Was Whitney Houston Broke at Death? How Much is She Really Worth?

on February 14 2012 1:03 PM
Whitney Houston
A funeral service for Whitney Houston was held at the New Hope Baptist Church in New Jersey on Saturday. Houston died on Feb. 11. The cause of death is currently unknown. Reuters

Since Whitney Houston's death on Saturday, there have been reports that the singer died broke. The 48-year-old singer, actress and model, who will be buried in her home state of New Jersey this week, was cited in Guinness World Records as the most-awarded female act of all time.

Houston has received two Emmy Awards, six Grammy Awards, 30 Billboard Music Awards and 22 American Music Awards, which  are among a total of 415 career awards in her lifetime. She sold more than 170 million albums and singles worldwide. Houston was also a movie star, appearing in roles such in The Bodyguard, Waiting To Exhale and The Preacher's Wife.

For her role in The Preacher's Wife Houston reportedly got a $10 million paycheck in 1995 and had a contract with Arista Records in 2001, which then stood at $100 million, reported E! News. That report also noted that Houston's 2010 Nothing but Love tour brought in $36 million.

How then is it that there are reports that Whitney Houston died broke?

She was broke -- her label gave her advances, a record company insider told the Huffington Post. And unlike Michael (Jackson), you have to remember that Whitney didn't write any of those massive hits. They were songs that Clive Davis told her to sing and she did.

Singer Dolly Parton, who wrote Houston's big hit, I Will Always Love You, will make a huge profit from her death, that report stated. That is because Parton will get the writer's and publisher's rates when the song gets an increase in radio and television performances.

On records, the typical mechanical royalty paid to the writer/publisher is about 8 cents per radio performance, a successful songwriter told the Huffington Post. That would all go to Dolly. Whitney is only the singer. She receives an advance from the record company based upon anticipated album sales. Figure that's around $2.00 per album. But all of the costs to record the album, promote the album, videos, etc. are all recouped from the artist's share.

Forbes writer Zack O'Malley Greenburg told E! News that there were in fact rumors that Houston died broke and that she didn't have any significant financial impact in the last few years before her death.

It's been a while since she has put out an album and been on tour, so one could see why towards the end of her life she would be running a bit low on cash, Greenburg said.

The magazine estimates that between 1993 and 1994, when the Bodyguard soundtrack was a hit, Houston earned $33 million. That was enough for Houston to rank behind Oprah Winfrey and Barbra Streisand on Forbes' list of the highest earning female entertainers at the time.

To gross $36 million [on tour], her cut was probably $10-15 million, Greenburg told E! Then you pay taxes on that and you pay your agent, your manager...and you are left with close to $5 million and that is something that you could burn through quickly when you are used to getting $100 million dollar record contracts.

An insider told the Huffington Post that Houston was living off of advances from the record company and had been doing so for a while.

Most likely the estate owes the record company a ton and future sales will be used to pay back that loan before any money goes to the estate, the insider said. The songwriters, however, will make a bundle.

The Daily Mail has claimed that Houston squandered a $100 million fortune and was asking music mogul Clive Davis, who discovered her, for help.

But the singer's people have said the reports that Houston was broke are false and ridiculous. In January, Houston also denied broke rumors in an article on Forbes.com.

Extra has reported that Houston's rep noted that the singer starred in a new film, Sparkle, with Jordin Sparks, and was paid for the role she played. The film will be released in August.

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