From the outside looking in, being born into a wealthy family can seem like winning the lottery. Literally! Instead of struggling to get a job that pays enough so a person can pay their rent and buy food, an heir to a fortune often lives a life of luxury - they live in mansions, go to the most exclusive schools, and travel all over the world.
Unfortunately, just because someone is born into or inherits millions doesn't mean they'll spend that money wisely. The list below contains just a few examples of some of the bizarre ways in which heirs to wealthy companies have spent their fortunes. Which of the examples below do you think are the strangest ways in which a wealthy heir to a big company spent their inheritance?
Christina Onassis inherited her wealth from both sides of her family. Her maternal grandfather Stavros Livanos founded the Livanos shipping empire, while her father Aristotle Onassis amassed the world's largest privately owned shipping fleet. Tragically, Onassis lost her entire immediate family in a span of less than 30 months: Her brother Alexander perished in a plane crash in 1973; her mother died - possibly from a drug overdose - in 1974; and her father passed in early 1975.
After his son's passing, Aristotle Onassis had started to groom Christina to take over the family business. She had already inherited the majority of her mother's estate, which was estimated at $77 million, and upon her father's demise, she received 55% of his fortune - estimated to be around $500 million. (The remaining 45% went toward establishing a foundation in her brother's name.)
Although she successfully ran the family business until her own passing in 1988, Onassis struggled with her personal life. She was married and divorced four times, was diagnosed with clinical depression, and was said to have given money to her friends just to try and convince them to hang out with her.
One of these people was Luis Basualdo, who Onassis put on her payroll, paying him $30,000 a month. For several years Basualdo and his girlfriend would accompany Onassis most everywhere she went, and basically were in charge of deciding who Onassis would or wouldn't see.
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Clare Bronfman Spent Tens Of Millions To Bankroll The NXIVM Cult
How did one of the heirs to the Seagram's liquor fortune get tangled up with what the federal government has described as a "dangerous sex cult?" It all started when Clare Bronfman got involved with NXIVM after learning about the group from her sister, Sara.
Led by a man named Keith Raniere, NXIVM billed itself as a self-help organization and was based near Albany, NY. Bronfman had been involved with the organization for well over a decade when the federal government started investigating the secretive group after a 2017 New York Times article detailed how some women were coerced into having sex with Raniere as "collateral" for becoming members of the group.
The Bronfman sisters were not only members of NXIVM, but also financed many of the group's actions. They arranged for the Dalai Lama to come visit (a move that helped to raise Raniere's profile), provided a private jet that was used to try and recruit celebrities to the group, and Clare bought an island in Fiji that Raniere and other NXIVM officials used as a retreat.
Their father opposed their involvement with NXIVM, which he described as a "cult" in a 2003 Forbes article, but while Sara became less and less involved with the group after marrying and having children, Clare remained a passionate supporter. As Raniere's chief legal aid, she spent approximately $50 million of the sisters' fortune to finance and file multiple lawsuits against Raniere's (real and imaginary) enemies. She also formed two non-profit organizations to try and spread the organization's ideas.
After Raniere was arrested on a range of federal racketeering charges, including identity theft, money laundering, and sex trafficking, his lawyer unsuccessfully attempted to get him released from jail by offering a federal judge a $10 million bail package. Some believe the offer was financed by Bronfman.
The heiress was arrested on conspiracy and racketeering charges in July 2018 and saw her bail set at $100 million. In April 2019, she pled guilty to charges of conspiring to hide and harbor an undocumented immigrant for financial gain and fraudulent use of identification. She also agreed to forfeit $6 million to the federal government and ended up being sentenced to 81 months in prison. Meanwhile, Raniere was convicted of seven felonies and in October 2020 was sentenced to 120 years in prison.
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Andrew Getty Spent 15 Years Making A Horror Movie
In 2017, a horror movie titled The Evil Within finally got released, some 15 years after production on the film had begun. The film starred Frederick Koehler, Sean Patrick Flanery, and Michael Berryman. Originally titled The Storyteller, the film was written and directed by oil heir Andrew Getty - the grandson of J. Paul Getty - who largely self-financed the project. The plot reportedly was based on the nightmares Getty had as a child.
In 2015, Ryan Readenour, a post-production producer on the film and friend of Getty's, told People:
When [Getty] was young he would have these really powerful, sick, twisted dreams, and [they were] so shocking to him that he didn’t think they came from him. He had this idea it was this "storyteller" who was creating these crazy dreams of his, and that was kind of the genius of the [film’s] story.
Filming began in 2002 and was shot largely in Getty's own home. Although it was budgeted at around $4 million, Readenour told People that Getty spent closer to $6 million of his own money on the project, even selling his prized AC Cobra sports car to help fund the project. But he ended up blowing much of the budget on unnecessary purchases.
"He bought millions of dollars worth of equipment instead of renting it," Readenour claimed. "He had all these trucks, cameras and lenses. The people around him didn’t advise him the right way."
