EXCLUSIVE: SAG-AFTRA is holding $48 million in unclaimed residuals for more than 96,000 performers it can’t locate, many of whom die without ever knowing that the union is holding their money.
At Saturday night’s SAG Awards gala, nearly 60% of the 42 actors honored during the In Memoriam tribute were owed money when they died including David Bowie, Leonard Nimoy, Omar Sharif, Christopher Lee, Robert Loggia and Louis Jourdan. Abe Vigoda, who died last week, was also owed money. (Check out lists of some of those owed below.)
It was the same story at last year’s show, when again nearly 60% of the honored dead are owed money including Maximilian Schell, Joan Rivers, Bob Hoskins and David Brenner. (See that full list below.) And of the 41 late actors honored the year before that, more than 50% are owed unclaimed residuals today including Peter O’Toole, Jonathan Winters and Julie Harris.
Many of their heirs are easy enough to find; Deadline has located dozens of them. Nimoy’s wife, for instance, is actress Susan Bay, and his son is director Adam Nimoy, whose business manager’s phone number is listed on the DGA membership directory. Joan Rivers’ daughter Melissa is a SAG-AFTRA member whose publicist’s contact information is listed on IMDb Pro.
Residuals, it’s said, are the lifeblood of actors, and that’s especially true of those who have fallen on hard times. Actress Anita Ekberg, the star of La Dolce Vita, lived almost penniless for years before she died last January. June Fairchild, who appeared in more than a dozen films, including Pretty Maids In A Row and Thunderbolt And Lightfoot, spent the last years of her life struggling to survive on Los Angeles’ Skid Row. They were both owed unclaimed residuals, as was Francesca Hilton, the only daughter of Zsa Zsa Gabor and hotel magnate Conrad Hilton. Born to great wealth, she died flat broke in January 2014, alternately living out of her car and a low-rent weekly apartment in a rundown section of L.A.
Clearly, the union can find people it owes money to when it’s motivated to do so. In the two weeks since Deadline reported on this year’s SAG Awards nominees owed unclaimed residuals, the union has paid off many of them including Eddie Redmayne, Johnny Depp, Ty Burrell, Peter Dinklage and Carol Burnett, who received the SAG Life Achievement Award.
Since Deadline ran an unclaimed SAG residuals story 18 months ago, the union has located, paid off and cleared the books on dozens of big-name celebrities identified in the story including such mega-stars as Tom Cruise, Cate Blanchett, George Clooney and Bradley Cooper. (A longer list of such names is below.
The number of performers who are still owed money is mind-boggling, including the likes of Justin Timberlake, Seth Rogen, James Franco, Zach Galifianakis, Melissa McCarthy, and Nicole Kidman, who was seated near the front row at Saturday’s awards show.
Tens of thousands of less famous actors the union can’t locate are owed money too, which raises the question: If the union can’t find them, did they receive ballots to vote for the SAG Awards – or in the last SAG-AFTRA election?
Searching the SAG Unclaimed Residuals website, Deadline found that the union owes money to more than 96,000 performers – an average of about $495 apiece. Some have much more coming to them, some much less. Only the union knows for sure, and it doesn’t say how much any performer is owed unless they or their heirs contact the residuals department and file for their unclaimed moneys.
“At of the close of the last fiscal year, SAG-AFTRA reported unclaimed residuals of approximately $48 million held in trust for performers,” the union acknowledged in response to inquiries from Deadline. “The fund fluctuates daily due to new receipts and amounts paid out to performers. The amount represents the unclaimed residuals funds held in trust by SAG-AFTRA, which combined the former SAG Unclaimed Residuals trust and the former AFTRA Unable to Locate trust.”
The union’s residuals problem has been ongoing for years. The 2012 merger of SAG and AFTRA doesn’t seem to have helped; while performers can search the union’s website for their unclaimed SAG residuals, they still can’t do that for the unclaimed AFTRA residuals they’re owed.
The union’s website notes that “SAG-AFTRA members who have worked under AFTRA contracts may have unclaimed money waiting for them in several funds that collect and hold money for professional performers, recording artists and broadcast journalists. During the transition phase for SAG-AFTRA, searching these funds online is currently unavailable.”
The union says it’s doing the best it can. “We may be holding money in trust for ‘known’ performers for several reasons, including a bad address or as a result of mail returned for other reasons; unresolved estate issues, or an inactive or dissolved loan out corporation which may request and be pending action on the part of the member,” its website reads. “Quite often, residuals may be waiting simply for a recipient or their agent to formalize a change of address.”
The union will not, however, send residuals checks in care of their members’ agents, even if they authorize it, which could make it easier for the union to connect thousands of members with the money they’re owed. But what’s really needed to clear up the massive backlog of unclaimed residuals is more staff and greater synergy between the union’s residuals department and the dues department, which is supposed to have all members’ current information on file.
The union’s own databases contains the email addresses of tens of thousands of actors, many of whom are owed unclaimed residuals. The union allows members to pay their dues online and to vote for the SAG Awards online, which could easily be cross-referenced against the unclaimed residuals list. The union also maintains a casting database called iActor that contains contact information on thousands of actors, many of whom are owed money.
Tracking down heirs and figuring which of them is entitled to the money is a more difficult task, but this could be remedied for future and current members if they were required to name a beneficiary when joining or paying their dues.
Meanwhile, the list of performers still owed residuals from SAG-AFTRA reads like a who’s who of show business. Here is partial tally of those names, followed by a list of some of the deceased Hollywood legends who still have unclaimed residuals:
Also owed money are the estates of some of the most recognizable names in film television music and broadcasting history. The list includes:
George C. Scott
Yvonne De Carlo
Eddie “Rochester” Anderson
Among the big-name union members who have received the residuals they were owed since Deadline’s first story on the subject appeared in July 2014 are:
Mary Tyler Moore
The estate of Elizabeth Taylor
The estate of Charlton Heston
The estate of Philip Seymour Hoffman
The estate of James Gandolfini
The estate of Heath Ledger
The estate of George Burns
The estate of Ronald Reagan
And here are the performers honored in the In Memoriam portion of Saturday’s SAG Awards who are owed residuals:
From the 2015 In Memoriam owed:
Efrem Zimbalist Jr
Ann B. Davis
Mary Ann Mobley
From the 2014 In Memoriam owed:
Lee Thompson Young