Celebrities Who Beat Bankruptcy

After getting a root canal and waiting in line at the DMV, bankruptcy suffers from one of the worst reputations around.  Many people think that when you file for bankruptcy, your financial life is over.  It’s a common, stubborn misconception that after a bankruptcy, you’ll never be able to rebuild your credit, take out a loan, buy another car or another home, or be a financial success in general.  In fact, this couldn’t be further from the truth.  While it’s true that you do need to be proactive about monitoring your financial habits following a consumer bankruptcy discharge, if you put in the effort to make your bill and credit card payments in full and on time, you can rebuild good credit, good relationships with lenders, and a good financial life.  But don’t take our word for it: you can see the proof in these stories of seven celebrities who beat bankruptcy.

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7.  Burt Reynolds

Besides one infamously hirsute centerfold in Playgirl Magazine, Burt Reynolds is best known for being one of America’s leading men throughout the 1970s and into the future.  With his goofy demeanor and serious acting talents, Reynolds endeared America to him after appearing in a string of canonical films like the iconic Smokey And The Bandit (1977), the grim Deliverance (1972), and the action-packed White Lightning (1973).  With a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a face recognized by millions, Reynolds didn’t seem like a likely candidate for financial insolvency.

But by the mid-1990s, the mustachioed film star found himself over $10 million in debt.  Following an expensive divorce and a poor investment in the ironically-named PoFolks restaurant chain, Reynolds filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1996.  Down but not out, Reynolds managed to keep his $2.5 million mansion, and emerged from the bankruptcy in 1998.

6.  MC Hammer

MC Hammer (less widely known as Stanley Burrell) was a musical mega-hit during the first half of the 1990s.  Credited with the famous “Hammertime” phrase and dance, pioneering rap-pop crossovers, and of course, the eponymous, billowing pants, MC Hammer has sold more than 50 million records worldwide to date.

But while Hammer may have been one of the early 1990s’ biggest entertainers, he became almost as famous for his blockbuster bankruptcy as his chart-topping singles.  By 1996 (the same year Burt Reynolds found himself in bankruptcy court), Hammer’s rock-star fortune had dwindled deep into the red, with a lavish lifestyle primarily to blame for $13 million in debt.  Hammer’s prized mansion was sold, even as additional lawsuits alleging copyright infringement heaped on the pile.

But, in his own words, Hammer was indeed “2 legit 2 quit.”  After emerging from his bankruptcy, Hammer went on to become a preacher, launch his own television cartoon, act as the executive producer of his reality show on A&E, and become the CEO of a record company.

In late 2011, rumors circulated that Hammer was not quite in the financial clear, owing approximately $780,000 in back taxes to the IRS.  Hammer’s response on Twitter?  “700k … Don’t get too excited .. I paid them already and kept my receipt.  Stamped by a US Federal Judge.”


5.  Kim Basinger

Among her neighbors on this list, Kim Basinger unquestionably wins the prize for most outlandish cause of bankruptcy.  What led to the Hollywood star’s financial downfall?  Too many cars?  Too large of a mansion?  Poor ticket sales?  Plastic surgery?  Not quite: Basinger took celebrity spending to another level when she bought, not a jet, yacht, or tiger — but an entire town.

In 1989, at a time when she was one of Hollywood’s best paid actresses, Basinger purchased the obscure southern town of Braselton, Georgia, trading $20 million for just under 1,700 acres of land.  Adjusted for inflation, that’s about $37,000,000 in today’s money — nearly twice as much.  Unsurprisingly, it was a decision she would come to regret, and the star filed for bankruptcy in 1993.

But Braselton wasn’t the end of Basinger.  Following the bankruptcy, Basinger married actor Alec Baldwin, and continued to land roles in Hollywood smash hits like L.A. Confidential (1997) and 8 Mile (2002).

4.  Francis Ford Coppola

Francis Ford Coppola is cinema royalty.  The director of modern epics like Apocalypse Now (1979) and The Godfather (1972), Coppola is praised and studied by film schools, actors, directors, producers, screenwriters, and film enthusiasts around the world.  Even though some of his greatest films are over 40 years old, they’re still revered as the Holy Grails of their respective genres.  But while he’s unarguably one of Hollywood’s all-time greats, even Coppola wasn’t immune to financial disaster.

Most people file for bankruptcy once, but others require multiple bankruptcy filings.  Francis Ford Coppola falls into the latter category, having filed not once or twice, but three times over the course of nine years.  During the 1980s and 1990s, Coppola filed for multiple Chapter 11 bankruptcies when his studio Zoetrope fell deep into debt.

