Riches to rags as Warwick has to file for bankruptcy
Her name is among the brightest in recording industry history, her songs providing the soundtrack for a generation and earning her a place among the most successful female hit-makers of all time.
After more than five decades of music-making, five Grammy awards, more than 60 chart singles and global album sales totalling more than 100 million copies, Dionne Warwick might have been assumed to have earned herself a comfortable retirement.
Yet when she filed for bankruptcy last week, her court papers disclosed financial tangles hidden behind her success. At the age of 72, the pop and R&B legend who once reaped seven-figure pay cheques and led a glittering life is down to her last $1,000 (€780) in cash and mired in $10m of tax debt, it claims.
The 50-page document, lodged in a New Jersey bankruptcy court, provides in humiliating detail the particulars of Warwick's personal finances, even down to her monthly $90 (€70) bill for rubbish disposal and the fact that, two weeks ago, she underwent a debt counselling session over the internet.
Her income exceeds her outgoings by just $10 (€7.70) a month, she owes $20,000 (€15,500) on her credit card and debts totalling $505,737 (€394,413) to a former lawyer and a former business manager. Her personal assets total just over $25,000 (€19,500).
"We had no other resort than to file for bankruptcy so that we could get this off her back finally," her bankruptcy attorney, Daniel Stolz, told Rolling Stone magazine, declaring his client an "innocent victim of terrible mismanagement" during the Eighties and Nineties.
Although Warwick is up to date with her taxes, her debt to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is the result of dues accumulated on tax bills dating back to 1991.
"Before she knew it, she owed a gazillion dollars in taxes. She's actually paid more than the face amount of the taxes, but with all of the crazy interest and penalties that they add, the number kept mushrooming," said Mr Stolz.
A cousin of Whitney Houston, Warwick first performed professionally in 1961 after she was discovered by the songwriting duo of Burt Bacharach and Hal David.
Within a year, she had her first hit, Don't Make Me Over, and, over the ensuing decade, released 18 consecutive top 100 singles, including Walk on By, Anyone Who Had a Heart, Alfie, Say a Little Prayer, I'll Never Fall in Love Again and Do You Know the Way to San Jose? Later hits included Then Came You and Heartbreaker. She has had more hits in the charts than any female vocalist except Aretha Franklin.
In the Nineties, she became the public face of the Psychic Friends Network, a telephone service that connected callers with clairvoyants for $3.99 a minute. It earned her $3m a year before its parent company went into bankruptcy.
Critics have taken to web forums to joke that, given her experience, she should have seen her money troubles coming. Some question the extent of her financial suffering.
"I have no pity for any celebrities who make more in a month than most Americans make in a year AND file their taxes on time, who cannot pay their debts," stated one. Another wrote: "Where did all the money go? Good God, she must have more than $25,000 in assets."
With two children's books, an autobiography, a fragrance line, a new album and a current world tour to supplement her 50 years of showbusiness cheques, the question of Warwick's disappearing fortune is indeed baffling.
It is not the first time that money woes have surfaced; in 1993, she filed for so-called Chapter 11 protection from tax debts – a case that was resolved after she surrendered three cars including her BMW.
Mr Stolz said: "Just because someone is a prominent celebrity doesn't mean they're conversant in their financial affairs."
The unnamed manager blamed for Warwick's financial troubles was fired years ago. Attempts have been made over the years to strike a deal with the IRS and the California Franchise Tax Board that would bring her debts under control, but without success.
Intriguingly, Warwick lists her monthly clothing expenses as zero. In October she told an interviewer: "My mainstay is shopping. I love going down to Givenchy and the boutiques. I don't shop for what I need, just what I want".
She is down to her last two fur coats and two pairs of diamond earrings, collectively worth $13,000, (€10,100) plus a wardrobe of "gowns [dresses] and everyday clothing" valued at $5,000 (€3,800), her court filing discloses.
Her furniture and laptop computer are together valued at just $1,500 (€1,170). "Assorted artwork and paintings" make up the remainder of her total $25,500 assets. She now owns no property, Mr Stolz said. She tried marriage twice – with the same man, William Elliott, a television actor.
In a poorly typed note posted on her official website, she tells fans: "i'm sure you have been made aware via the enternet that i have filed bankruptcy i am okay and don't want any of you to worry about this as with so many things in our lifetime objects that are sometimes unavoidable will crop up just keep a positive thought going around me and as i have been told on many occasions 'THIS TOO SHALL PASS'."