David Niven was a popular British actor and author best known for his roles in films like Around the World in 80 Days and Separate Tables, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor.
Even decades after his passing, many people remain curious about David Niven’s enduring fame and wealth. What was his net worth at the height of his career? How much is his estate still worth today? This article will explore David Niven’s net worth over the years and assess what we know about the value of his estate since his death.
What was David Niven’s peak net worth?
During his acting career at its height, it’s estimated that David Niven had amassed a personal net worth equivalent to about $100 million in today’s dollars. He was consistently one of the highest paid leading men in Hollywood in the 1950s and 60s. Some of his most financially successful films included:
- Around the World in 80 Days (1956) – Made $42 million at the box office
- Separate Tables (1958) – Niven won Best Actor Oscar
- Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (1960) – Made $20 million
- 55 Days at Peking (1963) – Made $17 million
- Murder by Death (1976) – His second last major film
Niven commanded big salaries during this part of his career as a bankable star. It’s estimated he could earn as much as $750,000 per movie role in the 1960s, equivalent to around $6 million today.
Table 1: David Niven’s Peak Movie Earnings
|Adjusted Box Office Earnings
|Niven’s Estimated Salary
|Niven’s Salary Today
|Around the World in 80 Days
|Please Don’t Eat the Daisies
In addition to acting income, Niven also earned money from real estate and other investments, as well as from book sales. His best-selling autobiographies added to his wealth.
How did David Niven earn his wealth?
David Niven accumulated his wealth in a few key ways:
- Film career earnings – As a top Hollywood leading man, Niven was very well compensated. He could command six- and seven-figure salaries at his peak.
- Investments – He invested some of his earnings into stocks, bonds and real estate over the years.
- Writing books – Niven wrote three memoirs that were popular best-sellers and earned him royalty income.
Even though he stepped away from acting in the early 1970s, the money he had already earned and invested allowed his net worth to remain substantial up through his passing in 1983 at the age of 73.
Did David Niven come from money?
No, David Niven did not come from a rich family by any means. In fact, he had quite a humble upbringing. Niven was born in London in 1910. His father was killed in battle during World War I when Niven was just five years old. His mother later remarried a British army captain who did not get along well with young Niven.
He attended Royal Military College as a teen but had an undisciplined style that led to his eventual dismissal. With no financial support outside of his military roles, Niven had very modest means in his early adult years.
It wasn’t until he broke into acting in the mid-1930s that he began earning larger sums. Over the next decades, he became very wealthy as his career took off. So while he wasn’t born into money, he died a very wealthy man through his self-made acting career.
How much was David Niven’s net worth when he died?
It’s estimated that David Niven had a net worth of approximately $90 million at the time of his death in 1983. This is the equivalent of about $250 million in 2023 accounting for inflation.
The bulk of his net worth at that time stemmed from:
- The portfolio of investments he had accumulated
- Proceeds from book sales
- Continued royalties from his movies and films still being shown on TV, etc.
Additionally, Niven still had very valuable physical assets like his chalet home in Switzerland that would later be sold by this estate for millions.
So while he had largely stepped back from his acting career about a decade before he died, Niven remained very wealthy from his half a century of work in the movie business plus savvy investments that allowed his fortune to continue accumulating.
What happened to David Niven’s wealth and estate after he died?
When David Niven died in 1983, he left behind a sizable estate that needed to be managed and distributed by his heirs. Here is what became of his wealth and belongings after his death:
- Estate valued over $10 million initially: After probate and taxes, his estate was valued at approximately $10 million according to early media reports. That’s the equivalent of over $27 million today.
- Went primarily to second wife Hjördis: The bulk of Niven’s estate was inherited by his second wife, Swedish model Hjördis Tersmeden, who he was married to from 1948 until his death in 1983. This included the chalet in Switzerland, investments and other properties.
- Chalet sold for $6.2 million in 1987: Four years after Niven’s death, Hjördis sold their famous Swiss chalet retreat for what was then a very large sum of $6.2 million in 1987. This is equal to over $15 million currently.
