Parents Of The Rich And Famous Who Tried To Extort Their Children

There are many parents who look at their children's success as the product of years of hard work. They're filled with joy, knowing that their kids have achieved a level of success and financial stability they themselves couldn't give them. Then there are some parents who look at their children's success and start singing the Berry Gordy-penned lyrics, "The best things in life are free/ But you can give them to the birds and bees/ I need money."

While the idea of looking at one's child as a personal bank account is disturbing, it seems that the more success and money a child gains, the greater lengths some parents go to control them. Through intimidation, coercion, manipulation, lying, and extortion, parents have found ways into their children's finances and have behaved like, well, kids in a candy store.

Many of these parents end up being bought to court by their children while they're still adolescents, a time when children heavily rely on their parents for protection and guidance as they enter adulthood. However, in these cases, the parents have demonstrated that they put their own desires ahead of their children's well-being, even ignoring their kids' pleas for care and protection. Here are a few cases of parents who have tried to extort their wealthy children.

Vanessa Bryant's mother

2020 was a terrible year for many reasons. One of the first signs of the year to come was the tragic death of basketball star Kobe Bryant, his teenage daughter Gianna, and seven others in a helicopter crash in January. The tragedy shook the world and left many praying for Vanessa Bryant, wife of Kobe and mother of Gianna. Unfortunately, as the year came to a close, Vanessa and her mother, Sofia Laine, made headlines as, according to Yahoo News, Vanessa is accusing her mother of extortion after Laine filed a $5 million lawsuit against her daughter.

The BBC reports that the 68-year-old Laine was met with an immediate and harsh backlash when the news came out of the lawsuit against her daughter. Not even a full year had passed since the deaths of Vanessa's husband and one of her daughters when the lawsuit was announced in December 2020. According to Laine, Kobe had promised to always care for her before his death. People reports that Laine's camp said she "worked unpaid as a 'longtime personal assistant and nanny' for the family."

Vanessa denied these accusations, telling the press she herself was a stay-at-home mother to her and Kobe's children and that she has supported her mother for nearly two decades. She claims her mother wants $5 million, a home (despite living on one of Bryant's properties) and a Mercedes SUV. Vanessa has three surviving daughters, Natalia, age 17, Bianka, age four, and Capri Kobe, who is 18 months old.

Billy Unger's father

Billy Unger (also known as William Brent) is, unfortunately, one of many children in the limelight who've been coerced by their parents into giving them power over their finances. According to E! Online, Unger sued his father for a list of infractions in 2015, including breach of contract, negligent misrepresentation, and fraud, among others. Billy's attorney, Robert Pafundi, said that the attempts to settle the dispute out of court were unsuccessful.

In October 2013, a year and a half after Billy got his big break on the Disney Channel program Lab Rats, Billy and his father, William Unger, entered into an oral agreement to make him Billy's talent manager and business and financial advisor. According to Stars Insider, Unger's father used his son's earnings to pay his girlfriend's rent and hiked up the percentage he would take as his agent. While the average commission for an agent in Hollywood is 10-20 percent, William Unger was taking a third of his son's salary. According to LAist, the young Disney actor said his father mishandled $400,000 of his money and, in order to impress his girlfriend, spent over $120,000. Billy's lawsuit also says that his father took out a $1 million life insurance policy on him, with William as the only benificiary. William claimed that he loved his son and that the lawsuit was the result of a "manipulative negative force" in Billy's life.

Jackie Coogan's parents

The case of Jackie Coogan led to what became known as the Coogan Law in order to protect child actors from losing their earnings. Coogan began working on the stage at the age of four, thanks to the tutoring of his parents, actors in their own right, John and Lillian Coogan. In 1919, his stage presence caught the eye of Charlie Chaplin, who put eventually Coogan in his famous film The Kid. By the age of nine, Coogan was one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood at the time.

According to Medium, Coogan's work made him a multi-millionaire before he became a teen. However, because of a law preventing a child from handling that amount of money, his parents took over his finances and gave him a $6-per-day allowance until he would receive his full royalties at 21.

According to a 1938 edition of Life, a stranger reportedly once told Lillian Coogan, "Don't teach Jackie arithmetic, because when he grows up, he'll want to know where all his money is." Coogan eventually sued his mother and his stepfather, Arthur Bernstein (John had died in a car crash three years prior) for $4 million. The parents said they didn't promise Jackie any money and even that any money he made before turning 21 belonged to them. Jackie won the case, but all that remained of his hard-earned fortune was $126,000. Coogan's adult career saw him play Uncle Fester on The Addams Family.

