Rock Stars Who Are Surprisingly Poor

It's easy to assume that every single rock star out there is rolling in cash. After all, we've heard them on Spotify, seen them rock out on stage night after night, and witnessed them grace the cover of magazines (well, header images of online articles). Someone that visible and audible just has to have a pretty sizable fortune, right? 

Strangely, that's not always the case. While it's certainly true that many rock stars have earned hefty sums during their careers, they're also, well, rock stars. The sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll lifestyle does not always breed paragons of financial responsibility, and the music industry itself is volatile enough that anyone who's not keeping tabs on their cash flow can easily find themselves repeatedly drawing the short straw in matters of money. As such, many of the world's most recognizable musicians have significantly less money in their bank accounts than you might expect. Let's take a look at rock stars who are surprisingly poor.

Scott Weiland's royalty income couldn't keep his finances afloat

Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver frontman Scott Weiland was somewhat notorious for his struggles with addiction, and as Rolling Stone tells us, his longtime demons finally got the better of him when he died of an accidental overdose of cocaine, MDA, and ethanol in late 2015. As such tragedies tend to do, this prompted a look into the late singer's finances, which turned out to be rather worse for wear. 

My News LA reports that Weiland, a man who crafted his first hits in the early 1990s, had a healthy annual royalty income of nearly $265,000. Despite this, the vocalist appears to have been far from thrifty, since the total value of his estate was reportedly only $1.6 million as of 2018. While that's not too bad, the estate also has some pretty significant bills to pay. Weiland reportedly owed $645,000 to City National Bank and $700,000 to an "unnamed significant federal creditor," which makes the net worth of his estate less than a year's worth of royalties. As such, it appears that his kids didn't exactly become millionaires overnight: In 2018, a judge ruled that the estate must pay the two children of Weiland and his second wife an allowance of $4,000 per month until they turn 18. Seeing as the children were already 15 and 17 at the time of the ruling, they're not exactly set for life.

Cat Power went from indie superstar to bankruptcy

Chan Marshall, who you might know better as Cat Power, is one of the premier indie music success stories of the late 1990s and early 2000s. As the Atlantic tells us, by the time 2012 rolled around, she was a revered artist that managed to sell out venues wherever she went. She even had a Top 10 Billboard album. That's the kind of career that not only makes people assume financial security, but actually root for it — after all, isn't it nice that an indie musician can secure such a huge slice of the success pie? 

Imagine everyone's surprise, then, when Power canceled her upcoming 2012 European tour due to the fact that she had gone bankrupt. To be fair, Power had some perfectly good reasons for her unfortunate financial situation. According to Stereogum, she has a history of addiction, psychotic breaks, and mental health issues. Some of these have led to hospitalization, which necessitated wallet-hurting tour and show cancellations. In 2012, she had spent most of her savings on producing her hit album, Sun, when she was struck down by angioedema, a nasty immune disorder that swells up "the face, tongue, and throat," and is potentially life-threatening. Fortunately, she recovered, and seems to be doing a lot better these days.

Billy Joel's manager stole $30 million

With his monthly residency at Madison Square Garden and scores of hit songs, it's not like Billy Joel wallows in poverty. Still, even a wealthy entertainer feels it when someone embezzles him out of tens of millions of dollars. According to Los Angeles Times, this is exactly what happened to Joel, courtesy of Frank Weber, his former manager. The ridiculous numbers involved were revealed in 1989, when Joel sued Weber for a whopping $90 million: $30 million of that was "compensatory damage" for money Weber had allegedly squandered, and $60 million was "punitive" damages for the multiple ways the manager had reportedly defrauded the singer-songwriter. According to the lawsuit, Weber had given huge loans to his own enterprises in Joel's name, lost over $10 million on various investments, and even mortgaged the artist's copyrights without bothering to mention it — all the while pulling strings to make the papers Joel received massively misleading. Oh, and while he was doing all this, the former manager was happily raking in $20 million of the singer's money in commissions.   

As Page Six tells us, Joel's quest for comeuppance didn't exactly go well, as Weber cunningly filed for bankruptcy and the case was ultimately settled out of court. Oddly, this wasn't even the first time the Weber family had hurt the singer: In 1982, Billy Joel had a painful divorce from Frank Weber's sister Elizabeth, who ironically also used to manage Joel. "I hooked up with the Borgias!" the Piano Man would later exclaim. 

