Last Updated: November 20, 2023
Richest BusinessProducers
Net Worth:
$500 Million
Jul 6, 1925 - Aug 12, 2007 (82 years old)
San Mateo
5 ft 8 in (1.75 m)
Actor, Singer, Business magnate, Screenwriter, Television producer, Presenter, Film Score Composer, Musician, Media proprietor, Composer
United States of America
💰 Compare Merv Griffin's Net Worth

What was Merv Griffin's Net Worth, Salary and Royalties?

Merv Griffin was an American television host, musician, actor, and business tycoon who had a net worth of $500 million at the time of his death. Merv Griffin is best known as the host of his own talk show, The Merv Griffin Show, as well as the creator of internationally-known game shows Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune. He was also a real estate tycoon.

It has been commonly reported that Merv Griffin was worth $1 billion at the time of his death in 2007. Merv frequently downplayed the $1 billion estimate and in fact long-claimed that he didn't know the true value of his estate because, if he did, the knowledge "would keep me from sleeping at night." The $1 billion number is an estimate given in 2003, which may have been an inflated number at a particularly hot period of real estate valuations. Here's what we know: According to a lawsuit filed in 2009 by his only son and heir, Tony Griffin, at the time of Merv's death, his estate was worth around $140 million. His estate then paid around $50 million in estate taxes. It is possible that $140 million was just the value of his liquidated assets that incurred estate taxes. Upon his death, Tony inherited his two companies: Merv Griffin Entertainment and The Griffin Group. Tony Griffin is entitled to 60% of the profits if either business is ever sold AND he is paid a $2 million minimum distribution every year.

In 1986, he sold the rights to "Jeopardy!" and "Wheel of Fortune" to The Coca-Cola Company (then owners of Columbia Pictures) for $250 million, retaining a share of the shows' profits in perpetuity. This deal was a testament to his business foresight and marked one of the most lucrative deals in television history.

In addition to his television ventures, Griffin was also a successful real estate investor. He acquired various hotels and resorts, including the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills and Resorts International hotel and casino in Atlantic City. These investments significantly increased his wealth and diversified his business interests.

Merv Griffin was inducted to the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1974 and was posthumously inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 2008.

Jeopardy Song Royalties

In a 2005 interview with the New York Times, Merv revealed that up to that point alone he had earned $70 to $80 million in royalties from the Jeopardy theme song. To date, the total amount earned (paid to his heirs to this day) is easily north of $100 million. Oh, and by the way, he wrote the music in 30 seconds.

Merv Griffin Enterprises

Griffin founded Merv Griffin Enterprises (originally Milbarn Productions, and then Merv Griffin Productions) in 1963, and it was through this production company that he created his many shows. Upon his retirement in 1986, he sold the company to Columbia Pictures Television, which was a unit of The Coca-Cola Company, for $250 million. At the time, it was the largest acquisition of an entertainment company owned by a single individual. However, after the sale, Griffin still retained the title of the creator of Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune.

The Griffin Group

In September 1988 Merv founded the Griffin Group, which would eventually grow to control seven companies, the two most significant being: Merv Griffin Hotels and Merv Griffin Productions. At one point Merv Griffin Hotels owned nearly a dozen luxury hotels including

  • The Scottsdale Hilton
  • The Beverly Hilton
  • The Wickenburg dude ranch (Arizona)
  • The Blue Moon hotel (Miami)

Merv Griffin Productions for a time produced events such as the Golden Globes and other awards shows.

His other companies included the Merv Griffin Ranch company, which bred and trained horses, a cosmetics joint-venture with Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia and Merv Griffin Entertainment which developed movies and TV shows.

He purchased the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, in 1987. He continued to acquire real estate, including purchasing the Paradise Island Resort and Casino in the Bahamas from Donald Trump for $400 million, later selling it for just $125 million. Other properties he owned include the Merv Griffin Givenchy Resort & Spa in Palm Springs, California (now The Parker), and St. Clerans Manor, a boutique hotel on an eighteenth-century estate near Craughwell, County Galway, Ireland. Thanks to his buying spree of hotels, Griffin's wealth was said to be around $1.2 billion in 2003. That's the same as around $2 billion today after adjusting for inflation.

He did encounter some business struggles when he sought bankruptcy in December 1989 for Resorts International Inc., the hotel and casino operator he had purchased in 1988. It was the holding company for casinos in Atlantic City and the Bahamas.

