Bill Gates, chief of software giant Microsoft Corp., topped the list of the richest Americans for the fifth year in a row, Forbes magazine said in its annual listing of the Forbes 400.
In June, the magazine reported that Gates, then worth $51 billion, had become the richest man in the world, including heads of state. The sultan of Brunei, an oil-rich country that shares the island of Borneo with Malaysia and Indonesia, was then estimated to control wealth of $36 billion.
Investor Warren Buffett's net worth was No. 2 on the domestic list, at $29.4 billion. His fortune was valued at $33 billion in June. Buffett's wealth is linked to the value of several blue-chip stocks that have fallen in value more steeply than Gates' Microsoft has in the last few months.
Of the top 10 on Forbes' list, all but two of the members earned their wealth from just two companies: Microsoft and Wal-Mart.
Gates' fortune probably peaked between $60 and $70 billion in July, but the magazine said the recent stock market decline, including the 512-point drop on Aug. 31, puts Gates' net worth at $58.4 billion now.
Forbes said the stock market drop pushed many potential billionaires off the list of the country's 400 richest individuals, but there are still 189 billionaires in the United States this year, up from 170 on last fall's U.S. list.
The average net worth of the Forbes 400 is $1.8 billion. Among list members in their 60s, the average net worth is $1.7 billion. Among list members in their 40s, the average is $3.2 billion.
Only 58 members of the list are women.
The magazine said 75 members of the Forbes 400 got their wealth from finance and investments; 64 members got theirs from media and entertainment; 38 from software and technology; 27 from real estate and 27 from oil and gas.
In all, 171 members inherited at least some of their wealth.
New to this year's list are Jeff Bezos, founder of online bookseller Amazon.com, worth $1.6 billion, and Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner, producers of television hits "Cosby," "Roseanne" and "3rd Rock From the Sun," each worth $600 million.
Two other Microsoft executives are among the top 50. Paul Allen is No. 3, worth $22 billion, and Steven Ballmer is No. 5, worth $12 billion.
Michael Dell, the owner of Dell Computer Corp., is No. 4 on the list, worth $13 billion. Dell, 33, is also one of the youngest among the Forbes 400.
One of the oldest on the list is Irene Wells Pennington, 99, of Baton Rouge, La., whose $600-million net worth is attributed to oil.
Among the entertainment world, director Steven Spielberg is worth $1.6 billion, director George Lucas is worth $2 billion, talk show host and actress Oprah Winfrey is worth $675 million, and Walt Disney Co. Chairman Michael Eisner is worth $710 million.
Most of the nation's 400 richest individuals live in California, with 90. New York is second with 51, followed by Texas, 30; Pennsylvania, 16; Massachusetts, 15; Michigan, 15; and Florida, 14.
Among those who fell from billionaire to megamillionaire status in Forbes' accounting: Computer Associates Chairman Charles Wang ($975 million); Walt Disney Vice Chairman and founder's nephew Roy Disney ($900 million); and the founders of the Yahoo Web site, David Filo ($840 million) and Jerry Yang ($830 million).
Moving up fastest on the list was Viacom chief Sumner Redstone ($6.4 billion), who leaped to 15th in the rankings from 37th, as the owner of Paramount Pictures, MTV and Blockbuster Video was rewarded by Wall Street.
On the downside, several big names tumbled down the list along with the market price of their companies, including Oracle Chairman Larry Ellison ($4.9 billion), who slid from fourth to 23rd, and Nike chief Philip Knight ($3.5 billion), who dropped from 17th to 36th.
Among those who fell off Forbes' roster this year are Netscape founder James Clark and chicken maven Frank Perdue.
In all, the combined net worth of the Forbes 400 is $738 billion, up from $624 billion in 1997 and $92 billion in 1982, the first year of the rankings.
FULL LIST ON WEB
The Forbes list, sorted three ways, is at http://www.latimes .com/forbes400.