Do you know the way back from bankruptcy?

Despite selling millions of records, the singer Dionne Warwick has filed for bankruptcy. She’s not the only star with messy finances

Nothing’s fur ever: Dionne Warwick in 1960. Photograph: Tony Russell/Redferns

Nothing’s fur ever: Dionne Warwick in 1960. Photograph: Tony Russell/Redferns


As Wilkins Micawber says in David Copperfield : “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”

In court documents filed by the singer Dionne Warwick this month we learn that her average monthly income is $21,000 and her average monthly outgoings are $20,985. That $15 surplus is a Micawberian triumph – except that the figure emerged during Warwick’s filing for bankruptcy. The singer owes $10 million in back taxes.

Warwick is down to her last $1,000 in cash, and her assets after a glittering 50-year career as one of the most successful female singers of all time amount to just $25,500. (More precisely: two fur coats, two sets of diamond earrings, assorted clothing, art work and furniture.) Earlier this year she went on a credit-card debt-management course after running up a $20,000 bill with Visa.

Warwick, a remarkable vocalist, has sold more than 100 million records and ranks second only to Aretha Franklin as the most-charted female vocalist. Best known for her interpretations of the Burt Bacharach and Hal David songbook – Walk o n By , Say a Little Prayer and I’ll Never Fall in Love Again – she has five Grammys.

She works hard and as far back as the 1970s was earning more than $100,000 a month. Proud of her financial independence, she once said, “All my life, the only man who ever took care of me financially was my father. I have always taken care of myself.”

A number of factors have conspired to make her bankrupt. Her publicist is going with the line that “negligent and gross financial mismanagement” is to blame, but it would also have to do with Warwick’s age, 72, which curtails her ability to perform and otherwise generate income, coupled with a general recession in the live-music sector.

Also, Warwick was never a songwriter, so those 100-million-plus record sales don’t amount to very much. Every time you hear her sing, the royalty cheque is going straight to Bacharach and to David’s estate.

Changing tastes mean that, while promoters will write a blank cheque for the services of Beyoncé or Rihanna, that’s no longer the case for Warwick, as fewer people will pay to see her sing.

Warwick is in grim good company: Cyndi Lauper, Willie Nelson, MC Hammer, Meat Loaf, Tammy Wynette, Mick Fleetwood and Shane Filan of Westlife have all been declared bankrupt.

Warwick has sung professionally since she was six, when the entertainment industry was run by shady types in it for a quick turnaround with little thought for forward financial planning. Entertainment figures often employed friends or relatives – “someone they could trust”, or who they could party with, as opposed to a glum accountant – to manage their affairs.

Friends and admirers will help Warwick out, a live tour should keep some of the wolves from the door, and already a Las Vegas residency is being discussed.

It’s probably no consolation to her that things are very different for emerging stars. Regulation is tighter, advisers oversee advisers and accountants check on accountants.

Music-world bankruptcies are rarer. The last big name – Filan – was down to the singer investing his money in the Irish property market at the wrong time.

But, even now, entertainers can become isolated from their finances. Consider Sting’s accountant, Keith Moore, jailed in 1995 for stealing £6 million from him. The singer realised it was missing only after an anonymous tip-off. Adam Clayton of U2 had €2.8 million stolen by his assistant and was “astonished” when alerted by the Garda.

In one of Warwick’s biggest hits, Do You Know the Way to San Jose , she sang: “Fame and fortune is a magnet, it can pull you far away from home, with a dream in your heart you’re never alone, but dreams turn into dust and blow away.”

As can your fortune.