Celeb Marriage Left Her $4M in Debt

divorce 15BG Note: This is a very long article.

[MSN Money] I will never forget the moment that my soon-to-be ex-husband and I sat in our mediator’s office as he illustrated our finances on a chalkboard.

“There really aren’t any assets,” he told us. But there was $4 million of debt — from bad investments, lawsuits and failed business deals that I knew nothing about.

I left the room sobbing, feeling like I’d been punched in the stomach. How could I not have known that we owed so much? How — over the 14 years that we’d been together, and through the birth of two sons — had I been so unaware?

I met my ex-husband when I was just 25 years old. He walked into a New York City gallery where I was working, and I recognized him immediately: He was a famous comedian (I can’t disclose his name for legal reasons) who was then at the peak of his career.

My life changed overnight: We went hot-air ballooning in Italy, on a safari in Africa and out every night in his limousine for extravagant dinners. You name it, we did it. And when he decided to move to Aspen a few years into our relationship, I gave up my job to join him.

But our romance had one caveat: I would never have a say in the finances. Since I believed we would be forever, it was never an issue. Plus, he didn’t handle the money, either. His businesspeople did, while he spent whatever he pleased. He had monthly meetings with his business manager, who’d offer advice, but then my ex would just go down his own path. He refused to listen to anything about saving or budgeting, figuring that since he was earning the money, no one was going to tell him what to do with it.

We didn’t marry for 12 years, but as soon as we did, things began to go south — primarily because of finances.

My ex had extreme control issues around money that stemmed from a rough childhood. His parents were poor, and he helped to support them from a young age. Because of this, he always needed to “feel rich.” For him, this meant eating out constantly and carrying around rolls of $100 bills. On a trip to Florence, he once took me into a high-end clothing store and said, “You have 15 minutes to get anything you want.” I remember standing in the dressing room as a clerk threw clothing over the door for me to try on as fast as possible.

As my ex-husband got older, his career started to level off — he was headlining fewer shows and bringing in less money. We’d scaled back the way we lived to some degree, but then the credit cards started being declined. I’d call our business manager and hear things like, “Hopefully there will be money next month.”

After enough of these calls, I finally woke up to the fact that I was in my late 30s — with two small children, no savings, no retirement plan and a husband whose career was clearly going downhill. I started to freak out and ask questions: How were we providing for our sons? Did we have retirement accounts? I broke the rule and insisted on being involved in our finances. Not only did he refuse to discuss it, but he also refused any kind of counseling.

When I left, he felt personally betrayed, which translated into a very contentious divorce. I got a minimal amount of child support, plus alimony for one year, since we were technically married for only two. There were no assets, and due to the unmanageable debt, both of us were urged to declare bankruptcy. Because California law splits a couple’s assets and debts 50-50, I inherited a decade’s worth of debt after just a little over a year of marriage. I remember my ex’s creditors constantly calling before I filed, looking for payments I couldn’t afford.

I went from a life of excess to saving every penny I earned from selling my own artwork. When my sons were bored, I said, “No movies, but we can make a cool fort out of cardboard boxes!”

At the same time, I was trying to recover from declaring bankruptcy. Luckily, I’d rented my new home before the filing went through. And thank goodness I also had a car because my destroyed credit made it impossible to get a loan or a credit card with a reasonable rate. I never wanted to use them again anyway. (My credit is now in the low 700’s, and it took years to build back up to that number.)

Though I had a place to live, I had no resources to furnish it — or replace all of the things that were full of memories from my marriage. I didn’t want to sleep on the sheets we’d shared, but I couldn’t afford to replace them. So I dyed them to make them look “new.”

One day, I happened to dye a piece of suede, which turned out beautiful. I borrowed $100 from my parents, bought and dyed pieces of suede from the local leather shop, and then hand-stitched them together to make shawls. When a friend who owned a shop in a mall saw them, she said, “These aren’t shawls — you’re making skirts, and I’d like two dozen for the store.”

Before I knew it, I was dressing celebrities like Farrah Fawcett and Bonnie Raitt, and selling my creations in upmarket stores in major cities, the kind of boutiques I’d shopped in when I had money.

I quickly needed a larger space to run my business, so I took $10,000 from an art sale and borrowed another $10,000 from my parents. I knew nothing about managing a business, so I brought in a partner to handle the finances — at least that’s what I thought she’d do. It had taken me only three months to get “angel investor” funding — and within 12, the money was gone. I was so busy with my creative role, on top of being a single mom, that I didn’t pay close enough attention to what my partner was doing. It was clearly my mistake.

If I had to pick a low point, this was it. My marriage was over, my business had failed, and I was completely broke. There were weeks when I was so paralyzed with fear that I couldn’t get out of bed. I couldn’t figure out how I’d messed up my life so badly.

Looking back, I know exactly how it happened: My parents never taught me about money, and while I had graduated college, I hadn’t been required to take business classes. But hitting bottom was actually a huge blessing because it made me realize something: With my life stripped down to nothing, I really had everything — my sons, my health and myself. Eventually, with emotional support from my parents and friends, I began to forgive myself.

