We recently announced that Jay-Z, aka Sean Carter, aka Mr. Beyonce, had officially become a billionaire all on his own (he's been one for awhile when he and his wife's net worths are combined). Celebrity Net Worth first started tracking Jay-Z's net worth in September 2009. At that point, he was worth $300 million. Over the past decade he's done a lot. He got married. Had kids. Released music and went on tour. Made some investments. He's come a long way since he dropped out of high school to be a drug dealer. The 49-year-old grew up in Bedford-Stuyvesant, a predominantly African American neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. He and his three siblings were raised by a single mom in the Marcy Houses, a housing project so dangerous that shortly after Jay-Z left high school, the entire neighborhood was shut down. Jay turned to dealing drugs, primarily crack cocaine. He was shot a number of times. Now, he's a world famous rapper and billionaire and self-made one at that.
Consider how hard that is to do – become a self-made billionaire in general, but in the entertainment industry as well. It takes even more hard work, wise investing, and strategic partnerships for a film maker, talk show host, musician, magician, and athlete to become a billionaire. But that's exactly what George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Oprah, Paul McCartney, David Copperfield, and Michael Jordan did. Let's look at these other members of this exclusive segment of the billionaires club.
George Lucas – $5.4 billion
George Lucas is the man behind Star Wars, FFG, so of course he's a very wealthy man. Did you realize just how wealthy he is? It takes a certain amount of savvy deal making to amass a net worth of $5.4 billion when you consider that Lucas has only directed seven feature films. He has made money in a number of ways, but we're going to just say it, he is a billionaire many times over because of Star Wars.
In 1973, fresh off the success of American Graffiti, Lucas was a hot property. He could have written his own deal. Instead, he took two years off to write this idea he had about a western set in space. George turned down the raise he was due and offered to keep his salary at $150,000 in exchange for two seemingly insignificant requests: #1) That he retain all merchandising rights, and #2) that he would retain the rights to any sequels. As crazy as it sounds now, at the time this was actually a fantastic deal for the studio. Fox had previously lost a fortune in the merchandising business with monumental failure of 1967's Doctor Dolittle, so they weren't exactly dying to get back into that world. Moreover, merchandise just wasn't a meaningful revenue stream in general back then. As for sequel rights, these were also not an important factor for Fox considering the fact that no executive thought the movie had a snowball's chance in hell of making money the first time around. So, off George went to finalize his script with $150,000 and a what seemed like an incredibly naive contract in his pocket.
As we all know now, Star Wars was an enormous hit when it was finally released in 1977. Star Wars went on to become one of the highest grossing films of all time. The success of the film was unprecedented at the time, but that wasn't where George made his money. Between 1977 and 1978, Star Wars sold $100 million worth of toys and 40 years later, Star Wars themed toys have generated more than $12 billion in revenue. After the first film, George owned 100% of the rights to the entire franchise. The next five Star Wars movies would go on to earn an additional $3.5 billion at the box office. The total revenue after 40 years of Star Wars licensing is $37 billion. After expenses, taxes, fees, etc. George Lucas had earned himself an impressive $3.3 billion net worth by 2012. Then, Disney came calling.
Disney paid Lucas $4 billion for the Star Wars franchise – which is more than he would have made from the franchise going forward. By 2018, Disney had already made back their investment in the Star Wars franchise. The four Star Wars feature films Disney has released since 2015 have grossed more than $4.8 billion at the box office.
Oh and by the way, Lucas donated the money Disney paid him for the Star Wars franchise.
Steven Spielberg – $3.7 billion
Steven Spielberg is the man behind Jaws, ET, Indiana Jones, and Jurassic Park, so of course, he's a very wealthy man. Do you realize just how wealthy he is? It takes a certain amount of savvy deal making to amass a net worth of $3.7 billion, even with a career that spans five decades. Spielberg is considered to be one of the founding pioneers of the New Hollywood era. He is one of the most popular directors and producers in film history. He is one of the most critically successful filmmakers. He has won the Oscar for Best Director twice. A number of his films are among the highest-grossing movies of all time, and his total body of work, unadjusted for ticket price inflation, makes him the highest-grossing film director in history.
In the mid-70s, Spielberg was offered the directing job on Jaws, the adaptation of the Peter Benchley novel of the same name. The finished film was an enormous hit, grossed more than $470 million worldwide at the box office, and won three Academy Awards. The 1980s brought Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, The Color Purple, and other films. In the 1990s, he gave us Jurassic Park, Schindler's List, more Indiana Jones, Saving Private Ryan, etc. But let's look at a savvy move Spielberg made in the 1990s that saved Universal Studios and brought him many many millions, even billions of dollars.
