Some celebrities can’t stop bringing the drama even when they are six feet under. Indeed, when it comes to the will and testament, then the rich and famous sure know how to make a statement. From dictators and presidents to rappers and comedians, here’s a look at 40 notable figures whose final wishes caught everyone by surprise.
40. Dusty Springfield
Dusty Springfield’s beloved cat Nicholas continued to enjoy a pampered life even when his legendary owner sadly passed away. The beehive-haired singer instructed that in the wake of her death, her feline friend should be played her hits at night, live on a diet of baby food specially imported and reside in an indoor treehouse. Springfield also insisted that Nicholas get wed to a female cat owned by the star’s friend.
39. Napoleon Bonaparte
It’s little wonder that the man who had a personality complex named after him would write a will that could be described as narcissistic. French military leader Napoleon not only dictated that his head should be shaved following his passing. He also stated that the locks of his hair should be shared equally among his nearest and dearest.
38. Marilyn Monroe
Silver-screen goddess Marilyn Monroe bequeathed all of her belongings not to her family, but rather to the acting coach who had helped hone her talents. However, Lee Strasberg could never be accused of cashing in on his windfall. Monroe’s most cherished items were stored away in Strasberg’s basement until he himself passed away.
37. Farrah Fawcett
Sometimes celebrities create headlines more for who they didn’t leave anything to, than who they did. In 2009 former Charlie’s Angels actress Farrah Fawcett tragically passed away from cancer at the age of 62. And in her will it was revealed that Ryan O’Neal, the actor with whom she’d been in a long-term turbulent relationship, received a big fat zero.
36. William Shakespeare
You might expect William Shakespeare, a man world-renowned for his romantic way with words, to make a grand loving gesture in his will. Unfortunately for his wife of more than 30 years, however, that was far from the case. Indeed, Anne Hathaway was left nothing more than the Bard’s “second-best bed.”
35. Alexander McQueen
Alexander McQueen left the fashion world stunned in 2010 when he took his own life at his London home. But the celebrated British designer ensured that his beloved dogs would never want for anything. McQueen left them approximately $75,000 in his will and gave the rest of his vast fortune away to charity.
34. Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin’s daughter was left a whopping 408 diamonds in the wake of the Founding Father’s passing. Unfortunately for her, however, she was never allowed to show them off. For her late father had also stipulated that this collection of precious stones should never be turned into jewelry. Franklin deemed the wearing of such jewels would encourage a popular trend which he deemed “expensive, vain and useless.”
33. Harry Houdini
It’s perhaps little surprise that a master illusionist such as Harry Houdini would opt for something a little unorthodox when it came to his will. The legendary escapologist requested that his spouse conducted an annual séance in an attempt to communicate with him from beyond the grave. And his wife would always know if the spirit was Houdini: the pair had previously created their own special code in the event that their paths would once again cross.
32. Fred Baur
Chemist Fred Baur wanted to be buried in a Pringles can, a bizarre request which his family decided to honor after his death in 2008. But a love of the potato-based snack wasn’t the reason behind it all. Baur was actually the man who came up with the tube they were stored in.
31. John Bowman
John Bowman always believed that he’d be reunited with his late daughter and wife once he, too, met his maker. And the Vermont socialite sure was ready for such an occasion. In his will he left $50,000 for staff to maintain his family home, strangely convinced that one day the whole trio would return alive and well. He even insisted that a cook prepared dinner every single day, too.
30. T.M. Zink
It seems fair to say that T.M. Zink wasn’t an ardent feminist. In fact, the Iowa lawyer valued women so little that he used his will to fund a library which only featured books by male writers. Zink also banned any artwork created by the opposite sex and insisted that all employees should be men.
29. Gene Rodenberry
Gene Rodenberry’s will request was outlandish for sure, but also entirely in keeping with a man who had created the world’s biggest sci-fi franchise. The man responsible for Star Trek boldly went where no-one had been before when his remains were catapulted into space in 1997. Touchingly, his wife’s ashes were also given the same treatment 12 years later.
28. Charles Dickens
Mourners attending Charles Dickens’ funeral had to ensure they dressed for the occasion. Famous for novels such as Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol, the legendary writer laid out several specific no-nos for his wake in his will. These included no black bows, cloaks, long hat-bands, scarves or any other “such revolting absurdity.”
