Maybe it's the inflated ego or the itch to do something with those millions of dollars just laying around, but some celebrities have a knack for making some pretty bad business decisions. Somehow, they convince themselves that they can branch out beyond their talents -- only to discover that their business savvy isn't anywhere near their acting or athletic abilities.
Of course, not all celebrities crash and burn. In fact, some celebrities have proven to be quite successful at business -- just take a look at P. Diddy and Ron Howard. But this crew of celebrities hasn't been able to emulate that success. Here are WalletPop's choices for worst celebrity business owners:
Buying the small town of Braselton, Georgia for $20 million, with the dream of turning it into a tourist attraction that featured movie studios and a film festival, was a massive failure for Kim Basinger. She became interested in the town while stuck in a traffic jam. She saw a sign that read: "Braselton: If You Lived Here, You'd Be Home by Now" and evidently there was no turning back. We've seen similar signs outside condos near packed freeways in Oakland, Calif., but have never thought of buying the entire city. After buying Braselton, Basinger told reporters, "Finally, here are some people who will know who's the boss."
Northeast Georgia is a long way from Hollywood, however, and Basinger's big plans never quite came together. In 1993, five years after she and her partners bought the town, she sold it for $1 million and later declared bankruptcy.
The town of 2,294 residents is now owned by a developer. Braselton is the home of Chateau Elan Winery, the headquarters of the American Junior Golf Association, the Panoz Motor Sports Group, and the Road Atlanta race track. The town also has major distribution warehouses for Sears Appliance Division, Tractor Supply, Haverty's Furniture and Home Depot Distribution Center.
Celebrities and fashion have at least one thing in common: They can go out of style fast. And celebrities with fashion lines can fizzle even faster. "There's a lot of coming and going, because as their popularity wanes it affects everything else," independent brand consultant Alycia de Mesa told Forbes. "Sometimes it's a flash in a pan."
Heidi Montag's "Heidiwood" clothing line for Anchor Blue lasted less than a year, which in some people's opinions was a year too long. The flimsy, paper-thin clothes weren't a hit with shoppers, even the risque set the line was targeting. The $10 to $60 clothes were indeed inexpensive, but reviewers deemed the poorly-made clothing line unwearable.
Montag isn't going to let a little failure stop her, though. Now the reality TV star is planning another clothing line for her new body. Perhaps she should just stick to what she knows, like plastic surgery.
In just one lifetime, World Series champion Lenny Dykstra has managed to drive all of his businesses into the ground and file for bankruptcy. He has also been ordered to give his entire $5,700-a-month pension to his former wife, and is now trying his hand at being homeless.
The former New York Mets star claims he's homeless, with $37 million in debts after running various businesses he started into the ground, including his The Players Club magazine and car washes that he owned. Dykstra filed for bankruptcy in July 2010, but lost control of his case when a bankruptcy judge ruled he could no longer administer his own finances.
Dykstra has claimed he's the victim of predatory lending after he bought hockey legend Wayne Gretzky's mansion in Thousand Oaks, Calif., for $17.5 million with a $12 million loan in 2008 -- at the height of the housing crisis. He intended to flip the mansion for $25 million.
The "Hollywood Madam" once ran a highly-successful prostitution ring, but then the pesky law got in the way. Fleiss was convicted in 1995 and served 20 months in a California prison for running the prostitution ring.
Since then, Fleiss' business skills haven't improved. Her failed businesses include a stud farm in Nevada where sexy men were sold to women for $250 an hour. One little problem, however, in Nevada convicted felons can't work in the sex trade. Fleiss also struck out with a sex toy shop, laundromat, and a pet grooming shop. Her latest venture is a pet spa in Las Vegas. Yeah, that should work well in a recession.
The Three's Company star from the 1970s had great success with the "ThighMaster," but Somers' business savvy didn't translate well when she moved to the kitchen. Her "Suzanne's Kitchen" make-it-yourself meal preparation franchise that provided ingredients and recipes from Somers' cookbooks for customers to make in stores failed after less than three months.
Somers' business partner, former Kentucky Gov. John Y. Brown, claimed she quickly changed the concept to use only organic ingredients. That made the project impractical and uneconomical, Brown said. She's now selling a teeth whitening system for $50.