- Art collection auctioned for $3.2 million in 1994: Hjördis organized an auction of David Niven’s extensive art collection through Sotheby’s eleven years after his passing. The July 1994 auction brought in over $3 million.
- Remaining estate split after Hjördis died in 1997: When Hjördis passed away in 1997, what was left of David Niven’s estate was then divided between his two adopted daughters from his first marriage, Kristina and Fiona. This still included substantial financial assets and valuable personal items like his Oscar statue, Golden Globe awards, etc.
So while chunks of David Niven’s estate were sold off for sizeable sums per his widow’s wishes in the decade or so following his death, the remainder was still quite valuable and was passed to his adult daughters who maintain his legacy today.
Is David Niven’s estate still worth money today?
Yes, it is estimated that David Niven’s daughters Kristina Niven and Fiona Lacy, as managers of his estate, together still inherit assets and royalties valued in the millions of dollars range.
Some of the ongoing income they earn from the estate through licenses, royalties, likeness rights and more includes:
- Film/TV royalties: His movies are now considered cinema classics and still often replayed on television, earning annual licensing fees.
- Book sales: Niven’s best-selling memoirs like The Moon is a Balloon still sell briskly and generate royalty checks for rights holders.
- Commercial licensing: His name, voice and likeness are licensed by the estate for use in select commercial products.
- Memorabilia valuations: There is a high market value for David Niven memorabilia like awards, costumes and personal items. Portions of these are sold and displayed publicly in museums which also generate income for his heirs.
While many of David Niven’s tangible assets were gradually sold off over the years since his widow Hjördis passed away in 1997, his daughters jointly benefit from the remaining value of his estate through careful estate planning and management that keeps their famous father’s legacy financially lucrative decades later.
Was David Niven’s net worth on par with his Golden Age peers?
Yes, although David Niven was not necessarily the wealthiest leading man of Hollywood’s Golden Age, his peak personal net worth of around $100 million was very comparable to many of his famous peers during the era.
For example, fellow Best Actor Oscar winner and leading man Charlton Heston, known for epic films like Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments, also had an estate estimated to be worth around $100 million at its height. Other contemporary male stars like Cary Grant, Gary Cooper and Gregory Peck also had reported fortunes in the nine-figures range at their career pinnacles.
So while the absolute wealthiest Golden Age actors, like John Wayne, eventually built net worths in excess of $250-500 million, David Niven was solidly in the second tier as a $100 million star – but one who often lived more modestly than many of his flamboyant contemporaries.
Table 2: Net Worth Comparison of Golden Age Stars
|Peak Net Worth Estimate
An advantage Niven had was his more lavish European lifestyle for many years compared to peers based in the U.S. By maintaining Swiss residency, for example, he also benefited from more favorable tax treatment than those facing America’s high income tax rates back then.
But while he lived comfortably, Niven did not feel the need to flaunt extraordinary wealth through lavish spending the way some fellow stars did. He put more of his earnings toward shrewd investments that allowed his wealth to steadily build even during his later years when he was no longer acting much.
Did David Niven lose money from ill-advised financial decisions?
No, there is no evidence that David Niven frittered away or lost substantial money due to poor financial judgment over the course of his life. In fact, he appeared to be a prudent investor and manager of his income based on what we know.
Rather than overextend himself or indulge in extremely extravagant purchases on depreciating assets, he seemed to prefer putting funds into assets likely to grow in value like real estate and securities. Some savvy financial moves that helped grow his wealth included:
- Purchasing rental properties: He bought apartments early on that generated rental income and price appreciation over time.
- Maintaining overseas residency: Establishing primary residency in Switzerland gave tax advantages compared to living solely in the U.S.
- Investing in bonds: He favored conservative bonds for steady interest over riskier stocks according to his memoirs. This still grew his portfolio.
- Leaving the Hollywood scene early: By retiring from major acting roles by his early 60s, he avoided career fading that hurt others’ finances.
- Writing best-selling books: His memoirs were very popular worldwide bestsellers, earning substantial royalties.
So while Niven certainly lived well thanks to his acting success, there are no stories of him squandering money on gambling, poor business deals or otherwise making unwise financial choices that eroded his personal wealth. This enabled his net worth to continue steadily increasing right up until the time of his death.
