24 Famous Musicians Who Went Bankrupt: The Lowest Point in Their Careers

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Just because you’ve been able to make yourself worth millions and even billions of dollars, it doesn’t mean you’re exempt from finding yourself in some deep water financially. All it takes is some bad investments, mindless spending, or even divorce settlements to find yourself going from rich to broke in a matter of months. These famed singers, songwriters, and musicians are living proof of that. 

Here’s a list of 24 famous musicians who went bankrupt. 

1. Toni Braxton

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Toni Braxton performs at the BET Presents: 2017 Soul Train Awards in Las Vegas, Nevada on November 5th 2017 at the Orleans Arena. Image from Shutterstock.

Toni Braxton may be a seven-time Grammy Award-winner with hits like “Another Sad Love Song” and “Breathe Again,” but she hit a low point in 1998 when she was forced to file for bankruptcy. Sadly, it wasn’t because of something particularly bad that she did, but because it took a while to receive her financial reward from her number one hits. 

She unsuccessfully tried to open a lawsuit against Arista and LaFace Records and, as a result, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. That wasn’t here only bout with finance issues, either. She filed for bankruptcy again in 2010, claiming between $10 million and $50 million in debt. 

Related: Toni Braxton’s Net Worth

2. MC Hammer

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Rapper MC Hammer, known for such songs as “2 Legit 2 Quit,” “Pumps and a Bump,” and “U Can’t Touch This,” filed for bankruptcy in 1996. The need came after he spent his $33 million net worth on staff and personal luxuries, accruing more than $13 million in debt.

This wasn’t helped by his dwindling album sales, a lot of people on payroll, unpaid loans, and a rather lavish lifestyle. He filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on April 1, 1996, at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Oakland, California. Two years later, on September 23, 1998, the case was converted to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. He was later denied bankruptcy discharge on April 23, 2002. 

Related: MC Hammer’s House Party Hits The Island

3. 50 Cent

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Another rapper to appear on our famous musicians who went bankrupt list is none other than Curtis James Jackson III, aka 50 Cent. The “In da Club” rapper filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on July 13, 2015, in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Connecticut. At the time, he had built up a debt worth $32,509,549.91. His filing came days after a jury ordered him to pay rapper Rick Ross’s ex-girlfriend, Lastonia Leviston, $5 million for posting an online sex tape featuring her with another man. His massive debt was also the result of some investments that went wrong.

Related: 50 Cent: Interesting Facts

4. Marvin Gaye

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R&B Motown singer Marvin Gay, known as the “Prince of Motown” and the “Prince of Soul,” found himself in a royal mess in 1976. In his case, it was the result of love gone wrong when he separated from his wife, Anna Gordy. At the time of the divorce, he was ordered to pay his ex-wife $600,000, but he found it financially difficult to fulfill due to his lavish lifestyle as well as his decline in popularity.

As a result, he filed for bankruptcy and, as a compromise, agreed to give Gordy the royalties to his next album, Here, My Dear. When he died in 1984, he was still $300,000 in debt to her. 

Related: What We Know About The Death of Marvin Gaye

5. Michael Jackson

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The last years of Michael Jackson’s life were nothing but difficult. The reigning King of Pop found himself on the verge of bankruptcy, partly because he was involved in nearly 50 ongoing lawsuits for various reasons. While he never officially filed for bankruptcy, considering at the time of his unexpected death, he had accrued between $400 million and $500 million in debt after borrowing money from friends, it was likely to come soon. 

Related: How Did Michael Jackson Die?

6. Cyndi Lauper

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Cyndi Lauper Playing The Flute On The Song She Bop

Musician Cyndi Lauper, best known for songs like “Change of Heart,” “True Colors,” “I Drove All Night,” and “That’s What I Think,” hit a financial snag in 1981. It all came about when she and other members of Blue Angel had a falling out with their manager, Steve Massarsky. After the group fired him, he sued them for $80,000.

The lawsuit forced Lauper to file for bankruptcy. After the group broke up not long after, she worked in retail stores, waitressed at IHOP, and sang in local clubs to address her financial issues. 

7. Meat Loaf

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Meatloaf Q&A at Galaxycon Raleigh 2019. Image by Super Festivals

Meat Loaf may be on the list of the bestselling music artists of all time, but that does not mean he’s avoided the finance problems. He earned his spot on the musicians who went bankrupt list in 1983 when poor management and 45 different lawsuits worth $80 million all came to a head. By filing for bankruptcy, Meat Loaf subsequently lost the rights to all his songs. Thankfully, receiving royalties for his Bat Out of Hell album in 1997 started to help him rise back up. 

