It’s always sad when you hear of someone dying poor. Having your final days plagued with money problems is an end we wouldn’t even wish on our worst enemies. This is made worse when the people dying poor were loved actors who were once rich and probably still should be. We hear these riches to rags stories of celebrities all the time too. It used to happen a lot more in the literary world. But most of those celebrated writers never became famous until after they died. They didn’t have the taste of money to begin with. Many celebrity athletes struggle to maintain their riches after they retire, but their window is much shorter. Currently, we have plenty of celebs–actors included–who are so in debt that they might be added to this list if they don’t reverse their fortunes before they die.
Each of the actors on this list were, at one point in their lives, megastars. Almost all were incredibly wealthy at one point too. Since many worked in an age when movie stars didn’t make as much as they do now, they weren’t all equivalent to today’s millionaire actors, but they were close. For various reasons, their careers slipped, and they could never regain their riches. Some left behind only debt, while some had only a few dollars to their name when they should have been filthy rich. We’ll discuss the reasons why they became broke and remember some of their greatest works. Although they may not have had the money they deserved in the end, we still remember them. It’s a small consolation prize, but it’s got to count for something. Here are 16 Iconic Movie Stars Who Were Completely Broke When They Died.
16. Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle
In the early days of Hollywood, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle was the highest paid movie star in the world. He was the mentor of Charlie Chaplin, Bob Hope, and Buster Keaton. He was one of the biggest celebrities on the planet. Then, in 1921, he was faced with charges for the rape of actress Virginia Rappe. The case was much publicized, and there was a very high-profile smear campaign that accompanied it in the papers. After two hung juries and a third trial in which he was completely exonerated, it was all finally over with. But, the damage has been done. Arbuckle’s career was essentially over. He struggled to find work after that and his funds dissipated. Sadly, on the very same day that he signed a new contract to do a feature film, a film that would hopefully help him recapture his name and wealth, Arbuckle died.
15. Omar Sharif
Omar Sharif is the legendary actor who starred in such films as Doctor Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia. He also famously retired from acting, embittered from the poor roles he received in his later career. Sharif was also known as one of the world’s best Bridge players. He left acting at times to focus on Bridge. Additionally, he was a compulsive gambler, known at casinos around the world. At one point, Sharif lost £750,000 in a single night in Roulette, vowing never to play the game again after that. He was forced to sell his home and live out of hotels from then on. This obviously cut dramatically into his wealth. Because of this major loss, Sharif said he was “all alone and completely broke…I don’t own anything at all apart from a few clothes.”
14. Mabel Normand
From 1910 to 1920, Mabel Normand was perhaps the biggest female movie star in the industry. She appeared in 12 films with Charles Chaplin and 17 with Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, almost all of them successful. Then, in 1922, her lover, the director William Desmond Taylor was shot. The subsequent whodunnit caused a major setback in Normand’s career. She was innocent but her name was tarnished. Two years later, Normand’s chauffeur shot and killed her friend, Courtland S. Dines, while she was there. This new controversy added to Normand’s problems and the studios all but abandoned her. When she died in 1930 from tuberculosis, Normand had a fraction of what she should have been worth.
13. Frances Farmer
In the 1930’s and early ’40s, Frances Farmer was the toast of the town. She was beautiful and talented and in huge demand from the studios. Then, in 1942, Farmer started getting into some trouble. It seemed that during each encounter with the police, Farmer showed erratic and uncontrollable behavior. She was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and committed to a mental institution. A year after her first hospitalization, Farmer was recommitted, this time for much longer. When her autobiography was published, Farmer told stories of extreme mistreatment while at the hospital. She described savage beatings, rapes, and even being forced to eat her own feces. After her release, Farmer attempted a comeback in the film industry in the late ’50s, but it was unsuccessful. In the mid-60s, Farmer tried to start up a company but all the funds were embezzled and she lost everything. When she died in 1970, she was completely broke.
