Quite simply, some people don’t know how to handle money, and having a lot of money can be a recipe for disaster. While the money management blues could be because of ineptitude or bad luck, the common denominator is that these wealthy people would have been better off with less. Here are 10 people who should never have become rich.
10 A Fall from Grace
Eike Batista is not a rags-to-riches story since Batista’s father had been the Minister of Mines and Energy in two previous Brazilian governments. It was natural that Eike Batista made his living in mining, gas, and oil with his family background. It was then a logical step to finance large-scale infrastructure projects that would support his other concerns.
At the beginning of 2012, Batista had a net worth of around $35 billion—this meant that he was the seventh wealthiest person in the world. Unfortunately, he didn’t last long in the world’s top ten. By the summer of 2013, his wealth stood at $200 million and, a year later, had fallen to minus $1 billion.
There were various reasons for this dramatic drop, but not all of them were Batista’s fault. A general downturn in the precious metals industry, underperforming assets, and poor decisions played a part. But the biggest fall from grace may be that Batista is facing 30 years in jail for bribing the governor of Rio de Janeiro.
So why should Batista never have become rich? The answer is simple. A capitalist economy relies on the operation of free markets that depend on trust. Someone who builds a business empire built on sand warps the economy, destroys confidence, and wipes out the investments that pay people’s pensions.
9 From Bad to Worse
Jack Whittaker didn’t need to win the lottery; the West Virginian was a wealthy and successful businessman in the construction industry. But, in 2002, he won the then-largest jackpot in the Powerball multi-state lottery. His prize was worth around $315 million, but he opted to take the one-off cash payment option that left him with over $113 million after taxes.
Whittaker was kind-hearted and well-meaning as he pledged 10% of his winnings to Christian charities and set up the Jack Whittaker Foundation to distribute food and clothing to the needy in rural West Virginia. He also rewarded the man who worked in the store where Whittaker had bought the winning ticket and threw handfuls of cash from his new sports car around the neighborhood.
Then things started to go bad. In 2003, someone stole over $500,000 that Whittaker had left in his car in the parking lot of a strip club. Not a good look Whittaker, but things kept going from bad to worse.
Next, his teenage granddaughter, Brandi, was lavished with cash and gifts, but in 2004, the body of Brandi’s eighteen-year-old boyfriend was found in Whittaker’s home. The boy had taken a cocktail of drugs leading to his death. Later that year, Brandi went missing, and her body turned up dumped on a friend’s property. She had been taking drugs, but the cause of death wasn’t clear, and authorities filed no charges.
Unfortunately, Jack had problems with gambling, and his uninsured house burned to the ground. He died in 2020.
8 Sky High to Rock Bottom
We can’t know what would have happened if Edwards had won just enough money to turn his life around, but he won a lot.
David Lee Edwards was a connected armed robber who had spent one-third of his 46 years in prison. Broke and unemployed, he borrowed some cash from a friend to pay a utility bill. Unfortunately, Edwards had some change left over that he spent on a pizza and a couple of lottery tickets. He won $27 million.
At a press conference, Edwards swore that he would turn his life around and look after his daughter. Yet, he immediately began spending money left and right. His mansion in Florida was full of expensive gadgets, and his body was full of expensive drugs.
Edwards supported his and his wife’s increasing dependence on drugs. He also paid for his friend’s drugs and funerals if they overdosed. Edwards did spoil his daughter, but by 2006, he and his wife were living in a storage unit surrounded by drug paraphernalia and their own body waste.
Mrs. Edwards left him; he died penniless in a hospice in Kentucky. He was 58.
7 Madame Mayor
Maureen O’Connor, a native of San Diego, California, rose through the local political ranks to become the city’s first female mayor from 1986 to 1992. At the time, she was married to Robert O. Peterson—the founder of the Jack in the Box fast-food chain.
When her husband died in 1994, O’Connor’s personal fortune stood somewhere between $40 and $50 million. In the cutthroat world of politics, all successful politicians are big risk-takers. O’Connor was a political winner, but she was a loser when she began to gamble in casinos.
O’Connor lost around $13 million in casinos. She misappropriated over $2 million from her husband’s charitable foundation, which she immediately spent playing video poker. To raise more cash to fund her gambling, she liquidated all her savings and took out second and third mortgages on her home. She attempted to pay off her debts but found herself charged with wire fraud.
She attributed her gambling addiction to a brain tumor. In 2015, a judge formally dropped all charges against her.
6 To the Bitter End
John Werner Kluge (1914–2010) was a successful businessman who became a television mogul. At one time, he was the richest person in the United States. A hard-working philanthropist, he also found time to indulge in his hobby of getting married. He married four times, and Patricia was the third of his wives.
