Being a celebrity isn’t as easy as people in magazines make it look. Star-status and aspiring to star-status both have high costs of living. Making it (or having it made) is no guarantee of future success. Sometimes the worst happens: the deal falls through, the sales tank, or the IRS shows up. Then, some stars find themselves in the tough position of having to declare bankruptcy. Once declared, they then have to start the long (or sometimes not-so-long) process of recovery. Here are five stars who’ve declared bankruptcy and recovered from it.
5) Cyndi Lauper: Net Worth $15 Million
We’ve all tapped her foot, if not gleefully sang along, to one of her songs. Cyndi Lauper‘s one of the great eighties popstars, an actress and a Tony Award winning composer (Kinky Boots, 2013). Before making it big, Lauper worked odd-jobs after getting her high school equivalency degree, working as a waitress and office assistant while singing in Doc West and Flyer, cover bands who focused on top 40 songs and those of Led Zeppelin and Jefferson Airplane. In 1977, though, her vocal chords were extensively damaged, and there was a chance she’d never be able to sing again. Undaunted, she underwent a full year of vocal therapy with voice coach Katie Agestra to recover her voice. In 1980, she formed the band Blue Angel with John Turi, releasing a debut album (called, creatively, Blue Angel) the same year. It was a massive flop, and their manager sued them for $80,000, leading to the band’s disbandment and Lauper declaring bankruptcy. Post-bankruptcy, Lauper sang in New York clubs while seeking a record deal. In the spring of 1983, she signed with Portrait Records as a solo artist, and released her first album, She’s So Unusual, at the end of the year. The album was a hit, featuring her first single Girls Just Want to Have Fun, and sold close to five million copies, as well as giving her near-instantaneous popularity and helping her on the way to a 1984 Grammy for best new artist.
4) Meat Loaf : Net Worth $25 Million
Meat Loaf (aka Michael Aday), the voice behind the smash hit Bat Out of Hell (1977), had a rough time after the album was released. While sales soared, his relationship with Jim Steinman, the album’s composer and lyricist, soured. Their falling out lead to the two filing lawsuits against one another, and put any plans for a sequel album on hold. It was during this period that Meat Loaf lost his voice, and his impressive three octave range deteriorated into something Steinman described as sounding “like the little girl in The Exorcist”, which left him unable to record new material, or fall back to his earlier career in musical theater. By 1986, he’d recovered his voice, but his latest album, Blind Before I Stop, was a critical failure, leading to him declaring bankruptcy. He tried his hand at acting and stand-up comedy, neither of which was a great draw. But he also continued with his musical career, switching from large scale venues to smaller ones. Over time, the smaller venues paid off: the people who’d loved Bat Out of Hell kept going to see him, and as the eighties drew to a close, he filling larger venues once more. But his triumphant return wasn’t until 1993, when Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman reunited for the long-awaited sequel to Bat Out of Hell, Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell. Widely considered one of the greatest comeback albums ever produced, it sold 10 million copies within the first three months, and it’s first single, the twelve minute epic I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That), reached number one on the charts in twenty-eight countries.
3) Larry King: Net Worth $150 Million
Larry King is, perhaps, the master of talk shows. He began in radio, moving to Florida in the 1950s, where the growing market provided jobs for the inexperienced, but enthusiastic. He went live on the Miami station WAHR in 1957, and in 1960 built a follower base with a local television program and newspaper columns in the Miami Herald and the Miami News. Throughout the sixties he continued to build his brand, and found a mentor in television legend Jackie Gleason. Then in 1971, he was charged with grand larceny over an unpaid debt owed to a financier. His courtroom fiasco was over by 1972, with him pleading no contest to a count of passing bad checks and the larceny charge being dropped due to the statute of limitations. However, the charges left him both deeply in debt and publicly disgraced, leaving him working in West Coast radio while waiting the scandal out. Over this time, he’d racked up over $350,000 in debt, and declared bankruptcy in 1978. But despite the sounds of it, 1978 was a good year for King: he returned to Miami-based broadcasting with a new radio program: The Larry King Show, which featured guests and live call ins from the audience. It was this show that drew not only the public’s attention, but also the interest of media mogul Ted Turner, who hired King to host a talk show on his fledgling television channel, CNN. The show was the first international call-in program on television, and developed a fanbase that tuned in loyally until King’s retirement from television in 2010.
