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11.03.09

Nicolas Cage, Compulsive Spender

The star is blaming his ex-money manager for his money problems. But insiders say it was Cage who spent his way into big troubles. Jacob Bernstein reports on the star's head-spinning treasure trove: more than a dozen houses, two Bahamian islands, dinosaur skulls, the shah of Iran's Lamborghini (and more). Fun while it lasted.

Actor Nicolas Cage, star of the recent film Drive Angry 3D, was arrested early Saturday morning in New Orleans over unspecified domestic abuse allegations, TMZ reports. Police records cited by TMZ say he faces one count of domestic abuse and one count of disturbing the peace. A source tells TMZ that Cage was “very drunk” when a cab driver called the police to report a spat between the actor and his wife Alice, who were reportedly arguing over the correct address of a rental property. When cops arrived, he twice taunted: “Why don’t you just arrested me?” At that point, they did. Cage, 47, was released from custody on Saturday afternoon.

This isn't the first time Cage has been in trouble. Read The Daily Beast's piece below from Nov. 2009 on the star's compulsive spending. Jacob Bernstein reports on the star's head-spinning treasure trove: more than a dozen houses, two Bahamian islands, dinosaur skulls, shrunken heads, the shah of Iran's Lamborghini (and more). Fun while it lasted.

Even by Bel Air standards, the Christmas party in the tent at Nicolas Cage’s mansion was a major to-do. The pool was covered up. Blocks of ice were brought in and carved into a buffet table, from which an extravagant array of shellfish was served. A production crew blew fake snow. There were enormous nutcracker men, 8- to 10-feet-tall, out by the gate in front of the house. Lighting specialists came by and illuminated Cage’s favorite cars, which sat on display in the driveway. Guests at the December 2003 event included Hugh Hefner and Jay Leno, who later called it the greatest Christmas party he’d ever been to.

View our Gallery of Nicolas Cage’s Collections

The following morning, staffers arrived at Cage’s house and were surprised to find a straggler roaming the backyard: a young pony that had been given to Cage by a relative the night before. Later, he moved the pet out to his ranch in Malibu.

But today, the property in Bel Air is in contract to be sold for less than half of what Cage was originally seeking. The personal chef who orchestrated the evening? Laid off. The decorator? Gone as well.

And now the actor is suing his former money manager, Samuel J. Levin, for $20 million in Los Angeles Superior Court, claiming he enriched himself while “sending Cage down a path toward financial ruin.” (Levin declined comment for this article.)

Whether the actor proves his former money manager is at fault remains to be seen, but conversations with several sources close to Cage reveal a person whose financial problems stemmed at least in part from his own profligate spending. As they tell it, Cage’s appetite was extreme even for Hollywood, with a decade-plus shopping spree that saw him snapping up houses, motorcycles, a jet, yachts, vintage and new cars, expensive watches, meteorites, dinosaur skulls, an enormous pet collection, massive amounts of jewelry for the women in his life, group vacations for his entire entourage, and on and on and on. “He lived like a sheik,” says one person who’s known him for several years. “Spent money like it was water,” says another.

Reached for comment, Cage’s lawyer Martin Singer said, “Half the stuff you say is false. I’m not going to get into detail.” A publicist for Cage had nothing further to add. “As you’ve already spoken to Marty, I don’t have anything else to contribute.”

Until fairly recently, Cage’s primary residence was the 1940 Bel Air mansion, with eight bedrooms, a theater, wine cellar, and a library. The house’s previous owners included Dean Martin and Tom Jones. “A Gothic mausoleum” is how one sometime guest describes its décor in recent years. When Cage first put it on the market a few years back, the asking price was more than $30 million. He later dropped the price in half, and finally put it up this September in a sealed bid sale, where only offers above $9.95 million were considered. A source close to the sale says it went for less than $15 million. Some argue that the economy may not be the only reason the house went for so much less than Cage had desired. “It was not what I would call good taste,” says the visitor.

Down South, Cage’s two mansions in New Orleans have been foreclosed upon and will be auctioned off later this month. The first, a 13,000-square-foot, six-bedroom house in the Garden District, was originally put on the market for a reported $3.45 million. The second, on Royal Street in the French Quarter, went on sale for $3.5 million and has been described as one of the most beautiful houses in the city, though there are rumors it’s inhabited by ghosts. (Seriously.)

