Fourteen Famous Artists, Athletes And Scientists Who Died Dirt Poor

14 Famous Artists, Athletes And Scientists Who Died Dirt Poor


There are people who experience huge success and go from rags to riches. But there are people who manage the opposite as well, going from riches to rags. Today we’ll be looking at some of history’s most “unfortunate” people – people who were exceptional but nevertheless ended up broke. Thanks to Ranker, we’re bringing you 14 of these famous, calamitous people. Read their stories below.


1. Vincent van Gogh died dirt poor (Although didn’t have to)


Source: Vincent Van Gogh Public Domain

By this point everyone knows van Gogh’s story: he killed himself because he was left penniless, but most importantly he also cut his ear off (which is perhaps the most mysterious detail of the entire conundrum). But according to some historians, that story is very very questionable. For example, the letters of Vincent’s brother, Theo, reveal that the famous painter actually had more than enough money – and Theo would know, because he financed him. But the problem was that Vincent was spending his money on the expensive painting materials, but also too much alcohol, tobacco, indulging in brothels all too often and so on. The ear, however, remains a mystery.

2. Bela Lugosi, everyone’s favorite Count Dracula, died as a broke drug addict


Source: Freebase/Public domain

He achieved worldwide fame for playing the master vampire in 1931’s Dracula, but that luck didn’t last him long. Unfortunately, the money and the fame gave him access to all kinds of drugs, notably methadone, morphine and vast amounts of booze. Before long Bela was hopelessly addicted and mere two decades later, in 1956, he died, leaving merely $1900 in his bank account. According to Ted Gargano, the liquor store employee who sold Scotch to Lugosi every day, the famous actor was so depressed and ruined near the end that he was unrecognizable.

3. Taxes left Joe Louis without a penny


Source: HIstorical/Getty Images

A famous boxer during the ’30s and ’40s, Joe Louis made a mind-boggling amount of money. But as his obituary in the New York Times noted, [the money] “passed through his fingers quickly – and without the sort of accounting that the Internal Revenue Service expects.”

When his career finally ended in 1951, the flow of money ran dry as well. Eventually, Louis owed a total of $1.25 million, but he never paid it off before he died in 1981. The IRS just gave up, saying that: “We have gotten all we could possibly get from Mr. Louis, leaving him with some hope that he can live.” The famous boxer even worked as a greeter to make a living, and when he died, even his wife Martha was left sick, old, and dirt poor too. All in all a very tragic life.

4. When he died, Franz Schubert was worth just $12


Source: Wilhelm August Rieder Public Domain

Just before he died of syphilis in 1828, at the age of 31, it was said that the Austrian composer’s “worldly possessions were valued at about twelve dollars” (or, around $291.70 in 2016). Although friends testified that the talented Schubert spent most of his time in the brothels, where he got his lethal STD from, the composer never earned much wealth and was instead struggling to make a living by giving music lessons.

5. He owed $7 million when he died – Sammy Davis, Jr.


Source: Freebase/GNU Free Documentation License

When he died in 1990, the legend Sammy Davis, Jr. ended up owing $7 million in income tax. This forced Altovise, his wife, to sell their mansion and all his personal possessions just to satisfy the IRS. But even when everything was sold, it still wasn’t enough: she ended up owing $2.7 million in 2008. This caused her to die in poverty, picking through the trash for food and drink.

6. William Blake couldn’t earn a living


Source: Freebase/Public domain

He was one of the most famous poets and painters of England, and yet he died in 1827, at the age of 69. William Blake’s wife Catherine remarked that he was as poor as a church mouse, “singing of the things he saw in heaven.” In his final years, Blake was only saved by the mercy of his friends, who would often help him or borrow money. He was mostly ignored in his lifetime and had a difficult time earning a living. Being a recluse also didn’t help, but then again, that’s often a sign of a genius – one time he didn’t leave his house for two years, brooding on important ideas.

