How Much Did Celebrities Make? An In-depth Look At Comparative Net Worths Throughout History

Have you ever wondered how celebrities of the past would stack up against the highest-earning men and women of our generation? Look no further.
Los Angeles Lakers LeBron James
Image Source: FanBuzz

Net Worth has been a statistic to measure how much a certain person is worth. Given the rise of celebrity culture in the last 100 years, this metric has become widely used to compare the success of specific entertainers to others. 

But what is “net worth”? What does it entail? Join us as we find out together the meaning of the word. 

Net Worth is the sum total value of all assets owned by an individual or an institution subtracted by its debts. In short, net worth can be understood as everything of value someone has minus everything that they still owe or need to pay off.

Throughout our list, we will be adjusting for inflation so that we can see how older celebrities compare to the celebrities of our time. Doing this means we will need to understand what inflation is.

Inflation is an overall increase in price level in an economy. Consequently, when inflation rises, money buys less and less over time, and inflation represents the decrease in value of the medium of exchange.

For our assessment, we will be using US Dollars. We are going to list some of the wealthiest people throughout history, regardless of occupation or time period. 

JAY Z, business mogul and community leader
Image Source: Fox Business

1. JAY Z - $1.4 Billion (Circa 2021)

JAY Z is well known as a rapper and hip-hop artist, but in recent years, he has been known as an entrepreneur and a self-made man. A literal rag to riches story, he started his money-making career as a low-level drug dealer in Brooklyn, New York in the early 1990s. 

Although he has made much of his money in the music industry, the majority of his wealth comes from his business ventures. His most recent venture, "Monogram" is a line of cannabis products, which, since becoming recreationally legal, has become very lucrative. 

In 2007, he sold the rights to his clothing brand Rocawear for $207 million. After that, he became the owner of the 40/40 Club in New York and has since expanded into Chicago and Atlantic City. His management group, Roc Nation, manages athletes and musicians alike, including Rihanna, Meek Mill, and Kyrie Irving.

Lebron James with the Los Angeles Lakers
Image Source: Twitter

2. LeBron James - $500 million (Circa 2021)

Considered by many to be the greatest basketball player of all time, LeBron James plays for the Los Angeles Lakers and has won 4 NBA Championships. Much of his money comes from his NBA contracts, including his most recent one, which is for $153 million dollars for the next four years.

In addition to his basketball prowess, LeBron has several business ventures as well. In 2021, he became a part-owner in Fenway Sports Group, which makes him an owner of the Boston Red Sox as well as Roush Fenway Racing. He also came in as an angel investor for Lobos 1707, a tequila and mezcal company.

Since James is the face of the NBA, it is understandable that his public image has brought him a lot of revenue as well. Combining his image with commercial interests turned out to be a great movie, and LeBron's sponsorship deals with Audemars, Beats By Dre, Coca-Cola, Dunkin' Donuts, McDonald's, Nike, and State Farm have shown that.

While LeBron is still focusing on his playing days as much as anything else, it is reasonable to assume that he will step into a more JAY Z-like role once he retires. He has mentioned that a job as a basketball executive is not out of the question and he will clearly keep his interests in other businesses as well.

Jakob Fugger, wealthiest German man
Image Source: New York Post

3. Jakob Fugger, $400 Billion

Jakob Fugger was an influential banker, merchant and miner who lived from 1459-1525. He has the distinction of being the most wealthy man in history. Born in Augsburg in what was then the Holy Roman Empire, Fugger ruled the copper market in an absolute monopoly.

In his time, he was known as "Fugger the Rich". He was a supporter of the Hapsburg Dynasty and made lots of money doing deals with them. At the time of his death, Fugger was worth 2% of the entire GDP of Europe.

Fuger was a patron of architecture as well as a supporter of the Catholic Church and the Roman Curia. After funding the St. Anne's Chapel in Augsburg in 1512, he built the world's oldest social housing complex still in use known as the Fuggerei. It was built as a place for the impoverished to live.

His lasting legacy was the Fuggerhäuser, a large housing complex meant for the businessmen of the Fugger family. Although it was mostly destroyed in the bombing campaigns of World War II, it was rebuilt in 1951 and is owned by the Fugger-Babenhausen branch of the Fugger family.

rendering of Augustus
Image Source: ThoughtCo

4. Emperor Augustus of Rome, $4.6 Trillion

After Augustus' war to consolidate power in Rome, he expanded the empire quite extensively. He added many rich states and countries to the Roman Empire including Egypt, Dalmatia, Pannonia, Noricum and Raetia. These became Roman provinces, and Egypt specifically was extremely wealthy and this revenue would be counted as Augustus' to do with as he pleased.

While this net worth is speculative, as much has changed in the economics of history, it is safe to assume that no one has ever held such complete control of such a large and vast amount of the earth's natural resources. In addition to these natural resources, human-controlled businesses, valuable metals and clothing as well as the output of each individual province in the Roman Empire it is reasonable to assume Augustus is a safe bet for the richest man of Antiquity.

5. Jeff Bezos, $177 Billion

Billionaire Jeff Bezos
Image Source: Biography

Jeff Bezos gets flack for his support of political parties and ideas, but we are more here to discuss Jeff Bezos as an entrepreneur. His revolutionary company, Amazon, has easily become the commercial representation of the American Dream. 

Starting out as a simple online shopping source, the company has branched out to film production, music, and set the stage for a new era of e-commerce in America. While no one could have predicted the meteoric rise of the brand, it stands today as the gold standard for online shopping. 

Bezos is set to make headlines again now, having just announced he will be heading into space. Literally out of this world occurrences like these make Bezos the legend that he is, even if he isn’t as popular as he might like to be. 

Legendary Actress Marilyn Monroe
Image Source: Discover Los Angeles

6. Marilyn Monroe, $10 Million

Perhaps the most well-known female icon and sex symbol of all time, Marilyn Monroe captured the hearts of everyone who saw her in her heyday. Following her Golden Globe-winning performance in Some Like It Hot, she became a representative for her generation as well as the 1950s as a whole. Marilyn, even after her death, remains a vital part of entertainment culture and America as well.

Though she was troubled and suffered from addiction, an unfortunate love life, and scandals big enough to unsettle the US Presidency, her films and photoshoots are universally recognized as some of the most special and influential material of all time. She was also the cover girl for the first issue of Playboy in 1953.

In her life, she earned much of her money from acting, modeling, and various business deals. When she passed in 1962, her impact on pop culture proved to be permanent and she is remembered today as an icon and inspiration for both females and males all around the world.

Megastar Brad Pitt
Image Source: NME

7. Brad Pitt, $300 Million

Actor and producer Brad Pitt got his first big role in Thelma and Louise. His 1995 starring role in Seven earned him critical acclaim. Pitt’s next role, alongside Edward Norton, in Fight Club, cemented his position as one of the preeminent actors of his generation.

As for the early 2000s, his marriage to Jennifer Aniston got more media traction than his work. It was at this time he opened his Plan B production company and started producing films such as The Departed. These blockbusters helped bolster his net worth and by the time he and Aniston split, he was one of the wealthiest and most in-demand actors in Hollywood.

After this, he was named the “sexiest man in the world” by numerous publications and began to earn money for interviews and endorsements while also making hefty amounts of income from his acting and his producing jobs. 

Later, Pitt would marry Angelina Jolie and start a large family. Though they recently divorced, they were and still are heavily in the spotlight of the world media. Pitt remains one of the wealthiest and most successful actors of all time.

Joseph Poulos is a freelance writer from Michigan.

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