Last Updated: May 1, 2024
Richest CelebritiesDirectors
Net Worth:
$20 Million
May 6, 1915 - Oct 10, 1985 (70 years old)
6 ft (1.854 m)
Film Director, Film Producer, Screenwriter, Actor, Television Director, Playwright, Film Editor, Theatre Director, Costume Designer, Production Designer
United States of America
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What was Orson Welles' Net Worth?

Orson Welles was an American actor, director, writer, and producer who had a net worth equal to $20 million at the time of his death in 1985 after adjusting for inflation. George Orson Welles was born in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in May 1915 and passed away in October 1985. Welles worked in film, radio, and theater. Some of his best-known works were the 1937 Broadway production "Caesar," the debut of the Mercury Theatre, which featured one of the most famous radio broadcasts, "The War of the Worlds" in 1938, and one of the most popular films of all time, 1941's "Citizen Kane." He became well known for his radio broadcast adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel "The War of the Worlds." The broadcast caused widespread panic that aliens were invading the Earth. He was voted the greatest film director of all time in 2002 in two British Film Institute polls of critics and directors. Welles won an Oscar in 1942 for Citizen Kane and an Honorary Award for the Academy Award in 1971. He also won three Grammy Awards for Best Spoken Word Recording. In 1975, he was given the American Film Institute Lifetime Achievement Award.

Early Life

Welles was born on May 6, 1915, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, to parents Richard Head Welles and Beatrice Ives Welles. While Welles's parents were affluent, Welles did have a challenging childhood. His parents separated in 1919, and Welles moved with his mother to Chicago. Though his father had made a fortune by inventing a bicycle lamp, he later became an alcoholic and stopped working. His mother worked by playing the piano during lectures at the Art Institute of Chicago in order to support herself and her son. Welles did have an older brother, though he was institutionalized at an early age due to learning disabilities. His mother died of hepatitis in 1924 after Welles's ninth birthday. Then began a tumultuous period for Welles, as he moved in with his father, who would take his son traveling around the world on a whim before he died in 1930 of kidney failure.

Welles was a bright student and attended Todd Seminary for Boys in Illinois. He was allowed to explore his creativity there and sometimes would stage theatrical productions. After graduating from Todd, Welles was accepted into both Harvard College and Cornell College, but he decided to travel instead.


Welles began his stage career in Dublin after walking into the Gate Theatre, claiming to be a Broadway star. The manager gave him a role in "Jew Suss" and then appeared in other supporting roles in various productions at the Gate. He eventually returned to the U.S. after not being able to find consistent work. He joined a repertory theatre company and joined with the group, performing "Romeo and Juliet" and "Candida," among other plays.

In 1934, Welles got his first radio job with "The American School of the Air." He also began working as a radio actor in Manhattan and quickly became very popular. Welles then joined the Federal Theatre Project in 1935 and remained with the group until 1937, when he founded his own repertory company called the Mercury Theatre. The company opened with a production of "Caesar" in 1937 and an adaptation of "Julius Caesar."

As his theater company was growing in success, Welles continued working extensively in radio and created a radio version of his theater company – "The Mercury Theatre on the Air." In 1938, he produced an adaptation of "The War of the Worlds" by author H.G. Wells, which received so much airplay and was so convincing to listeners that some truly believed the world was being invaded by Martians.

Orson Welles Net Worth

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Welles's success at this point was so great that he was offered by RKO Radio Pictures what is considered to be one of the greatest contracts ever offered to a filmmaker, especially considering Welles had not yet made any films. The first film that Welles co-wrote, produced, and directed was "Citizen Kane," which went on to win the Best Picture award in 1941 by the National Board of Review and the New York Film Critics Circle. The film continues to be ranked as one of the greatest films ever made. He went on to release 12 other feature films, including "The Magnificent Ambersons," "The Lady from Shanghai," "Touch of Evil," "Chimes at Midnight," and "F for Fake" throughout the course of his decades-long career. His final film, "The Other Side of the World," was posthumously released in 2018.

In 2002, Welles was voted the greatest film director of all time in two British Film Institute polls among directors and critics. He has also been included in the list of the 50 greatest Hollywood actors of all time by "The Daily Telegraph."

Personal Life and Death

In 1934, Welles married Chicago-born actress and socialite Virginia Nicolson. The couple then separated in 1939 and divorced in 1940. One of the primary reasons for the divorce was the fact that Welles had fallen in love with the Mexican actress Dolores del Rio. Welles had been infatuated with the actress since his adolescence and later met her after he moved to Hollywood in 1939 when they began a relationship in secret. After Del Rio divorced her husband, the couple began appearing together in public. However, the relationship ended due to Welles's infidelity. He then had a relationship with Rita Hayworth, whom he married in 1943. The couple divorced in 1947. Several years later, he began a relationship with actress Paola Mori, whom he married in 1955. The couple never divorced, though Welles did develop relationships with other women. His longtime companion for the last 20 years of his life was Oja Kodar, a Croatian-born artist and actress.

In the course of his numerous marriages and relationships, Welles had three daughters. It is also thought that he may have had a son, British director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, with Irish actress Geraldine Fitzgerald, but this rumor has never been officially confirmed.

Welles died sometime in the morning of October 10, 1985, after suffering a heart attack. He was 70 years old at the time of his death. A small private funeral followed, which was attended by close family and friends. A public memorial tribute followed at the Directors Guild of America that featured prominent speakers like Charlton Heston, Geraldine Fitzgerald, and Charles Champlin. His ashes were taken to Ronda, Spain, and buried in a well on the estate of a longtime friend, bullfighter Antonio Ordonez.

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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