Related: How Did Meat Loaf Die?

8. Mick Fleetwood

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BYRON BAY, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 26 :The Mick Fleetwood Blues Band plays on the Crossroads stage at the 2016 Byron Bay Bluesfest. 27th annual Blues and Roots festival. Image from Shutterstock.

Fleetwood Mac co-founder, drummer, and leader Mick Fleetwood found himself filing for bankruptcy in 1984. At the time, he owed nearly $3.7 million, which he blamed on his severe addiction to drugs and alcohol. He later talked about his personal financial issues in Fleetwood – My Life and Adventures with Fleetwood Mac, which he co-wrote with writer Stephen Davis. 

Related: 29 Best Drummers of All Time, Ranked

9. Willie Nelson

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Arrington, VA/USA – 9/7/2014 : Willie Nelson performs at LOCKN’ Festival in Arrington, VA. Image from Shutterstock.

Willie Nelson remains a living legend, even at 90 years old, as he closes in on a seven-decade career. Through it, he’s graced the world with songs like “On the Road Again” and “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” while also penning songs like “Crazy” and “Pretty Paper.” With a career that long and that epic, there are bound to be issues, as things can’t be perfect all the time. 

Nelson had most of his assets seized by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in 1990 after accruing $32 million in unpaid taxes and bad investments made in an attempt to work something out with the IRS in the decade prior. A settlement was eventually agreed upon, lowering his debt to $6 million thanks to his craft lawyers. 

Related: Willie Nelson’s Net Worth

10. Tom Petty

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Legendary musician Tom Petty of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, as well as Mudcrutch, started seeing his financial issues come ironically after releasing two highly successful albums. The problem was his record label, whom he said “treated him like a piece of meat,” seemed to be laundering the money for themselves. To get out from under their thumb, he paid for his next album, never allowed it to come out, and then declared bankruptcy in 1979. 

Related: 25 Wild Tom Petty Facts

11. Lauryn Hill

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Lauryn Hill’s story is easily the saddest to appear on our musicians who went bankrupt list, although she never actually had to file. She certainly came close, though. Regarded as one of the greatest rappers of all time, she started getting into legal trouble in June 2012 when she was charged with three counts of tax fraud, failing to file taxes on $1.8 million of income between 2005 and 2007. 

Hill tried to defend herself, saying, “When I was working consistently without being affected by the interferences mentioned above, I filed and paid my taxes. This only stopped when it was necessary to withdraw from society in order to guarantee the safety and well-being of myself and my family.” 

In June 2012, she pled guilty to the charges and was eventually imprisoned for three months. 

Related: The 16 Best Female Rappers

12. Lil’ Kim

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LOS ANGELES – JUN 27: Lil Kim at the BET Awards 2021 Arrivals at the Microsoft Theater on June 27, 2021 in Los Angeles, CA. Image from Shutterstock.

Lil’ Kim became one of the musicians who went bankrupt in recent years, filing for bankruptcy in 2018. The “Not Tonight (Ladies Night)” rapper owed the government nearly $2 million in back taxes with overall debts upwards of $4 million. This was reportedly caused by her lavish lifestyle. That’s an understatement, considering she filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy so that she wouldn’t lose her New Jersey mansion. 

13. Wayne Newton

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One of the most popular singers of the 20th century, Wayne Newton, has earned such nicknames as “The Midnight Idol,” “Mr. Las Vegas,” and “Mr. Entertainment.” Well, at least none of those are “Mr. Finance Guru.” 

Newton was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in order to reorganize his $20 million in debt. Part of the debt was due to his suing NBC for libel, claiming that the famous network partnered with the Mafia to buy the Aladdin Hotel, which Newton was part owner of from 1980 to 1982. His filing included a $341,000 tax lien from the Internal Revenue Service. Thankfully, it didn’t take long for him to sort things out, as he was more than financially stable again by 1999. 

14. Aaron Carter

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Aaron Carter was a teen idol of the 1990s, but as he started to get older, things began to go downhill in many ways. One of those ways was financial, as he found himself buried in more than $3.5 million in debt. Carter filed for bankruptcy on November 22, 2013, to shed the debt. 

The saddest part of the story is it all came on top of him because of the way his parents handled his finances when he was a minor. When he made the bankruptcy filing, he said that his parents used his earnings to purchase 30 cars and 15 houses while he didn’t even get any of the profits when some were sold off. He also alleged that his father coerced him into signing a $256,000 check by shooting a .44 Magnum near his ear, causing him to lose 70 percent of his hearing in that ear. 

Carter was able to settle all his debt by 2014. Sadly, he died in 2022.

Related: What Happened To Aaron Carter?

