Musicians seem all too prone to file for bankruptcy protection. It must be part of the career hazards that musicians face. Filing for bankruptcy protection does not always mean that the musician has no resources (look at Michael Jackson who had substantial assets, from the Neverland Ranch to an expensive ownership in the Beatles’ songs). Usually bankruptcy filings of famous people, including musicians are accompanied by substantial, and usually well known, financial troubles due to lawsuits, debts, or taxes.
Some argue that musicians are prone to file bankruptcy when they don’t like their contract. This was a big controversy surrounding the R&B group TLC. A complete list is too extensive but here is a short list of musicians who have filed bankruptcy or have been close.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died poor at the early age of only 35. He left a vast amount of debt behind when he passed away which totaled over 4,000 florins (the equivalent of more than 8 times the annual salary of a middle-class government employee).
Oct 7, 2010. According to TMZ, the singer Toni Braxton, has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy again. She has between $10 and $50 million in unpaid debts to numerous creditors including AT&T, The Four Seasons Hotels, Tiffany & Co., Orkin Pest Control, The Internal Revenue Service.
Billy Joel is among the top earning musicians with best selling concerts. He is a singer-songwriter and classical composer. Joel fired Frank Weber, his long time manager and ex brother-in-law, who defrauded Joel out of $30 million. Now, Joel’s drummer of 30 years, Liberty DeVitto, alleges he helped Joel create his biggest albums and claims in a lawsuit that Joel owes him overdue royalties.
Chaka Khan and her son, Damien Holland, were ordered in 2008 by a Torrance, California judge to pay more than $1.3 million to the family of a 17-year-old boy killed by Khan’s son Damien. The lawsuit accuses them of wrongful death and negligence.
Cyndi Lauper had a “short stint and debut record in 1980 with a fleeting band called Blue Angel, Lauper faced bankruptcy before hooking up professionally and later romantically with David Wolff, who would become her manager and help her land a record deal.”
David Crosby filed for bankruptcy in 1985 when his solo career failed. He was forced to sell beloved sailboat Mayan for which he was asking $1 million.
Debelah Morgan had to file for bankruptcy after leaving Motown. “Motown’s owner, Polygram, merged with Universal, and was on a different wavelength than Debelah. While they wanted her album to be another urban record, she wanted to do something different that would transcend race, and didn’t want the whole album to be hip-hop. Maintaining her creative identity, she left Motown.”
Dee Snider was the heavy metal front man of the band Twisted Sister. Lawsuits over tour advances and endorsements led Snider to bankruptcy.
Dorothy Dandridge had a troubled marriage and declared bankruptcy in 1963.
George Clinton, funk music creator and lead singer of Parliament, declared bankruptcy in 1985.
Goo Goo Dolls
Goo Goo Dolls sold 2 million albums but still owed money to their record label.
Harry Nilsson found himself impoverished as a result and responsibility of Nilsson’s financial manager. He told Terry Gilliam, film director: ‘he went to bed a multi-millionaire and woke up with 300 dollars.’ Nilsson suffered a heart attack, brought on by the strain of dealing with sudden bankruptcy.
Isaac Hayes was a singer-songwriter, actor, and musician who filed for bankruptcy in 1976. He wrote and performed music back in the 60s and 70s. His record label went broke with debts over $6 million. Hayes lost his home, personal property, and future royalties from his music.
Jay Black of Jay & the Americans
Jerry Lee Lewis
Jerry Lee Lewis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 and filed for bankruptcy in 1988 with $3 million of debt and no assets. Lewis is a rock and roll and country music singer, songwriter and pianist.
Johnny Paycheck? Say it ain’t so, not with a name like that.
Kerry Katona “was made bankrupt today [Aug 2008] after failing to deliver the final £82,000 of a £417,000 tax bill.”
La Toya Jackson tried modeling in the 1980’s and posed for Playboy. Then tried a singing career that ended in bankruptcy in 1995.
TLC – Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes
Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes was part of the R&B group TLC. The group’s riches to rags story is another example of how a multi-platinum album group can declare bankruptcy. The album “Ooooooohhh . . . on the TLC tip,” which came out in 1992, sold nearly three million copies and “CrazySexyCool” sold 10 million copies. However, after fees, expenses, and money owed to their record company, managers, lawyers, advances, etc, the group still ended having to declare bankruptcy.
Lynn Spears, not a musician herself but instead mom of Britney Spears, and her husband filed for bankruptcy in 1998.
MC Hammer found religion and filed for bankruptcy back in 1996. He made millions with record selling rap hits; however, he went on a spending spree to include a mansion costing $12-20 million and being far too generous while maintaining people on his payroll of $500,000 per month.
Michael Jackson is one of the most successful pop musicians of all time. And yet, Jackson racked up about $500 million of debt.
Michael Lee Aday
Michael Lee Aday Meat Loaf declared bankruptcy in 1983 with $1.6 million in debts.
Mick Fleetwood member of the band Fleetwood Mac, filed for bankruptcy in 1984. Rumor was he was addicted to cocaine. Fleetwood claims financial woes due to purchasing real estate.
Motor City Five MC5
Motor City Five MC5
Natalie Cole went bankrupt in 1997.
Ronald Isley was the lead singer of the Isley Brothers. He declared bankruptcy in 1997 after the IRS seized his property to include a yacht. Isley is currently serving a 37-month sentence in Indiana for tax evasion and failing to file a tax return.
RUN-DMC filed for bankruptcy in August 1993.
Stella Huang Ng
Stella Huang Ng is a singer-actress, former model, and recent pop star in the Chinese-speaking world. Stella was declared bankrupt in a recent lawsuit where she owes dark chocolate cake firm Awfully Chocolate a total of $249,000.
Suge Night filed for bankruptcy in 2006 with just $11 dollars to his name. Lydia Harris was suing him for $107 million alleging to have been cheated out of a 50% stake in Death Row Records. Knight claims they had settled the matter for $1 million.
Tammy Wynette was forced to file for bankruptcy in 1988 due to health problems, an addiction to pain medication Demerol, and failed investments in Florida shopping malls.
Ted Nugent, hard rock guitarist and vocalist, filed for bankruptcy in 1980 due to several failed business ventures and poor management.
The Baltimore Opera
The Baltimore Opera Company filed for Chapter 11 protection in Dec 2008 where they revealed $1.2 million owed to creditors.
Tom Petty filed for bankruptcy in May of 1979 with debts of $500,000.
Toni Braxton filed for bankruptcy in 1998 as a result of a $3.9 million debt. Creditors tagged and marked for sale her personal possessions to help pay off her debts. Included in the sale were her music awards.
Wayne Newton, the Las Vegas star, filed for bankruptcy in 1992 with $20 million in debt. Back in trouble in 2005, the IRS claimed he owed them $1.8 million in back taxes.
Willie Nelson wrote an album titled The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories? as a result of all his financial woes with the IRS. He owed $2 million on taxes and his lawyers and accountants recommended borrowing $12 million to invest in cattle for the tax write-off which the IRS ended up not allowing. This led Nelson to owe $32 million in back taxes.
Marvin Gaye filed for bankruptcy in 1976 after the royalties from his next album were promised to his ex-wife as an alimony substitute. The album was titled Here, My Dear.”
Why do Celebrities go Broke?
ESPN Films 30 for 30: Broke is an excellent film with confessions of famous sport stars that analyzes the realities of famous people going broke. It discusses how they get trapped by bad investments, freeloaders, medical issues, and mostly lifestyle choices. You should definitely check it out.