Money is great. It allows people to buy not only food, clothes, and other items of basic sustenance, but also private planes, chinchilla fur coats, and other luxury items such as backyard tigers.
It’s easy to think there is only 1 “level” of wealth in Hollywood. “Her song plays on the radio station, therefore she must be rich.” “He said on the track that he woke up in a new Bugatti, he must actually own that car.” (False). But, on a certain level, it does work like that. Most celebrities have more money than dentists and lawyers, for instance, tokens of wealthy middle-classness. But the wealth in Hollywood is definitely not evenly spread.
Take for example the cast-members of How I Met Your Mother. That show was wildly popular. It revived CBS from near-death, paving for the way for another primetime juggernaut, The Big Bang Theory. The players should have been getting huge paychecks with each episode, correct?
False. Aside from Neil Patrick Harris, the show’s shining star (and the only real preexisting celebrity except for Alison Hannigan, whose career was in the crapper when the show started), the actors each got more or less $100,000 per episode, which is surprisingly small.
With that all said, let’s jump right in to the 15 famous figures whose salaries are surprisingly big.
15. Matt Groening – $500 million
Net worth: $500 million
The story of Matt Groening, creator of TV’s favourite animated family, retaining the merchandising rights to The Simpsons is famous. It’s famous because the show went on to have a merchandising career paralleling Star Wars. There are Simpsons EVERYTHING. As a little boy, I had a Bart wall clock, a poster of all the characters, and slippers of Homer eating donuts. Thing is, I didn’t even like The Simpsons that much. With such thorough cultural integration, it’s no surprise that Matt Groening would be worth half a billion dollars. That, plus the constant reruns of The Simpsons on every network, plus sales from the season DVDs, means his worth will only continue to snowball.
14. Mariah Carey – $535 million
Net worth: $535 million
Mariah Carey was famously the highest paid judge ever on reality television. Her $18 million pay packet from American Idol may have contributed to her impressive net worth. It also might be because she’s one of the best selling female solo acts of all time, her track with Boys II Men, “One Fine Day”, the longest-running #1 at 16 weeks. The Emancipation of Mimi, her 2005 album, sold 6 million copies. Music Box sold 7.3 million copies. Daydream sold 7.7 million copies. Add to that concert tickets, merchandising, endorsement deals, and you’ve got yourself one of the richest people, let alone women, in entertainment.
13. Simon Cowell – $550 million
Net worth: $550 million
Speaking of reality shows, former American Idol judge Simon Cowell is also extremely wealthy. He used his infamy as the “mean judge” on AI to create a virtual Cowell empire. First, he created the show “X-Factor”, essentially a rip off of the Pop Idol/ American Idol format. Then, from there, he launched the soon-to-be-deceased boy band One Direction (that’s right: 1D was literally a laboratory experiment; Cowell added together five of the auditioners from one season and created a sensation). He also owns his own company, Syco, which produces both music and television, having stakes in two of three arms of the entertainment industry.
12. Bono – $600 million
Net worth: $600 million
If someone asked you to guess what the highest-grossing concert tour of all time was, what would you say? The Rolling Stones? Springsteen? Madonna? — You wouldn’t be wrong. But the tour that knocks them all out of the water is U2’s 360 world tour, which brought the band nearly $750,000,000 (three quarters of a billion dollars). So it’s no wonder that front man Bono, now known for weird hats and sunglasses, would be worth a lot of money, himself. That’s right, the Irish rocker is worth almost $600 million, or like £500,000. He and his band are also the authors of one of the world’s best-selling albums of all time, Joshua Tree, which sold almost 25,000,000 copies.
11. Howard Stern – $620 million
Net worth: $620 million
Howard Stern, the world’s most famous shock jockey, is best known for his raucous Sirius XM radio show. How could he possibly be worth so much money? More than Bono, really? Well, for one, in 1993, he wrote a book for Simon & Schuster. Within hours of its release, it had sold 225,000 copies, becoming the fastest selling title in S&S history. A movie was made of the publication, which dominated the box office on its opening weekend. But the secret of his wealth was a $500 million deal he inked with Sirius for The Howard Stern show. Apparently, people are really interested in what he has to say, and what he gets people to do. Although he may seem like a shadowy figure to a lot of folks, to others he’s an integral part of their morning routine, and that makes him valuable.
10. Celine Dion – $630 million
Net worth: $630 million
Celine Dion being on this list, on the other hand, is a little less surprising. Her “My Heart Will Go On”, the theme song to Titanic (the second highest grossing film of all time, at ~$2.2 billion earned) must have gotten her at least a cool 10 mil. The rest of her oeuvre speaks for itself. She’s had 11 #1 songs, and 17 #1 albums. But the bulk of her income comes from her residency at the Colosseum at Cesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. She’s currently the highest-earning act in the city, earning a whopping $476,000/ show. She performs more or less 70 times a year, meaning she nets 33.5 million/ year just singing. It’s no wonder she has so much money in the bank.
9. James Cameron – $700 million
Net worth: $700 million
Speaking of Titanic, its director is another one of Hollywood’s wealthiest folks. As we said earlier, the film about the ill-fated ocean liner made almost $2.2 billion. His other famous film, Avatar, raked in even more at the box office, making it the highest-earning film of all time at ~$2.8 billion. But his other movies have had comparable cultural impact, for instance The Terminator, with its infamous line: “I’ll be back”. (Arnold in his heyday, what a guy!) Now that Avatars 2, 3, and 4 have been scheduled, James Cameron‘s wealth will almost certainly catapult in the billions… lucky guy).