Back in 1993, when the first Jurassic Park came out, MCA, Universal's then parent company was cash strapped and struggling. The dinosaur movie was an enormous hit. So were the sequels in 1997, 2001, and 2015. In fact, Jurassic World is the fifth-highest grossing movie of all time. The fourth movie in the series has brought in an astounding $1.6 billion. The fifth movie, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom was released in 2018 and it's the 12th highest grossing movie of all time with $1.3 billion in box office receipts.
For the past 26 years, Universal has been printing money on the back of the Jurassic Park movies. But it could have gone another way. Back in the late 80s, MCA/Universal was struggling. Other studios courted Spielberg, but MCA head Sid Sheinberg, one of the first people to first champion Spielberg as a director and producer, was not about to lose his biggest star. So Sheinberg threw a theme park clause into Spielberg's contract. Spielberg would serve as a creative consultant on any theme park attractions related to his films and any film he directed would stay at Universal.
The theme park consulting perk paid Spielberg 2% of all park ticket revenue, as well as a portion of park concession revenue in perpetuity. Spielberg's annual payout exceeds $50 million. That number will keep growing unless he agrees to a buyout. The clause allowed Spielberg a chance to exit the deal in June 2017 and collect a one-time payment equal to the value of the contract. This would be worth about $535 million right now. However, it appears that Spielberg has elected to stay in the deal which means he could ultimately see a payout of $1 billion or more for his theme park clause.
That's a lot of money. But consider this, without that clause, Universal might not have theme parks today. There would be no Jurassic franchise, no Schindler's List, none of it would have been possible without some strategic thinking by Sheinberg and Spielberg's willingness to believe in the man who gave him his first directing contract.
Oprah – $3.2 billion
Oprah Winfrey is everywhere. She is the Queen of all Media. She is a talk show host, actress, producer, pitchwoman, and philanthropist. Pretty much everything she touches turns to gold. That's not to say that she doesn't work hard for her success – no one works harder than Oprah. She is best known for her award winning, beloved, nationally syndicated talk show, which ran from 1986 to 2011. She is one of the wealthiest African Americans of the 20th and 21st centuries. She's got a cable network, her acting career, her magazine, the shows she produces, and let's not forget her lucrative endorsement deal with Weight Watchers, to name just a few of her income streams. Oprah makes anywhere from $75 million to $300 million each year, which has given her an amazing net worth of $3.2 billion. What is even more amazing and inspirational about Oprah is that she is 100% self-made. She literally rose from rags to riches.
In 1986, Oprah founded Harpo Productions which allowed her to executive produce her show as well as be the majority owner of it. This meant she got the bulk of the profits. At the peak of The Oprah Winfrey Show, she made $300 million per year. She also made millions off the shows she produced for Rachel Ray, Dr. Phil, and Nate Berkus.
There's a reason everything she touches turns to gold. She knows that success takes time, it does not happen overnight. She is well versed in the art of self-promotion. For some people, self-promotion comes easily. For others, it is intensely uncomfortable. However, it is necessary. If you don't champion your ideas, who will? Oprah is a master at this. Her entire brand is built around Oprah being Oprah (And YOU get a car! And YOU get a car!) In doing this, Oprah has kept her brand and its message very consistent.
Oprah became a billionaire by negotiating the ownership of the Oprah Winfrey Show as well as a stake in the show's distributor.
Michael Jordan – $1.9 billion
Over his unparalleled NBA career, Michael Jordan earned $93 million. Today he brings home more than $100 million a year from his endorsement deal with Nike alone. We'd all like to be like Mike and have a net worth of $1.9 billion. When it comes to the question of how Michael Jordan earned his $1.9 billion net worth, the simple answer is: Nike and the Hornets.
Today the Nike-owned Jordan brand accounts for about 50% of the basketball sneaker market and makes an average of $3 billion in revenue for Nike annually (give or take). Nike expects the Jordan brand to bring in $4.5 billion in revenue by 2020. Michael Jordan collects a royalty on every shoe, hoodie, short, etc. sold by Nike. Sales of the Jordan brand for Nike rose 14% last year and has about 30 current NBA players under contract to wear the product on the court.
In a given year, Michael earns $80 – $100 million off Nike royalties.
The Charlotte Hornets NBA team is far and away Jordan's biggest asset. He was a minority investor in the team starting in 2006 and took control of the team in 2010. When he was approved for the deal in March 2010, the franchise was valued at $175 million. Since that time, NBA values have skyrocketed. He owns about 90% of the franchise, which is currently valued at a minimum of $1.1 billion. Jordan's stake in the Hornets is worth roughly $1 billion alone.
Michael Jordan retired for good in 2003, but his name still resonates more than almost anyone else on the planet. Basically, this means that even 16 years after he retired, MJ is still a very attractive product pitchman and brings in more money from endorsement deals including Gatorade – a partnership he's been in since 1991. Gatorade's famous "Be Like Mike" ad initially ran after the Bulls won their first of six titles. Jordan originally signed a 10-year, $13.5 million deal with Gatorade that continues to this day. Jordan also maintains deals with Hanes, Upper Deck, 2K Sports, and Five Star Fragrances. He also has a car dealership and seven restaurants that contribute to his income.