Ron Isley is really bad at paying taxes

It's probably fair to say that Ron Isley of the Isley Brothers (of "Twist and Shout" fame) isn't the greatest taxpayer on earth. According to Billboard, the star was charged with five counts of tax evasion (and one "willful failure to file a tax return") in 2006, which netted him three years and one month behind bars, along with $3.1 million in back taxes. This was the last straw in a history of IRS troubles, to the point that the judge called him a "serial tax avoider."

The singer's history with money — and the IRS in particular — is certainly less than exemplary. As Courthouse News tells us, he first filed for bankruptcy in 1984. The second time came in 1997, when the IRS had enough with his antics and seized a bunch of his property, including cars and a yacht. In 2001, Isley was discharged from bankruptcy, but promptly failed to file his tax returns for those four years and cheated on his return for 2002. Fortunately, his 2006 prison sentence taught him his lesson and put him back on the straight and narrow ... that is, if one ignores that Forbes tells us Isley was still fighting the IRS in 2013, and his earliest tax return troubles go all the way back to 1971. Hey, at least he's consistent.

Members of Grizzly Bear aren't exactly rolling in money

Grizzly Bear broke through in 2006, and according to a 2012 interview with Vulture, they went from playing at diners for handfuls of people and "eating beef jerky from the gas station for protein" to opening for Radiohead, having their music featured in Super Bowl ads, and being praised by Jay-Z. Still, years of indie prestige, sold-out venues, and critical acclaim didn't make the band super-rich. In fact, according to singer Ed Droste, they are pretty far from any kind of wealth at all. The band members still live in the same places they did pre-fame, and some of them don't even have health insurance. While Droste admits they're getting by, he says that the fact that no one's buying records anymore makes "bands appear so much bigger than they are," and notes that even the seemingly lucrative act of licensing a song (for advertisements and suchlike) will only bring the band members financial security at a "Yay, I don't have to pay rent for two months" level. 

Grizzly Bear generate most of their revenue by touring, but after agents, managers, tour staff, venues, Ticketmaster, and others have taken their share, the band members' bank accounts are apparently nothing to write songs about. To make things easier on their wallet, they cut costs by only sleeping in hotels occasionally and generally treating the whole operation as a "risky small business."

Sly Stone was reduced to living in his van

You probably know several Sly & the Family Stone songs, even if you don't necessarily know their singer. As Reuters tells us, Sly Stone and his group were a mainstay of the late 1960s and early 1970s music scene, and songs like "Dance to the Music" and "Everyday People" remain pop culture benchmarks. As the frontman and primary songwriter of the group, it's easy to think that Stone would be rolling in the same kind of cash many other superstars of the era do. Instead, in 2011, he was rolling in his camper van ... that he also lived in. 

It appears that around 2007, Stone was still indeed living the kind of life you'd expect from a star of his caliber — huge house and a vineyard in Napa Valley, multiple cars, all that jazz. However, it appears that the combination of a hefty drug habit and some financial difficulties, including a $50 million lawsuit against his former manager, eventually left him in a bad place. While Stone himself claimed to quite enjoy the transient van life, Deadline notes that his situation was less "free-wheeling" and more "destitute." Luckily, Stone's finances have somewhat improved from those days thanks to the Music Modernization Act, which dragged copyright law kicking and screaming to the modern age — and in the process netted Stone some no doubt welcome streaming royalties. 

David Cassidy's massive debts and secret alcoholism

From his role in The Partridge Family to his status as a popular pop rocker, David Cassidy's lengthy career and perma-smiling face always made it seem that he was enjoying a financially secure life. Unfortunately, that could not be further from the truth. While People tells us that the artist was more worried about his dementia diagnosis than his financial issues before his death in 2017, it appears that money was a problem as well. In fact, People says that Cassidy filed for bankruptcy in 2015, and that his accumulated debts ran as high as $10 million. Meanwhile, his heirs received only roughly $150,000 in "assets" and assorted music memorabilia. 

One possible reason for Cassidy's surprisingly low net worth may be that the dementia he claimed he was fighting was not, in fact, dementia at all. He had a history of alcoholism and had three DUI arrests in his final years, and in 2018, People revealed that prior to his death, Cassidy indeed confessed that the "dementia" was actually all about alcohol. He had been drinking and quietly suffering from a liver disease while his family thought he was clean. 

Willie Nelson fought with the IRS for years

Despite being one of country's (and, well, the country's) biggest and longest-tenured artists, Willie Nelson has surprisingly little to show for himself. To be fair, sites like Celebrity Net Worth still guesstimate said "little" at $25 million, but it's all about perspective: For instance, the same site weighs his fellow Highwayman Kris Kristofferson's pockets at an absurd $160 million.