12. Ava Gardner
Named as one of the American Film Institute’s 25 Greatest Female Stars of Classic Hollywood Cinema, Ava Gardner was a major star in the ’40s until the ’70s. Perhaps best known for her role in Mogambo for which she had an Academy Award nomination, Gardner saw work in plenty of huge films throughout her incredible career. Gardner was also famous for her husbands and friends. She married Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw, and Frank Sinatra. She was also great friends with Ernest Hemingway. Gardner acted for a long time and was quite successful, so it’s not really known what happened to all her money. At the end of her life, she lived in Spain and suffered major health issues. Although the two had since split, Sinatra paid for most of her medical expenses. While bedridden, Gardner decided to publish her memoirs in an effort to get some money saying, “I either write the book or sell the jewels and I’m kinda sentimental about the jewels.” Before completing this autobiography, however, she pulled out. Many believe Sinatra gave her the money she needed instead. When she died, it became clear she had almost nothing left.
11. Ed Wood
Although Ed Wood has a famous name nowadays, it wasn’t always that way. In the ’50s, Wood was openly mocked for his films and was considered one of the worst directors in history. He acted in some of his films too, so we’ve included him here. It’s largely because of the quality of his films that he started gaining a cult following. Many believe that Wood is the reason we love bad movies to this day. Still, cult followings in the later years couldn’t pay Wood’s bills. By 1978, he suffered greatly from depression, and he and his wife were evicted from their apartment, became alcoholics, and were unable to afford rent. In total poverty, they moved in with a friend. Three days later, Wood died of a heart attack.
10. Erin Moran
Erin Moran is the actress who played Joanie in both Happy Days and its spin-off, Joanie Loves Chachi. Although she continued to land roles after these two shows went off the air, she never did reach any level of fame even close to what she had as a teen. In 1988, Moran admitted that she suffered from depression and could no longer get any roles. This led to major money problems. In 2010, Moran’s home in California was foreclosed on, and she was forced to live with her mother-in-law in a trailer park. Recently, in 2017, news broke that she had been evicted from this trailer for partying too hard. In April of 2017, Moran died from complications of throat cancer.
9. Veronica Lake
These days, the name Veronica Lake doesn’t trigger as much recognition as it should. Lake was one of the biggest stars in the world in the ’40s. She was most notable for her role in Sullivan’s Travels. If you’ve never seen this film, it is very closely connected with the Coen Brothers‘ film, O Brother, Where Art Thou? Lake was a major s*x symbol in those days. Her peekaboo hairstyle is still imitated nearly everywhere you go. By the end of that decade, however, Lake’s career started rapidly declining. There were alcoholism issues and other contributing factors that led her to leave acting behind almost entirely. She was unsatisfied with the way she was being used in films. In the ’50s, she appeared in only one film. By the ’70s, she began running low on funds; at least that was the rumor. Fans even started sending her money to help her out. Lake then came out and said that she was not broke, but her reasoning was that her rent was so cheap that it was so easy to pay. So basically, she was broke but her lifestyle was more broke. When she died in 1973, she had nothing to her name.
8. Hedy Lamarr
In the 1930’s and ’40s, Hedy Lamarr was thought to be one of the most beautiful women in show business. She was a megastar. She’s also a huge piece of history. In 1933, Lamarr starred in Ecstasy, and she created some of the first nude scenes in non-p*rnographic film history and what is thought to be the first onscreen female orgasm. By the ’60s, Lamarr had left the industry, and her money issues began. In 1966, she was reduced to shoplifting. During the ’70s, she began a life of seclusion. She attempted to sue basically anyone who used anything resembling her, including Corel for a Corel-drawn picture of her and Mel Brooks for a character based on her in Blazing Saddles. Although she had made millions in her career, she spent lavishly…too lavishly. When she died, she left behind a few millions in assets, but she had virtually no money to her name.
7. Bela Lugosi
Bela Lugosi is one of the biggest horror legends in the industry. He’s also one of the biggest horror stories about the harms of being typecasted. After playing Dracula on Broadway in 1927 and then the film in 1931, Lugosi became destined to play similar roles for the rest of his career. His thick accent and brooding appearance made him perfect for horror films, but he was unsatisfied with his limited options and second-billing status. By the end of his great career, Lugosi was relegated to B-movies with Ed Wood and suffered from a drug dependency, particularly morphine and methadone. Although he died poor, Lugosi’s legend will always live on among horror fans. Buried in one of his Dracula capes, Lugosi was saddened when he said of his typecasting, “Now I am the boogie man.” But, it’s actually because of this that we still love him.