8. Madonna – $700 million
Net worth: $700 million
Who would’ve thought that an unassuming girl from Bay City, Michigan would go on to become one of the richest and most renown women in show business? Madonna Ciccone, known simply as Madonna, is just that: known as Madonna. (She recently released a song alluding to it, known simply as “Bitch, I’m Madonna”). There’s no qualifying this one: the Material Girl is the highest-selling female artist of all time, rivalling Elvis, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones in terms of sheer revenue. She revolutionized the concert show, moving it from simply a musical performance to a multi-media sensical sensation that will leave you starstruck for days. Of the 15 highest grossing world tours ever performed, two are Madonna’s, leaving no doubt about where she gets her money.
7. Dr. Dre – $700 million
Net worth: $700 million
I know what you might be thinking: after Apple’s 3 BILLION dollar acquisition of Beats by Dre, how could the former gangster rapper possibly have less than a billion dollars? Well, Dr. Dre still has a quite a hefty tax bill to pay off. His income did soar, from around $500 million to $700 million after the business venture, but you can’t discount the money that he still owes just to slot him in the $1B column, as badly as you might want to. That said: he’s still one of the richest rappers out there, a testament to how musical talent, no matter how great, will never quite rival business acumen in terms of making moolah.
6. P. Diddy – $735 million
Net worth: $735 million
While you can point at the thing that made Dr. Dre all his money (they’re literally named after him), P. Diddy‘s big sellers are a little more elusive. Part of his empire is the Sean John clothing line, recalling Diddy’s first name, Sean (of Sean Combs). He has also designed the Dallas Mavericks alternate Jersey. On top of that, he was recruited to help market the Ciroc Vodka brand. He also has a major equity stake in Revolt TV, a television and film-production company. Unlike Jay Z, who everyone knows for Rocawear and Beyonce Inc. (essentially…), Puff Daddy’s ventures are less visible but even more lucrative.
5. Vince McMahon – $750 million
Net worth: $750 million
Vince McMahon is the swaggering ex pro wrestler, majority share holder and CEO of the WWE. Like Howard Stern, Vince McMahon is probably not the first person you think of when you think “rich Hollywood”. He’s not glamorous, he doesn’t have much name recognition outside of his die hard fan base, and he’s not internationally known. But his celebrity only accounts for a small portion of his earnings. He’s more of a famous businessman than a business-minded celebrity. He wrestled and commentated, so he has stage and media presence, but his true genius is in the board room, brokering lucrative deals and expanding his company. He’s also, fun fact, one of the oldest people to ever win a World Championship in wrestling.
4. Jerry Seinfeld – $860 million
Net worth: $860 million
Bow, ba’dow bum bum, bum, bum, bum-bum… As you may have already figured you, that was the iconic baseline, intro to Seinfeld, the show that made Jerry Seinfeld $860 million. Seinfeld is widely recognized as one of the most popular shows of all time. It created cultural phenomena like “the contest”, where the main four have an honor-code contest about who can resist masturbation the longest, “yadda, yadda, yadda” to abbreviate a story, and “the soup nazi”, the tough-as-nails soup chef you love to hate. Now, as Ricky Gervais says, Seinfeld is “like a little king” in Hollywood, someone people keep away from sensitive information.
3. Paul McCartney – $1.2 billion
Net worth: 1.2 billion
Did Paul McCartney get rich from belonging to the most successful musical group of all time? Or did he get rich from Michael Jackson buying that group’s discography for $47.5 million in 1984? Well it can’t be the latter, because if it were, then Michael Jackson would be rolling in the royalties, and Paul McCartney would have to do something else for his money. It’s impressive that the Beatles are so culturally present that even without the full rights to his own music, McCartney could amass such a fortune. He doesn’t make much music anymore, appearing here and there (like randomly on FourFiveSeconds), instead just hanging back and enjoying his extreme wealth.
2. Steven Spielberg – $3.6 billion
Net worth: $3.6 billion
Steven Spielberg has made some of the most influential movies in cinematic history. He authored Jaws, E.T., Schindler’s List, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, Artificial Intelligence, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Minority Report amongst others. That is a staggering number of very important films. It’s no wonder, then, that he’s a billionaire three times over, with as much moolah as Bono on top of that. He has more money over three billion dollars than Bono has in total: chew on that. Again, we see here the distinction between talent and business sense. When you master the business side of things, you can really break into big money that talent simply will not get you.
1. George Lucas – $5.2 billion
Net worth: $5.2 billion
I was watching Saturday Night Live the week before the new Star Wars came out in theatres. For once I was watching it on live television, usually preferring to wait until it goes up on streaming websites so I can watch it without ads. The last skit before the first ad break was a parody of Star Wars loving adults, who buy the branded toys and then never open the packaging. During the ad break, one of the most watched ad breaks of the primetime week, every single commercial was for Star Wars, be it a preview for the movie, an cross-promotion with some food company, or the newest Death Star toy from Lego. Everything was Star Wars. It’s no wonder that the franchise’s mastermind George Lucas is five times a billionaire.