Sure the recession hurt some of America's wealthiest people. But most just keep getting richer.
Septuagenarian entertainment mogul John Werner Kluge is worth more than any other American for the third straight year. But thirtysomething computer whiz Bill Gates is closing the gap, Forbes magazine said in its 10th annual ranking of the richest.
The net worth of the 400 wealthiest Americans, including 75 Californians, hit $288 billion--the highest ever recorded by Forbes--despite a recession that the unabashedly capitalist magazine contended hurt billionaires as well as blue-collar workers.
Prominent Californians on the list are Hewlett-Packard founder David Packard, $1.7 billion; Bel Air investor David H. Murdock, $1.35 billion; San Francisco engineer Stephen D. Bechtel Jr., $1.3 billion; Beverly Hills oilman Marvin H. Davis, $1.3 billion, and Newport Beach developer Donald L. Bren, $1.1 billion.
The magazine said financier Michael Milken's criminal guilty plea didn't erase his junk-bond-driven fortune. He's "making about 30 cents an hour at prison labor, to add to net worth estimated over $700 million," Forbes said.
The recession did make ex-moguls of some on the list last year, mostly those in real estate, where values have dropped and vacancies skyrocketed, Forbes said Sunday.
But don't shed tears. A record 71 billionaires populate the list, up from 66 last year and 13 in the magazine's first ranking in 1982.
Forty-seven names were dropped this year. Six died, including Sen. John Heinz III, who was killed in a plane crash, and CBS tycoon William S. Paley. Fifty-eight of the 400 are women. The list's average age is 64.
While some fortunes dwindled, only one truly household name left the list: chicken man Frank Perdue. Forbes said he slipped because it had overestimated his wealth.
The fortune of Kluge, a 77-year-old German immigrant who founded Metromedia Co. was up $300 million from last year to an estimated $5.9 billion.
No. 2 is William Henry Gates III, 35, the Harvard dropout who in 1975 formed Microsoft, the software giant. His estimated worth is $4.8 billion. Last year, he ranked 16th with $2.5 billion.
Gates replaces Warren Buffett, the Nebraska investor who was tapped to clean up scandal-tainted Salomon Inc. Buffett's estimated stock-market fortune grew to $4.2 billion from $3.3 billion, but he slipped to eighth on the list.
Ahead of him in places 3 through 7 are Wal-Mart Stores Inc. founder Sam Moore Walton and his family. Walton divided his wealth equally among himself and his four children. Each is estimated to be worth $4.4 billion, including his son, John T. Walton of San Diego.
Next are industrialist Henry Lea Hillman, $3.3 billion; Amway Corp. partners Richard Marvin DeVos and Jay Van Andel, $2.9 billion each; and publishing brothers Samuel I. Newhouse Jr. and Donald E. Newhouse, $2.8 billion apiece.