Where did it all go wrong?
July 21, 2006 6:32 AM   Subscribe

Are there any confirmed and documented cases of famous people that have lost everything for one reason or another and ended up broke, alone, and homeless?

Guns 'n' Roses' Sweet Child o' Mine just played on the radio here at work and it got some of us talking about how great they were. I make a joke about how poor, crazy Axl Rose was going to end up either dead in a hotel room full of hookers and blow, or broke and homeless wandering the streets of LA singing for spare change. It made me wonder if anything like this has ever happened before.
posted by ChazB to Society & Culture (39 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Save Screech's House
posted by Robot Johnny at 6:35 AM on July 21, 2006

I would think it's happened many times. The first example I can think of is Red Foxx, who I remember was asking for cash handouts (literally hat in hand) after going bankrupt due to not paying his income tax. Don't know if he was actually homeless, but broke and alone... certainly appeared that way.
posted by dobbs at 6:40 AM on July 21, 2006

J.R. Richard was one of the best pitchers in baseball in the late 1970s. He got a blood clot in his pitching arm in 1980, a year where he got off to a fantastic start and started the All-Star Game. A month later, he had a stroke and never appeared in the major leagues again. By 1994, he was living under a bridge. Here's a Sporting News article on his tragedy.
posted by krark at 6:42 AM on July 21, 2006

The last years of Thomas Paine's life weren't very fun for him.
posted by Atreides at 6:45 AM on July 21, 2006

Horace and "Baby Doe" Tabor.
posted by La Cieca at 6:47 AM on July 21, 2006

Tesla wasn't homeless, but he was living out of a hotel.
"Tesla died of heart failure alone in the New Yorker Hotel.... Despite selling his AC electricity patents, Tesla was essentially destitute and died with significant debts."
(cf Wikipedia.)

In the same vein, architech Louis Kahn died in a bathroom in the Philadelphia train station 'with significant debts' as well.
posted by cobaltnine at 6:47 AM on July 21, 2006

Joe Gilliam, football player
posted by about_time at 6:48 AM on July 21, 2006

Gary Coleman went from TV star to bankruptcy and working as a mall security guard.
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:49 AM on July 21, 2006

Zora Neale Hurston - author who died penniless in Florida and was buried in an unmarked grave.
posted by Julnyes at 6:54 AM on July 21, 2006

Billie Holiday was arrested on her deathbed for drug posession. She died with 70 cents in her bank account.
posted by Alison at 6:55 AM on July 21, 2006

posted by misozaki at 7:03 AM on July 21, 2006

Some people have the courage and foresight to plan it that way, according to Plutarch:
"...When he saw that his laws had taken root in the minds of the Spartans, Lycurgus called an assembly of the people and told them that everything was going well so far, but one more thing -- of the greatest importance -- remained to be done. What that was, he could not tell them until after he had consulted the oracle at Delphi again. Before he left on this journey, Lycurgus made the kings, the senate, and the people of Sparta swear to obey his laws and not to change anything until he returned.

Lycurgus was now at the age where life is still tolerable, but may be left without regret. After leaving Sparta, he stopped eating and quietly disappeared -- leaving the Spartans forever bound by their oath to keep things as he had left them."
posted by paulsc at 7:06 AM on July 21, 2006

Hmm....Adam Ant? Maybe? Kind of?
posted by Jofus at 7:12 AM on July 21, 2006

Marie Provost was a winner
that became a doggie's dinner.

Doesn't quite fit your request, but it's a good song.
posted by jessenoonan at 7:22 AM on July 21, 2006

A lot of the early blues singers died destitute. Bessie Smith had an unmarked grave till Janis Joplin bought a tombstone for her.
posted by chunking express at 7:30 AM on July 21, 2006

There are quite a few famous people who wound up penniless, but usually they don't wind up homeless because someone helps them.

Dorothy Parker had practically no income before she died and her friends chipped in to cover her living expenses again and again. Marlene Dietrich also had no money left and the City of Paris paid her rent because Paris hadn't forgotten her efforts during WWII.
posted by orange swan at 7:38 AM on July 21, 2006

It almost happened to Margot Kidder (the original Lois Lane) thanks to bipolar disorder.
posted by markcholden at 7:39 AM on July 21, 2006

There are so many boxers that meet this description that it would pain me to list them all. Leon Spinks springs to mind immediately.
posted by Lame_username at 7:45 AM on July 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

Chuck Negron, lead singer of Three Dog Night ended up homeless and on Skid Row because of a drug addiction.

