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Riches to Rags

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Princess on the steeple and all the pretty people

They're all drinkin', thinkin' that they got it made

Exchanging all precious gifts

But you'd better take your diamond ring, you'd better pawn it babe

You used to be so amused

At Napoleon in rags and the language that he used

Go to him now, he calls you, you can't refuse

When you ain't got nothing, you got nothing to lose

You're invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal
Bob Dylan - "Like a Rolling Stone"

We're all familiar with the story of the young man or woman with absolutely nothing who worked hard to make enough money to open that business, and now have it all. The overall tale behind Bill Gates' rise to multi-billionaire is one of these; he started building computers in his garage, and now has one of the largest computer empires in the world.

This trope is the exact opposite of that; it's the story of someone who used to have everything, and now finds themselves with nothing.

If the character is from the most blue in hue of bloods, they may be an Impoverished Patrician. If the character continues on as they did when they were rich, they may be a Princess in Rags. If the character stops being an Alpha Bitch and is revealed to be insecure or to have other sympathetic traits that make the audience like her, this might be a Fallen Princess.

Examples of Riches to Rags include:


Comic Books Edit

Film (Animated) Edit

Film (Live Action) Edit

  • Trading Places does this twice: first to Louis Whinthorpe (Dan Aykroyd) as a result of a bet between Randolf and his brother, Mortimer, who wagered he could put Louis in the poor house, reducing him from an upstanding, respectable businessman, to a dreg of society. While, at the same time, take Valentine (Eddie Murphy) off the streets and make him a reputable businessman, in a month's time. The real kicker: the bet was for one dollar, made on a whim, for no other reason than to satisfy their own curiosity.
  • The movie Maid To Order explores this with a spoiled rich girl stripped of her wealth and identity by a Fairy Godmother, forced to work as a maid in a rich household and learn the value of something.
  • Steve Martin's The Jerk goes the full circle from Rags to Riches back to rags. Martin's character invents a grip handle for glasses that becomes all the rage, amassing him a fortune. A fortune he loses when his company is sued after it's discovered the handle causes people to go permanently cross-eyed.

Literature Edit

  • Sister Carrie: Over the course of the novel, the rich and socially elite George W. Hurstwood gradually loses his status, his money, falls into gambling, and finally becomes homeless and commits suicide.

Live Action TV Edit

  • Cordelia in Buffy the Vampire Slayer when her father loses all his money.
  • Caroline on Two Broke Girls is the daughter of a Bernie Maddoff Expy. She used to live in a mansion, have fancy clothes and owned a horse. At the start of the series she has no money and is homeless. But she still has a horse.
  • There's an unusual version of this on Downton Abbey with Sybil, who is forced to give up her privileged life as a noble's daughter when she marries Branson, the chauffeur. However, she actually welcomes the change, as she is a Rebellious Lady who disliked being waited on hand-and-foot and had previous experience working as a nurse during the war and learned how to cook from the servants.

Music Edit

 Your old man took her diamonds / And tiaras, by the score / Now she gets her kicks in Stepney / Not in Knightsbridge anymore

  • This is a common plot in opera, where the fall usually comes about as a punishment for women sleeping around. Examples include La Traviata and Manon (in the latter, the woman starts out as a commoner and becomes a rich mistress of a noble, but then falls toward poverty again when she cheats on said noble with her true love).

Western Animation Edit

  • Zander Crews in the opening episodes of the second season of Frisky Dingo - he's gone from the head of a company with billions of dollars to living in a refrigerator box.
  • The Simpsons: when Homer visits his Long Lost Brother Herb, who is the head of a Detroit car company, Homer ruins Herb by designing a terrible car. A later episode has him regain his fortune (with the help of an investment from Homer).

 Kent Brockman: Excuse me, Mr. Burns, now that you're completely ruined, how do you feel?

Burns: Excellent. I'm on my way back to the top! I've turned these cans into can-dos!

Brockman: Well, you smell terrible -- Good luck to you, sir.

Real Life Edit

  • Mike Tyson had earned over $300 million during his career as a boxer but had to file for bankruptcy, thanks to his colourful variety of debts including $13.4 million to the IRS and a $9 million divorce settlement to his ex-wife, Monica Turner. From 1995 to 1997, he spent $9 million in legal fees, $230,000 on pagers and cellphones, and $410,000 on a birthday party. In June 2002, he owed $8,100 to care for his tigers and $65,000 for limos.

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