Lifestyles of the rich and stupid?
January 10, 2007 2:29 PM   Subscribe

What are some of the stupid things rich and famous people have spent their money on? I know about Michael Jackson and his ten AIBOs, for example. What are some other examples? Actors, politicians, athletes, past and present — tell me about their excesses. [This is lazyweb research for a future article.]
posted by jdroth to Society & Culture (58 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
This leaps to mind.
posted by SBMike at 2:36 PM on January 10, 2007

What are some of the stupid things rich and famous people have spent their money on?

Define stupid. If you're starving, stupid is some rich dude spending $80mil on a painting. If you're that rich dude, it's about acquiring artwork to showcase one's taste and sophistication.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:37 PM on January 10, 2007

I got my sister the book The Medici Giraffe for Christmas. It has short (true) stories of how owning exotic animals made rich people even more powerful, eg, turning the Medici family from merchants into royalty. That seems to be one answer to the "past" part of the "past and present" question.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 2:39 PM on January 10, 2007

Fantastic example SMBike.

I also think the "space tourism" people are wasting vasts sums of money on something that, in truth, is just a novelty.

Jay Leno and his 80 cars and 80 motorcycles, and a fire truck.

Donald Trump and his 27 or however many divorces.

Tom Cruise and Scientology.

Every rap artist and their diamond encrusted teeth guards ("grills/grilles") and 24" gold rims on their stretched lowered Hummers with 4 playstations and a wet bar.
posted by Ynoxas at 2:44 PM on January 10, 2007

I heard that to replace drugs in her life, Kirsty Alley would spend what she would have on drugs on flowers instead. Don't know if that's stupid or not, but if I had a few grand to blow it wouldn't be on flowers. But whatever gets you through the hard times, right?
posted by Sassyfras at 2:47 PM on January 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

How about building a 120 room castle, and then never living in it and letting it fall into disrepair.
posted by saffry at 2:47 PM on January 10, 2007

Imelda Marcos, infamous for her 1000+ pairs of shoes, among other items.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:51 PM on January 10, 2007

The family of the Sultan of Brunei.

(lifted from NZ Herald)

"More specifically, the royal residence has no fewer than 1788 rooms and corridors of gilt and marble. "

"It is alleged that in the mid-90s Brunei's ruling family accounted for 50 per cent of all Rolls-Royce sales worldwide."

"In 1996, the Sultan hired Michael Jackson to serenade him at his 50th birthday party"
posted by selton at 2:52 PM on January 10, 2007

How is Jay Leno (a very serious collector, BTW) 'stupid?' It gives him pleasure. Some of the cars are one-of-a-kind. Museum pieces.

Stupid would be Mike Tyson who pissed away millions with nothing to show for it.
posted by fixedgear at 2:57 PM on January 10, 2007

MC Hammer and his custom made, gold plated gates.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 3:00 PM on January 10, 2007

Along the same lines as saffry's post, The Winchester House. Unless you think building to appease ghosts isn't silly.
posted by cobaltnine at 3:03 PM on January 10, 2007

Response by poster: Regarding the "what is stupid" discussion: don't get caught up over semantics. If you don't think it's stupid, don't mention it. Or, if you prefer, read the word as "excessive" or "extravagant". I'm sorry I used such a loaded word. I don't want it to get in the way of good examples, of which you've all begun to supply many. The examples are best if they led to the financial downfall of the celebrity. For example, Kim Bassinger bought an entire town in Georgia. Oops. Ruined the personal finances.
posted by jdroth at 3:07 PM on January 10, 2007

Indicted TYCO executive Dennis Koslowski and his excesses: the $15,000 umbrella stand, $6,300 sewing basket, $6,000 golden theaded shower curtain and the million party he threw on Sardinia for his second wife's 40th birthday, complete with an ice sculpture of a statue which "pee-ed" premium vodka.
posted by ericb at 3:08 PM on January 10, 2007

Correction: Jailed TYCO executive...
posted by ericb at 3:08 PM on January 10, 2007

*million dollar party*
posted by ericb at 3:09 PM on January 10, 2007

Try Dictators' Homes.
posted by glibhamdreck at 3:11 PM on January 10, 2007

Years ago I read a little blurb in the Economist that really stuck with me. The King of Swaziland spent millions of dollars buying private airliners for his family, while at the same time requesting emergency food aid from the UN.

I think this is it.
posted by Brian James at 3:20 PM on January 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

My favorite is the story of Elvis and the Fool's Gold Loaf: $50,000- $60,000 dropped so he could get a peanut butter, jelly, and bacon sandwich in the middle of the night.
posted by koeselitz at 3:21 PM on January 10, 2007

Mark Shuttleworth bought a trip to the international space station for $20m. Probably more extravagant than stupid.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 3:22 PM on January 10, 2007

I just read something about a dictator who wanted a pillow of "the softest down" and thus had 700,000 of a specific bird slaughtered to make some pillows out of the downy feathers on it's chin.