As Forbes writes, a lot of Nelson's difficulties stem from his issues with the IRS, who hit him with a ridiculous $16.6 million bill, and while Nelson's lawyer negotiated it down to a "mere" $6 million, it didn't make the sum any more affordable for the artist. Things eventually escalated to a point where the IRS confiscated basically everything Nelson owned in 1990, and the poor country star had to spend years in a tax debt limbo. At one point, Nelson even released an album called Who'll Buy My Memories? (The I.R.S. Tapes) in an effort to raise money to pay the Man.  

To be fair, Texas Monthly tells us that Nelson's finances were somewhat rocky even without the IRS, as the country legend had a habit of keeping a huge entourage and distributing his cash readily to hangers-on, sometimes to the point where he himself had little left. 

Even Elton John is struggling with his finances

Yeah, that Elton John. The guy with the opulent costumes and million-dollar pianos, whose production company just made a big-budget movie about him. 

Sure, Elton John's not exactly standing in a bread line, but as Rolling Stone points out, it's all about context. By Elton's own admission, he was bleeding money for ages, which wasn't exactly helped by the inefficient subordinates and businessmen who he says made a pretty bad job at managing his tangle of companies. As a result, Elton says he had to scramble every year just to pay his taxes until his husband, David Furnish, took over the business side of things. 

In recent years, Elton has been taking steps to amend all those mismanaged financial years. He said in 2016 that his "stated goal" for the upcoming years was to earn enough money to retire comfortably while maintaining his, uh, Elton John-level standard of living, and presumably to make sure that his adopted children have enough to live on when he's gone. Seeing as he has since then embarked on a massive, years-long farewell tour, it certainly looks like he's sticking to the plan. 

Sigur Ros are in trouble with Iceland's tax man

Sigur Ros, the Icelandic avant-garde indie group famous for their ethereal sound, don't immediately seem like candidates for something as earthly as tax evasion. However, that's exactly what Iceland's equivalent of the IRS has been accusing them of. According to Consequence of Sound, things got so bad that the government temporarily froze roughly $8 million of the band's assets. The good name of Sigur Ros was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing in 2018, when the band coughed up their debt to the state and announced that the whole thing had been a mistake caused by their former accountant. With that, the band with the fairy tale sound got its own fairy tale ending... that is, until 2019, when Spin reported that Iceland is charging them with tax evasion, this time for a combined $1.2 million. Ouch. 

The band continue to maintain that the accountant is to blame, but until things are cleared up, a significant portion of their assets — a total of $6.5 million in assorted houses and apartments — remain frozen. Seeing as the authorities have been carrying on their investigation into the band's finances for three years already, there's no telling how long this will last.

Lemmy Kilmister's lifetime of touring left a six-figure legacy

Ah, Lemmy Kilmister. The legendary Motörhead frontman, who roamed the earth's venues nigh-constantly from the 1970s to his death in 2015, is indisputably one of the greatest rock stars of all time. As the band's sole consistent member and their main songwriter, a man who put in that much work should by all accounts have been rolling in countless millions. Or so you'd think. According to Metal Insider, the total worth of Kilmister's estate at the time of his death was originally assumed to be around $8.3 million. However, it eventually turned out to be $648,000, which is certainly nothing to scoff at, but it does seem like a pretty insignificant sum for so many decades of sheer rock 'n' roll. 

Of course, it's not like Kilmister didn't have opportunities to spend what he earned over the years. As Rolling Stone reports, the rocker was known for his excesses, from his decades-long speed and alcohol habit to his extensive collection of German war memorabilia. 

Conor Oberst was ruined by anonymous accusations

Sites such as Biographics World claim that musician Conor Oberst, whose most famous project is Bright Eyes, has a very respectable $185 million in assets. However, the man himself would probably be rather surprised by such riches in his bank account. After all, he told W Magazine in 2017 that he recently moved to Omaha, Nebraska — because he couldn't afford New York City rents anymore.  

Regardless of how much Oberst was worth at the height of his powers, there's one very possible reason he's not making Big Apple rent money anymore: He fell victim of a very strange and hurtful online hoax. As the Washington Post tells us, the musician's reputation took a serious hit in late 2013, when an anonymous woman claimed online that the Bright Eyes man had raped her. A single, simple online post soon went viral in the blogosphere, and eventually spread to mainstream media. Oberst's people released a statement, and the internet back-and-forth over whether the artist was guilty or not started raging. Five months into the incident, Oberst sued the original poster (who had deleted her post very early on) for libel. Two months from that the woman admitted that she had made the whole thing up for attention. Still, the story was already out there on the internet, and tons of people were now seeing Oberst's name in conjunction with a nasty rape accusation.