Filming dragged on for five years, the shoot hampered by disagreements between Getty and the cast, health issues, and Getty's own perfectionism. Even after production wrapped, the oil heir spent several more years working on his labor of love, converting one of the rooms in his mansion into a post-production suite where he would work on elaborate special effects.
Sadly, he never got to see the end result of his work. Getty was found dead in his Los Angeles mansion in March 2015. His death was ruled to be caused by a hemorrhaging ulcer brought on by a long history of recreational meth use.
Writing for Birth.Movies.Death, Brian Collins described the final film as "a trainwreck like no other."
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Michael Armand Hammer Allegedly Built A Sex Throne
Michael Hammer, the father of actor Armie Hammer and the grandson of industrialist Armand Hammer, is an heir to the Occidental Petroleum fortune. In fact, Armand Hammer left his business empire to Michael, passing over the latter's father, Julian.
Michael holds a master's degree in business administration and, prior to joining Occidental Petroleum in 1982, worked with the securities and investment banking firm Kidder Peabody & Co. He now oversees some family entities, such as the Hammer International Foundation and the Armand Hammer Foundation.
He's also reputed to be a playboy. In 2021, multiple people with ties to the Hammer family told Vanity Fair that Michael boasted about a sex throne - or, as he called it, a "naughty chair" - that he kept in a warehouse at the Armand Hammer Foundation's headquarters for several years. This chair was described as being seven feet high, painted with the Hammer family coat of arms, and sporting a hole in the seat and a cage underneath it - and a hook. There are supposedly photos of a grinning Michael sitting on top of the throne while holding the head of a woman who is in the cage.
When Vanity Fair reached out to Michael Hammer's lawyer Tom Clare for comment, he dismissed the magazine's questions as "absurd," claimed the chair was an unsolicited gag gift to Michael from a friend or friends, and dismissed his client's behavior as "pretty typical" for a newly divorced person.
Barbara Hutton, who was dubbed "Poor Little Rich Girl" by the media, was, through her mother's side of the family, an heiress to one-third of the Woolworth fortune. Her father, meanwhile, co-founded the investment banking and stock brokerage firm E.F. Hutton. By the time of her 21st birthday in 1933, Hutton had an inheritance worth about $50 million, making her one of the wealthiest women in the world.
When she had her debutante party at age 18 in 1930, it became a national scandal because of the high cost of the party ($80,000) at a time when the Great Depression had just begun to devastate the United States. Hutton even had to leave the country for a while in order to avoid the reporters.
Hutton's fifth husband, Porfirio Rubirosa, was previously married to Hutton's great rival and fellow heiress Doris Duke. Hutton wrote Rubirosa a check for $1 million shortly after they were wed, but the marriage lasted just 53 days (he was having an affair with the actress Zsa Zsa Gabor the entire time). However, the brief length of the marriage didn't keep Rubirosa from receiving a divorce settlement that included polo ponies, a plane, $2.5 million, and a coffee plantation in the Dominican Republic.
Rubirosa was far from the only husband who made out well. Hutton's first husband cost her approximately $2 million, and her second around $1.5 million. Of her seven husbands, Cary Grant was the only one who didn't ask for or receive a settlement.
Aside from spending millions on her husbands, Hutton used much of her inheritance on jewels. Fascinated by gems from a young age (at age 16 she picked out a $50,000 ruby as a "gift" that her father gave her to convince her to accompany him on an overseas trip), she reportedly paid more than $1,000,000 in 1935 to purchase the Romanov emeralds (once owned by the Grand Duchess Vladimir of Russia) from Cartier.
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An heir to the American Tobacco Company fortune, Duke was often referred to as "the richest girl in the world." She was just 12 years old when her father passed, leaving the bulk of his fortune to her rather than to his widow. When she passed in 1993 at the age of 80, Duke's estate was estimated to be worth $1.2 billion.
When Duke divorced her second husband, Porfino Rubirosa, one of the things he received in the settlement was a B-25 bomber. But that wasn't the only airplane that Duke ever owned. In 1987, she spent a reported $25 million on a 19-passenger Boeing 737-300 which she then had refurbished to use for her own personal travel. This included modifying part of the plane to resemble the bedroom of an actual house.
As a "sweetener" for this deal, Duke also received two Bactrian camels. According to Duke's adopted daughter Chandi Heffner, who handled the negotiations for Duke, "Doris and I had been in the Gobi Desert together, and we found out they [the camels] were becoming a threatened species." Heffner says that when Duke jokingly asked for two camels in the deal, the agent for the plane's owner quickly accepted.
The camels, which Duke named Princess and Baby, were not actually Arabian - instead, the heiress found them at the JC Schultz Game Farm in Catskill, NY. Duke gave Princess and Baby a debutante party in Newport, RI, in 1988. The camels split their time between Duke's homes in Newport and Duke Farms in New Jersey.
After Duke passed in 1993, Princess and Baby moved full-time to Duke Farms. Princess was eventually sent to Popcorn Park Zoo, an animal sanctuary in New Jersey, where she allegedly successfully predicted the outcome of numerous NFL games for the next several years.