6. Anita Ekberg
Anita Ekberg isn’t a name that jumps off the page at you anymore, but she was the star of perhaps the most famous Italian film of all time, Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. Ekberg was once named Miss Sweden, and she was a finalist in Miss Universe. She openly admitted that she could have been a bigger star, but she played when she should have been working. In 2011, Ekberg fell and broke her hip, leading to a three-month stay in a hospital. During this stretch, her home was robbed. She lost all her furniture and jewelry, and a fire damaged her home. She applied for financial aid from the Fellini Foundation, but this organization was struggling as well at the time, so she was not helped much. She died quite poor.
5. Gary Coleman
In the 1980’s, Gary Coleman was a massive star. When he died in 2010, he was virtually penniless. After hitting it big in the ’80s, Coleman sued his parents and manager in 1989 for misappropriating his assets. Later, in the late ’90s, Coleman filed for bankruptcy. Although he didn’t have anything to his name when he passed away in 2010 after a bad fall possibly caused by a seizure, Coleman was due for a very large pension. His ex-wife/common law is now the beneficiary of that. In the end, Coleman was reduced to working low-paying jobs and had several run-ins with the law. It was a sad and tragic end for a much-loved actor.
4. Bobby Driscoll
In the ’40s and ’50s, Bobby Driscoll was one of Disney’s biggest child stars. He starred in the most racist of Disney films, Song of the South, as well as So Dear to My Heart and Treasure Island. In 1953, Driscoll was cast as the voice of Peter Pan and was the model for the animation. After that, however, Driscoll’s roles decreased in importance. He struggled to move on from his image as a child actor. As a teenager in a regular high school, Driscoll was tormented and eventually turned to drugs saying, “I was 17 when I first experimented with the stuff. In no time, I was using whatever was available…mostly heroin, because I had the money to pay for it.” By 1967, Driscoll was completely penniless. In 1968, his body was found dead on a park bench as a result of hardened arteries from drug use. He went unidentified and was buried in an unmarked grave. It wasn’t until 19 months later that his mother even found out he was dead, and the news wasn’t released to the public until late 1971. This was an unceremonious death, to say the least.
3. Mickey Rooney
One of the last surviving actors of the silent film era before he died, Mickey Rooney was a child star that blossomed into a film legend. Although he was most popular in the 1930’s and ’40s, Rooney’s legacy has made him an important name in the industry for decades. Later in his career, he had roles in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The Black Stallion, both films that helped him gain back some of his popularity. In his final years, however, rather than having the multi-millions that an actor of his stature should have had, Rooney had almost nothing. He was forced to sell most of his assets, was in an alleged physically abusive relationship, and had most of his finances mismanaged horribly by his family. With only $18,000 to his name, Rooney died in 2014 at the age of 93.
2. Judy Garland
While Judy Garland will always be best known for her role as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, she was a colossal star that was the lead in many films. Her career lasted for about 40 years, starting from when she was a small girl. Sadly, it’s largely because of the early start to her career and the mistreatment she suffered at the hands of the studios and execs that her life ended so miserably. She was visiting a psychiatrist by the age of 18 and was dependent on drugs and alcohol from an even younger age than that. She ended up owing hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes after some major financial mismanagement. At the age of 47, Garland overdosed on barbiturates, dying while drowning in debt.
1. Corey Haim
Both Corey Haim and Corey Feldman get mocked for the dip their careers suffered as they got older, but these two should be celebrated more often. In the ’80s, they weren’t just teen idols. They were two of the biggest film stars in the industry. Haim was best known for his roles in Lucas, License to Drive, and of course, Lost Boys. Haim was unfortunately ushered into a life of drugs at an early age. This led to major addiction issues and money problems when his career faltered. Contrary to what most people believe, however, Haim did not die of a drug overdose. He died of pneumonia. In fact, there were such low levels of drugs in his system at the time of his death that they couldn’t have had anything to do with his death. Sadly, Haim had so little money that his family needed to ask for donations to pay for his funeral.
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