Famous faces in the entertainment industry who have earned billions themselves are few and far between. Hollywood royalty like Ben Affleck, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Julia Roberts may have grossed billions at the box office, but none of them are billionaires. In fact, only a few actors or actresses have reached billionaire status, and it wasn’t from high-paying starring roles in film or television. The Olsen twins, Mary Kate and Ashley, may be billionaires in the making: They earned plenty of money from being child stars, but they parlayed their wealth into an illustrious brand, and are now fashion icons as adults.
Earlier this year, there was much speculation that Dr. Dre could be hip-hop’s first billionaire when he sold Beats for a reported $3 to $3.2 billion to Apple; however, Forbes has held back from bestowing the title of billionaire to Dre since they point out that much of this payment could be made in Apple shares. Certainly, Beats has made Dre hip-hop’s richest man – but he’s not quite a billionaire yet.
Julia Louis Dreyfus is another actress who could one day become a billionaire. She is worth $200 million today, but her father is the chairman of Louis Dreyfus Energy Services. William Louis-Dreyfus is worth $3.4 billion, and one day Julia could inherit some of that money and add to the $200 million she has earned herself. Then there are some celebrities who were already billionaires before entering the entertainment industry – billionaires like Mark Cuban (Shark Tank) and Donald Trump (The Apprentice) for example – or people who became celebrities entirely by virtue of their wealth and business acumen, like Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs. It seems, in fact, that it’s virtually impossible to become a billionaire solely through being an entertainment industry personality. The following entertainers typically became super rich as producers or through business ventures that have earned them money above and beyond their Hollywood paychecks.
5. J.K. Rowling, net worth: $1 billion
Harry Potter author and creator J.K. Rowling lost her billionaire status in 2012 because of her charitable donations totaling $160 million and high taxes in the United Kingdom. She has since earned her billionaire status back thanks in part to earning about $14 million this year so far. She has earned serious revenue of late thanks to a range of new business ventures including her website Pottermore, as well as Harry Potter e-book sales (of which she gets a majority of the profits), and profits from Harry Potter theme parks with Warner Bros. Studio Tours London and Universal Studios California. The Harry Potter franchise is worth an estimated $15 billion today.
4. Oprah Winfrey, net worth: $ 3 billion
Oprah had a humble beginning in journalism. She started out as a local newscaster in Nashville, but today she has her own magazine and television network. Her syndicated talk show, the Oprah Winfrey Show, ran for 25 seasons and is the highest-rated American talk show in history. She is the richest self-made woman in America and the first black female billionaire in history. Last year Oprah had a salary of $75 million – she became a millionaire when she was just 32. By 41 she had a net worth of $340 million, and in 2000 she was worth $800 million. Winfrey grew up extremely poor, and her story is one of triumph and perseverance. She has also successfully starred in films like the Butler, the Color Purple and Beloved.
3. Steven Spielberg, net worth: $3.6 billion
Legendary director Steven Spielberg has a net worth of $3.6 billion. He has directed over 20 films, but he didn’t become a billionaire by simply directing successful movies – even though he was paid millions for directing films like E.T. and Jurassic Park. Spielberg has produced hundreds of movies and TV shows, and he co-founded DreamWorks Studios with David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg. Spielberg invested $33 million when founding DreamWorks. The company was sold to Viacom in 2005 for $1.6 billion and then later an agreement was signed for DreamWorks to produce films for Reliance ADA Group, which was valued at $1.5 billion. DreamWorks Animation has become a separate company, and DreamWorks Animation films have earned $12 billion worldwide. Films directed by Steven Spielberg have grossed $8.5 billion worldwide.
2. George Lucas, net worth: $4.2 billion
It was through building the Star Wars universe and founding Lucasfilm that Lucas has amassed his incredible status and wealth when in fact he only directed six movies. Lucas received a mere $150,000 for writing and directing Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope. His business acumen was obvious early on, however; he made a deal with Fox for licensing and merchandising rights for the Star Wars franchise, a deal which was unprecedented in Hollywood at the time. Star Wars action figures became very popular, and Lucas earned a huge profit from the sales of toys.
Thanks to selling Lucasfilm, the production company Lucas founded that was responsible for the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises, Lucas’ net worth skyrocketed. Today he’s worth an astounding $4.2 billion. Lucas sold Lucasfilm to the Walt Disney Company for $4.05 billion – about $2 billion is cash and $2 billion in stock. Before the sale of Lucasfilm, George Lucas had an estimated $1.4 billion is cash, investments and assets.
1. Dina Merrill, net worth: $5 billion
Dina Merrill was once heralded as the next Grace Kelly, but it wasn’t her time as an A-lister in the golden age of Hollywood that made her super rich. Merrill Acted in 22 films between 1957 and 1996, but not one of them made her a billionaire. Rather, it was as the only child of Post Cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post that Merrill became a billionaire. Her inheritance is substantially more than she ever earned as a star of stage and screen; wise investments and profitable business deals allowed her to amass a net worth of approximately $5 billion.