Infamous Money Battles

Words: Josh Rakic
Photo: Wikipedia / Creative Commons               

The epic family battles for the money of music’s dead.

In 2016, entitlement is a dirty word. But that hasn’t stopped scores of family, friends, acquaintances and postmen of music icon Prince facing off against one another and laying claim to his $250 million estate that they believe they’re entitled to.

Just last month, barely two months since the 57-year-old’s unexpected death, a whopping 29 people who believe they’re entitled to a portion, if not all, of the fortune gathered before a court in Minnesota. Lawyers suggested it could be months and likely years before settlements are determined. We’re talking about half-sisters, grandchildren of dead half-brothers, long-lost nieces and his one full sibling, Tyka Nelson.

What’s left the door ajar for all and sundry to contest the fortune is the fact that Prince didn’t leave a will - at least not one that’s been found yet. Not that a will has ever stopped sibling infighting for a larger share of the wealth.

So, as Prince’s case meanders on and his family members turn on one another, we look at five of the most controversial sibling battles for money in music history.

Frank Zappa - Zappa no Zappa

We have all grown accustomed to modern relationship disputes playing out over Facebook but the Zappa clan have gone a step further, with brothers Dweezil and Ahmet taking their dispute over dad’s $40 million to the masses. Mother, Gail, passed away last year opening up a four-way dispute between the two brothers and their sisters, Moon Unit and Diva. While all four were left as beneficiaries of the estate only Ahmet and Diva—the lesser known of the two—were given control of the trust and larger portions. And as heads of the trust, they threatened legal action against Dweezel for using dad’s likeness on his tribute tour, forcing him to change the name from “Zappa plays Zappa” to “Dweezel Zappa plays Frank Zappa” and then, after a cease and desist letter from his brother, to “50 Years of Frank: Dweezil Zappa Plays Whatever the F@%k He Wants—The Cease and Desist Tour”. Ahmet didn’t take kindly, and posted a brutal rant on FB aimed at his bro in May, who gave it to him hard in the New York Times a week earlier.

Bob Marley - Zero love

As Bob Marley lay stricken on a Miami hospital bed in 1981, on the verge of succumbing to cancer, the 36-year-old uttered his last words to son, Ziggy: “Money can’t buy life”. But 35 years after the king of reggae’s death, his half brother, 11 acknowledged children and their seven mums continue to battle for their share of Marley’s estate and accumulating fortune. Marley didn’t believe in wills so wife Rita and his 11 kids got an even split under Jamaican law. But that didn’t sit well with Rita, who forged her husband’s signature on documents created to pre-date his death so the majority of his wealth and royalty rights would be transferred to her. She got busted eventually and then the even split was re-instated. But that was just the beginning of the family drama around the Marley name and image. Most recently, three Marley siblings sued their uncle, Richard Booker, for using his own brother’s likeness and name for an annual music concert - at which all three were being paid to perform. 

“My #love for my people is stronger than anyone’s hate.” #bobmarleyquotes‬ #bobmarley #quotes

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James Brown - Super Bad

Ten years have passed since the Godfather of Soul’s death and his estate remains more highly contested than the US Presidential election. Despite a strongly worded will and video tape recording of the man himself insisting half his estimated $100 million trust go to scholarships for needy children in South Carolina and the other half to the education of his seven to 16 (depending who you believe) grandchildren, not a cent has gone to anyone but lawyers. He didn’t leave his alleged widow (she was married to another man when they tied the knot) anything from his trust and the six kids he did acknowledge (of 14) allegedly didn’t take kindly to only getting a split of his personal property. So they all went to court and in 2009 a judge awarded widow Tomi Rae a quarter of all worth and split another quarter between the six children. That was immediately disputed by the children and remains unresolved as family factions continue to boil over finances. Add to that paternity claims and DNA tests from mistresses and their children that saw his body allegedly removed from its gold casket 14 times before his final burial two months after his death, and you’ve got one messed up family.

Jerry Garcia - The UnGrateful Dead

To a generation of baby boomers Jerry Garcia was a psychedelic music pioneer and free-living icon, inspiring thousands of self-proclaimed “Dead Heads” to jump on the acid and the bandwagon and follow The Grateful Dead around the USA. These days his name is more synonymous with Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream. And it’s that Garcia trademark that had his three wives and four daughters in a tiff for some 13 years after Garcia’s shock 1995 death. His wife of one year, Deborah Koons, was left as executor of his $15 million estate and allocated one third of it, with the remaining money to be split between his four daughters and friends. But youngest daughter Keelin, a toddler at the time, wanted more and opted to sue her stepmom and siblings in 2006 claiming she was entitled to more than her three half sisters because she should have received a higher amount of child support when she was growing up and what money remained after that should be evenly split between her and her three sisters. She settled out of court for an extra $1.25 million.

#Alligator. 📷: @gratefuldead Archive

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Jimi Hendrix - Green Haze 

It took 32 years post Hendrix’s death for his estate to become a family battle. Largely for the fact that when his old man, Al, died in 2002 he left the entire $80 million of his son’s estimated fortune in control of adopted daughter, Janie. He left his son and Jimi’s brother, Leon, and some 13 other family members with claim to the money out completely. Janie also got the rights to Experience Hendrix L.L.C and all future profits of the corporation. So, Leon took her to court, claimed she’d manipulated old Al and spent $1.7million on the business credit card for personal use. A judge awarded Janie ongoing control of the estate, despite opposing attorney arguments that—as a beauty technician—she had no skills to run a multimillion-dollar business. But Leon wasn’t done and started up his own merchandise company using Jimi’s image and trademark and the brother and sister ended up back in court when Janie sued Leon this time. They ended up settling out of court last year for an undisclosed amount.


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08 2016 The Red Bulletin

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