Thank you, Behind the Music.
posted by mckenney at 7:46 AM on July 21, 2006

The lure of celebrity is such that there will usually be someone willing to house and exploit you. Or if you're old, some young gun who was influenced by you and is ready to freshen you up and employ you again.

Jean Seberg died penniless and alone in the back of a car. It wasn't a steady decline - in her intoxicated state she was preyed upon by a host of hangers on until one took control, sold her house and took her money. He moved her into a small appartment where one night she went missing. She was found a week later just round the corner in the back of a Renault, dead from an apparent barbituate overdose.
posted by fire&wings at 7:47 AM on July 21, 2006

Corey Haim was reduced to trying to sell his teeth and hair on ebay.
posted by Bugbread at 7:55 AM on July 21, 2006

Jan-Michael Vincent
posted by baltimore at 7:57 AM on July 21, 2006

Hollywood Babylon and Rotten will point you to more stories, as well.
posted by NYCinephile at 8:21 AM on July 21, 2006

Dana Plato (Kimberley on "Diff'rent Strokes") died of a drug overdose in a Winnebago.
posted by orange swan at 8:29 AM on July 21, 2006

Bonnie Prince Charlie was exiled, sick, obese, and povert-stricken in his old age.
posted by orange swan at 8:34 AM on July 21, 2006

Okay let's go for the "Diff'rent Strokes" trifecta. Todd Bridges' autobiography: "My Life: From Childhood Star to Prison Bitch" is due out in September 2006. He will probably talk about some of this:

After the series ended in 1986, Bridges found himself in a situation not uncommon to child celebrities. He was only 21, yet his run on "Diff'rent Strokes" left him feeling like a washed-up veteran... Bridges soon descended rapidly into a life of drugs and crime. A series of arrests for petty crimes culminated with a 1989 incident where Bridges was charged with shooting a drug dealer in a South Central L.A. crack house after a four day cocaine binge. Bridges was jailed and held on $2 million dollars bail... Johnnie Cochran defended Bridges and he was acquitted of the shooting. Bridges was arrested again in 1993 for possession of methamphetamines and a firearm, but the actor insists he has been clean and sober since that time.
posted by ND¢ at 8:58 AM on July 21, 2006

Marvin Gaye suppossedly had less than a $100 in his bank account when his dad shot him. No doubt he had other resources, like Gene Kelly, who lost everything when his house burned down in 1983. I imagine there's many cases like his where famous people lost everything but didn't wind up broke, alone, and homeless, so I'll go away now.
posted by Rash at 9:05 AM on July 21, 2006

Edgar Allan Poe
posted by kuppajava at 9:11 AM on July 21, 2006

There are so many boxers that meet this description that it would pain me to list them all.

Likewise with Jazz musicians. Chet Baker comes immediately to mind.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 9:21 AM on July 21, 2006

Ira Hayes (immortalized by Johhny Cash)

Bobby Driscoll

It seems that substance abuse is a common theme in these stories.
posted by TedW at 10:17 AM on July 21, 2006

Fatty Arbuckle and dare I say, O.J. Simpson (who some would say hasn't lost enough).
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 10:32 AM on July 21, 2006

Steven Adler was getting pretty close. seems the guy had a stroke. He's still alive and still playing drums, but has speech issues.

Also: What Ever Happened To..
posted by drstein at 10:50 AM on July 21, 2006

Oscar Wilde
posted by Zed_Lopez at 10:59 AM on July 21, 2006

Two more jazz giants with mental health & substance abuse issues:

Jaco Pastorius, bassist.

Saxophonist Charlie "Parker died while watching Tommy Dorsey on television in the suite at the Stanhope Hotel belonging to his friend and patroness Nica de Koenigswarter. Though the official cause of death was pneumonia and a bleeding ulcer, his death was doubtlessly hastened by his drug and alcohol abuse. The 34-year-old Parker was so haggard that the coroner mistakenly estimated Parker's age to be between 50 and 60."

I've heard that, whatever Chet Baker's probelms-- and they were severe-- he wasn't quite homeless and broken at the end. Am open to being proven wrong.

There's that famous email forward about all the Declaration of Independence signers who wound up having a hard time of it, dunno how verified they are.
posted by ibmcginty at 12:54 PM on July 21, 2006

I was thinking of Jaco too, ibmcginty, but by my reading of his story he wasn't broke and homeless, just really screwed up.
posted by Rash at 3:09 PM on July 21, 2006

Simon Dee, sort of.
posted by the cuban at 6:05 AM on July 22, 2006

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