2) Donald Trump: Net Worth $3.5 Billion
Now, before we start this section, Donald Trump has never filed for personal bankruptcy, only corporate bankruptcy. But, he has filed for it four times, so it’s worth mentioning. Donald Trump’s best known now for his hosting of the NBC reality show The Apprentice, and its spinoff, Celebrity Apprentice, wherein people compete for the chance to run one of Trump’s companies for a year (during which they’ll earn $250,000). He got his start in the seventies, with large construction projects in Manhattan, for which he quickly gained public recognition. By 1980, he’d renovated the Grand Hyatt, and become known as New York’s best known developer. His success continued through the eighties. But all good things must come to an end. In 1991, the Taj Mahal, Trump’s $1 billion casino in Atlantic City, declared bankruptcy. This has been attributed to the decline of the real estate market in the nineties, which saw Trump’s personal worth slip from an estimated $1.7 billion to a paltry $500 million. Others say this bankruptcy can all be linked to his over-leveraging his properties. He’s since filed for corporate bankruptcy in 1992, 2004 and 2009, but the 1991 filing was the one that cut him deepest, as he sold off Trump Shuttle Airlines and his stake in several other businesses to climb out. His continuing success, despite multiple business failures, has been attributed to his ability to learn from the situation and his understanding of corporate bankruptcy law. After 1991, he stopped guaranteeing debts with his own wealth, and after each successive bankruptcy, has distanced himself from the company. For example, in the Taj Mahal bankruptcy, he handed over fifty percent of the ownership to its bondholders in return for better interest rates. By now, Trump’s equity stakes in Trump Entertainment Resorts is only five percent, with another five in warrants. But he’s doing just fine with a net worth of $3.5 billion.
1) Walt Disney: Net Worth $5 Billion
Yes, the Walt Disney. Of Walt Disney Studios, arguably the most successful animation studio on the planet. After World War One, his brother found him work in Kansas at the Pesmen-Rubin Art Studio, where he met future employee Ubbe Iwerks. Afterwards, he made commercials for the Kansas City Film Ad Company. It was in this period that Walt started experimenting with hand-drawn cel animation. Convinced he was on to something, he decided to open an animation business, and recruited a fellow employee, Fred Harman, to join him. They made a deal with a local Kansas theater to screen their cartoons, which they called Laugh-O-Grams. The Laugh-O-Grams were hugely popular: topical, gently satirical and beautifully animated shorts. Off their popularity, Walt Disney founded the Laugh-O-Gram studio, with the intention of producing a series of seven-minute fairy tales that combined live-action and animated content, called ‘Alice in Cartoonland‘. However, thanks to the expense of producing the shorts, as well as a business deal with the predatory Pictorial Clubs of Tennessee, who promised $11,100 for six cartoons and never paid, Laugh-O-Gram employees were working without pay and quitting because of it by the end of 1922. Despite later winning a breach of contract suit against Pictorial Clubs, there was little in terms of monetary restitution. By 1923, the studio was too in debt to continue, and forced to declare bankruptcy. Disney then pooled his money with his brother, Roy, and moved to Hollywood. There, along with Ubbe Iwerks, they began the Disney Brothers’ Studio. The studio’s first deal was with Margaret Winkler, who oversaw the distribution of their Alice cartoons, and the invention of the character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, with the shorts going for $1500 each. The partnership with Winkler fell through after she stole the rights to (along with most of the animators for) the Oswald animations. Shortly afterwards, Disney, his brother and Iwerks produced three cartoons with a character Walt had been working on. They couldn’t find distributors for the first two, but Mickey Mouse’s third outing, Steamboat Willie, was an instant success. The rest, as they say, is history.
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