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Famous Fresh Starts

If you are like many of our clients, your current financial situation probably has you feeling alone or depressed or both. This page is here to try and cheer you up as well as prove to you that there is life after a bankruptcy. Over the years, many famous people have pushed through difficult financial times by filing for bankruptcy. After getting a fresh start, many of them went on to enjoy tremendous success and prosperity.

Indeed, you're in good company. Detailed below is a list of some of the famous people who have either filed for bankruptcy or had severe financial problems before the modern bankruptcy code was written and adopted for your protection. As you can probably deduce, most of these people had their greatest success in life after their financial problems and bankruptcies were behind them.

Roland Hussey Macy

Roland Hussey Macy failed at selling ribbons, provisions to miners and at a general store before going bankrupt in 1855. His next effort, Macy's became the world’s largest store.

Mark Twain

American Author Mark Twain spent nine years in Europe avoiding creditors. Twain lost most of his money investing in a worthless machine called the Paige Compositor, an automatic typesetting machine, rather than Alexander Graham Bell's telephone company, to the tune of $250,000. He filed for bankruptcy in 1894 and discharged all his debts.

J. C. Penny

J.C. Penney's first store went bankrupt when he refused to give Whiskey as a kickback for orders from a large customer. Penny went belly up and got a job in a drapery shop that he later purchased and expanded into 1100 department stores nationwide.

Henry Ford

Henry Ford. Yes, that Henry Ford, the automobile manufacturer. It is often forgotten that his first two auto companies failed spectacularly. The first company filed for bankruptcy and the second ended because of a disagreement with his business partner. In June 1903, at the age of 40, Ford finally got it right. He created a third company, the Ford Motor Company. You may have heard of them.

Milton S. Hershey

Milton Snavely Hershey, the founder of Hershey's chocolate, started four candy companies that failed and filed for bankruptcy protection before starting what is now Hershey's Foods Corporation. Obviously, he finally got it right on his fifth attempt.

Wayne Newton

A resort investment gone bad led to Las Vegas superstar Wayne Newton's fresh start in 1992. Casino gambling was not approved for Pennsylvania after all and Newton lost his shirt.

Willie Nelson

Country Music Singer Willie Nelson got his fresh start after the IRS disallowed numerous “questionable” tax deductions and demanded a $9,000,000 check. Ouch!

Gary Burghoff

Actor Gary Burghoff, "Radar" from the film and TV series M.A.S.H. hit hard times after the show ended. He filed for bankruptcy in 1991. He rebounded nicely, however, and now he sells his wildlife drawings for up to $25,000 each.

Mick Fleetwood

Musician Mick Fleetwood got his fresh start in 1984 after taking a financial dive investing in Australian real estate and oil and gas.

P.T. Barnum

Phineas Taylor Barnum, arguably the greatest American showman in history, filed for bankruptcy in 1871 due to losses he incurred in unwise business ventures. He even contemplated suicide at the time. After his bankruptcy was discharged, however, he organized his famous circus, "The Greatest Show On Earth." In 1881 he merged his circus with his most successful competitor, James A. Bailey, under the name of Barnum and Bailey Circus. The rest is history.

Henry J. Heinz

Henry John Heinz, the famous condiment manufacturer, started his company in 1869 selling horseradish, pickles, sauerkraut and vinegar. In 1875, the company filed for bankruptcy due to an unexpected bumper harvest that the company could not keep up with and could not meet its payroll obligations. After emerging from bankruptcy, he immediately started a new company and introduced a new condiment. It turned out to be a pretty big hit. Heinz brought tomato ketchup to the market and never looked back. The company Heinz founded went on to be and remains phenomenally successful.

MC Hammer

Rapper MC Hammer, unable to continue support of his 70 member posse, filed bankruptcy in 1996 saying, "It's time to stop bleeding and get on with my life".

John Wayne Bobbit

John Wayne Bobbitt gained fame when his wife, in an act of rage, whacked his penis with a razor. A 12 hour surgery successfully resulted in re-unification. When the uninsured Bobbit later went bankrupt, his doctors remarked, "He stiffed us", really.

Abraham Lincoln

Yes. You read that right. Abraham Lincoln's Illinois general store failed. After winning a spot in the State Legislature, Abe noticed his horse and saddle were gone. They were repossessed by the Sheriff. Later, he confided to a friend that debt was his life's greatest obstacle. Honest Abe also practiced Bankruptcy Law in Illinois before moving on to hold the United States together as President during the Civil War.

Thomas Jefferson

After spending heavily to entertain foreign dignitaries while President: "I must sell my house and all here and carry my family to Bedford where I have not even a log hut to put my head into." -Thomas Jefferson, age 82.