Sorry I can't remember any specific details, google fu is poor this afternoon...
posted by asavage at 3:28 PM on January 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Well, this divorce affadavit for Kirstie Alley & Parker Stevenson is pretty amusing. I mean, what child doesn't need a $10,000 life-size "rocking giraffe" or a down-scaled working lobster boat?
posted by miss lynnster at 3:40 PM on January 10, 2007

I love (in a jaw-dropping, head-shaking way) reading about blowouts like ericb describes, or the rent-Yankee-Stadium-for-the-kid's-bar-mitzvah, or the nuptials-on-the-iceberg-that's-slowly-melting-so-nobody-else-can-do-it-too.

Here's one that can't touch the extravagance of the above, but is just as much a head-scratcher:
I went to my niece's son's first birthday party and it was over the top. They rented one of those giant air-filled castle bouncy things, had a full-course meal and invited the entire neighborhood. Does anyone else think that first birthday parties are bit extravagant? It seems like inviting a few friends and famiy members over to watch the little one eat cake would suffice.
posted by rob511 at 3:48 PM on January 10, 2007

Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle, is said to be a bit spend-crazy. I only wish I could max out $1 billion of credit.
posted by cps at 3:51 PM on January 10, 2007

There's Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria and his masterpiece, Castle Neuschwanstein.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:57 PM on January 10, 2007

I once read that Elton John spends $30k per month... on flowers.
posted by dobbs at 4:01 PM on January 10, 2007

Mister T bought a lakefront estate in Lake Forest (a posh suburb of Chicago). Then chopped all the trees down.
posted by adamrice at 4:10 PM on January 10, 2007

Watch just one episode of MTV's horrible "My Super Sweet 16". It's appalling.

Well-parodied by a "South Park" episode where Satan demands a life-size Ferrari cake, and John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Ted Bundy wreck it, so he has to get an Acura cake instead.
posted by GaelFC at 4:18 PM on January 10, 2007

Ooooh, My Super Sweet 16 is SOOO painful. Even though I'm a pacifist I want to reach through the television and slap those insufferable brats silly. POW.
posted by miss lynnster at 4:32 PM on January 10, 2007

Aphex Twin, meet tank.
posted by mykescipark at 4:40 PM on January 10, 2007

Forget about the stupid things. It's the stupid services that really rack it up.

When you're carrying a 50-person entourage and putting all their kids through college and paying for canine therapists and having your hair done by a personal stylist EVERY SINGLE DAY and flying ALL OF THESE people to Vail in the Gulfstream for the weekend at the five-star lodge that has daily deliveries of fresh toro sushi from Antarctica to be served in between your bathtubs filled with Cristal ... that's when it starts getting really stupid.
posted by frogan at 5:00 PM on January 10, 2007

John Travolta owns 5 airplanes, including a Boeing 707. That's pretty cool. Oh, but then his house in Florida also has a runway and a taxiway that goes right to his door. Of course, he can also fly them. But none if this is stupid, it's amazingly awesome is what it is. (Though really John, are retired military jets really that hard to find? Come on.)
posted by !Jim at 5:06 PM on January 10, 2007

Dean Kamen, inventor of several groundbreaking medical devices and a little scooter called The Segway, apparently has a house that resembles the geek equivalent of Michael Jackson's Neverland. All sorts of old machines and things like that. He also bought a helicoptor company after he felt they could make a few changes to the design of one of their models.
posted by bondcliff at 5:17 PM on January 10, 2007

I almost forgot... the backstage riders of celebrities are always pretty interesting. It's not about what the celebrity will waste money on, but rather what they feel is perfectly acceptable to demand OTHERS to waste THEIR money on before they'll honor them with their presence.
posted by miss lynnster at 5:21 PM on January 10, 2007

Three Microsoft guys bought the Professional Bowling Association.

C'mon. Bowling?
posted by yeti at 6:11 PM on January 10, 2007

Hearst Castle. 56 bedrooms, 41 fireplaces, 61 bathrooms (including some with gold fixtures). Stats. "This is how God would have done it, if he'd had the money," George Bernard Shaw supposedly said.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:18 PM on January 10, 2007

Brando's own Island, well 99 year lease.