Paul McCartney – $1 billion ($1.3 billion when combined with his wife's family fortune)
Paul McCartney is one of the richest entertainers in the world with a stunning net worth of $1.3 billion. When it comes to how he earned it, well, the easy answer is he's a Beatle, a member of Wings, and a solo artist with a music catalog (much of which he wrote and composed) that continues to earn royalties to this day. McCartney is one of the most successful composers and performers of all time. More than 2,200 artists have covered his Beatles song Yesterday, making it one of the most covered songs in popular music history. Needless to say, he earns money almost every time it is covered. Paul McCartney has won eight Grammy Awards. He has written or co-written 32 songs that have reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100. He continues to be one of the top earning celebrities year after year. So how did Sir Paul McCartney come to be so incredibly wealthy?
With the enormous catalog of music that McCartney has, he has the ability to roll out world tour after world tour. From the Beatles in the 1960s to Wings to today, the now 76-year-old has been wowing audiences for 50+ years. During his 2015-2016 tour, for instance, McCartney pulled in $4 million per city. That's more than JLo, Beyonce, or Jay-Z, all of whom toured during the same period. McCartney also delivers, which brings fans back again and again. He typically plays a three-hour set when he tours, giving audiences a lot of bang for their buck. Consider the fact that he's been touring since the 1960s. He's done Live Aid. He played halftime at Super Bowl XXXIX. In 2002, his tour brought in $126 million. His 2010 tour grossed $93 million. In 2014, he earned $71 million on an 80-date tour through 20 countries. In 2016, he earned $56.5 million. In 2017, he earned $54 million with his 15 city tour in the U.S. and Brazil. In the fall of 2018, he headlined the annual Austin City Limits music festival. Paul McCartney is a machine that shows no signs of slowing down and it is that dedication, coupled with his talent that have made him a billionaire.
David Copperfield – $1 billion
David Copperfield is the first billionaire-magician in history. He's as good at making money as he is at making things disappear! He is the most commercially successful magician of all time. Over the last three decades, he has managed to amass an astounding $1 billion personal net worth. Though his magic shows are the most profitable of all time, impressively, David Copperfield's billion dollar net worth doesn't come from illusions alone. Thanks to incredibly shrewd investments and acquisitions, David has managed to build an incredibly valuable financial empire that includes real estate, restaurants, merchandise and even magic memorabilia.
Copperfield's Las Vegas shows and world tours have sold more than 40 million tickets and grossed more than $4 billion in revenue. He has sold more tickets than any other solo performer in history. To put that in perspective, David Copperfield, a magician, has sold more tickets than Madonna, Justin Bieber, Elvis Presley, and even Michael Jackson. Copperfield's MGM Grand Hotel & Casino show has run uninterrupted for 13 years. There are as many as three shows each day, seven days a week, 42 weeks a year, in a theatre dedicated to David himself. Ticket sales gross roughly $50 million each year and that doesn't include merchandising, which, by the way, Copperfield completely controls.
Even without magic, David Copperfield would be a very wealthy man from his real estate holdings, alone. In Las Vegas, Copperfield lives in a penthouse provided to him by the MGM. He also has a mansion just off the strip. Outside of Vegas, David owns a four-story penthouse in New York City. The jewel of his real estate portfolio can be found in the Bahamas, where David owns 11 absolutely amazing private islands. Copperfield named his archipelago the Islands of Copperfield Bay. He spent$40 million and five years on renovations to build his own version of fantasy island. The property rents out for $37,500 per night. All told, the 11 islands comprise 700-acres and are worth more than $100 million.
David Copperfield's Midtown Manhattan penthouse is located just south of Central Park. In 1997, the penthouse cost Copperfield $7.4 million. Today, it is valued at more than $60 million.
Now, on to Copperfield's magic memorabilia. David owns the world's largest collection of magic memorabilia. The collection contains more than 150,000 items and books with especially valuable items from Harry Houdini, Georges Melies, and the father of modern magic, Robert Houdini. The collection is irreplaceable and priceless. His collection is truly priceless, but to put some numbers on it, he's spent upwards of $200 million to assemble everything. Analysts have valued the collection at a mind-boggling $500 million. That $500 million is assuming you can even put a price on items such as Harry Houdini's straight jacket, artifacts from 19th century magicians, and the Best Director Oscar for Casablanca.
Between ticket sales, real estate, and his magic memorabilia collection, David Copperfield is personally worth $1 billion. When you combine the escalating value of real estate and the $50-60 million he makes every year off performances alone, you can start to understand how David Copperfield became the world's very first billionaire-magician. It is a feat that even Harry Houdini himself would have to have seen to believe.