Walt Disney

Walt Disney. Yes, that Walt Disney. The Oscar-winning film producer, animation and theme park pioneer actually got off to a rocky business start. Disney started the Laugh-O-Gram Corp. in 1921 with $15,000 from investors. But just two years later, he was forced to file for bankruptcy when his investors pulled out due to distribution problems. Walt had the last laugh, however, as the Disney name is now known the world over.

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde, the acclaimed poet and author, was forced into bankruptcy in 1895. He had earlier been convicted of homosexual activity, which in England was illegal at that time. He was sentenced to two years in prison of hard labor. He was declared a bankrupt on November 12, 1895 and his property was auctioned off.

Daniel Boone

Frontiersman Daniel Boone borrowed to fund his fur-hunting expeditions. But his expeditions did not always work out as he had envisioned them. As is well chronicled, on several occasions, unfriendly Indians took his fur in exchange for letting him keep his scalp. Boone's lawyer is reported to have said that he had more lawsuits filed against him than any other man of his day. It is also well known that part of Boone's motivation for settling Kentucky was to avoid his creditors back east.

Ulysses S. Grant

President Ulysses S. Grant lost his fortune in an early Ponzi scheme. Mark Twain helped Grant write his memoirs while Grant suffered from Cancer so the proceeds could support his family after his death. Twain published the book, generously offering Grant 70% of the profits, and 300,000 copies were sold door to door. After Grant died, his widow received $350,000 in royalties.

Conrad Hilton

Conrad Hilton lost all his hotels when he could not pay his bank during the great depression. Later, he bought them all back and built a few more. Things worked out pretty good in the end. Just ask Paris.

Frank Lloyd Wright

Famous Architect Frank Lloyd Wright lost his home, Taliesin in Wisconsin and was thrown on the street when business dried up in 1922. During the following decade, he designed some of his most famous projects.

Harry Truman

Harry Truman opened a shop in Missouri after the First World War only to have it fail miserably. He was further humbled by having to move in with his mother-in-law. Truman later settled his debt for pennies on the dollar when the bank at which the underlying not was written actually went bankrupt itself. He is said to have learned a lot from the misadventure. And it all turned out OK in the in end. You may have heard, he eventually got a good job, in Washington, DC.

Oskar Schindler

Oskar Schindler spent all the money he had to feed, cloth and provide medicine to the 1098 Jews he saved while operating a factory in Poland during WWII. Schindler was actually en route to debtor’s prison when the people he saved and their families combined funds to pay off his debts and support Oskar until he died in 1974.

Eliot Ness

Famous "G Man" Eliot Ness (who captured the notorious Chicago Gangster Al Capone) tried politics in Cleveland but lost in a landslide after spending every dollar he could muster. After that, his book, "The Untouchables", totally bombed. After Ness died, his exploits were made famous in television and film; too late for Ness to benefit.

Wolfgang Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, arguably the most famous composer of all time, was constantly in ever deeper debt. He fell heavily into debt in his early 30s and when he died at age 35, was buried in an unmarked pauper's grave.

William Penn

To get him out from under foot, in 1690 King Charles II granted William Penn an estate in the American colonies. Penn created a Quaker refuge and his manager borrowed to the hilt on the estate and fled with the money. Penn was left holding the bag and ended up in a British debtor’s prison. His former estate became the State of Pennsylvania.

Sam Walton

Sam Walton's first store was a Ben Franklin discount shop that he made among the most profitable and successful in the chain. Walton's problem was a short lease. When it expired, the building’s owner canceled his lease and took over the store himself. Walton was broke had to start over from scratch. You may have heard, however, that things turned out pretty good in the end. After these early financial difficulties were behind him, he later created the largest company in the world and became a billionaire.

Other notables in the bankruptcy club include the following:

Cindi Lauper, singer

Donald Trump, financier

Michael Jackson, singer

Elton John, singer/composer

Kim Bassinger, actress

Mike Tyson, boxer

Burt Reynolds, actor

Gary Coleman, child actor

Lorraine Bracco, "The Soprano's" actress

Frank Baum, author of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz"

Mathew Brady, Civil War photographer

Jerry Lee Lewis, rock singer

Rembrandt, painter

Johnny Unitas, football player

Mickey Rooney, actor

Debbie Reynolds, actress

John Connally, former Texas governor

Merle Haggard, country singer

Dorothy Hamill, figure skater

Bowie Kuhn, former baseball commissioner

Stan Lee, comic book creator of "Spider Man"

Meatloaf, singer

George Clinton, singer

Andy Gibb, singer

Tammy Wynette, singer

Francis Ford Coppola, director/producer

Kim Bassinger, actress

LaToya Jackson, pseudo celebrity

TLC, soul group

Anita Bryant, singer

Corey Haim, child star

Gary Coleman, child star

Heidi Fleiss, Hollywood madame

Chaka Kahn, singer

Lorrie Morgan, singer

Larry King

Larry King filed for bankruptcy in 1978. He later went on to have a pretty decent career as a talk show host and best selling author.

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