27. John B. Kelly
Grace Kelly was renowned for her extravagant spending, so her father attempted to rein in her various shopping sprees with a direct request in his will. Businessman John B. Kelly, who passed away in 1960, pleaded with his daughter to “not bankrupt the Principality of Monaco with the bills about her clothing.”
26. William Randolph Hearst
William Randolph Hearst tried to deter anyone from crawling out of the woodwork in the wake of his death. The publishing magnate had previously been dogged by claims that he’d fathered several illegitimate children. Should anyone prove that they were indeed his flesh and blood, they would be rewarded with the modest sum of just one dollar.
25. Philip Seymour Hoffman
Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman had fears that his three kids would rely far too much on their trust fund should he leave them his considerable wealth in his will. So instead the actor gave all his money to his girlfriend. Hoffman also stipulated that he wanted his son Cooper to grow up in not just one city but three: San Francisco, Chicago and New York.
24. Jeremy Bentham
Jeremy Bentham made sure that no one could forget what he looked like once he’d shuffled off his mortal coil. The famed social reformer and philosopher, now regarded as the father of utilitarianism, demanded that his preserved hay-stuffed body should go on full display at University College London. To make things even more bizarre, the taxidermy of Bentham’s body was carried out by his pal and will executor Dr. Thomas Smith.
23. George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw wanted to extend his legacy even further in the wake of his passing. The author left enough money behind to help fund the creation of his very own alphabet. Shaw insisted that it needed to be phonetic, contain no fewer than 40 different letters and be entirely dissimilar to the Latin one. His dream came true shortly after he died in 1950.
22. Ed Headrick
Ed Headrick once remarked that the Frisbee was something of a religion. And the creator of the hugely popular park toy was undoubtedly devoted to the cause. Headrick insisted that after his death his family should arrange for limited-edition Frisbees to be made using his own remains – and they duly obliged.
21. Adam Yauch
The music world was left shocked in 2012 when Adam Yauch lost his life to cancer at the age of just 48. But the Beastie Boy ensured that no one could cash in on his untimely passing. Yauch stated that both his music and likeness could not be used to sell any products.
20. Leona Helmsley
Leona Helmsley, a hotel owner from New York, left her grandsons $5 million and twice that amount to her brother following her death in 2007. But there was one lucky recipient who was gifted even more money, a colossal $12 million, in fact. And that was her beloved Maltese dog, called Trouble.
19. Janis Joplin
Janis Joplin was an infamous hellraiser. So it’s perhaps little surprise to discover that the blues singer wanted to keep the party going even after she joined the notorious 27 Club. Yes, Joplin ensured that her fellow revelers could celebrate her life with an all-nighter at her drinking establishment of choice by leaving $2,500 in her will.
18. Charles Vance Miller
Charles Vance Miller sent the women of Toronto baby-crazy thanks to a bizarre request in his will. The lawyer stated that he’d leave his entire fortune, worth roughly $750,000 at the time, to the woman who could bear the most children in his hometown following his death. Hailed as “The Great Stork Derby” by the press, this highly unusual contest was won by four women, all of whom had given birth nine times each.
17. Mark Gruenwald
Anyone with an early copy of Mark Gruenwald’s Squadron Supreme anthology may be closer to its author than they realize. The comic book writer was so dedicated to his craft that he wanted to be immortalized in his stories forever. And so he asked for the ink for the first trade paperback run to be mixed with his remains.
16. Sandra West
Sandra West, an oil heiress and socialite, ensured that she was laid to rest in the utmost style. The Californian not only asked to be buried in her lace nightgown but also in her beloved powder-blue Ferrari, “with the seat slanted comfortably.” Her family obliged and even poured cement over the vehicle to ensure that thieves couldn’t get their hands on it.
15. Carlotta Liebenstein
You might wonder how on earth one person can possibly spend the colossal sum of $80 million in their relatively short time on Earth. But how about a dog? Well, that’s how much Carlotta Liebenstein, a canine-loving countess from Germany, left her beloved pooch Gunther when she passed away in 1991.
14. F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald may have written about the life of luxury in his classic novel The Great Gatsby. But sadly the author wasn’t able to revel in such glamour during his later years. In fact, he hardly had a cent to his name when he died and as a result changed the funeral stipulations in his will from “in keeping with my station in life” to “the cheapest.”
