5 Billionaires Who Lost Millions

By Megan Mollmann | February 28, 2011 AAA

Few would disagree that it's great to be rich. But common sense also tells us that having an abundance of wealth also means there's a lot more to lose during the pinch of poor economic times. In the recession of the late 2000s, with stock market dips and real estate values plunging, a handful of the nation's richest people lost a lot. As you saw your 401(k) and savings accounts drop thousands of dollars, here are five billionaires who lost millions - some even billions - during the recession.

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Sheldon Adelson, Gambling Titan
Sheldon Adelson, the chairman and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corp. (NYSE:LVS) and the company's largest shareholder, has experienced a few tumultuous years of financial highs and lows. In 2007, Forbes ranked Adelson as the third-richest man in America and his net worth was valued at $28 billion. At his low in 2009, Adelson's fortune had shrunk to $5.7 billion. However, one year later, in 2010, the American billionaire, whose dynasty includes Las Vegas' The Venetian and Sands Expo and Convention Center, has bounced back to $14.7 billion, making him the 13th richest man in the country.

Robert Johnson, Founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET)
Robert Johnson - founder of BET - made history in 2001 when he became the first African-American billionaire after his network was sold to the media giant Viacom (NYSE:VIA). A year later, a pricey divorce from his wife and BET co-founder, Sheila, cost him a reported $400 million. Then, in 2009, Johnson had another unfortunate fiscal downturn: he lost $550 million as his stake in Viacom stock plummeted and his investment firm, RLJ Companies, took a hit from its real estate ventures. (We show you how to hit the millionaire mark step by step, check out The Millionaire's Retirement Plan.)

Mark Zuckerberg, Founder and CEO of Facebook
Even Facebook prodigy Mark Zuckerberg didn't go unaffected by the financial crisis. In 2008, at the ripe age of 23 and with a net worth of $1.5 billion, Mark Zuckerberg was named the world's youngest billionaire by Forbes. But just a year later, Zuckerberg lost $600 million, forcing him off the prestigious list of business mavens. However, by 2010, Zuckerberg had quickly climbed back up the billionaire ranks. He's now valued at $6.9 billion.

Bill Gates, Founder and CEO of Microsoft
Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who holds the spot at the world's second wealthiest man with an estimated net worth of $53 billion, saw his fortunes shrink during the Great Recession, as technology companies and the stock market nosedives took a toll. From 2008 to 2009, Gates lost $18 billion, as his net worth declined from $58 billion to $40 billion.

Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway
Legendary investor Warren Buffett, currently the world's third wealthiest man, saw his assets nearly cut in half during the height of the recession. In 2008, Buffett's net worth was an estimated $62 billion, but one year later it fell to $37 billion as the stock of his company, Berkshire Hathaway, slipped nearly 50%. Buffett regained his positioning in 2010 with a reported net worth of $47 billion.

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How About the Rest of America?
As these billionaire scions watched half of their fortunes practically evaporate into thin air, many Americans fared better - at least on a percentage basis. According to a study by the Rockefeller Foundation and Yale University, about a quarter of those surveyed suffered earnings drops of at least 25% during the recession. Though most would agree that the monetary recovery for the average American has not been as quick as it has for these billionaires.

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