Johnny Carson Wealth Comparison

In 1998 Merv gave an interview with Vanity Fair in which he discussed his wealth compared to Johnny Carson's net worth:

"You see, I never publicized my money. But I always owned my show. That was the difference. Johnny came to me once and asked me how he could make the kind of money I was getting. I said, 'Own your own show, buddy.' Johnny was basically an employee of NBC. He couldn't own Tonight, because NBC created it with Steve Allen. So, today, I'd say Johnny has about $10 million. Remember, in California you give half of your money away in a divorce, and he's had three and the last one got him good. I'd say Johnny's house out in Malibu is probably his main asset."

As it turned out, Johnny Carson was worth far, far more than Merv estimated. A few years after Johnny's 2005 death, an IRS disclosure revealed he had left behind a $156 million charitable foundation. Furthermore, in 2014 an updated IRS disclosure showed the foundation had grown the be worth $200 million.

Early Life

Mervyn Edward Griffin Jr. was born on July 6, 1925, in San Mateo, California. His father was a stockbroker and his mother was a homemaker. Raised as a Catholic in an Irish-American family, he developed musical skills singing and playing the piano at church as part of the church choir. He graduated from San Mateo High School in 1942 and continued his education at San Mateo Junior College and the University of San Francisco. He did not serve in World War II due to a slight heart murmur, which meant he failed several military physical examinations. Although he was deemed healthy enough to serve in the Korean War, he was above age 26 and therefore exempt from the draft.

Early Entertainment Career

Griffin began his career by appearing as a singer on the nationally syndicated radio program San Francisco Sketchbook when he was 19. After Freddy Martin heard him on the radio show, he invited Griffin to tour with his orchestra; Griffin did this for four years. By 1945, he had enough money set aside and started his own record label, Panda Records. Panda Records produced Griffin's own album, Songs by Merv Griffin, which was the first American album ever recorded on magnetic tape. As his music career grew, Griffin was discovered at one of his nightclub performances, with Doris Day arranging for a screen test for him at Warner Bros. Studios. Although he did not get the part he initially auditioned for, it landed him supporting roles in films such as So This Is Love (1953).

TV Hosting

Eventually, he switched his attentions to television and was the host of game show Play Your Hunch from 1958 to 1962. Griffin became a substitute host for Jack Paar on The Jack Paar Tonight Show and scored some of the show's highest ratings. As a result, NBC gave him his own daytime talk show, which debuted on the same day Johnny Carson first hosted The Tonight Show on October 1, 1962. From 1965 to 1986, Griffin hosted his own talk show, The Merv Griffin Show, produced by Westinghouse Broadcasting (also known as Group W). During its 21 years on air, the show won 11 Emmy Awards.

Game Shows

In addition to his success as a show host, Griffin also found success as the creator and producer of game shows. He created and produced the popular television game show Jeopardy! in 1964 for NBC, originally titled What's the Question? After Jeopardy! was initially canceled in 1975, Griffin produced its successor, Wheel of Fortune, which premiered in January 1975 and was canceled in 1991. Both shows have since been revived, with syndicated versions remaining on the air today. Other game shows Griffin worked on, either as creative consultant or producer through his production company Merv Griffin Entertainment, include spin-offs of his original shows Wheel 2000 (1997), Jep! (1998), Rock & Roll Jeopardy! (1998), Click! (1997-1999) and Headline Chasers (1985). Additionally, Merv Griffin Entertainment produced the syndicated game show Merv Griffin's Crosswords in 2007, produced in association with Program Partners and the William Morris Agency. It only lasted one season on NBC-owned stations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, and Dallas, ending in May 2008.

Merv Griffin Net Worth

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Personal Life and Death

Merv Griffin was married to Julann Wright from 1958 to 1976, and the couple had one son together. Griffin was first diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1996, and the disease returned in 2007. He was hospitalized at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, where he passed away on August 12, 2007, at the age of 82.

La Quinta Estate

In 1986 Merv Griffin completed construction on an absolute palace in La Quinta, California. Set on 39 acres, the sprawling estate features a 5,000 square foot mansion, an equestrian compound with racetrack, infinity pool and 2.5-acre lagoon. The 1,2000 square foot living room features four 20-foot live palm trees under a retractable dome skylight.

In June 2012 the estate was listed for sale for $9.5 million. After being trimmed down to 6.5 acres, it sold a year later for $7 million. Here is a video tour from when it was listed for sale in 2012:

All net worths are calculated using data drawn from public sources. When provided, we also incorporate private tips and feedback received from the celebrities or their representatives. While we work diligently to ensure that our numbers are as accurate as possible, unless otherwise indicated they are only estimates. We welcome all corrections and feedback using the button below.
Did we make a mistake?
Submit a correction suggestion and help us fix it!
Submit a Correction