Richest CelebritiesActors
Net Worth:
$20 Million
Mar 2, 1917 - Dec 2, 1986 (69 years old)
Santiago de Cuba
5 ft 11 in (1.82 m)
Comedian, Singer, Musician, Television Producer, Actor, Television Director, Film Producer
United States of America
💰 Compare Desi Arnaz's Net Worth

What was Desi Arnaz's net worth?

Desi Arnaz was a Cuban-American musician, actor, and television producer who had a net worth of $20 million at the time of his death in 1986. Desi Arnaz was born in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba in March 1917 and passed away in December 1986. Desi Arnaz was best known for playing the role of Ricky Ricardo on the television series "I Love Lucy" with his wife Lucille Ball. He also led his Latin music band the Desi Arnaz Orchestra. Arnaz starred as Ricky Ricardo in the TV series "I Love Lucy" from 1951 to 1957. He also starred as Ricardo in the series "The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour" from 1957 to 1960.

As part of Desilu Productions with Ball, Arnaz executive produced the TV series Willy, I Love Lucy, The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, The Ann Sothern Show, The Lucy Show, and the Mothers-In-Law. Arnaz won a Golden Globe Award in 1956 for Best TV Show. He was awarded with stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960 for both Motion Picture and Television. Desi was married to Lucille Ball from 1940 to 1960 and then married Edith Mack Hirsch. Desi Arnaz passed away on December 2, 1986 at 69 years of age from lung cancer.

Desilu Productions

Desi and Lucille formed their own production company, Desilu Productions, in 1950. They originally formed the company to produce their vaudeville act. In their early days, Ball handled artistic and creative decisions while Arnaz handled the business side of the company. Being a Cuban immigrant with no business experience would later turn out to be extremely lucrative to Desi and Lucille. One example of his unusual business decisions was to request a season's worth of production costs for the first episode, rather than spreading the costs out. By doing so, and sticking to his budget, the show turned out to be extremely cheap to produce, by comparison to other contemporary series. They stuck to the budget because Lucille and Desi paid the costs of the first episode.

His biggest accidental brilliant decision was to demand that the show use film across the country when syndicated instead of a lower-quality medium called kinescope. Studio executives scoffed at the expense of broadcasting film to every station in the country. Desi got the studio to concede to his demand by agreeing that he and Lucille would take a pay cut. BUT he threw in a bonus request – He stipulated that he and Lucille would own the physical film prints and therefore the re-broadcast rights. This stipulation would eventually earn the couple an enormous fortune when the show became the most popular syndicated program in history. It's considered the shrewdest business deal in TV history to this day.

(Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images)

In 1957 CBS bought back the rights to the show's 180 episodes for $4.5 million. That's the same as $40 million today. That same year, Lucille and Desi used the money a down payment on a new studio lot that would be their own. In 1957 Desilu paid $6 million for RKO Studios and its 14-acre movie lot. Lucille was now officially the first major female production mogul.

Desilu would go on to produce a number of hit shows like "The Untouchables", "The Ann Sothern Show" and "Sheriff of Cochise". Their lot was also the production home of "The Dick Van Dyke Show", "The Andy Griffith Show", "My Three Sons" and more.

They took Desilu public in 1958, at which point the company had 800+ employees and more than $20 million in annual revenue.

Lucille and Desi divorced in 1960. In 1962, Lucille bought Desi's shares in their company for $2.5 million. That's the same as around $20 million in today's dollars.

Lucille poured herself into the production and creative side of the business. In 1964 Lucille green-lit Gene Roddenberry's "Star Trek". She gave Roddenberry the resources he needed to film a pilot episode called "The Cage". NBC rejected the pilot. At Lucille's urging, NBC allowed Roddenberry to produce a second pilot, this one starring William Shatner. The rest was history.

Lucille also green-lit "Mission Impossible".

In 1967 Lucille Ball sold Desilu to Gulf+Western for $17 million. That's the same as $130 million in today's dollars. Gulf+Western transformed Desilu into the production offshoot of Paramount Pictures. The two arms were eventually renamed Paramount Studios.

'I Love Lucy', 1956. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Early Life

Desi Arnaz was born into a prominent Cuban family, with his father serving as the mayor of Santiago de Cuba. However, his family's fortune was lost during the Cuban Revolution, and they were forced to flee to Miami in 1933.

Desi's love of music and show business was apparent from a young age. He started playing the guitar when he was just 11 years old and quickly developed a talent for it. He also showed an interest in acting and performed in school plays and local theater productions.

After moving to Miami, Desi began playing in local nightclubs and honing his musical skills. He eventually landed a job as a drummer in Xavier Cugat's orchestra, which helped him to gain valuable experience in the music industry.

Career Beginnings

Desi's big break came in 1939 when he landed a role in the Broadway musical "Too Many Girls." The show was a success, and Desi's performance earned him rave reviews. He also met his future wife, Lucille Ball, during the production.

After "Too Many Girls," Desi continued to work in theater and music, but he struggled to break into Hollywood. He made a few films in the 1940s, but they were largely forgettable and failed to make an impact.

It wasn't until 1951 that Desi's fortunes changed. That year, he and Lucille Ball created their own production company, Desilu Productions, which produced the hit TV show "I Love Lucy."

I Love Lucy

"I Love Lucy" premiered on CBS in October 1951 and quickly became a sensation. The show, which starred Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz as a married couple, was one of the first sitcoms to be filmed in front of a live studio audience, and it featured a unique blend of comedy, music, and slapstick humor.

Desi's character, Ricky Ricardo, was a Cuban bandleader who often played music in the show and spoke in both English and Spanish. His character was a groundbreaking portrayal of a Hispanic character on American television, and it helped to break down barriers for Latino actors in Hollywood.

"I Love Lucy" ran for six seasons and was one of the most popular TV shows of its time. It also helped to establish Desi and Lucille Ball as two of the most beloved figures in American entertainment history.

Later Career

After "I Love Lucy" ended in 1957, Desi continued to work in television and film. He starred in his own TV series, "The Desi Arnaz Show," in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and he also made appearances on other TV shows and in movies.

Desi was also an accomplished musician and continued to perform throughout his career. He recorded several albums and even made a guest appearance on the hit TV show "The Simpsons" in 1992, where he performed his classic song "Babalu."

Personal Life and Death

Desi's personal life was tumultuous, with his marriage to Lucille Ball often plagued by infidelity and other problems. The couple divorced in 1960 but remained close friends until Desi's death. He was survived by two children, Desi Arnaz Jr. and Lucie Arnaz.

Desi Arnaz died on December 2, 1986 from lung cancer. He was 69.

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.
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