23 Famous Singers Who Went Bankrupt

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Sometimes, being famous means seemingly unlimited wealth and riches. However, many singers have faced financial woes and declared bankruptcy at least once.

If you want to learn more about prominent singers who went bankrupt, you’re in the right place. Let’s talk about 23 famous individuals who ran out of money, even after years of incredible success.

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 is one of the singers who went bankrupt, filing in 1998 when her minimal pay from studio albums caught up with her lavish lifestyle. Braxton eventually pulled herself out in 2000, thanks to the income generated from The Heat, her third studio album. However, Braxton filed again in 2010 after health issues forced her to cancel her Las Vegas residency.

2. Meat Loaf

how did meatloaf die. Meatloaf and stoney in 1971
Meatloaf and Stoney in 1971. Image is in the Public Domain.

Meat Loaf sold an incredible 43 million records during his career, racking up wild success with his music, such as the iconic “Bat Out of Hell.” He wanted to record a follow-up but lost his voice, all while getting sued by his former producer, Jim Steinman, and others.

The artist was forced to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy, only pushing forward in 1993 with the creation of “Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell.”

Related: How Did Meat Loaf Die?

3. Billy Joel

billy joel playing piano on stage
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Billy Joel might be one of the best-selling artists of all time, but that doesn’t mean he’s always been the best with his money. Unfortunately, Joel’s brother-in-law, daughter’s godfather, and one-time manager, Frank Weber, took money right from him, using it to make bad loans and risky investments and forcing Joel to go bankrupt. Eventually, he sued Weber for $90 million.

4. Willie Nelson

willie nelson playing guitar on stage
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Famed Willie Nelson lost a ton of money on back taxes – $32 million. He claimed that his accountants mishandled his taxes, even making an album off the event called The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories? He ended up settling with the IRS in 1993. 

5. Ted Nugent

ted nugent on stage performing
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Ted Nugent is a successful musical talent, forging a career as the guitarist and occasional singer in The Amboy Dukes and as a solo artist. Unfortunately, Nugent’s manager made terrible choices, placing Nugent’s assets into various failing businesses and forcing Nugent to file for bankruptcy in 1980.

6. Tom Petty

tom petty holding a red guitar
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Tom Petty is another on our list of singers who went bankrupt, raking in very little dough for his talent. He hated his abusive record label, and filing for bankruptcy in 1979 was the only option for freeing himself from his contract. This is the only positive example of bankruptcy on our list.

Related: How Did Tom Petty Die?

7. Marvin Gaye

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Marvin Gaye was effortlessly cool and talented, yet became bankrupt thanks to his relationship troubles with Anna Gordy and his love of luxuries. He fell behind on alimony payments in 1975 and filed for bankruptcy in 1976 after he was pushed to pay his ex-wife royalties from the album Here, My Dear – which almost led to jail time for unpaid owed government taxes.

8. MC Hammer

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MC Hammer exploded on the scene in the 90s with his hit album Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em, raking in millions. He quickly spent the cash on mansions, 200 staff members, and other lavish items. He subsequently faced several lawsuits for copyright infringement issues, putting him $10 million in the hole.

9. David Crosby

david crosby on stage wearing a hat in front of a microphone last words
Once In A Blue Moon Festival Amsterdamse Bos, Amsterdam. The Netherlands August 25th 2018. Concert of David Crosby. Image from Shutterstock.

David Crosby rose to fame as a member of The Byrds, but he also found success with Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young and his solo career. He eventually turned to erratic behavior and was arrested for a hit-and-run, which caused a drop in his reputation and sales. Soon after, Crosby had no choice but to declare bankruptcy.

10. Jerry Lee Lewis

jerry lee lewis on stage playing piano
Jerry Lee Lewis in 2006. Image from Shutterstock.

Jerry Lee Lewis was one of the founders of rock and roll, topping the charts with number one multiple times. However, his reputation died when he married a 13-year-old who was his second cousin, tanking his sales and forcing him to file for bankruptcy after he became millions of dollars in debt.

Related: 23 Famous Musicians Who Dated Underaged Girls 

11. Mick Fleetwood

mick fleetwood playing the drums
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.

