Down Payment Blues: Musicians With Tax Trouble

Finished that tax return yet? Not to worry: you've still got a few hours until midnight, and the post offices are open late. Over the years, these musicians have gotten in hot water with their countries' internal-revenue collectors as well...


Forever a proponent of all things charitable, Bono took some flak from just about everybody when, following the implementation of Ireland's new $319,000 salary cap on tax breaks, he moved U2's publishing company to the Netherlands in 2006. He was blasted as a hypocrite for denying Ireland access to funds that would go to its poor. That criticism was not as common in America, where the populace is more used to seeing the wealthy duck under foreign tax shelters. (Frankly, we're not sure we'd trust the Irish government to handle our tax dollars, either.) Even so, Bono still carries the taint of copying the tax practices of towering corporate monsters such as Nike, Coca-Cola, Gucci and the Rolling Stones.

Marc Anthony

Mr. Jennifer Lopez expressed what seemed to be genuine surprise when he learned that, between 2000 and 2004, his personal and business taxes had gone completely unpaid. Nobody had even tried to take care of it. Whoops! Anthony's touring and publishing companies, along with two of his managers, pled guilty to tax crimes and admitted their fraud. Since Anthony's tax record had been impeccable before he switched accountants, he was cleared of any suspicion and agreed to pay $2.5 million in back taxes, interest and penalties. Is it any wonder so many celebrities have serious trust issues?

Britney Spears

Around this time last year, Britney returned to a bikini-ready body, but her finances were still a bit bloated. On top of the $400,000 in legal fees she owed, the state of California alleged she owed nearly $24,000 in 2004 back taxes. A horrifying sum for most people, we have to assume Brit was able to handle it: in 2005, she gave $350,000 to the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts and donated $175,000 to Habitat for Humanity. So we think she'll be okay, although we're still hoping for a light hurricane season.

Koko Taylor

Being an 80-year-old blues queen in failing health will not keep the IRS at bay. Taylor learned this last year, when the feds came after her for $400,000 she owed in back taxes and penalties. She claims not to have the money, and we believe her; her Chicago home is only worth $280,000 and anyone can tell you blues albums just aren't selling like they used to. (Rocks Off only knows a couple of people who still buy blues records - and they're music critics, so they have to.) Nonetheless, when Taylor tried to sue the IRS to force them to accept a lesser sum, she lost. Her current situation: the IRS may decide to collect what they're owed via a levy, which allows them to seize her property and/or garnish her wages. Yikes. Expect any new blues albums from Taylor to contain some choice sentiments towards the IRS, on the order of suggesting they go "Wang Dang Doodle" themselves.

Aretha Franklin

According to Franklin, an accountant's error allowed her $700,000 home to slide into foreclosure, a mistake not corrected until the IRS came calling last year, demanding $19,192 in back taxes on the house. Far from destitute, Franklin said she would pay off the sum by the deadline, and even thanked the IRS for bringing the error to her attention. No further news was reported on this case until a couple of weeks later, when PETA offered to pay the IRS off themselves if Franklin agreed to never wear fur again. As far as we can tell, she didn't accept their offer. And look, we finished this entire item without a single "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" pun. Why? Because you deserve better.

Willie Nelson

You didn't think we'd leave Willie out, did you? Every list of celebrities with tax problems has to include the man who, in 1990, was notified by the IRS that he owed more than

$16 million

. They sold his ranch, auctioned off his belongings, and accepted a royalty interest in Willie's album

Who'll Buy My Memories? (The IRS Tapes)

. Okay, 1990 didn't seem like that long ago until we realized most people still used cassette tapes back then... wow. Anyway, did Willie let it get him down? No sir. He considered it an opportunity to "start all over again - just me and my acoustic guitar," playing solo shows to avoid subjecting his bandmates to IRS scrutiny. In the end, the IRS settled for $12.6 million before calling it a done deal, and Willie's friends wound up buying most of his stuff back for him. These days, the Red Headed Stranger is more interested in biodiesel fuel and marijuana legalization than accumulating further tax troubles.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >