$150K for a Pet Octopus?! Why Stars' Spending Can Spin So Out of Control

Illustration by Zohar Lazar

"Eight of 10 times, Hollywood hasn’t done this to people. Parents have," say top Hollywood psychologists, who also argue that splurging is "motivated by wanting love."

The same year that Nicolas Cage outbid Leonardo DiCaprio for a $276,000 tyrannosaur skull, he also bought three homes, nine Rolls-Royces and 47 pieces of art. (Losing bidder DiCaprio, meanwhile, contacted the commercial paleontologist and ordered up another skull.) Since then, Cage, who reportedly blew through $150 million, and Johnny Depp, who apparently mislaid $650 million, have become bywords for financial ruin. Depp bought 14 houses worth $75 million, while environment-lover DiCaprio went for a $150,000 pet octopus.

"This runaway spending is more common than anyone realizes. It happens just as frequently as drugs and alcohol; in L.A., it happens all the time," says Mari Murao, a Beverly Hills- and Topanga-based shrink who treats stars for bad buying habits that often "arise from childhoods where they haven't been supported with healthy coping skills." Overspending is "motivated by wanting love and attention."

Recently, a patient — a working actress since her teenage years — told Murao that “it’s a known fact that people in this industry usually stay the emotional age they were when they became famous.” The cure can be part of the problem, adds Murao: "When someone makes it, they get a good financial manager to handle everything," which can be infantilizing. 

L.A. psychiatrist Charles Sophy, whose caseload includes stars who have dug themselves into a hole, begs to differ: He takes meetings with financial managers "all the time. You get another perspective for what's driving the spending. Sometimes they assume the big money will keep flowing." Men tend to be more impulsive with money than women. And for many Hollywood couples, financial mismanagement "is the start of the road where they end up splitting.”

A drastic change in income can lead to the temptation to "scale everything up,” says Kristin Lee, founder of business management firm KLBM, which looks after the books of many Hollywooders and sees "the ebb and flow of it all. I feel like I’m the bearer of bad news, but it’s necessary."

Sophy holds that excessive splurging is "the symptom of a deeper problem, a feeling of inadequacy … entwined with anxiety and addiction that date to earlier in life; eight out of 10 times, Hollywood doesn't do this to people. Here, though, there is a strong drive to keep up and show off with wow factors.” 

Professor emeritus at USC and current USC Credit Union chairman Jerry Jellison stresses that not much research exists on compulsive consumption among the wealthy but says that "overspending can reflect the fantasy of a better life, and actors are very comfortable with fantasy — their job routinely has them living in another reality, portraying another person. It's performance, and you can buy into it."

A version of this story first appeared in the Oct. 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.