MC Hammer's on the comeback trail. His new reality show, Hammertime, premieres June 14 and promises to chronicle his adjustment to middle-class life. For those of you who missed the past 13 years, Hammer filed for bankruptcy in 1996 after burning through $33 million. Since then, he's presumably adjusted to living on a budget with his five kids.
Musicians burn through more cash than the Federal Reserve. When it's gone, their bailout comes in the form of tell-all books, reunion tours (that they swore they'd never do), TV commercials, and reality shows. With any luck, they get a better accountant the second time around.
Here are some of the more harrowing musician bankruptcy stories. As the jobless rate approaches 10 percent, and foreclosures are at an all-time high, it's comforting to know we're not alone. It's hard making ends meet on just a few million a year.
By the early '80s, Fleetwood Mac's drummer had sold more than 55 million albums and was selling-out tours all over the world. While his bandmates were able to hold on to their wealth, Fleetwood filed for bankruptcy in 1984. He blew millions on real estate (including a $1.8 million farm in Australia and a$400,000 home in Hawaii) and failed restaurants. Oh... and drugs. Fleetwood estimates he spent $8 million on cocaine. He saved a bunch of money by kicking his habit in '91, then he got the band back together for a '90s bailout tour, which put an estimated $3.5 million in his pocket so he could get himself on his feet again.
Meat Loaf's 1977 album "Bat Out of Hell" earned him millions of dollars, but his managers were stealing most of it before he could see it. When he found new representation, the old managers had Meat's assets frozen and sued him for breach of contract. He was forced to file for bankruptcy in 1981. He made a new album to dig himself out of debt. No luck. It bombed, and the Loaf went bankrupt a second time.
Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins, Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, and Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas were about to record their sophomore album, "CrazySexyCool," when Lopes set her boyfriend's house on fire in an alcohol-induced rage. The album ended up selling more than 11 million copies, but it wasn't enough to save the band from bankruptcy. They were on the hook for $3.5 million of debt from Lopes' arson, Watkins' medical bills (she suffers from sickle cell anemia), and a bad record deal. The band never fully recovered, and on the eve of the release of their fourth album, "3D," Lopes was killed in a car accident in Honduras.
The Motown legend lost his fortune like a lot of dudes... in a divorce. Gaye's wife, Anna (sister of Motown founder Berry Gordy), filed in 1975, and Gaye agreed to give her royalties from his next album as his alimony payment. "Here, My Dear" was released in '78 and was filled with intimate, angry details of Gaye's failed marriage. It tanked. Gaye also owed money to the IRS and a few drug dealers. He filed for bankruptcy in 1979 and ended up living in a van in Hawaii. He was shot to death by his father in 1984.
Long before Wesley Snipes decided he didn't need to pay the IRS, Willie Nelson was dodging the tax men. In 1990, they caught up with him. Nelson's real estate (in six states) and bank accounts were seized in order to pay his $16.7 million tab. That didn't close the gap entirely, so he released an album called "The IRS Tapes: Who'll Buy My Memories" to settle the matter for good. By 1993 Nelson was IRS-free.
Cyndi Lauper got her bankruptcy out of the way before she made a bunch of money. Prior to releasing her 1983 multiplatinum debut, "She's So Unusual," Lauper held down a bunch of odd jobs and released a 1980 album with her band, Blue Angel. Predictably, it bombed and led to the firing of their manager. You know what happens here: manager sues band, band goes broke, Lauper files for bankruptcy. The good news? By the time she got her '81 solo deal, she had lots of money for thrift shop clothes.
The baby Gibb was riding high in the late '70s with such disco hits as "Shadow Dancing," "I Just Want to be Your Everything," and "(Love Is) Thicker Than Water." He even dated "Dallas" star Victoria Principal. By the '80s though, Gibb was drug-addicted and reduced to playing gigs in hotel casinos. He went broke in 1987 and died within the year.
Hayes' "Black Moses" was a critical and commercial success in the early '70s. His theme for "Shaft" won him an Oscar, and his album "Hot Buttered Soul" (released in late 1969) is considered a milestone for soul music. Despite the sales, Hayes' record label, Stax, was in dire financial straits and not paying him. Hayes, in turn, was not paying the bank that loaned him money. And so the drama began. Hayes sued Stax. The bank sued Hayes. $6 million in debt, he lost his house and all royalties to his music. Some 20 years later, Hayes' 1997 debut as "South Park's" Chef helped get him back in positive cash flow.
Tom Petty's 1979 bankruptcy became a negotiating ploy against The Man. In this case, "The Man" was MCA Records, which bought Petty's indie label, Shelter Records. Petty didn't want to go to a new label without consent. The bankruptcy allowed him to negotiate a fresh deal with his new label home. The first album under the new arrangement, "Damn the Torpedoes," was Petty's biggest album to date. We presume he spent the money wisely.
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