How To Make Money Off Celebrity Breakdowns

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We know what you thought last time you read about a failed rehab stint or a child-abuse allegation: How can I get a piece of that? Meet "a whole new class of investment: the distressed celebrity."


Bankruptcy? Estates in foreclosure? Suspicious out-of-court settlements with disgruntled parents? Cha-ching! At least, that's how this one billionaire investor, Tom Barrack, sees it. Along with Rob Lowe — whom New York Magazine describes rather alarmingly as "agelessly pretty in Chrome Hearts sunglasses and a light-blue Zegna polo" and who knows from bad press — Barrack has put his money where US Weekly's heart is.

Over the past two years, Barrack has been lining up deals that target celebrities and entertainment properties whose value he believes to be artificially depressed. In some cases, that's because they haven't yet figured out a way to monetize their assets. But mostly it's because the investment is, in the classic sense, distressed-individuals like Jackson or Annie Leibovitz whose financial mismanagement has obscured their future revenue potential, or properties like the Miramax film library, which Disney is unloading at a time when no one can agree on what a studio archive is worth.

In other words, buy low, wait it out, sell high. But don't worry: His motives are pure. He really cares about helping celebrities out of jams. Well, within reason — no word on whether he's willing to gamble on the potential of a Lohan or the besmirched back-catalog of the wild-eyed Mel Gibson. It's about trusting pop-culture instincts and, like any investment, getting the timing right. And in case you wonder about a 63-year-old finger on the cultural pulse, consider Barrack's emotional reaction to Twilight, which the mogul was forced to read at sea after he found himself alone on a yacht, as rich people sometimes do. Although he found the idea of reading a tween book "almost disgusting," he was moved by the saga to write a letter to his company larded with Sparkle-Vamp philosophizing. Twilight, he declared, had found the secret: "Every woman longs for the anticipation, the romance, the journey, the taboo, the patience, and the attentiveness...Men, however, are all about the destination, the result, the speed, and the outcome." On werewolves, he was silent. But this selflessness has its limits; rather chillingly, one of his "rules for success" for employees is "befriend the bewildered."

Whether that means actually "drug-addled" or merely sheltered and clueless isn't something we can answer. And whether it implies some insider trading with tab editors or publicists — who'd seem to have a lot of control over public image in these volatile cases — is an open question in this brace new world. After all, it seems like investments are just a sex tape and an indiscreet bottle girl away.

Monetizing The Celebrity Meltdown [New York]