17 Famous People Who Died Practically Penniless

This story originally appeared at Do You Remember by Zack Walkter.

Even the richest of people can make incredibly bad financial decisions. And unfortunately for these 20 celebrities, those were among the last decisions that they ever made. When they died, they were broke – sometimes so broke that it led to chaos and pain for their families. Perhaps if they’d been given more time, they could have found ways to regain their riches, but sadly that possibility is now gone.

1. Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday was, and remains, one of the most famous jazz artists in the world. But drugs and drink took their toll on her. On her final day in May 1959, in fact, she was placed under arrest on her deathbed for possession of heroin. And all that she had left in the world was about $850.

Billie Holiday

The Telegraph

2. Mickey Rooney

A month before legendary film star Mickey Rooney died, amidst terrible family turmoil, he updated his will. But it was worth just $18,000, and he also owed a lot of back taxes. Indeed, his lawyers even claimed that he only owned a single pair of shoes at the time of his death.

Mickey Rooney

Phil Walter/Getty Images

3. Judy Garland

The beloved star of The Wizard of Oz fell into substance abuse in her later years, eventually dying from an overdose of barbiturates aged just 47. And to make things even sadder, when she passed away she was millions of dollars in debt. Frank Sinatra reportedly footed the bill for her funeral.

Judy Garland

Films of the Fifties

4. Gary Coleman

Gary Coleman was successful as a child actor in Diff’rent Strokes, but – thanks in part to his parents – lost it all as he got older. He even took to auctioning off old memorabilia, including his trousers, to pay for medical bills. He died at the tender age of 42, with debts of more than $70,000.

Gary Coleman


5. Bela Lugosi

Today, the name Bela Lugosi is synonymous with the role of Dracula. But playing the iconic vampire didn’t prevent Lugosi from dying penniless in 1956. At the age of 73, after having suffered from substance abuse issues, he died of a heart attack and left just $1,900 behind.

 Bela Lugosi


6. Marvin Gaye

The man who gave the world “What’s Goin’ On” suffered a tragic death. He was declared bankrupt in the mid-1970s, following a struggle with substance abuse and failure to pay alimony. Just as he was getting back on his feet, however, his father shot him dead during a quarrel.

Marvin Gaye

The Daily Beast

7. Dana Plato

Plato was another one who fell prey to what became known as “the Diff’rent Strokes curse”. After leaving the show, her money was allegedly stolen by a crooked accountant. She subsequently fell into poverty and addiction. And by the time of her death, she lived in a motorhome.

Dana Plato


8. Anita Ekberg

In 2011 the aging star of La Dolce Vita made the news. Anita Ekberg, the media said, was living in poverty in Italy. All her riches had been lost to thieves, medical bills and a house fire. She died a few years later of natural causes, aged 83.

Anita Eckberg


9. Sammy Davis Jr.

Sammy Davis Jr. died of complications from throat cancer in 1990, and he left a whole host of financial difficulties behind him. Due to his reportedly excessive spending habits, he owed more than $5 million to the IRS. As a result, his family had to auction off his possessions to cover the debt.

Sammy Davis Jr.

The Telegraph

10. George Best

George Best was one of the most talented footballers that Britain ever saw, but he also had a serious and expensive drink problem. Shortly before his death in 2005, he checked himself into a private clinic. And the hospital ended up providing his treatment for free, because he was completely broke.

George Best


11. Glenn Quinn

Glenn Quinn, who starred in Roseanne and Angel, was sadly never able to overcome his substance addiction and it ruined him. Not long before his death, he was thrown out of a rehab center because he was taking drugs on the premises. And when he did pass away, it was in a friend’s house, Quinn having lost his own home years earlier.

Glenn Quinn


12. Joe Louis

Joe Louis was a great boxer, but his downfall was his generosity. According to reports, he even repaid the welfare payments that his family had been given prior to his rise to fame. In the end, however, failed investments ruined him completely, and he was still in debt at the time of his death in 1981.

Joe Louis

The New York Times

13. Corey Haim

The later life of teen idol Corey Haim was terribly sad. After battling substance abuse problems for many years, he died of pneumonia in 2010. At the time he was so broke that he didn’t even own a car. When his family requested contributions to cover his funeral costs, a memorabilia company eventually picked up the bill.

Corey Haim


14. Charlie Parker

Charlie Parker was a pioneer of jazz, but when he died in 1955 at the young age of 34 he was penniless. A heroin addiction had drained both his cash and his health. Thankfully, though, his friends and fans stepped in to ensure that his body would be buried and his two sons provided for.

Charlie Parker


15. Bobby Driscoll

The voice of Disney’s Peter Pan was an actor called Bobby Driscoll, and he met a tragic end. After Disney canceled his contract when he reached adolescence, he turned to drugs. A 31-year-old homeless addict at the time of his death in 1968, he was subsequently buried in an unmarked grave. Sadly, his body still lies there today.

Bobby Driscoll

The Guardian

16. Whitney Houston

Although Whitney Houston’s estate was apparently worth plenty when she died in 2012, reports stated that she herself had been struggling for money. Drug use had compounded her difficulties, with the singer apparently even having to borrow money to pay for her time in rehab. And after her daughter Bobbi Kristina also passed away, Houston’s family began feuding over the dead star’s finances.

Whitney Houston


17. Michael Jackson

As the world reeled from the shock of Michael Jackson’s death in 2009, they soon received another surprise: the King of Pop had been hundreds of millions of dollars in debt. According to banker David Dunn’s testimony before the U.S. Tax Court in 2017, Jackson was in a “very precarious situation.”

Michael Jackson


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