They are among more than a dozen other homes Cage has bought in the last decade or so, in places like Newport Beach; Venice Beach; Malibu; San Francisco; Middletown, Rhode Island; New York; and Las Vegas. There was a castle near Bath, in England, an 11th-century estate in Etzelwang, Germany, and not one but two Bahamian islands, which Cage bought in their entirety. (Movie stars, after all, like privacy, so long as you’re paying attention to them onscreen.)

The bulk of those properties have been sold or are in the process of being sold.

Cage also had a serious car and motorcycle habit. In June 2004, he owned 18 motorcycles and 30 cars, a member of his entourage says. And that was on the low end: At another point, two sources say, the car total was around 50.

In 1997, Cage spent nearly half a million dollars on a Lamborghini Miura SVJ that had been owned by the shah of Iran and was confiscated from the Imperial Garage during the 1979 revolution. Never mind that at the time he bought it, the car was trading for an estimated $250,000 to $300,000. “He didn’t care,” says a close source. “Nic at an auction is dangerous. There’s just no limit to what he’d spend.” He kept the cars in a hangar at the Santa Monica Airport, where neighbors with their own hangars included Jerry Seinfeld, Tom Cruise, and Charlie Sheen.

The most bizarre display of Cage’s conspicuous car consumption? A 1955 Jaguar D-Type that he decided to put on exhibit in his billiard room at the Bel Air house, where it was lit from above, like something out of a car dealership. (There was also at least one expensive motorcycle sitting in the foyer, according to three people who visited the house. “It was an eclectic way of decorating,” one shrugs.)

Nor did Cage limit himself to vintage cars, which are typically better investments than new ones. “He had one of every thing that was new and fantastic,” says one source. “Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Rolls Royces, Bentleys. If Aston Martin was coming out with a new model, chances are, he would have it.” At one point, the source says, Cage was snapping up cars at a rate of about “one per month.” For a time, the actor also employed a full-time car mechanic, whose job was solely to service his cars, two sources say.

Cage’s penchant for acquisition was aided by the fact that for years, many of the things he spent money on appeared to be good investments. The vintage cars he bought frequently doubled in value, so Cage made a lot of money buying and selling them. (In his case, most sales were followed by more purchases). Real estate was seen as an even safer bet. According to a source from his inner circle, when the first few houses he bought began to accrue in value, Cage began to borrow heavily against them to buy more properties. Unlike the cars, though, he didn’t do nearly enough selling, which placed him in a particularly precarious position when the market began to collapse over the last two and a half years.

And then there were two yachts, at least, and the Gulfstream jet.

Until he sold them in 2002 for a reported $1.6 million, Cage was also a voracious comic-book collector. The most prized of these included Action Comics #1 (which contained the first appearance of Superman), and Detective Comics 38, (which was the first strip in which Batman’s sidekick Robin appeared). For safekeeping, Cage housed them at his Bel Air pad in museum-like glass cases.

Three people who visited his house also report seeing shrunken heads. None is sure whether they were actual people’s heads (which are illegal to import) or simply those of animals (which generally are not). Still, one thing was for certain. “They were pretty weird,” says a source.

So was Cage’s pet collection, which in addition to a handful of purebred dogs, included rare birds and a host of lizards, snakes, and other creepy crawlies. “Basically, a zoo,” is how a person who’s known Cage for many years describes it. He also had two albino King Cobras, this person says, as well as “an antidote serum on the wall, so that if you got bit by a snake you could save yourself.”

There also was a dinosaur skull that Cage purchased in 2007 for $276,000 in a heated auction with Leonardo DiCaprio.

It was a fabulous life while it lasted, but it helps explain why so many people in Hollywood aren’t entirely convinced his ex-money manager is solely to blame for the actor’s financial troubles. Says one person who has known Cage for many years: “I remember a bunch of us saying, ‘How many more magic tricks can Sam do to keep Nic afloat?’ It was a house of cards… I think Nic thought he was invincible.”

