The legendary singer is set to face the US government in court this year over nearly $7 million in unpaid taxes.
As Marvin Gaye once sang on his Trouble Man album, there’s three things in life ‘for sure: taxes, death and trouble’. For legendary songstress and diva Dionne Warwick, it’s her taxes that continue to cause her the most trouble at the moment.
Her musical legacy is in no doubt: she’s one of the greatest singers to ever live. She’s spent the last six decades performing, recording some of the most influential songs in pop music along the way. As one of the biggest names in music, she sold millions of records and performed to thousands, if not millions, across the world. But no matter how she’s earned, Dionne Warwick, aged 78, is in debt by nearly $10 million. And that includes $7 million in unpaid taxes.
The end of 2018 should have been an enjoyable time for Warwick: after completing a successful UK tour in September, and another tour Down Under, it was announced that Warwick would be one of the deserving recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2019 Grammys.
Yet, just after Christmas, The Blast reported that a court date has been set to settle Warwick’s ongoing tax saga. The court date was originally set for 6 March 2019, but The Blast is now reporting that the US government shutdown has affected Warwick’s case, as the IRS is unable to prepare cases for court during the shutdown.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) – the organisation that collects tax monies and prosecutes those who don’t pay – is seeking to recover Warwick’s unpaid tax, which dates back decades.
The singer originally applied for bankruptcy in 2013. The court filings made for sorry reading for Warwick: she claimed to own just $25,000 in personal assets, had $1,000 in cash, and claimed a monthly income on average of $20,950. Her monthly average outgoings were reported as being $20,940. It was also reported that her debt totalled over $10 million.
The IRS claimed that from 1990 to 2008, Warwick failed to pay any income tax. The total, including penalties for non-payment and interest, reached nearly $7 million.
Warwick has previously blamed a previous manager for mismanagement of her money.
Yet, it’s hard to discern what’s happened since 2013.
In 2014 Warwick filed to be excused from paying off her tax bill, although it’s not clear whether this was granted. The Dionne Warwick Music website reported that Warwick had her debts written off following bankruptcy. The Independent also reported this, but it looks like while the application for relief was filed, it’s not clear it was approved. Given the new court date, and the amounts reported are similar to previous amounts, it’s unlikely the original request to write-off her debts was approved.
Then, at one point in the legal proceedings, Warwick even sued the government for trying to collect $71, 08 in unpaid taxes while her case was still in court. The IRS countered by saying they only found this additional money was owed after Warwick failed to disclosure income on her returns.
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Prior to her battles with the IRS, it seems Warwick also had issues with the state of California. In 2007, the state named her as one of the state’s worst tax debtors, an honour she shared with Airplane! star and convicted criminal O.J. Simpson and the comedian Sinbad. It was reported that she owed around $2.67 million. It seems the figure wasn’t dealt with quickly, as in 2012 CBS News reported that Warwick still owed the money to California, but was working on a repayment plan. It’s not clear whether this has since been repaid, or forms part of her current court battle.
Either way, Warwick and the IRS will finally have their day in court, putting the matter, hopefully, to bed.
Warwick isn’t the only soul star to battle the taxman. In 2017 Eddie Holland, one of the famed Motown writing and producing trio Holland-Dozier-Holland, was reported to be a staggering $20 million in debt. Holland-Dozier-Holland, or H-D-H, wrote some of the biggest selling songs in sixties and seventies pop and soul.
Since then it seems Holland has sold his rights to the songs for cash upfront, sacrificing future royalties. The Detroit News reported that Holland owes millions in unpaid taxes and, as a result, has been left “penniless” and is fighting to stop the IRS from seizing his Social Security benefits to pay down the debt. The only income Holland receives, his lawyer claimed, is these benefits. It’s unclear how Holland’s case has progressed.
Further back, Ronald Isley, lead singer of the supergroup The Isley Brothers, was sentenced to 3 years in federal prison for tax evasion. Not that Isley seemed to mind, in interviews after his release he claimed to have been treated like a king by his fellow inmates.
Even further back, Marvin Gaye had his own troubles with the IRS – eventually leading him to go into self-imposed exile in Europe, ending up in Belgium in the early eighties, where he plotted his comeback with the single ‘Sexual Healing’.
And, finally, TMZ reported that Aretha Franklin owed the IRS nearly $6 million at the time of her death, plus another $1.5 million in penalties. Her estate have said they are working with the IRS to clear the debt.