In 1977, Ken Proxmire was the lucky recipient of the $1 million (£614k) Michigan State Lottery jackpot, and he opted to receive his windfall in annual instalments of $50,000 (£31k) for the next 14 years. Proxmire jumped in at the deep end of the millionaire’s lifestyle and treated himself and his family to a house in California, a new car and his own pool parlour. But the businessman expanded his new venture too quickly and, fuelled by lavish spending and mounting debt, it was the catalyst to his high life collapsing into bankruptcy. Proxmire’s advice for future lottery winners? “Crawl into a hole and pull the top in,” according to an interview with The New York Times.
Denise Rossi and her husband Thomas had been happily married for 25 years, or so he thought, when Denise suddenly filed for divorce in January 1997. Two years later, Thomas mistakenly received a letter addressed to his ex-wife from a company that pays lump sums to lottery winners. After getting a court injunction, he discovered that Denise had won $1.3 million (£800k) just 11 days before she filed for divorce. Under California law, Thomas should have been entitled to 50% of his wife's wealth as part of the divorce settlement. He took Denise to court and, to punish her for her concealement, a judge ordered her to pay not half, but all her winnings to her ex-husband.
Just two years after landing a $3.1 million (£1.8m) jackpot in Michigan’s Super Lotto draw in 1989, a penniless Willie Hurt was accused of killing a woman in a drug-related altercation. Hurt’s lawyer told the press that the millionaire had spent his riches, and that he was going to court on open murder charges after a 30-year-old woman was found to have been shot in the head. It’s unclear if Hurt did wind up in jail, but at the time officials confirmed that a conviction wouldn’t stop his 20 annual lottery payments of $156,000 (£90k).
This British couple not only blew their multimillion-pound lottery win, but also saw their marriage collapse as a result. Lara and Roger Griffiths fully embraced the luxury lifestyle after their £1.8 million ($3.5m) windfall in 2005, but raucous spending and bad investments quickly caused disharmony between the pair. The Griffiths’ 14-year marriage came to an end when Roger moved out, and a week later he revealed that their fortune was all but gone. In 2013 he told The Sun newspaper he had just £7 ($10.50) to his name, while Lara was surviving on financial support from her mother.
Evelyn Basehore seemed like the luckiest woman in the world when she won the lottery not once but twice in the mid-1980s, netting her a total of $5.4 million (£3.6m) in the space of four months. The New Jersey resident hoped to keep up her lucky streak when she spent the lion’s share of her cash on gambling, but the habit left her broke and living in a trailer park, working two jobs to get by. Basehore held out hopes for another win though, and in 2016 it was reported by NBC News that she was still buying lottery tickets.
Londoner Lee Ryan was awaiting trial for handling stolen vehicles when he walked away with a £6.5 million ($10.3m) win on the UK National Lottery in 1995. The convicted criminal, who had previously served three years in prison for car theft and was jailed again in late 1995 for the same crime, spent like crazy when he was finally released. Ryan left his wife and moved to Kyrgyzstan with a new girlfriend in the mid-2000s and was duped out of the rest of his winnings. By 2010, the money had all but vanished, Ryan returned to London and the "Lotto Lag", as he was nicknamed by the UK press, spent two years sleeping on the streets.
Bryan Magee from Derry, Northern Ireland nabbed a spot on the Sunday Times Top 100 Rich List for young people when he won £6.4 million ($12.7m) via the UK National Lottery in February 2008. But his affluence was short-lived. Magee lost a fortune when his business crashed in 2013, and eventually had to put the home he bought with his winnings up for sale to help pay off his creditors.
Home Depot worker Bill Bob Harrell, Jr. was quick to quit his job at the hardware store in 1997 when he landed a $31 million (£19m) Texas Lottery Lotto jackpot. Harrell was charitable with his millions and purchased homes for himself and family members, and donated generously to his local church. But the do-gooder’s eagerness to help others was ultimately his downfall. A mere 20 months after winning the enormous sum, Harrell was left broke and tragically decided to take his own life. Just before his death Harrell reportedly said to his financial adviser: “Winning the lottery is the worst thing that ever happened to me.”
In 2002, construction boss Andrew 'Jack' Whittaker was already worth $17 million (£12.5m) when he won a whopping $113 million (£79.5m) after taxes on the Powerball multi-state lottery. Unlike other people on this list, Whittaker was no stranger to managing a multimillion-dollar bank balance and began organising extravagent donations and investments. But luck wasn't on his side for long. The Virginia native claims he was robbed multiple times in the early 2000s and three of his family members tragically died in just five years. As his personal life spun out of control, Whittaker failed to pay his debts and declared bankruptcy by 2007. According to TIME, he told reporters that he wished he'd torn his ticket up.
Read more: the stolen treasures waiting to be recovered