Certainly, Nic Cage was a man without an ordinary idea of living on a budget. Born in Long Beach, California, in 1964, he is the nephew of director Francis Ford Coppola. (Interestingly, Coppola also experienced serious money problems over the years related to alleged overspending.) “I think Nic spent a lot of his life with his face pressed against the glass, looking at his uncle Francis,” says one person who’s worked with the star and knows him well. Cage’s father, August Coppola, died last month at the age of 75.

From the early days of his career, Cage displayed a taste for the finer things in life—which he shared with just about everyone around him. One crew member from the celeb’s 1993 film It Could Happen to You tells The Daily Beast about an episode in which this person was dispatched to caviar hotspot Petrossian in New York to get takeout for the star and a few people on the set. “It was something like $2,000 for a snack,” this person says. “He was really friendly and nice, but almost dorky.”

His largesse was even more pronounced with the women he became involved with. During his divorce proceedings from Lisa Marie Presley (Cage married her in August 2002 and filed for divorce 108 days later), it emerged that in the course of one of the couple’s fights, Presley’s $65,000-plus engagement ring was tossed over Cage’s California-based yacht, the Weston, named for his son. There are conflicting reports about who threw it overboard, but Cage nevertheless hired divers to recover it. The ring was never found.

There have also been acts of extraordinary generosity. In 2005, he gave $1 million to the Red Cross to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina. In 2006, Amnesty International put out an announcement that Cage was giving the organization $2 million.

From time to time, Cage also cut his price drastically to appear in smart, ambitious films such as Adaptation and Matchstick Men. But working for less money didn’t prompt him to live cautiously. In 2005’s The Weather Man, made for an overall budget of about $22 million, Cage played a dowdy meteorologist, yet the actor still brought his personal chef with him to the set in Chicago and got himself a brand new Lamborghini that spent most of the film shoot sitting unused at the Peninsula Hotel. “He barely drove it,” says someone who was there. Soon after, the person says, the star got rid of the car and bought something new.

Another time, two sources report, Cage spent over six figures on a Bentley, then sent it to be fitted with custom cabinetry in the back. A TV, stereo, and bar were all put in. The renovation costs totaled more than $50,000, but when it was done, the man for whom the car was spruced up couldn’t even fit inside it. “It was a bastard,” says a person who worked with Cage at the time. “You couldn’t sit in the back unless you’re 5’8. He’s six-feet. Ultimately, he got rid of it.”

“There’s a cluelessness,” this person says. “He’s been wealthy since he was 17 years old, and so he’s very removed from normal decision-making. He’s not a dumb guy, but his brain functions on the right side, not the left. He never thought about a budget. The mentality was ‘that’s what houses, cars, diamonds, jets cost,’ and he was ‘get it, get it, get it.’”

In 2008, Forbes reported that Cage had run into trouble with the IRS for allegedly using his production company to write off $3.3 million in personal expenses, including “limos, meals, gifts, travel, and his Gulfstream.” Sam Levin, his money manager at the time, told the magazine such expenses were “customary” in the entertainment industry and were necessary for his security.

Cage reportedly was forced to pay back taxes of about $666,000, far less than the feds were seeking. But he fired Levin. Around the same time, Cage was putting scores of properties on the market—just as the market was crashing. In 2009, the government came after him again for his taxes, this time for more than $6 million. (The bill does not appear to have been settled yet.)

There’s no question Cage is now cutting back. In addition to the chef and the decorator, the personal trainer who worked for Cage exclusively is no longer on permanent call, two sources say. “It’s like someone put handcuffs on him,” says a former employee.

If it’s any consolation, Cage isn’t the only A-Lister to be facing leaner times. Annie Leibovitz has been battling with Art Capital Group over a $15 million loan she took out after reportedly overspending on everything from her properties to her chef and terrace gardener. Kyra Sedgwick and Kevin Bacon lost massive amounts of money after investing with Bernie Madoff. And Patricia Cornwell is suing her money manager for—what else?—mismanagement.

Still, not everyone is sympathetic to the financial situation Cage finds himself in. Says one Hollywood source who knows him socially: “He overspends on boats and jets and stupid things. And we’re now living in a time when people can’t live like that anymore. It’s a wake-up call. What do you need all that stuff for?”

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Jacob Bernstein is a senior reporter at The Daily Beast. Previously, he was a features writer at WWD and W Magazine. He has also written for New York magazine, Paper, and The Huffington Post.