Mischa Barton's mother

Actress Mischa Barton of The OC and The Sixth Sense fame filed suit for $25 million against her mother/manager, Nuala Barton. Like many situations with parents as managers, Mischa dealt with her mother manipulating and bullying her into silence for more than a decade after her big break. In 2009, the relationship and the pressures of fame led Mischa to have a "full-on breakdown" and spend four days in a psychiatric ward.

In 2017, Mischa took her mother to court, claiming that Nuala had "bullied her, withheld earnings without her knowledge and threw her out of her own $7.8 million Beverly Hills mansion," as The Independent put it. Mischa had originally entered into a verbal agreement with her mother and agreed to give her a standard ten-percent manager fee from her earnings, though court documents said Nuala "was secretly scheming to exploit [Mischa's] burgeoning career."

Years prior, a former associate of the Barton family had addressed Nuala and Mischa's relationship. Talking to People in 2013, the associate said Nuala called the shots, even though Mischa paid all the bills. Nuala pushed her daughter to buy a luxury home for the family, one which she couldn't afford and eventually went into foreclosure. Mischa defended her mother then. The same year of the lawsuit, Mischa was hospitalized again for a mental evaluation. According to Radar, the actress was in her backyard ranting about her mother.

Leighton Meester's mother

Gossip Girl and Single Parents star Leighton Meester not only had to fight her mother, Constance Meester, in court but also worried about her brother, who was directly affected by their battle. According to Cafe Mom, in 2011, Meester sued her mother for misusing a $7,500 monthly stipend on herself instead of Leighton's brother's medical expenses. Aside from taking money from her daughter and ignoring her sick son, Constance threatened to sue her rich daughter for $3 million if she didn't raise the stipend!

According to Social Gazette, Constance was given a ten-year prison sentence for bringing illegal substances into the US from Jamaica while she was pregnant with her daughter. During the first three months of Leighton's life, she and her mother lived in a halfway home before Constance went to prison. Ultimately, Constance's sentence was cut down to less than two years, and she and Leighton moved to Florida, where the young child began to show an interest in acting.

Gossip Girl put the then-21-year-old actress on the A list, and she made sure to care for her mother and younger brother Lex, who was recovering from brain surgery. After learning of her mother using the money on herself, Leighton cut her off and filed a lawsuit when Constance claimed that Leighton had promised her that she would pay $10,000 a month for the rest of her life. While the court ruled in Leighton's favor, she failed to win custody of her brother Lex from her mother.

Corey Feldman's father

The story of Corey Feldman is equal parts tragic and disturbing in the pop culture lexicon. As a child star in the 1980s, Feldman had a film résumé on par with some of the greatest child stars of the 20th century. At the same time, according to Feldman, he and his fellow child star and former friend Corey Haim faced child abuse, drug addiction, and a myriad of other horrors before hitting adulthood. Feldman sued and was emancipated from his parents during his teen years. However, in an interview with ABC News in 2011, Feldman said his father made him pay him $40,000 following the trial, saying spending time with him cost him his business.

According to Global News, when Feldman successfully emancipated himself from his parents, the $1 million he'd made up to that point in his career had been spent by his parents. Feldman, according to Showbiz Cheat Sheet, referred to his case as an "Emancipation Proclamation in Hollywood" and sought total independence from his parents. Both his parents have denied many of the accusations levied their way by their son, going so far as to refer to him as a "scam artist" throughout the years. Feldman has struggled with drug addiction and mental health issues before and after his emancipation.

Brian Wilson's father

Along with Joe Jackson, father of the Jackson Five, Murry Wilson, father of three of the Beach Boys, might go down as one of the most toxic fathers in the history of popular music. Similar to the Jacksons, Murray's boys went on to make some of the most iconic music of their generation, with one brother standing out as once-in-a-generation musical genius. In the case of the Jacksons, this was Michael. With the Wilsons, this was Brian. And like Michael, Brian has faced an uphill struggle since his days in the family band. According to both his autobiography and a letter Murry sent him, Brian suffered psychological and physical abuse at his father's hands, per The Guardian.

In Peter Ames Carlin's biography on Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, he goes into detail on Murry becoming the band's manager. After learning that Brian and the other boys had spent money meant for an emergency while Murry and his wife were on vacation, Murry threw Brian against the wall, stopping only at Brian's pleading to listen to them play. After the performance, Murry decided he was the band's manager.

The Chicago Tribune reported other instances of Murry's physical and psychological abuse. In one upsetting episode, Murry made Brian defecate on a newspaper like a dog in front of his mother. In 1969, Murry sold the catalog of Brian's hit songs to A&M Records for $700,000. Wilson said of his father, "My own father had robbed me of my self-esteem."

