You would think that anyone who can bring in millions of dollars would definitely be a millionaire until the day they died. This is not the case. It is especially not the case with musicians. Famous musicians are known for their party hard, live fast and die young mentality. They have been known to throw their money away on parties and drugs faster than the money ever came in.
This is, of course, just one of the ways musicians have gone bankrupt. It is the most stereotypical way as well. One thing to remember is musicians do not make much money from selling albums. There income comes mostly from performing concerts. It is estimated that for every $1000 a group earns from record sales, they only keep $23.40. The rest goes to their record label. Record labels are notorious for putting strangleholds on musicians that make it very hard for them to be financially successful. This was especially true in the 1960s and 1970s.
This list includes some of the most famous musicians to have filed for bankruptcy. This is in order of how much they lost and the degree to which they were able to pull themselves out of financial ruin. Some of them did. However, most of them are forced to live with a black mark on their credit for the rest of their lives. Some of course, almost made it out and then messed up again. After all, when you have a live fast and die young attitude there is no reason to worry about money.
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10 David Crosby
David Crosby rose to fame in the mid 1960s as one of the founding members of the psychedelic band The Byrds. In 1968, he met Stephen Stills of Buffalo Springfield and Graham Nash of The Hollies and formed Crosby, Stills, and Nash. The next year the group added Neil Young into the mix. The band was highly successful and is often credited as being the pioneers of rock harmonies. In 1982, Crosby was arrested for drug possession and spent nine months in prison. By 1985, he was broke due to a highly expensive drug problem. He was arrested again on weapons charges in 1985 and in 2004. He was finally able to pull himself out of his drug addictions and begin making money. It is estimated that prior to 2004, Crosby had earned and spent over $25 million. He has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice both as a member of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young and as a member of The Bryds.
9 Dee Snider
Dee Snider was the frontman and song writer for the popular 1980s heavy metal group Twisted Sister. He was known for his trademark appearance inspired by the long blond hair, heavy eye shadow, and thick red lipstick that was commonly associated with drag queens at the time. He achieved mass success when the band produced its third album, Stay Hungry, which featured “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock”. Though Twisted Sister was able to sell albums, the band was never successful at touring due to poor management. Snider was forced to file for bankruptcy in the 1990s because the band could never make enough money to pay their record labels. He was able to pull himself out of financial ruin in the 2000s due to his highly successful radio program The Dee Snider Show which has been syndicated all over the world. He also owns the rights to the song “We’re Not Gonna Take It” which makes him a good amount of money from political activist groups who use the song as their anthem.
8 Marvin Gaye
Marvin Gaye was one of the most popular artists of Motown. He helped shaped the record label’s sound through hits such as “Heard It Through The Grapevine” and “How Sweet It Is”. In the 1970s, Gaye became the first major artist to break away from Motown. Though his albums What’s Going On and Let’s Get It On were major hits, he never got to see any of the money. He was forced into bankruptcy in 1976 due to alimony payments. All the money from his albums were given to his ex-wife. It appeared Gaye was finally going to pull himself out of his financial hole in 1982 when he released the single “Sexual Healing”. Unfortunately, before he could start making back what he'd lost he was shot twice by his own father. Marvin Gaye died on April 1, 1984. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
7 Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes
Lisa Lopes, who went by the stage name “Left Eye”, was the highly outspoken member of the rap/ R&B group TLC. TLC rose to fame in the 1990s with hits like “No Scrubs” and “2 Proud 2 Beg”. She was often featured in the media due to a string of highly abusive relationships. She was forced to file for bankruptcy in 1995 due to bad record contracts and poor band management. Lopes was killed in a car accident on April 25, 2002.
6 Vanilla Ice
Vanilla Ice began his rap career in 1989 with the album To The Extreme. This album included the song “Ice Ice Baby” which became the first rap song to hit number one on the Billboard music charts. His popularity faded just as quickly as it came. He has always regretted his business arrangement with SBK Records which required him to act and dress a certain way in order to appeal to a mass audience. By the mid 1990s he was forced to file for bankruptcy and his music career never recovered.
5 Jerry Lee Lewis
Jerry Lee Lewis is sometime referred to as “Rock and Roll’s First Great Wild Man”. He was just as wild in his personal life as he was on stage performing his hits “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin Going On”. His popularity quickly expired by the early 1960s after he married his second cousin. He went from earning $10,000 a night to just $250 per concert. By the 1980s, he owed the IRS more than $3 million in back taxes. He was forced into bankruptcy and never recovered financially. Jerry Lee Lewis is a member of the 1986 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inaugural class.
4 Ron Isley
Ron Isley was the lead singer and founder of the Isley Brothers. They rose to fame in 1959 with the hit song “Shout”. Following a brief stint on Motown Records, Ron Isley formed T-Neck Records in order to get the Isley Brothers away from the highly restrictive environment of major record labels. His lavish spending habits forced him into bankruptcy in the 1980s. Isley was a fan of buying many huge mansions and yachts. He pulled himself out of bankruptcy in the 1990s and The Isley Brothers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. Unfortunately Isley did not learn his lesson the first time he had money issues and was convicted of tax invasion in 2006 and sentenced to three years in prison.
3 MC Hammer
Rapper MC Hammer became popular in the 1990s with hit songs such as “2 Legit 2 Quit” and “U Can’t Touch This”. His albums sold over 50 million copies. Hammer spent all his money on highly luxurious items. He constructed a $12 million home and had a staff of 200 personal servants. The payroll for his butlers and maids cost him about $6.8 million a year. By 1996, he had to file for bankruptcy and owed the IRS over $13 million in back taxes. On top of that, he was later sued for $20 million for copyright infringement.
2 Wayne Newton
Wayne Newton is one of the best known Las Vegas entertainers in the world. He was part owner of the Aladdin hotel from 1980 to 1982 and attempted to buy the rest of the stake in 1983, but was unable to do so. In 1992, he was forced to file for bankruptcy due to accumulating a $20 million debt in a libel dispute with NBC. In 2005, the IRS began a long string of lawsuits with the singer over years of back taxes.
1 George Clinton
George Clinton was the founding member and front man of the funk pioneers Parliament/Funkadelic. He formed The Parliaments as a teenager in the early 1960s. They performed in barbershops as a doo-wop group. He then became one of the head song writers for Motown. While working with Motown, his band Parliament started to became well known. Due to compensation disputes with his record company, Clinton changed the band’s name to Funkadelic. After the terms of the legal dispute were met the band then became known as Parliament/Funkadelic. He was forced to file for bankruptcy in 1985 due to problems with his record companies. It was in the 1990s that Clinton received the biggest blow, however. In a battle with these record companies, Clinton lost the legal rights to all his songs from the late 1970s and 1980s. This catalog included his most well known songs such as “Flashlight” and “One Nation Under A Groove”. It is estimated the catalog was worth over $100 million. Clinton was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.
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