When the couple divorced in 1990, Patricia kept the Albemarle estate near Charlottesville, Virginia. The couple had built a 45-room mansion on the property that hosted parties for the rich and famous. With her new husband, Patricia Kluge opened the Kluge Estate Winery in 1999. This was an excellent place for growing vines, and their ambition was to create a world-renowned winery that would produce some of the finest vintages in the world. To an extent, they succeeded.
However, they had enough money to launch the project and were rich by most people’s standards, but their plans called for much more money than they had available. Patricia took out $65 million in loans but found that she was over-extended. When the economy crashed in 2008, she put the estate up for sale. Donald Trump eventually bought it for a fraction of the asking price. It is now known as the Trump Winery.
It is possible to be rich but not quite rich enough. This is the trap that Patricia fell into.
5 Transfer of Ownership
Atahualpa (1502–1533) was not rich because of his own efforts. He was rich because he was Atahualpa. What happened to his fabulous wealth was not his fault—he was a victim of history.
Atahualpa was the last supreme emperor of the Incas but was unfortunate enough to be in power as the Spanish rampaged through his lands. In Incan society, everything from the fruits of the trees to the gold from the mountains belonged to the emperor. Everything in these vast, rich lands belonged to him.
When the Spanish executed Atahualpa, all of his wealth belonged to them.
Broadly speaking, this massive transfer of wealth ruined the Spanish empire. The Dutch and the British, among others, built empires based on trade. The Spanish did not have to. This unearned wealth meant they tapped their conquests for more gold and silver; the Spanish exported this back to Spain. Many Spanish and Italian merchants got rich, but the economic consequences were dire. The unbalanced Spanish economy suffered from inflation, and massive estates split the countryside into haves and have-nots.
Although Spain was to remain powerful for a while, the seeds of its future failure were sprouting in beds of unearned wealth.
4 “Spend, Spend, Spend!”
Before online gambling, many people in Britain would wager small amounts on the results of soccer matches through a system called “football pools.” These listed the games to be played on the following Saturday, and you could win a lot of money if you could forecast eight score draws.
Viv Nicholson had grown up in poverty. She was pregnant at sixteen and had four children when her second husband, Keith, won the pools in 1961. The prize was over £152,000—over 3 million today.
When asked what they would do with their winnings, the couple famously answered, “Spend, spend, spend.” And they did.
They spent everything. Keith died in a car accident in 1965, and creditors declared Viv bankrupt. She later said that she had had no idea what to do with so much money and that her win had alienated her from her friends, family, and background.
3 Too Much of a Good Thing
Gerald Muswagon was not a well-educated man but was friendly and well-liked by his family and friends. Yet, he had had brushes with the law in his native Canada since 1981.
In 1998, he bought a two-dollar lottery ticket that won him $10 million. He spent a lot of it on luxuries and gifts but did try to invest in his own lumber business. Unfortunately, his business lost money because of low sales. Muswagon was surrounded by hangers-on who were only interested in his money and never got the guidance that he needed about how to handle such a large sum.
He continued to have problems with the police, and things got worse when his wife died suddenly in 2002. Muswagon hanged himself in his parent’s garage.
2 Millions to Manslaughter
Ibi Roncaioli was Hungarian by birth but moved to Canada, where she married a successful gynecologist. She was not short of money but bought a ticket for a lotto game with a friend. In 1991, the two won $10 million and split the money.
Roncaioli started spending her winnings without telling her husband, but she didn’t spend much of it on herself. Mainly, the money went to her three sons. One of these was the son that she had had with her husband, one from before she married, and the third was a child that even her husband of thirty years knew nothing about.
Most people who knew the Roncaiolis described them as a happy, devoted older couple. However, in 2003, Ibi died. The authorities assumed that she had died from natural causes. Still, after careful examination, they found a toxic level of painkillers and alcohol in her body, and there were needle marks on her legs and feet.
The court found her husband guilty of manslaughter. The couple’s net worth was just $300,000 despite Ibi’s winnings and her husband’s considerable earnings. Her 72-year-old husband was sentenced to seven years.
1 The King
Elvis Presley made a lot of money during his stellar career. However, he had no idea how to handle it. He spent a fortune on a luxurious lifestyle and treating his friends. For example, he would pay to have hotel rooms redecorated to look like a room in his mansion, Graceland—he didn’t want to get homesick.
At the time of his death in 1977, Presley was almost broke. And his money had never made him happy.
His ex-wife, Priscilla, eventually took charge of Elvis’s estate after his death because Lisa Marie, their daughter, was still a minor. If Elvis had no head for business, Priscilla did. She converted what little was left into a $100 million business.