Donnie Wayne Johnson is an American actor, singer and producer, known for a brilliant acting career that spans nearly six decades, beginning in the ‘70s to the present day. He’s perhaps best known for his role as James ‘Sonny’ Crockett in the classic television series “Miami Vice”, though could be more easily recognised for his most recent performance in the 2019 thriller “Knives Out”.

Don, as he is more commonly known, also played the leading role in the ‘90s television series “Nash Bridges”, and received his Hollywood Walk of Fame star in 1996, following his Emmy nomination and the Golden Globe he claimed for his work on “Miami Vice”.

Besides his television acting career, Johnson is also known for making film appearances, and his list of credits includes noteworthy titles such as “A Boy and His Dog”, “Tin Cup”, “Machete”, and “Django Unchained”.

However, despite his fame and fortune, legal issues starting as far back as 2008, have been plaguing Johnson for quite a while, eventually causing his slow financial decline. Unfortunately, Don had to file for bankruptcy over the course of this tragic period, which seemed rather rich considering that Don was previously accused of money laundering.

With such a long history of acting, singing, and now producing, people keep asking what happened to the “Nash Bridges” star’s former fortune, and how did he end up filing for bankruptcy?

What To Expect

As we search for the truth concerning Don Johnson’s financial catastrophe, we will briefly reflect on his splendid career, revisiting all the major highlights, before moving on to discuss his later life.

Following this, we dive into Johnson’s financial difficulties, and look at how the star recovered from this horrible disaster that nearly caused him to lose everything.

A Prolific Career

Born on 15 December 1949, in Flat Creek, Missouri, Don was raised by his beautician mother Nell, and his father Freddie Wayne, who was a farmer. When Don was born, his parents were relatively young, between the ages of 16 and 19, and as a result, Johnson was raised in poverty. The family moved to Wichita, Kansas when Don was six years old, where Don attended Wichita South High School, expressing an early interest in acting by partaking in numerous school stage plays.

In 1967 Johnson enrolled at the University of Kansas, enrolling as a theatre major, but dropped out after completing the first year of his study program, and subsequently moved to San Francisco, California, where he took up classes at the American Conservatory Theatre.

For the next few years, Don accepted several roles, most of which were stage productions, and would remain relatively unknown during this early stage of his acting career. One of his most notable appearances during this time was in the film “A Boy and His Dog” in 1975, which marked the beginning of his rise to fame.

However, this was also a tragic time in Don’s life, as he lost his roommate at the time – fellow actor Sal Mineo, who was murdered. Don moved on with his life in the wake of tragic events, and would continue to struggle until he made his big breakthrough in 1984.

After several film and television roles, none of which provided Johnson with the exposure all actors dream of, Don was offered the part of undercover detective Sonny Crocket in the police drama “Miami Vice”. Naturally, it was an opportunity Don could not refuse, and would prove to become the foundation of a profound acting career.

The show ran from 1984 until its cancellation in 1990, during which time it not only made Don Johnson an internationally recognised star, but the veteran actor would go on to receive a Golden Globe for his performance. He also received an Emmy nomination, and became one of the most recognisable action stars of the ‘80s.

With his career on track, Johnson took up more roles, including his iconic performance in the miniseries “The Long, Hot Summer”, and for the next half-decade from 1990, played in numerous credits decorating his impressive resume.

During this time, Don also endeavoured to launch a music career, releasing his debut album “Heartbeat”, but unfortunately Don’s musical career wasn’t as successful as his career in the film industry.

In 1996, Don was cast in the titular role of “Nash Bridges”, which would yet again become a brilliant success Don celebrated in his long career; the role made Johnson’s face synonymous with the yellow Plymouth Barracuda used in the filming of the television series.

For the next several years, Don would play the iconic lead in his most memorable production yet, until the finale of “Nash Bridges” in 2001. Sadly, for its many fans and viewers, “Nash Bridges” was taken off the air, with only reruns still available to watch. This marked the end of Don Johnson’s prolific early career.

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From 2001 onwards, Don continued to remain within the frame of the filmmaking industry, though his exceptional career wasn’t marked by any further, grandiose achievements. Among his credits of the next couple of decades, the most noteworthy include roles in the film “When In Rome”, the 2010 film “Machete”, and again in the 2012 film “Django Unchained”.

The rest of his career from 2011 to the  present day is marked by several guest roles in television series such as “Eastbound and Down”, and film appearances that include “Cold in July”, and his 2019 performance in “Knives Out”. His most recent works include playing a recurring role in the television series “Watchmen”, as well as the recent “Nash Bridges” television released film.

From Hero To Zero

While it seems clear that Don Johnson had a prolific, successful career in show business, it seems that the former “Miami Vice” actor ran out of funds early in the 2000s, a time during which Don experienced difficulties in his acting career.

According to a gossip article published around the time, the City National Bank of Los Angeles filed a lawsuit against Johnson in September 2003, claiming that Don owed the bank nearly a million dollars and $30,000 in legal fees. The bank’s claims were passed by a Los Angeles County Judge, and Johnson was held accountable for the payment, but it seemed that he was unable to cough up the money.

As a result, Johnson filed for bankruptcy in July 2004, hoping to protect his Woody Creek Ranch and keep it from being auctioned to cover his debt. Don bought the ranch from Terry Butcher, a famous socialite of the ‘80s, in 1987, and spent many years investing in its future.

Though highly publicised and talked about in the 2000s, it was nonetheless sad to witness the decline of the former television action star, especially considering that Don once possessed enough wealth to be suspected of money laundering.

In 2002, German-Swiss border patrols detained Don, and his entourage of potential investors, after $8 billion worth of paperwork was found in Johnson’s car, allegedly evidence in a fraud case. However, Johnson was soon after acquitted of any charges, and was released from custody. Following the events in Germany, Don returned to the US where he had to face his financial problems.

Don’s Recovery

Fortunately, Johnson was able to recover from the financial catastrophe he faced, and according to Don’s publicist Elliot Mintz, Don was able to procure new financial support, allowing him to pay off his debts and recover his life, though was only able to pay off his debt to the National City Bank of Los Angeles after his Woody Creek ranch was auctioned.

Nonetheless, Johnson was able to recover, again returning to the cameras in the years that followed. However, many fans still wonder how Don Johnson was able to pull himself out of bankruptcy.

To be honest, it seemed that things weren’t as simple for Johnson, as he had to face more legal trials before he could continue with his life. In 2010, Johnson filed a lawsuit against the production company Rysher Entertainment, which was greatly responsible for the creation of “Nash Bridges”, claiming that he was owed nearly $24 million in shared profits, as Don owned half of the copyright claims to “Nash Bridges”. In July 2010, Johnson was awarded the compensation he claimed by a Los Angeles jury, though Rysher Entertainment stated that they would appeal the decision. In 2013, Rysher settled the dispute outside of court, agreeing to pay Don Johnson $19 million of the money he claimed.

Thus, Johnson’s money dilemma seems to have come to a positive end, and the actor can go on to retire, perhaps a little more peacefuly.


Rags to riches stories always hold an entertaining hook that people can’t pass up, though when it happens to you, and one dives again from riches to rags, it might not seem as enjoyable. However, when it happens to an action actor many people idolise, such events make Hollywood stars almost seem human.

Although the circumstances surrounding veteran actor Don Johnson’s bankruptcy claims happened some time ago, and still seem shrouded in a little mystery, it’s nonetheless good and heartwarming to see them recover from their difficulties.

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