15. David Crosby

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Once In A Blue Moon Festival Amsterdamse Bos, Amsterdam. The Netherlands August 25th 2018. Concert of David Crosby. Image from Shutterstock.

David Crosby, a pioneer of folk rock and psychedelic music, saw his life unraveling not long after he broke out as a solo artist. The pressures of the industry caused him to quickly become addicted to drugs, leading to many legal and financial issues. When he was later arrested on a hit-and-run as well as drug/concealed gun possession charges, his record sales took a hit. Because he had no money coming in, he was forced to file for bankruptcy to relieve his debts. 

Related: How Did David Crosby Die?

16. Ron Isley

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Ron Isley, lead singer and founding member of The Isley Brothers, earned his spot on the famous musicians who went bankrupt list after he was convicted on tax evasion charges in 2006. He reportedly owed the IRS more than $3.1 million in back taxes. As a result, he was sentenced to more than three years in prison. He was later listed as one of California’s most delinquent taxpayers, with more than $300,000 in debt. 

17. George Clinton

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Father of Funk George Clinton has made a name for himself as one of the “foremost innovators of funk music” alongside the likes of Sly Stone and James Brown. He found himself in financial trouble in 1984 and allegedly filed for bankruptcy, although he continues to deny it. It is unclear whether this resulted from fraud at the hands of his record label (as he said the filing was forged) or a bad business deal. 

What is known is that he was forced to relinquish his own publishing rights and has been actively trying to regain his copyrights ever since. 

18. Jerry Lee Lewis

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Jerry Lee Lewis in 2006. Image from Shutterstock.

Known as “The Killer” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll’s first great wild man,” Jerry Lee Lewis was a pioneer of rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll in the mid-20th century. His songs “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “Great Balls of Fire” are still among the greatest. 

Lewis had his share of financial trouble over the years, however. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee was forced to file for bankruptcy in 1988 to relieve his $3 million in debt. This included $2 million owed to the IRS. Prior to him filing bankruptcy, he ran into trouble with the IRS in 1979, who seized some of his property to compensate for the $274,00 he’d accrued in debt. 

Related: 11 Best 50s Songs

19. Harry Nilsson

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With this next entry on our musicians who went bankrupt list, we’re getting some major Elvis and Col. Tom Parker vibes.

Singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson, who enjoyed most of his success in the early 1970s, was forced to file for bankruptcy only months before he died in 1994. The road to his financial struggles began years earlier because of his crook of a manager who swindled him out of millions of dollars.

By the 1990s, he was indebted to more than 70 parties and was soon receiving a plethora of foreclosure notices.

Related: Elvis Presley’s Manager: Did Colonel Parker Steal From Elvis?

20. David Cassidy

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David Cassidy, best known for portraying Keith Partridge on the musical sitcom The Patridge Family, had to file for bankruptcy in 2015. He had reportedly blown millions of dollars and was unable to pay back the debt. 

21. Tammy Wynette

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Tammy Wynette was one of the pioneering women of country music and, to this day, is considered one of the most influential and successful singers in the popular genre. 

The “Stand by Your Man” singer’s low point came in 1988. Her filing for bankruptcy was due to heartbreaking reasons, including health problems, failed investments in Florida shopping malls, and her growing addiction to the pain medication Demerol. 

Related: How Did George Jones Die?

22. Billy Joel

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Billy Joel, known as the “Piano Man” after releasing the 1973 signature song of the same name, found himself in financial trouble not because of something he did but because of the underhandedness of his manager, Frank Weber. Weber reportedly invested Joel’s money in multiple bad loans and risky business investments. It led to him having to sue Weber for $90 million for fraud to get a handle on the debt he owed. While he didn’t officially file for bankruptcy, he certainly found himself close. 

Related: 25 Famous Bald Celebrities

23. Ted Nugent

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Ted Nugent, known for his solo career and his time as lead guitarist for The Amboy Dukes, was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1980. Sadly, he is yet another on our list of musicians who went bankrupt who put his trust in the wrong people. Because his managers chose to put the “Stranglehold” singer’s money into some businesses that were failing, Nugent found himself having no other choice. 

24. Isaac Hayes

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Singer, songwriter, and composer Isaac Hayes, best known for being a creative force behind Stax Records, had to file for bankruptcy in 1976. At the time, he and his wife reportedly owed more than $6 million in debts. Yet, his bankruptcy story gets even sadder. By the time all the proceedings came to an end in 1977, the “Rock Me Easy Baby” singer lost his home, a majority of his personal property, as well as all future royalties earned from his music. That included the music he had written, produced, and performed.

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Written by Anna Paulson


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