Success after bankruptcy

Bankruptcy doesn’t have to be the end of all things financial; quite a few famous people have had to file for bankruptcy but still went on about their business and rose from the ashes like a phoenix.

In this current climate especially people are experiencing a multitude of challenges (and even rewards), from these examples we should take heart that there is still hope after bankruptcy. I’d love to hear your thoughts?

Heinz (the ketchup company)

Henry John Heinz, condiment manufacturer, was 25 years old when he started his company in 1869 selling horseradish. It was the first of 57 varieties of condiments, but In 1875 the company had to file for bankruptcy due to an unexpected bumper harvest which the company could not keep up with and could not meet its payroll obligations. He got together the next year with his brother and cousin and started a new company and introduced a new condiment, tomato ketchup, into the market. This company is still one of the more prosperous companies in the world.

Oscar Wilde Bankrupt

Oscar Wilde, acclaimed poet and author, watched his property get auctioned off in 1895 to appease creditors in his bankruptcy. He had previously been to gaol for two years hard labour after being convicted of homosexual activity. Although the prison term affected his health and he died at a young age, he went on after bankruptcy to publish his works such as the Ballad of Reading Gaol.

The famous Ford Motor company, had two predecessors with its first Bankrupt

Henry Ford, automobile manufacturer, had two automobile manufacturing companies before the Ford Motor Company. His first company went into bankruptcy. He left the second company, the Henry Ford Company, after a disagreement with his business partner. This firm later became the Cadillac Automobile Company. In June 1903, at the age of 40, he created a third company, the Ford Motor Company. He was on the verge of bankruptcy again when bank balances had been reduced to less that $250, but he then sold his first car and went on from strength to strength.

Kim Basinger, actress, purchased the town of Braselton, Georgia. Shortly after she was sued for pulling out of the movie Boxong Helena, she lost and was unable to pay the damages. She filed for bankruptcy in 1993, and sold the town. She later married Alec Baldwin, had a child and won an Oscar for her role in the movie L.A. Confidential.

Walt Disney, animator, 8 years prior to creating Mickey Mouse in 1928, Disney filed for bankruptcy because his primary customer of his business had filed for the same. Without the orders, Disney claimed that he could no longer pay his employees or the rent.

Five attempts for Hershey’s chocolate

Milton Hershey, founder of Hershey’s chocolate, with only a 4th grade education was convinced he could make a product that the public would want. Hershey was only successful on the fifth attempt. The previous 4 confectionery companies all going bankrupt.

Donald Trump, property developer, has filed for bankruptcy twice. The first in 1992 for one of his casino businesses, and again in 2004 so that he could re-organise his business after negotiations with his creditors failed.

Vince Neil (Wharton), singer, has started several business ventures since his 1998 bankruptcy. He was a member of the band Motley Crue from 1981 to 1992, when he decided to follow a solo career. In 1998 he filed for bankruptcy, later he was refused the opportunity to reopen the case as he was unhappy with the way his lawyer had handled it.

Larry King, talk show host, when he stated he was deep in debt Larry King went Bankrupt, once in 1960 and then again in 1978.

Mark Twain, (Samuel Langhorne Clemens), pre-eminent American author, lost most of his money investing in an automatic typesetting machine, which later proved useless. After his bankruptcy in 1894, he travelled and lectured to large audiences in major cities across Europe for the next four years. He used the proceeds from these lectures to repay all his debts. He also wrote several of his more famous books after filing bankruptcy.

Some other famous bankruptcies where people recovered include:

Rembrandt Van Rijn, the Dutch painter, filed for bankruptcy at the age of 50 in 1656 after accruing too many debts. He sold paintings after his death through his son.

Mathew Brady, a renowned Civil War photographer, filed for bankruptcy in 1872 because people lost interest in his work. Subsequently the government paid over $25000 for his photographs.

Mickey Rooney, movie actor, who continues to act today, blames his bankruptcy on the abuse of alcohol and gambling.

Debbie Reynolds, movie actress, purchased a hotel in Las Vegas in 1992 and called it the Debbie Reynolds Hotel and Casino. Debts accrued and both the casino and Reynolds were pulled into bankruptcy.

Jerry Lee Lewis, Rock n’ Roll star, filed for bankruptcy in 1988 because of huge tax debts, he still performs concerts.

Burt Reynolds, movie actor, filed for bankruptcy in 1996 after his divorce from Loni Anderson.

Sherman Hemsley, TV actor, did not have enough funds to repay a $1 million or pay taxes he owed to the IRS.

Wayne Newton, 1942- , Las Vegas entertainer, bankrupt in 1992 and subsequently signed a $25m a year deal with a Las Vegas hotel for 10 years worth of performances.

MC Hammer (Stanley Burrell), musician and entertainer, lawsuits and an over indulgent lifestyle caused his bankruptcy in 1996.

Mike Tyson, professional fighter, bankrupt in 2003 for the inability to pay his bills.

Abraham Lincoln, former US president, went bankrupt when he became liable for back payments, after his ex-partners death, for a general store they had owned.

PT Barnum, showman, bankrupt in 1855 but went on to make money through giving lectures in England and eventually the circus industry.

Final words

The list above is almost endless, and in hard times and cut-backs we should all take inspiration that through the hard times, there is always a way forward, even when you hit the absolute rock bottom.

Remember, an entrepreneur is somebody who can jump out of the plane and create the parachute on the way down!



  1. It only proves that there is life after bankruptcy. If you have the motivation and the push to pursue your dreams, nothing will hinder you. Just use your resources the best way possible next time.

  2. Maybe I read through the list too quickly, but the examples of business people involved business bankruptcy, and in most of these it was their company filing bankruptcy, not a personal filing.  Consumer debt didn’t seem to be a factor except for actors/musicians/entertainers.  I guess I would like to see an example of a person who went bankrupt after a divorce, custody battle, or high medical bills that insurance refuses to pay, and later in life became an executive at a Fortune 500 company.  Or at least an entrepreneur that was able to start and grow a very profitable business.  It seems that the check box “have you ever filed bankruptcy” becomes a permanent barrier to upward mobility these days, especially for anyone aspiring to launch or grow a business or attain an executive-level management position.  In the corporate world there seems to be some sense of forgiveness for business bankruptcy, but if your reasons for bankruptcy are personal you are presumed to be financially irresponsible, no matter how hard you studied, worked, saved, or lived frugally.

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