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Ten Famous People Who Filed For Bankruptcy

One of the main reasons people put off filing for bankruptcy is shame, and the feeling that if they file for bankruptcy, they will forever be branded a failure. The truth is that bankruptcy isn’t the end of your story. It’s a pause or regrouping of your finances to allow you to move forward to better things.

If you don’t believe that, maybe you’ll be convinced by the true stories of some people who came back stronger than ever after bankruptcy. Here are ten famous people who filed for bankruptcy before going on to personal and financial success. They include athletes, entertainers, businesspeople, and more than one president of the United States.

#1: Abraham Lincoln

If you were asked to name an American president who went through bankruptcy, Honest Abe probably wouldn’t have been your first guess. Abraham Lincoln actually went through a type of bankruptcy in 1833, before the modern Bankruptcy Code existed. That’s right, he had a failed business with debts he couldn’t pay before going on to become one of the most respected Presidents of the United States.

#2 P.T. Barnum

Barnum in 1871 the famous circus ringmaster was forced to file for a type of bankruptcy after losing money in questionable business ventures. Yet he rebounded just a few years later to create the circus for which he is best known, later merging with another to form the wildly successful “Barnum and Bailey Circus.”

#3 Henry Ford

One of America’s best known industrialists didn’t have such a great start in business. The first automobile company he founded filed for bankruptcy, and Ford himself filed for personal bankruptcy in 1901. His second auto company failed too, but the third, currently known as Ford Motor Company, is still going more than a century after its founder’s bankruptcy.

#4 Mark Twain

Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, was already a successful author when his debts forced him into bankruptcy in 1894. After receiving a discharge of his debts, he was able to get back down to business writing several more of the books for which he had become famous.

#5 Walt Disney

Entrepreneur Walt Disney is known worldwide for the theme parks and films that bear his name. But almost a century ago, in 1923, he was unknown and broke when his first film company failed after being cheated by a distributor. He filed for bankruptcy, but only five years later, started a successful new partnership—with a mouse named Mickey who would catapult Disney to fame and fortune. If Walt had not used bankruptcy to move forward, the world may have never known the magic of Disney.

#6 Marvin Gaye

Divorce leads to financial hardship for many people, and singer Marvin Gaye was no exception. Despite great success with songs like “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” and “What’s Going On,” he found himself needing to declare bankruptcy because he owed his ex-wife hundreds of thousands of dollars. He went on to even greater success afterward with one of his biggest hits, 1984’s “Sexual Healing.”

#7 Burt Reynolds

One of the biggest movie stars of the 1970s, Burt Reynolds’ lavish lifestyle and the spending that went with it led to his bankruptcy in the 1990s, when he was over $10 million dollars in debt. Like many of the other people on this list, once his debt was resolved, Reynolds returned to success in his chosen career.

#8 Cyndi Lauper

Best known for her hit song “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” Lauper wasn’t having much fun in 1981 when she filed bankruptcy after splitting from her band. After getting her financial situation under control, she rose to stardom in 1985 with her signature song and went on to have a successful career in music and acting.

#9 George Foreman

Boxer George Foreman won an Olympic gold medal in 1968 and the world heavyweight championship in 1973. Despite these successes, he needed to file for bankruptcy in 1983 after a decrease in income. Of course, that wasn’t the end of Foreman’s story. Not only did he successfully revitalize his boxing career, with an impressive record of wins in his 40s, but he struck gold in business with his George Foreman grills.

#10 Donald Trump

No discussion of famous people who filed for bankruptcy would be complete without a mention of Donald Trump, whose businesses, including casinos, have filed for bankruptcy at least four times between 1991 and 2009. Far from being embarrassed about this, Trump has pointed out that filing for bankruptcy was a smart business move for him. Though he has never declared personal bankruptcy, Trump has not let his multiple business bankruptcies slow him down; he was elected President of the United States in 2016.

This is only a sampling of the many well-known people who have filed for bankruptcy and gone on to even greater success once relieved of the debt that was holding them back. They didn’t let a financial setback stop them, and neither should you. Contact Bankruptcy Forward to learn how you can use bankruptcy to regroup, reset and move forward to a bright financial future.

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