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Monday, November 7, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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In The End, Only Creditors Talked To Nilsson

Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES - Harry Nilsson told stories through his song lyrics, whether about a dog named Arrow or how 1 is the loneliest number that you'll ever do.

As for the late singer-songwriter's own life story, it ended at Chapter 11 in the files of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Los Angeles.

The life of the maverick, hard-drinking Nilsson, who died in January of heart failure at age 52, ended in a financial morass of foreclosure notices, impatient letters from some of his 75 creditors and warnings from the Internal Revenue Service, a debacle traced to an embezzlement by his former business manager.

The charismatic Nilsson's financial difficulties, known to his friends but shielded from the public eye and scandal sheets, have only recently been played out in court.

Celebrity financial problems are nothing new, but they always seem to occur with surprising frequency given the professional advice most stars can afford.

Nilsson's financial difficulties late in life seemed light years away from the late 1960s and early 1970s when he caroused with the Beatles, graced the cover of Time magazine and achieved millionaire status before age 30, landing a $5 million record deal that at the time was among the biggest ever.

His Grammy-winning performance of Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin' " opened the movie "Midnight Cowboy," immediately setting the mood of the 1969 Oscar-winning film; the song was revived this summer in the hit film "Forrest Gump." And more than 20 years before Mariah Carey made the ballad "Without You" a hit, as she did this spring, Nilsson's from-the-gut version was a No. 1 hit.

Whereas at one time everybody seemed to be talking about Nilsson, during the 1980s nobody was. His music career stalled.

Then Nilsson was blindsided when he and other clients of business manager Cindy Sims discovered in 1991 she had been taking their money. She eventually pleaded guilty to three counts of grand theft, serving two years in state prison before being paroled this past June.

"We went to bed one night a financially secure family of eight and woke up the next morning with $300 in our checking account," Nilsson wrote in a letter filed in court.

According to Nilsson's letter, Sims even took foreclosure notices off his home so he wouldn't know. A sentencing report says Sims claimed she deceived other clients by taking money to help keep Nilsson and his company from going under, fearing that failure might lead him to suicide.

Nilsson wrote that he thought he was worth $5 million, only to find out he was virtually penniless.

"I'm scared," Nilsson wrote in the letter. "I never believed this could happen. It was my greatest fear growing up and it's still my greatest fear."

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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