I had finally wised up. I was on a mission for financial stability. I got a job in marketing — and got serious about budgeting.

I worked with an attorney to finally get my business accounts in order — everything from contracts to trademarks and licensing deals. More importantly, he pushed me into taking a lot of it on myself, so that I could pursue projects as a fully engaged, responsible grown-up.

I also discovered the Women’s Institute for Financial Education (WIFE). My CPA had recommended checking them out, and when I saw their slogan — “A Man Is Not a Financial Plan” — I had to know them.

Besides basics like budgeting, WIFE has taught me to plan for the future and depend on myself. I learned the hard way that you need to save, plan ahead and create a stable foundation in order to have the freedom to be entrepreneurial — and successful.

Today, my approach to money today is on steroids. I love knowing where every cent is, and I’m proud of the way I educate my kids to be financially savvy. I now have emergency funds, insurance for the future and retirement accounts. Now, instead of avoiding bills, I actually get excited when my bank statements hit my inbox.

It’s a long way from being $4 million in debt.

Comedian Husband:


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    • Bromance1979 says

      Definitely them.

      Brenner and Slater dated for 12 years and were only married for about a year. Brenner had a house in Aspen. They had two sons together. Slater is a “sculptress-turned-designer”, who designed for Bonnie Raitt.

      All clues fit!

  1. Myriam says

    Have no idea but BRAVO to this woman. Took responsibility for what happened and refused to let it swallow her up. She learned from her mistakes and became a stronger woman and mother. BRAVO.

    On the other side, F*** her comedian ex husband and partner. They will get their just, if they haven’t already.

    • Myriam says

      After a quick search in Google, I could only come up with Martin Lawrence and his wife Shamicka or Aries Spears and his wife Elisa. But Martin and Shamicka have a son AND daughter and Aries Spears have only one son together with his wife.

    • honey shoosh says

      But what did he really do to her besides stop providing her with millions of dollars to spend. She didn’t stick around to support him when the going got tough financially – she bailed. There is no talk here of abuse or cheating – just poor monetary management, which I’m sure her spending contributed to. I don’t make a habit of siding with the man – God help me – but what did this woman contribute financially to the marriage except to spend the money. Pretty sure there would have been nannies involved by the sounds of her lifestyle – this is not a stay-at-home mum. It would have been great if she had supported her husband after he supported her for all those years. He didn’t run off with a younger woman- he married the mother of his children – his long term love. What a pay-back. Granted we don’t know all the facts.

      • Elisa says

        I agree, Honey. She made a huge mistake, not just by agreeing to not be involved with the finances, but by assuming she’d be taken care of. It’s unfair to blame her poor choices and decisions on him.

  2. morecoffee says

    Andrew Dice Clay has two sons and a few divorces under his belt. Born in Brooklyn.

  3. meeshyyy says

    Longtime reader – first time poster. I’m going with Martin and Shamicka Lawrence.

  4. randijane says

    Comedian: David Brenner
    Wife: Elizabeth Slater

    Her clothing line was called Dirty Blonde Clothing, was popular in around 2004.

  5. firefly52 says

    Comedian: David Brenner
    wife: Elizabeth Bryan.
    Probably a lot more to this story! What’s his side?

  6. angelofdevs says

    Comedian Ex husband: David Brenner
    Designer Ex wife: Dirty Blonde Clothing’s Elizabeth Slater.

  7. goldieb says

    Comedian: Andrew Dice Clay.

    First wife: Kathleen Swanson.

    BI = “we were technically married for only two.” IMDb = “His first wife is Kathleen Swanson, whom he wed in 1984 and divorced in 1986.”

    Two sons.

  8. Katmandu says

    Comedian: David Brenner?

    Ex-wife: Elizabeth Slater? (married 2000-2001, two kids, divorced.)

  9. woowoo says

    Comedian husband: David Brenner
    Wife: Elizabeth Slater

    A quick look around the net shows that they dated 8 years before marrying, and were married for barely a year. They have two sons.

  10. gotit says

    Martin Lawerence. Shameeka. They have daughters but she may have changed genders to protect them.

  11. Another Blind Gossip Fan says

    Comedian Husband: Big Blank ?

    Wife: Elizabeth Bryan who went on to co-author Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings

  12. Theo6 says

    From personal knowledge, I’m guessing the comedian was Ed McMahon but I don’t know know which wife this may be.

    He was in debt up to his eyeballs when he died a few years ago. He and his family would dodge process servers trying to serve lawsuits on him because of his credit card debt. His wife would make all these promises to start paying but never did.