7. Herman Melville died poor, helped only by his wife’s family


Source: Freebase/Public domain

When the legendary author died in 1891, the newspapers noted that he died “an absolutely forgotten man.” His most famous novel, Moby Dick, was published in 1851 and only managed to sell 3,000 copies in Melville’s lifetime. By the year 1863, Herman Melville was forced to work as a customs inspector in New York, a job he held for 20 years. His salary for the entire time? Measly $4 per day (which is around $73 per 2016 standards). When he retired in 1885, he and his wife Elizabeth had to be supported by the legacy of Elizabeth’s brother.

8. Oscar Wilde died next to penniless


Source: Shutterstock

As if getting imprisoned, and then exiled from his homeland wasn’t enough, the Irish bard Oscar Wilde died a miserable death in an even more miserable place. He died at the age of 46, coming down with cerebral meningitis in a miserable Paris hotel in 1900. If there is a silver lining to poor Wilde’s destiny, it was this: at least he got a decent looking tomb. Paid for by an anonymous woman, the grave resembles “a winged, naked and initially well-hung angel.” (Initially, because the cemetery’s head keeper later ‘castrated it.’)

9. Nikola Tesla was scammed from his millions and died in debt


Source: Freebase/Public domain

He was responsible for AC motors and many power systems that are still in use today, and yet, he died poor and in debt. How is this possible, you ask? Well, George Westinghouse talked him out of his millions back in 1897, when Tesla was signing royalty contracts with the Westinghouse Electric Corporation. Instead of choosing to take a cut, Tesla was fooled into taking just a one-time payment of $216,600. If he hadn’t done this, the great inventor would’ve ended up racking billions of dollars as the years passed. Well, as the saying goes, it takes great naivety to achieve great things.

10. Edgar Allan Poe is the original starving artist


Source: Freebase/Public domain

According to Baltimore’s Edgar Allan Poe Society, the famous horror writer died essentially penniless. Records indicate that on average, Poe lived below the poverty line of the USA in 1983. He died on October 7, 1864, and had earned a mere $274 that year (by today’s standards, that’s around $8,246). He was trying to support a family of three.

11. Stephen Foster only had 38 cents left to his name


Source: Photographer Unknown/Public Domain

That is, according to the historians at the Center for American Music at the University of Pittsburgh. They contribute this to the fact that at the time there was not even the concept of the music business as we know it today, so the great composer and songwriter ended up singing for naught. Al he got was admiration and fame, and well deserved – he wrote “Oh! Susanna,” “Camptown Races,” “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair” and many more.

12. When she died, Judy Garland owed everyone


Source: Clarence Sinclair Bull/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

She died at the age of just 47, due to an incident of a drug overdose, which by all accounts was accidental. The actress didn’t intend to end her life back in 1969, but, stuff like this happens. But if you asked the IRS, you’d have found that she owed them thousands of dollars, despite earning up to $55,000 a week. It all came down to Judie’s complete lack of business sense, issues with addiction, and of course – a luxurious lifestyle. Simply put, she was burning more money than she was earning – and by a lot. According to some, she ended up owing $4 million at the moment of her death.

13. The great jazz icon, Charlie Parker, died broke


Source: William P. Gottlieb/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

He revolutionized jazz, but that wasn’t enough. Saxophonist Charlie Parker, AKA “Bird,” had a difficult time with addiction issues all throughout his short (but bright) career. His fame, however, didn’t take him far, and he remained relatively unknown even after his death on March 9, 1955. He died penniless.

14. Johannes Vermeer


Source: Johannes Vermeer/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

His most famous work is the painting called “Girl with a Pearl Earring”, which even got a movie made after it. But, his talent, as with so many others, wasn’t enough for him to make a decent living. Life back in the 17th-century Netherlands didn’t help as well – Vermeer fathered 13 children, some of whom died in childhood. He was also a perfectionist, and he painted very slowly and carefully, which slowed the rate of selling his works to a significant degree. Add to that the fact that at the time, he was basically a nobody, so much so that he sometimes had to put false names under his paintings to sell anything. Finally, he died in severe poverty when he was just 43. Fame would arrive much too late – nearly two centuries after his death.

From: ranker

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