Mick Fleetwood, drummer and founding member of Fleetwood Mac, had many successful albums, including the best-selling Rumours. Unfortunately, Fleetwood’s love for cocaine and poor spending habits led to millions in debt and eventual bankruptcy. 

12. Cyndi Lauper

Cyndi Lauper, Xcel, Xcel Energy Center, Music In Minnesota
Cyndi Lauper Playing The Flute On The Song She Bop

Cyndi Lauper was in a band, Blue Angel, before she ever made it big as a solo artist. The group fired their manager, bringing on an $80,000 lawsuit and forcing Lauper to file for bankruptcy in 1981. Luckily, she was able to make the money back before releasing her own studio albums.

13. Leonard Cohen

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Leonard Cohen is next on our list of singers who went bankrupt, boasting a successful career until he found his manager was embezzling money – $5 million, all while selling Cohen’s rights to publish. He was forced to declare bankruptcy and ended up pulling in money by going on tour again at age 73.

14. George Clinton

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George Clinton was the “father of funk,” but he never really made too much money during his career. He was forced to give up his publishing rights and then had to file for bankruptcy because he failed to disclose the songs he wrote from 1976-1983. This lost critical income for the artist, and he still struggles to access his copyrights to this day.

15. John Oates

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John Oates sold more than 80 million records in Hall & Oates, but his money couldn’t compete with his lavish lifestyle. After buying antique cars, private planes, four homes, and more, Oates learned he was living far above his means and had less than $50 to his name.

16. Leif Garrett

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Leif Garrett had a wild leap to fame in the late 70s, which is part of what led to his downfall and eventual bankruptcy. His fame died out after his initial rise to stardom, but his continued spending habits and drug addiction made him eventually file for bankruptcy. He claimed that. eventually, his only money came from a $1,000 allowance from his mother.

17. Ron Isley

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Next on our list of singers who went bankrupt is Ron Isley, lead singer of the Isley Brothers and a professional who refused to pay his due taxes to the IRS. He didn’t get away with it – the IRS seized his property, and he filed for bankruptcy. Years later, he went to prison for failing to complete his tax returns – again.

18. Wayne Newton

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Wayne Newton, the iconic Las Vegas entertainer, has a complex bankruptcy situation, with his proceedings mixed in with lawsuits and allegations of fraud, sexual harassment, and more. He filed bankruptcy in 1992, then filed a similar suit in 2013. 

19. Michael Jackson

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LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – Exact date unknown – circa 1990 – Michael Jackson arriving at a celebrity event. Image from Shutterstock.

Michael Jackson had one of the most successful careers of all time, but he spent his fortune on reckless items like cars, jewelry, and the upkeep of his Neverland Ranch. Allegedly, Michael Jackson passed away with $400-$500 million of debt to his name, putting him among the singers who went bankrupt.

Related: How Did Michael Jackson Die?

20. Harry Nilsson

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(No licensable photos available) Image from Shutterstock.

Harry Nilsson raked in tons of dough, becoming a millionaire before the ripe age of 30. Unfortunately, his stardom died in the 80s, and his manager stole millions from him, forcing him into debt with over 70 groups. He filed for bankruptcy in 1994, passing away soon after. 

21. David Cassidy

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David Cassidy, best known for his role as Keith Partridge on The Partridge Family, shot to fame as a superstar pop sensation in the 70s, raking in the dough. Unfortunately, the actor declared bankruptcy in 2015, allegedly due to his issues with alcohol and substance abuse. 

22. Lauryn Hill

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Lauryn Hill floated to the top of her career in 1998 with the release of her first solo album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. She won five Grammys for the work but got sued by the group New Ark after they claimed she failed to credit them. Hill ended up paying them $5 million and, years later, served three months in prison after failing to pay taxes, adding her to our list of singers who went bankrupt.

23. 50 Cent

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Last on our list of singers who went bankrupt is 50 Cent, a successful artist who filed for bankruptcy in 2015 with $30 million in debt. There’s a rolling list of reasons for his debt. The rapper allegedly spent $100,000 a month on lifestyle, paid $5 million to Lastonia Leviston for an inappropriate video, and screwed over a former business partner, costing him $17 million.

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Written by Hope Davis

Long-time music lover Hope became a full-time writer in 2020 after being laid off from her regular job due to COVID-19. She now spends her time traveling the world to see her favorite bands while writing about them!


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