Jena Malone's mother

According to ET Online, Jena Malone got into acting to assist in her family's financial struggles when she was just ten. By the time she was 15, the child star had made a name for herself, established a successful film career, and was emancipated from her mother, who she alleged mismanaged her earnings and left them in a state of poverty, according to LA Weekly.

Jena grew up without knowing her father, who had impregnated her mother, Debbie Malone, while married to another woman. Jena was raised by Debbie and her girlfriend and didn't meet her father until she was in her teens. She looks back fondly on her childhood, despite living in poverty. "We were just so poor," she stated. "We'd hop out of apartments, lose jobs, find a cheaper place, get kicked out, live in cars, and live in hotels. It was glorious."

Within a few years of beginning to act, Jena would co-star in films such as Bastard Out of Carolina, For Love of the Game, and Contact, with her mother looking after her finances. Or at least that's what she believed to be the case. According to The Buffalo News, Malone successfully won legal emancipation from her mother, accusing her of squandering her money on "excessive spending and mismanagement." Unlike many child stars, Malone has seemed to avoid substance abuse issues and continues to have successful career in and outside of film.

LeAnn Rimes' father

A child star manipulated in Nashville instead of Hollywood: different but equally disturbing. LeAnn Rimes, according to Billboard, sued her former manager Lyle Walker and her father, Wilbur Rimes, for stealing around $7 million over the course of five years. For their part, her father and Walker sought to keep Rimes a part of Curb Records, based on a contract she had signed when she was only 12.

ABC News reported while her parents and manager supported her early in her career, tension grew between her 1996 debut album and 2000, when she filed her lawsuit. Aside from an insane tour schedule that saw her performing around 500 shows in three and a half years, LeAnn's parents divorced. Desiring to take control of her future, LeAnn filed suit against her father and her manager. Her father responded by countersuing his daughter. When asked about the situation, the country star said, "I definitely believe that the love for money is the root of all evil because it changes people."

The next year, Rimes was battling another former associate, her former bodyguard and trainer, Robert Lavetta. Lavetta was arrested and charged with two counts of extortion. According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Lavetta had taken personal photos and items and threatened Rimes' camp to give him $2 million in severance and a Ferrari, or he would send the items to the tabloids.

Rimes reunited with her father in 2002, as she desired to have him at her wedding.

Ariel Winter's mother

Ariel Winter of Modern Family fame was emancipated from her mother in 2012, when she was 14 years old. Rather than seeking emancipation over money, Winter wished for freedom. According to Insider, Ariel claimed to have been physically and emotionally abused by her mother and sexualized at an early age. Her mother, Crystal Workman, has denied these accusations. In an interview, Ariel said that her mother did not allow her to interact with many other people. "I spent the first 14 years of my life in isolation and it wasn't great."

Winter was successful in her suit against her mother and moved in with her older sister, actress Shanelle Workman, who, according to TMZ, had left Crystal for similar reasons. Crystal Workman and her legal team accused Shanelle of having sought access to Ariel's bank account, which was proven to be false based on court records. During this period, Winter said she "caught up on the childhood I didn't have because I was focusing on acting and work" and reconnected with her father.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Sharon Sacks, Ariel's on-set teacher for Modern Family, would order multiple lunches on set so that Ariel could eat more, as her mother kept her diet "very restricted." Sacks also believed Winter was sleep-deprived, as her mother kept her out for late parties and engagements, despite the 6:30-7 AM start time for shooting the show.

The Kardashians' stepmother

Stepparents can be tough to deal with, especially if the biological parent is still in the picture. Couple that with billions of dollars and years of reality television, and you have a Category 5 hurricane of drama. Ellen Pierson, the stepmother of Kim, Khloe, Kourtney, and Rob Kardashian, sued her estranged stepchildren for defamation and emotional distress in 2013, according to the Huffington Post. At the time, the Kardashians had accused Pierson of exposing their late father's personal belongings and private documents to the media.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Ellen Pierson licensed portions of Robert Kardashian's diaries and photos to Bauer Publishing, the owner of Life & Style and In Touch magazines. In Touch soon published a story titled "The Secret Kardashian Diaries." Pierson also accused Kris Jenner of physically abusing her kids during their childhood, according to Heavy. The family contended that the diaries and photos belong to them as a part of Robert Kardashian's will. Pierson told Radar Online that she had around 500 photos that the Kardashian family never wanted until they began to be published.

Pierson declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2010 and was required to give up all her properties that were originally owned by Robert Kardashian. This strengthened the Kardashians' case, as they claimed that if Pierson had truly owned the items, she would have defrauded the court by not disclosing their existence. E! Online reported in 2014 that the case had been settled, with the materials returning to the Kardashian family.