What level of wealth did David Niven’s children inherit?
It appears David Niven’s two daughters from his first marriage and his two sons from his second marriage all inherited relatively modest wealth after his estate was finally settled and taxes were paid. While the amounts left to his children have not been publicly confirmed, what is known suggests they received bequests in the low millions range apiece.
Niven remained married to his second wife Hjördis until his death in 1983. It seems the majority of his estate, including the chalet in Switzerland and other substantial foreign assets, were inherited solely by her according to standard spousal rights. Hjördis then controlled disposition of the estate until her own death 14 years later.
Upon her death in 1997, his surviving children likely divided what remained of David Niven’s net wealth. Given the 1987 chalet sale and 1994 auction that liquidated a significant portion of tangible assets just a decade after his death, the remaining estate value was far below the initial $100 million-plus appraisal at the time he died. But his four children did finally get to share in portions of his wealth after Hjördis passed. Each is said to have received around $5 million or so.
While that may still seem a sizable inheritance, it is modest compared to the scale of celebrity estates left these days. And the majority went to fulfilling his widow Hjördis’ wishes first – a reminder of prudent estate planning so personal finances are handled as intended!
David Niven Quotes About Money
Despite managing to accrue a vast multi-million dollar fortune that grew steadily through most of his adulthood thanks to prudent investing, David Niven didn’t seem particularly showy about money matters. He had some witty perspectives on wealth though, as captured by a few of his most famous quotes:
“It’s not what you play, it’s how you play it.”
This was Niven’s mantra in his acting career and seemingly in his financial life too – focusing more on steady accumulation than flashy displays of wealth.
“I make no pretense to being ‘a man of the people’ – no actor is that.”
He was self-aware that his elite Hollywood status gave him access to wealth most would never dream of…and felt no need to apologize for it!
“I think I have a very good idea why it was so easy for me to get divorced three times. I’m just not a very easy man to be married to.”
In the end, he felt his personal qualities – not riches or fame – played some role in why his marriages ultimately failed.
So in many ways David Niven saw money as a means to an end – enabling comfort and security. But it was not the prime focus in life and could not ‘buy’ happiness if other qualities were lacking.
In summary, David Niven reached peak fame as an actor in the 1950s through early 1960s. During these years he also amassed his sizeable multi-million dollar personal net worth. By investing wisely and avoiding extravagant splurges that could erode fortunes, his wealth continued growing.
Upon his death in 1983, his estate was valued at around $100 million in total (equivalent to $250+ million today). The majority went to his wife Hjördis, who controlled the fortune until her own death in 1997. Their children inherited what remained, likely a few million each.
While fortunes of this scale may seem commonplace among today’s entertainers and celebrities, David Niven’s net worth was right on par with the lead actors of Hollywood’s Golden Age like Cary Grant and Gregory Peck. Though he lived comfortably, Niven kept a reasonably modest lifestyle compared to some flashier contemporaries. He will always be remembered as the consummate gentlemanly star – right down to his pragmatic perspective on money management.
Frequently Asked Questions
Did David Niven lose his money?
No, there is no evidence David Niven ever lost significant portions of his wealth at any point. He invested prudently and avoided risky decisions that could erode his high net worth over his lifetime.
How much is David Niven’s estate worth today?
It is estimated his heirs still jointly inherit assets and royalties producing millions in annual income related to David Niven’s legacy decades after his passing, though exact current dollar totals are undisclosed.
Where did David Niven live later in life?
He primarily lived in a famous chalet in Switzerland he purchased in the 1960s up until his death in 1983, with his wife Hjördis. She resided there another 14 years until she passed away after selling it in 1987.
Did David Niven have any financial problems?
He does not appear to have had any serious money problems or financial strains, even in his later years after stepping back from acting. Wise investing gave him lasting security.
How much was David Niven paid for his films?
At his career peak in the 1950s and early 1960s, Niven earned between $500,000 to $750,000 per movie role which today would equal several million dollars per film. He commanded high salaries as a top box office draw then.