    • jackballjonez says

      I am cancelling my comment because its not Diceman, it clearly states they met in NY and thats not where Dice met his wife

  13. DukeGrl1 says

    Even though they have 2 daughters, everything else fits… especially when I saw this article…
    [all links must be fully explained]

  14. honey shoosh says

    Good for her that she’s finally taking responsibility for herself – but it all sounds to me like a spoiled Hollywood wife who was happy enough when the money was coming in, then bailed when it ran out. This story doesn’t make me sympathetic to her at all – I get a selfish, blame everyone else vibe from it. If I feel sorry for anyone, it’s the famous husband who married his long-term love and was abandoned when he couldn’t provide for her any-more in the manner to which he had made her accustomed. I’m not doubting that she did dye her sheets, but the reason she gave – it doesn’t ring true. Very self-serving piece. No clue who it is.

    • Booboo1068 says

      You have a good in that there always (at least) two sides to a story. I don’t know his side or if she’s being completely honest or upfront about her own part in how their lifestyle landed them in debt. Just because she didn’t know (or did she?) doesn’t mean she didn’t help contribute to the situation and fir at least not being responsible enough to ask about their finances…maybe she didn’t want to know because as you suggest she was happy as long as the lifestyle was maintained. No matter the truth (and only they know) will she admit even to herself her part in what happened and learn from it? Hope so.

      I know other men who were turned into the bad guy but if you took the time with an open mind to hear the whole story you’d see there were two adults who BOTH made mistakes.

    • giapa says

      I feel the same. Good for her for learning from her mistakes but I don’t feel sorry for people that gets married to be the pretty little wife that doesn’t have to care about money coming in. I know lots of women that just won’t get divorce from their cheating husband because they don’t want to go out and work and have a career.It’s just so sad that all they care about is having money to go on holidays and buy new handbags. I just don’t understand why they value comfort more than love.

  15. gymlife247 says

    Comedian husband – David Brenner
    Wife – Elizabeth Bryan (current last name); Elizabeth Slater maiden name
    I think they married on stage during one of his HBO specials

  16. slantrhyme says

    David Brenner’s ex-wife, Elizabeth Slater

    He also had a major custody battle with a previous ex-wife.

  17. tickytacky says

    So I’ve never heard of either David Brenner or Elizabeth Slater and googled them and came across this article on Forbes.com. It’s dated February 2013 and its word for word this BG post. The only difference is that it is penned by Elizabeth Bryan but Slater. I’m going to post the link here but in case BG removes the link just go to Forbes.com and you should find it. She’s the author if a Chicken Soup for the Soul book. http://www.forbes.com/sites/learnvest/2013/02/20/dreaming-of-a-celebrity-marriage-mine-left-me-4-million-in-debt/

  18. Ovrkyl says

    Most of the details fit David Brenner & Elizabeth Slater, except…
    She states “I got a minimal amount of child support, plus alimony for one year, since we were technically married for only two.” and refers repeatedly to her being a single mom of both sons after the divorce.
    Wikipedia’s article on David Brenner states “Brenner married Elizabeth Slater of New York, the mother of his sons Slade and Wyatt, in the closing minutes of his Live from The Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada HBO Special[7] on February 19, 2000. They got divorced a little over a year later and fought two custody battles, both of which Brenner won.” David also had won the custody battle against the mother of his oldest son (before Elizabeth), so where would he fit into her story?
    Close, but not quite.
    And it’s not Andrew Dice Clay either, as he was married to his first wife (Kathleen Swanson) for 2 years but had no kids with her, and had 2 sons with his second wife (Kathleen Monica) but was married to her for 10 years.
    I think it’s someone else entirely, or else “she” has changed details to throw off people.

  19. SeptErkie says

    Its definitely David Brenner and Elizabeth Slater. If you Google Elizabeth Bryan you can find the site where this article originally appeared and it is accompanied by her photograph. Her picture is also on several more articles around the web. Then Google David Brenner and Elizabeth Slater and go to google images. Or just google images of Elizabeth Slater. There are pictures of them together and you can see that Elizabeth Slater and Elizabeth Bryan are the same person. As a matter of fact, they got married in front of the whole world, on one of his TV specials, which is kind of ironic considering how secretive she’s trying to be about his identity now.

    Its true that they were married from 2000 to 2001, which is a little different than the two years she claims in this story, but perhaps it took a while for the divorce to be finalized or she wants to make it seem like she was married longer, so she counts 2000 and 2001 each as one year.

    As far as the fact that wiki says Brenner won custody, while she claims to have been a struggling single mother, there could be a few reasons for that. Wiki can be edited by anyone, so it could be wrong. Remember though, this article is from her point of view, so she might be wanting to make herself look better, so she’s hedging some of the facts. Maybe she had custody for a short time and in that time she didn’t get alot of child support,but she wrote the article in a way to make the reader assume she had full custody the entire time.

    From the tone of the article, it sounds like she’s trying to portray herself as this strong single woman even now, however she has been remarried for several years and has at least one more child. The reason I bring that up is to show that while she might have not told any outright lies (or she may have) she definitely wrote the article to show herself in a certain light. Anyway…as I said at the beginning…Its definitely David Brenner and Elizabeth Slater…just check out the pictures-they don’t lie.