But not even three bankruptcies could keep Coppola down.  Today, at the age of 74, Coppola boasts a winery, a cafe, and resorts in Argentina, Italy, and Belize — not to mention that film career of his.


3.  Henry Ford

Not only was Henry Ford the quintessential American entrepreneur, he was packed to the gills with bon mots and motivational quotes.  The vehicular visionary’s words of wisdom are circulated on websites and emblazoned on posters even today, over 100 years later.  For example, Ford once said,  “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”  Not only are those twelve words food for thought; they serve as an ironic slogan for Ford himself.

In 1908, the Model T made its world debut, and would change the course of American and global history forever.  By the time Ford passed away in 1947, his net worth was well over $100 billion.  That’s an especially amazing figure when you consider that there are entire industries which don’t generate that many zeroes.  Ford’s boxy black cars brought new mobility to the masses, and in doing so, permanently altered America’s social, cultural, and economic landscape.

But years before he was met with any success, Ford was drowning in debt.  In 1901, Ford’s Detroit Automobile Company folded to bankruptcy after producing a pitiful 20 vehicles during two whole years of manufacturing.  Not to be discouraged, Ford reemerged with the Ford Motor Company in 1903 — and as they say, the rest is history.


2.  Walt Disney

Beloved by children and adults alike, Walt Disney has gone down in history as one of the world’s greatest animators, entertainers, and entrepreneurs.  As the man and the legacy behind Mickey and Minnie, Beauty and the Beast, talking dogs and flying elephants, Walt Disney’s enchanted worlds have inspired soft drinks, video games, stuffed animals, and even entire theme-parks.  Founded in 1923, the Disney Company has managed to glide swiftly through decade after decade, churning out dozens of classic films along the way.  Today, nearly a century later, Disney’s total assets are calculated at an incredible $75 billion.

But, like Henry Ford, Walt Disney wasn’t always such a burgeoning success.  Following Ford’s pattern of commercial trial-and-error, Disney’s first studio, like Ford’s first car company, was a complete financial flop.  In 1923, the young Walt Disney was forced to file for bankruptcy when a distributor pulled its support, leaving him and his Kansas-based Laugh-O-Gram Studio by the financial wayside.  Discouraged but not dissuaded, Disney traded Kansas for Los Angeles, where in 1928, he debuted a character you may have heard of: does the name “Mickey Mouse” ring any bells?  Mickey was a hit, and Disney’s days of bankruptcy were quickly buried under mountains of merchandise, film stock, and of course, profits.


1.  Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln, of course, is a little more than a pop celebrity, cultural icon, or business entrepreneur: he was President of the United States of America.  Not only was Lincoln a president; he’s widely considered to be one of the best presidents the country has ever produced.  He’s remembered as the man who united a warring nation and ended slavery in America forever.  His solemn, bearded face is pressed into every penny, inked onto every five dollar bill.  Like some strange, refined gargoyle, he sits rendered in marble at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., towering nearly 100 feet tall, weighing an almost inconceivable 76 million pounds.  People continue to be fascinated by his melancholy life — and his violent death — well over a century later, and television specials and magazine articles analyzing his personal life, political moves, and infamous assassination are never far from the nearest newsstand, web search, or remote control.  His quotes plaster the hallways of countless schools and universities, and his speeches are studied by orators and politicians even today.  Suffice to say, Lincoln is regarded as a brilliant leader, a social visionary, and an all-around American treasure.

And despite all of that, even Lincoln had his rough patches.


“Honest Abe,” the 16th President of the United States of America, was inaugurated on March 4, 1861.  He served as President until he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth during a performance of Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. in 1865.  But before his days in the White House, Lincoln was living a life of dire poverty.  In 1832, a much younger Lincoln decided he would try his hand at running a general store.  Of course, he had to purchase one first.  That’s precisely what he did — at the expense of going bankrupt.  $1,000 in debt (approximately $27,000 in today’s money), Lincoln was forced to relinquish even his horse to creditors.  In fact, Lincoln was so far in the red that he was still paying off his debts into the 1840s.

As this article demonstrates, bankruptcy is not the end of financial stability, personal happiness, or success in life.  In fact, for many people, bankruptcy is a prudent and responsible first step toward reclaiming financial solvency.  If you or a loved one is considering filing for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, contact the law offices of Maselli Warren online, or call us today at (800) 891-2657 to schedule a confidential consultation with one of our experienced New Jersey bankruptcy attorneys.