13. Maurice Laboz
Maurice Laboz bequeathed an estate worth almost $40 million to his two daughters in his will. But they had to live up to his standards in order to get any money before they turned 35. The property magnate offered rewards to his kids for various life goals including gaining a degree from a recognized university or walking down the aisle with a man who’d signed any rights to his inheritance away.
12. Eleanor E. Ritchey
Eleanor E. Ritchey, who inherited her vast wealth from her family, left $4.5 million to her pet dogs following her passing. A huge amount for sure. But that was shared between no fewer than 150 canines! This meant that each of her pooches was bequeathed a much less, but still not to be sniffed at, sum of $30,000.
11. Gloria Bechal
It’s certainly not a stretch to say that Gloria Bechal really, really loved Cantonese food and one restaurant, in particular. The British millionaire had £10 million – approximately $15 million – to her name when she passed away. And she left almost every single penny of it to her favorite Asian eatery.
10. Robin Williams
Annoyed at being paid just a fraction of the nine-figure-sum that the movie Aladdin had grossed at the box office, Robin Williams made sure Disney couldn’t undervalue his talents again. Before his suicide in 2014 the funnyman learned that the studio was planning to use outtakes from his performance as The Genie in the original animation for a new feature. Williams subsequently stated in his will that such material couldn’t be used until a quarter of a century after his passing.
9. Doris Duke
Doris Duke was reportedly renowned for refusing to smile in photographs. But the heiress, whose father was American Tobacco Company founder Buck Duke, proved in her will that she still had plenty of heart. Not only did she help fund an eponymous charity apparently estimated at over a billion dollars, she also kept aside a whopping $100 million for her dogs in a pet trust.
8. Robert Kardashian
Initially renowned for his role as O.J. Simpson’s attorney, Robert Kardashian later became more famous for being the late father of a reality show dynasty. However, he left neither his son Rob, nor his daughters Kourtney, Khloe and Kim, nor their mother Kris a cent. Instead, his entire fortune went to his widow Ellen Pierson. The Kardashians went on to dispute his will, but a court found it to be entirely above board.
7. Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley didn’t have as much in his final bank account as you’d expect from a man hailed as “The King of Rock ’n’ Roll”. Just $5 million, according to reports, and that’s not taking into account the many debts he’d accrued. Presley named his father Vernon, grandmother Minnie Mae and only child Lisa Marie as the beneficiaries of his will. But it’s his ex-wife Priscilla who’s credited with growing his estate to a figure of $100 million.
6. Kirk Douglas
Kirk Douglas donated the majority of his $61 million fortune to the eponymous foundation following his passing in 2020. Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Westwood’s Sinai Temple and St. Lawrence University were just a few of the beneficiaries of the charity which attempts to “help those who cannot otherwise help themselves.” His son Michael didn’t receive a cent, although with an estimated net worth of $300 million himself, he’s unlikely to be too disappointed.
5. Martin Luther King Jr.
Having been assassinated at the age of just 39, it’s perhaps little surprise that Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t have a will. Unfortunately, this meant that various members of his family became locked in a bitter dispute to inherit his fortune. They ended up selling both his personal possessions and intellectual property as a result.
4. Oprah Winfrey
And there are some living celebrities out there who have already revealed to the world what their final wishes will be. Oprah Winfrey is one such famous face. The talk-show queen will donate most of her $3 billion fortune to numerous charity organizations. But she will also leave almost $30 million for her beloved five dogs.
3. Simon Cowell
Eric Cowell may be the son of a multi-millionaire media mogul but the youngster will have to make his own money when he grows up. His father Simon told Esquire magazine that he plans to leave his $500 million fortune to charity in his will. He said, “I don’t believe in passing on from one generation to another.”
2. Bill Gates
The children of the world’s richest man will only see a fraction of the $85 billion he’s accrued over the years following his death. Yes, Microsoft founder Bill Gates has pledged to leave most of his fortune to the foundation he set up with wife Melinda. He will, however, fork out for his kids’ college tuition fees. He once told TV program This Morning, “It’s not a favor to kids to have them have huge sums of wealth.”
1. Elton John
Elton John and his partner David Furnish are planning to give away much of their $260 million fortune to various charities. Their two sons Zachary and Elijah will be left with a notable amount, but the singer told newspaper The Daily Mirror he doesn’t want to give them a silver spoon. He said, “You have to have some semblance of normality, some respect for money, some respect for work.”