Life after debt

Famous people who overcame problem debts

Posted 17 September 2014

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It can sometimes feel like you’re the only one struggling with problem debt, but these famous figures had issues with it too.

Struggling with debt problems can be an isolating experience, and it can feel like no one else is going through the same thing as you. It’s important to know that you’re not alone, and lots of people have debt worries throughout their lives.

Even the rich and famous may suffer from problem debts and bankruptcies at some point. We’ve profiled some of them who, despite their setbacks, managed to get back on their feet.

Walt Disney

He may be known to many as the co-founder of one of the most successful cartoon studios in the world, but Walt Disney’s business ventures weren’t always so prosperous. In 1921, Disney opened Laugh-O-Gram Studios, an animation company that only lasted for two years after its main financial backer went bankrupt. Laugh-O-Gram Studios also filed for bankruptcy, and Disney and his brother moved to Hollywood. He was able to make a fresh start and created the Mickey Mouse character with animator Ub Iwerks in 1928.

Henry Ford

Henry Ford’s first two companies … the Detroit Automobile Company and the Henry Ford Company … both were unsuccessful , and left him with very little cash to his name. He then managed to found the Ford Motor Company after attracting investment, which eventually became one of the most profitable companies in the world.

Suzanne Shaw

After the breakup of Hear’Say … the group that made her name … in 2002, Suzanne Shaw suffered from problem debt due to credit card spending and not saving any of her earnings. She said that she was too embarrassed to file for bankruptcy, and worked to pay back her £200,000 debts over eight years. Blaming her quick rise to fame at a young age and not being given any financial guidance, Shaw says the experience was "a very big learning curve".

Nicolas Cage

Though the actor earned $40 million (£25.6 million) in 2009, in the same year he received a huge tax debt bill. He sold off several properties and worked to pay back $6.2 million (£3.8 million) to the IRS.

Gary Busey

The recent Channel 5’s Celebrity Big Brother winner … perhaps most famous for his roles in Lethal Weapon (1987) and Point Break (1991) … struggled with problem debt and filed for bankruptcy in 2012. He turned his career around after a series of reality TV show appearances.

Simon Cowell

Before his TV fame on ITV’s Pop Idol, The X Factor, and Britain’s Got Talent, Simon Cowell had problems with debt after his record label Fanfare shut down. After he lost his house, Cowell had to move back in with his parents until he got back on his feet after getting a job at music publisher BMG.

Colonel Sanders

The founder of KFC enjoyed some success with his first Kentucky restaurant, but lost it when the government built a new road which took travellers away from the establishment, leading to a decrease in sales that meant he couldn’t afford to repay his debts. After selling the restaurant, Sanders took to the road to sell his chicken recipe to other business owners and created the globally recognised franchise.

Richard Branson

The Virgin entrepreneur may be one of the most successful businessmen alive today, but that wasn’t always the case. Despite the popularity of his first Virgin music store in London, the company was losing money and soon had debts of £60,000. Branson had to learn how to manage his money and turned the business around. He is now head of the Virgin Group, which manages more than 400 companies worldwide.

Cyndi Lauper

Before her solo career, the singer was in a group called Blue Angel. After a dispute with their manager, they disbanded and he sued them for $80,000. Lauper went bankrupt and had to take a shop job until she managed to secure her solo contract and release her hit single Girls Just Want to Have Fun.

Hilary Devey

The former Dragon suffered setbacks in setting up her freight company Pall-Ex when the banks didn’t believe in her vision and refused to loan her any money. Devey sold her house and car to raise the £112,000 needed to fund her business and said she couldn’t afford to pay for heating at the time. She managed to make her company into a success and is now a renowned businesswoman.

Any debt solution has its drawbacks, but it could make your money problems easier to manage and help you to afford to start paying your debts back. Getting in touch with an expert is one way to start, as they could help you understand your options better so you know where you stand.

by Sarah Symons

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To find out more about managing your money and getting free debt advice, visit Money Advice Service, an independent service set up to help people manage their money.