Lottery Winners Who Eventually Lost Everything

Everyone loves a good Twilight Zone plot twist where the metaphorical bookworm gets left with nothing but allegorical time to read, only to break their allegorical glasses. That, combined with a heaping double scoop of sour grapes, might be why people love to dunk so hard on the idea of winning the lottery. "It's actually not that much after taxes." "Get ready to see a lot of family members with their hands out." "You know people who win the lottery always wind up miserable, right?"

It's arguable whether or not money can buy happiness, but massive, sudden amounts of the stuff does seem capable of picking up misery on a rent-to-own basis. For about as long as people have hoped to hit the jackpot, they've also been learning the hard way that doing so can shred their lives in increasingly dramatic ways.

Take Evelyn Adams of New Jersey, a $25-a-week player and the first person in history to win the state's lottery twice. If that happened to you, you'd probably feel pretty lucky, maybe even lucky enough to hazard a trip to Atlantic City. Adams apparently did, because that's where she blew through her seven figure payout, according to Forbes.

Bud Post hit the lottery, and the lottery hit back

In other cases, the implosion of a winner's windfall isn't just a case of habitual gambling begetting more habitual gambling. Sometimes a pear-shaped life suffers that most Notorious of fates when more money invariably leads to more problems.

William "Bud" Post III was a poster child for the phenomenon. Per the Washington Post, he was living off disability checks and behind on rent in 1988 when he pawned a ring for $40 and had his girlfriend/landlady use the money to buy forty $1 lottery tickets. Against all odds, it worked, and a few weeks later, Post had received the first of 26 annual payments of $497,953.47.

Three months after that, he was $500,000 in debt. One year later, he was ordered by the court to stay clear of his sixth wife after firing a rifle into the side of her car. He also had his payments frozen after refusing to comply with another court order, this time to split the winnings with the woman who bought him his tickets. By the time he died in 2006, he was back to living on disability checks, only by this point, he didn't have a ring to pawn.

Viv Nicholson and grim celebrity

In 1961, Yorkshire resident Vivian Nicholson's husband Kieth won £152,300 (around £3.5 million in 2020) in a sports pool, before promptly dying in a car accident. When asked what she would do with her newfound wealth, Vivian responded "Spend, spend, spend," and she lived up to her promise ambitiously, burning through money with such aplomb that an Olivier Award-winning West End musical about her affluence was produced in 1998. By 1965, she'd declared bankruptcy.

Vivian was British tabloid catnip, and continued to be a point of fascination for the gossip inclined for more than a decade. Before her death in 2015, she'd been married five times. The New York Times reports that when asked why she was eager to marry a series of troubled men, she responded "Because I had nothing to do and they asked me." She'd also been extradited from Malta after punching a cop. She had a colorful life.

Cashes to ashes

Not everybody undoes their good fortune buying high society staples like fancy cars and upsized McDonald's meals and what have you. Some folks just get greedy. Denise Rossi of California lived out every discontented spouse's dream when she won the California state lottery and immediately left her husband of 25 years, forgetting to mention that she had just come across $1.3 million. Two years later, the LA Times reports that her ex Thomas stumbled onto some correspondence outlining Denise's good fortune. A quick court case later, he was receiving every cent of her undisclosed $48,000-a-year payments, with the judge noting that Denise could've at least kept half if she hadn't gone all cloak and dagger.

Similarly, in 2012, the New York Times reported that construction worker Americo Lopes took his coworkers' regularly pooled lotto money and failed to inform them that they'd won, instead claiming the winnings for himself and quitting his job on the spot because he "needed foot surgery." $17 million spends a lot quicker when a judge orders you to split it five ways.