly murders in the 1800s
- A comic-strewn Southern California mansion described by the Los Angeles Times as “frat house bordello”
Cage’s problems began in 2009 when the IRS filed a tax lien against his New Orleans home for millions of dollars in unpaid taxes dating back to the early 2000s. They accelerated later that year when the mother of Cage’s eldest son sued him for $13 million and ownership of her house, which was at the time in Cage’s name.
Cage also faced multimillion-dollar collection attempts by at least two financial institutions and was hit with a counter-lawsuit from business manager Samuel Levin, whom he’d earlier sued for fraud and negligence.
Ultimately, Cage lost his California home to foreclosure, though he had the last laugh when it failed to sell at auction — perhaps due to its questionable decor. He also lost a smaller Nevada property to foreclosure and offloaded many of his exotic personal possessions to pay off his debts. Not quite bankruptcy — more like involuntary downsizing.
Nicolas Cage’s Post-Downfall Activities
Nicolas Cage pieced his financial life back together the only way he knew how: by working his tail off. Between 2009 and 2016, he appeared in about two dozen movies, from animated hits like “The Croods” to critically panned B movies like “Drive Angry.” Some was perhaps humbling work for an Academy Award winner, but the effort kept Cage solvent.
One of Cage’s alternative investments did end up paying off. He sold a rare comic book for more than $2 million in 2011 — nearly 20 times what he paid in 1997.
What We Can Learn From Nicolas Cage’s Financial Troubles
Nicolas Cage learned the hard way that no matter how much you make, how hard you work, and how impressive your professional credentials are, you should never spend more than you can afford. That’s doubly true when, like Cage, you spend much of your fortune on supercars, exotic animals, luxury goods, and high-end real estate.
And while the risk of an IRS audit is low for median-income individuals, those with complicated financial situations need to pay their fair share of taxes. Even if you don’t pull in millions each year, you must be mindful of the risks associated with underpayment (or nonpayment) of taxes.
But there’s a positive lesson in Cage’s experience too. After nearly losing it all, Cage didn’t quit or take himself too seriously. His late-career renaissance is partly due to his willingness to poke fun at his questionable financial acumen.
Honorable Mentions — Other Celebrities Who Went Broke
A truly comprehensive list of celebrities who went broke would break the servers that store our site. We’re talking hundreds if not thousands of years of financial chicanery.
But recent (and not-so-recent) history features a few fiscally irresponsible celebs who really shouldn’t escape mention.
8. Wesley Snipes
For a minute there in the 1990s, you couldn’t walk past a movie theater without seeing Wesley Snipes’ name (and possibly his likeness) on the marquee. But the action star’s wry grin and pithy one-liners couldn’t hide an accumulation of poor financial decision-making forever.
Between 2001 and 2006, Snipes just didn’t pay federal income taxes, at least not anywhere near what he owed the IRS, despite earning millions every year. A three-year prison sentence and nearly $10 million in penalties was the predictable result.
9. Michael Jackson
When pop superstar Michael Jackson’s troubled life ended in 2009, it wasn’t obvious he was in financial distress.
With hindsight, it should have been clear that tens of millions of records sold and countless sold-out shows weren’t enough to support a lavish life pocked by legal troubles and questionable investments. Jackson’s mental health struggles prevented him from touring during the last decade of his life, hampering his earning potential. Though he never declared bankruptcy, he likely would have had no choice had he lived much longer.
10. Floyd Mayweather
Floyd Mayweather earned more than $1 billion over the course of his fighting career, dwarfing fellow boxing legend Mike Tyson. Yet by 2020, Mayweather was parrying persistent rumors he’d blown his entire fortune.
His bizarre decision to charge $1,500 for a private video call — a trivial sum for a multi-multimillionaire — only heightened speculation he was drowning in debt. So did a 2022 bout with YouTuber Logan Paul that was widely criticized as a cynical publicity stunt.
11. Mark Twain
Yes, bankruptcy was a thing back in Mark Twain’s day. Samuel Longhorne Clemens, as Twain was known at birth, was sort of like the Nicolas Cage of the 19th century literary world — incredibly prolific and commercially successful but also really bad at managing his money.
Twain’s money troubles stemmed mostly from terrible investments in long-shot inventions and business ideas that never panned out. He lost the equivalent of millions in today’s dollars on a failed typesetting machine and later in a publishing startup that couldn’t get out of its own way.
Before declaring bankruptcy in the mid-1890s, he sold his family’s Connecticut home for one-sixth of what he paid to buy and fix it up. This in spite of the fact that he’d married a coal baroness and could probably have coasted along with the help of her family money. The upside to Twain’s financial distress: It forced him to keep writing. He published some of his best work after declaring bankruptcy.
If a celebrity who rakes in tens or hundreds of millions of dollars throughout their career can go broke and declare bankruptcy, the average Joe or Jane who enjoys their movies or music certainly can.
On the bright side, some of the celebrities on this list went on to repair their finances and rehabilitate their images. One even got elected president of the United States.
Their experience proves that second acts are possible in life. But those second acts took years to materialize and didn’t come easy. You’d be forgiven for taking a page instead from Warren Buffett, the famously frugal multibillionaire investor who still lives in the nice but by no means extravagant Omaha house he bought way back in 1958.