Mr T's house in "Tree City USA"

George Michael bought John Lennon's piano for 2 million.
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:22 PM on January 10, 2007

Goya food's president's kids birthday party with a cougar, ends like how you think.
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:27 PM on January 10, 2007

A subject like this doesn't really need any made-up comic relief, but if you want some anyway, there's always the old Steve Martin schtick:

"I bought some pretty good stuff. Got me a $300 pair of socks ... got a fur sink ... let's see ... an electric dog-polisher ... a gasoline-powered turtleneck sweater ... and of course I bought some dumb stuff, too."
posted by diddlegnome at 6:41 PM on January 10, 2007


"...[Kamen] lives in a hexagonally shaped house of his own design atop a hill just outside Manchester, New Hampshire. Invisible from the road, the estate is outfitted with a softball field, a wood-paneled library that's full of awards and honorary degrees (Kamen never graduated from college), a wind turbine to help supply power, and a pulley system that can deliver a bottle of wine from the kitchen to the bedroom.

He calls the place Westwind, and he stuffed it with a collection of toys and antiques that includes a jukebox, a slot machine, and a 25-ton steam engine once owned by Henry Ford. In Westwind's basement, there's a foundry, a machine shop, and a computer room, where Kamen often toils late into the night. He keeps a Porsche 928 and a black Humvee in one garage, two Enstrom helicopters in the other. The smaller, piston-driven chopper takes him to and from work at his offices in downtown Manchester; the larger, turbine-driven version is reserved for longer hops, like to his private island off the coast of Connecticut. For trips more than a few hundred miles, he flies his twin-turbofan CitationJet.

Kamen has high-powered friends to match his taste in toys, and throws lavish parties that entice many powerful people to New Hampshire. Visitors have included George W. Bush, NASA administrator Dan Goldin, and, more recently, John Doerr of the VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. But it's not the Rolodex, the air force, or the tricked-out Batcave that separates Kamen from the usual posse of tech multimillionaires. It's the way he's gone about acquiring it all, and the offbeat, often idealistic ways he chooses to spend it.

While Kamen won't divulge the size of his fortune, much of it stems from having invented things he decided ought to exist - no market research necessary - like first-of-their-kind medical devices.

....The helicopter [he bought after selling Auto-Syringe] led him to North Dumpling Island, a speck of land with a lighthouse, located in Long Island Sound. His flight instructor's wife, a real estate agent, told him the island was for sale. One winter day, he set out to find it. He brought the chopper down near the lighthouse tender's home. A frightened old man, part of the family that owned the island, came out to see what was going on. The young inventor befriended the man and his wife. When Kamen later bought the island (at a bargain price), he let the couple continue living there.

Though Kamen doesn't visit the island much anymore, it's a microcosm of his worldview, a whimsical combination of leave-me-alone and dreams of techno-utopia. An aerial photograph that hangs in Kamen's office at Deka bears a caption that reads 'The Only 100 Percent Science-Literate Society.'

When Kamen wanted to erect a wind turbine on North Dumpling and the state of New York objected, he seceded from the US. Though the secession has never been officially recognized, he signed a nonaggression pact with his friend, then-President George Bush, and enlisted Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry's as 'joint chiefs of ice cream.' North Dumpling has its own flag, its own anthem, a one-ship navy, and its own currency. One bill, which Kamen carries in his wallet, is the value of pi. 'You can't make change for it,' he says with a grin. 'It's a transcendental function.'"*
posted by ericb at 7:15 PM on January 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

and putting all their kids through college

I don't know, I think putting your personal employees' kids through college is not a stupid use of money, at least in the context of this thread. I actually think it's quite nice.
posted by librarina at 7:30 PM on January 10, 2007

Whoever makes the buying decisions for

Check these out.
posted by SisterHavana at 7:49 PM on January 10, 2007

"[interviewer] Do you actually own something that was left on the moon?

"[Richard Garriott] Yes. I purchased Lunakod 21 from the Russians. I am now the world's only private owner of an object on a foreign celestial body. Though there are international treaties that say, no government shall lay claim to geography off planet earth, I am not a government. Summarily, I claim the moon in the name of Lord British!"

posted by liet at 7:59 PM on January 10, 2007

While Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton were married, one of the rooms in their house was upholstered with Velcro. So that you could dress in Velcro bodysuits and fling yourself at the wall. Basically, the rich do what the stoned think would be a wicked cool idea.
posted by Wavelet at 7:59 PM on January 10, 2007 [2 favorites]

I recall from Michelle Phillip's memoirs about the Mamas and the Papas that once they had a hit, they spent their money completely against their earthy bohemian image - we're talking a mansion in Bel-air, rolls royces, fur coats, elaborate silk costumes for performances, and a whole lot of partying with other famous people.
posted by SassHat at 8:57 PM on January 10, 2007

Just watch E news or VH1

(In case anyone hasn’t mentioned Elvis Or Liberace)
posted by hadjiboy at 9:47 PM on January 10, 2007

William Gillette, a turn-of-the-century actor, created Gillette Castle, which featured an "aerial trolley," a private railroad, secret rooms, intricate locks, and a vast network of concealed mirrors. In his will, Gillette stipulated that the castle not pass to a "blithering sap-head who has no conception of where he is or with what surrounded." Bafflingly, the Connecticut government was allowed to take it over; they turned it into a state park. It was recently restored and reopened, although there still isn't as much online documentation as the castle deserves.

