"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 21 April 2000. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Glitz, glamor, fancy dining — the life of a celebrity offers such acute pleasures that most of the time it seems that the feet of our notables never touch the earth. But once in a while, an event comes along that reminds us how tenuous is the cocoon of majesty, and how human our most famous citizens truly are.

The failure of The Cassandra Group is such an event.

Managed by Dana Giacchetto, the celebrated money manager to the stars, The Cassandra Group spent most of the 1990s handling the considerable investments of today's most bankable stars. From north-of-the-border hitmakers like Alanis Morissette to acclaimed fine artists like David Salle to beloved hunks like Tobey Maguire and Leonardo DiCaprio, Giacchetto handled some of the most high-profile finances of the decade. In recent months, however, it began to appear that Giacchetto was helping himself to much of this celebrity fortune, and keeping the luminaries at bay with an elaborate pyramid system of borrowing from Peter to pay Paul — using money from Phish's retirement fund, for example, to pay a quarter-million debt to Frankensteinian comic actor Ben Stiller, or filling the palm of one-note guitarist/actor Miami Steve Van Zandt with money jerked from several actors and high-profile magazine editors. In the end, some of the stars broke even, some lost small fortunes.

But in a more important sense, we all lost.

Because a threat to the financial sovereignty of our celebrities is a threat to the foundations of modern America. It's a sick society that leaves its homeless to starve in the street. But only a society in grave moral peril would allow its show business icons to go hungry.

With our best and brightest headed for the fiscal crapper, the financial community has been coming under increasing public pressure to organize a celebrity bailout similar to the rescue package for Long Term Capital Management in 1998, or the great savings and loan bailout of the 1980s. There may still be time to rescue our cultural heroes, and stave off the long national nightmare of celebrity insolvency.

But these are not just ordinary savings at stake here, and we can't expect just any old banker in a smelly T-shirt to handle the finances of our brightest luminaries. Who has both the financial know-how and the charisma to bail out America's superstars?


Next: Celebrity jeopardy