Not even Spider-Man or the Incredible Hulk could save comic book creator Stan Lee from failing at business. The former editor of Marvel Comics who helped revitalize the super hero genre with Captain America and others, crashed and burned with Stan Lee Media during the dot-com stock boom.
His Internet-based company was founded in 1998. A mere two years later, it was filing for bankruptcy protection after quickly burning through more than $20 million in cash and only producing $1 million in revenue.
Even while spending more money than it was taking in, Lee's company attracted top talent hiring people away from major studios like Disney. Lee and his bankrupt company have been involved in several lawsuits by investors since 2007.
He may never had intended for Praise the Lord ministry he started in 1974 to turn into a business, but it did, with 2,000 employees at its peak and $129 million a year in revenue. But more than a decade later in 1987, Bakker's financial empire crumbled after he admitted to having a sexual encounter with church secretary Jessica Hahn and giving Hahn hush-money payments.
Before it all fell apart, Bakker raised $158 million for Heritage USA, a vast theme park he wanted to build for Christians in Fort Mill, S.C., with hotels, motels, campgrounds and a water park. He asked 25,000 supporters to donate $1,000, which would entitle them as "lifetime partners " to three nights free lodging every year for the rest of their lives at the theme park. A total of 66,000 signed up for the partnerships. Bakker proposed another hotel and sold more than twice as many partnerships as were available.
The ministry filed for bankruptcy within two months of Bakker's resignation. At the time, the organization was $130 million in debts. Bakker was convicted on 24 counts of mail and wire fraud, and was sentenced to 45 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. He served only five years in prison and was released in 1994 after his sentence was reduced on appeal. Bakker and his second wife now run a non-profit church in Missouri.
Marion 'Suge' Knight
Knight's Death Row Records dominated the music charts in the early 1990s with rappers such as Dr. Dre, Tupac Shakur and Snoop Dogg. But when Knight was imprisoned in September 1996 for parole violations things started going downhill.
He was sentenced to nine years but was released in 2001. He then was sent to jail again in 2003 when he struck a parking lot attendant. While in prison, Knight's money problems escalated. He was ordered to pay $107 million to a woman who claimed a 50% ownership stake in Death Row Records. In 2006, Death Row Records filed for bankruptcy protection. Knight testified at his bankruptcy trial that he hadn't checked the record label's financial records for at least 10 years.
He's had other financial and legal difficulties since then, including a negligence complaint he filed against Kanye West after Knight was shot in the leg at a party thrown by West. Knight claims the injury prevents him from working.
Not all athletes can emulate the fictional character Sam Malone of Cheers and own a successful bar after they retire from professional sports. But many have tried, and failed.. Former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon is one of them. His McMahon's Steakhouse closed in 2003 after being open for just one year. A previous attempt to open another restaurant in 1987 ended after three years.
Paris Hilton failed at the business of being herself. All she had to do was behave herself in order to receive part of a $2.3 billion inheritance from her grandfather, but she just couldn't seem to do that. Granted, Hilton wouldn't have gotten all of that money, but her grandfather's heirs did get 3%, or $69 million apiece. Paris' take: $5 million, according to calculations by the New York Daily News. The rest her grandfather decided to give to charity instead.
Making matters even worse, the 29-year-old socialite is being sued for $35 million for wearing the wrong hair. The hair extension company says it also lost $6.6 million because she didn't attend a launch party. Where was she? In jail.
In another case, a federal judge has ruled that Hilton breached her contract when she allegedly refused interviews to promote the movie National Lampoon's Pledge This! and that she could be liable for about $160,000.
Hilton has previously been accused of not marketing products after getting paid. She was paid $1 million to promote a film in 2008, but was sued when she didn't do her job. Her legal problems have been detailed for too long, with the latest being felony drug possession for cocaine in her purse that she reportedly said she thought was chewing gum.
In the business of promoting herself, Hilton is either the smartest or dumbest celebrity business owner. Any publicity is good publicity, the saying goes, but losing millions for acting like a fool and not fulfilling your "work" obligations is publicity we'd rather not have.
Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Take the first steps to building your portfolio.View Course »