I also like to daydream about having a Thimble Island, where it can be just you, your Martha Stewart mansion (only to be used as a summer cottage, of course!), your boat, and the rest of your private family-sized island. There's something romantic about rowing out (er, sending the maid to row out) for groceries. And you only need around $3 million for this chance at getting swept away in a hurricane.
posted by booksandlibretti at 10:20 PM on January 10, 2007

According to one of the sections on the S&L scandals of the eighties in It's A Conspiracy: The Shocking Truth About America's Favorite Conspiracy Theories!...

Edwin "Fast Eddie" McBirney of Sunbelt Savings and Loan... liked to spend Sunbelt's deposits entertaining business associates at a palatial suite at the Las Vegas Dunes. He flew them into town on a proivate 727, and provided them iwith prostitutes. At one lavish party, he fed his guests broiled lion and antelope; at a Halloween fiesta, he had a warehouse decorated as an African jungle and hired a magician to make an elephant disappear. McBirney also owned 7 apirplanes

Of course, he ended up broke and in legal trouble.

And then there was Duayne Christiansen of North American Savings and Loan in Santa Ana, a dentist who...

...began wearing all-white suits after he bought North American, spent an enormous amount of his depositors' money decorating his office: it was made completely of marble (including the desk), and the entrance boasted 14-foot-high copper doors.

Once the shit had hit the fan with respect to the S&Ls, this guy revised his will and then had himself a single car "accident."

And then there's Edwin Hassen who...

...invested a considerable amount of the S&L's money in his offices, including $48,000 on a desk and a $98,000 on other decorations. He also liked cars. He bought a $77,000 Mercedes stretch limousine for Centential [his S&L] and in one afternoon alone bought five cars for himself and his family. But his largest extravagance was The Stone House, an old stone bulding he refurbished into a $2 million corporate headquarters - only to abandon it after 4 months. He complained that the building was too cold and said, "It reminded me of a mortuary."

Edwin had to turn snitch for the G but didn't live to testify. The coroner said he had an aneurysm.
posted by Clay201 at 12:15 AM on January 11, 2007

President Jacques Chirac spent more than £ 1.5 million on food while being mayor of Paris between 1987 and 1995. In dollars that must have been more than 2.5 million. That sounds like a lot of money, but if you break it down to the daily costs, like $175 dollars a day for fresh fruit and vegetables, you get a better idea about this extravaganza. Now, being rich and spending other people's money (and advocating low taxes!). That's more like it.
posted by ouke at 2:00 AM on January 11, 2007

Kim Basinger in 1990 bought the entire town of Braselton, GA.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 3:56 AM on January 11, 2007

One good example, which may not strictly qualify but which I admire for its purity, was the story of (association) footballer George Best, who summed up his financial situation by saying: "I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered."
posted by Zonker at 4:03 AM on January 11, 2007

It seems a bit tame compared to the above, but Tom Cruise buying a 200,000 dollar ultrasound machine to take prenatal pictures was kinda excessive.
posted by TedW at 6:33 AM on January 11, 2007

I had heard that Ellison bought a MIG Su-27... and maybe a tank.
posted by stratastar at 7:48 AM on January 11, 2007

George Best also said: "I gave up booze. It was the worst fifteen minutes of my life."
posted by ob at 8:25 AM on January 11, 2007

Roderic Borja bought the papacy and became Pope Alexander VI. Pope Leo X (Giovanni di Lorenzo de' Medici) spent so much on St. Peter's that the aggressive selling of indulgences to pay for it helped prompt the Reformation.

Caligula built two massive ships, one with marble floors, that were the largest ships made in Europe until the Renaissance.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:40 AM on January 11, 2007

Drug kingpin Pablo Escobar had an estate with a personal wild animal park. After the government took control of the estate, it was left to rot and be looted. Now, wild hippos roam the land.
posted by faunafrailty at 9:40 AM on January 11, 2007

I'm surprised no one has brought this one up yet:

Five Barclays Bankers Lose Jobs Over Very Expensive Meal - they had a meal costing GBP 44,000, mostly on wine. My understanding is that the wines they chose were so expensive that the resturant did not charge them for most of their food.
posted by anastasiav at 10:30 AM on January 11, 2007

How about an expensive VCR: Howard Hughes bought a TV station so he could call them up and request a movie whenever he wanted.
posted by evilcolonel at 12:47 PM on January 11, 2007

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