The Sad Story of David Lee Edwards, the Lottery Winner Who Died Broke and Alone
Winning the lottery might sound like a fairy tale, but not all winners live happily ever after. Some winners can’t handle the abrupt lifestyle change that comes with a large windfall, and many stories turn into a rags-to-riches-to-rags-again tale. Unfortunately, the story of David Lee Edwards follows just such a pattern.
WHO IS DAVID LEE EDWARDS?
David Lee Edwards was an Ashland, Kentucky, man whose world was turned upside down by a huge Powerball lottery win. By the time he won the Kentucky Powerball jackpot in 2001, Edwards had lived a rough life and was a convicted felon. He had reportedly spent about a third of his life in jail. However, a trip to a convenience store and a $7 purchase of lotto tickets changed everything.
While accepting a ceremonial cheque in front of media, Edwards reflected happily on his win, saying it was a poor man’s dream come true. He explained how he’d done some bad things in his life but had recently turned things around and was living a happy, productive life. When asked about how he would spend his new fortune, Edwards responded that he wanted to act with humility, with the intention of securing a stable future for his then-fiancé and his daughter. However, his good intentions quickly went by the wayside.
HOW MUCH MONEY DID DAVID LEE EDWARDS WIN?
David Lee Edwards won a $27 million Powerball jackpot in August 2001 and chose to take a one-time payout. By 2006, he had lost it all. At the press conference where he accepted his cheque, Edwards said he wasn’t going to spend the prize on mansions or cars, and it seems he may have tried to follow through on this at first, as he hired a lawyer and financial adviser to help him manage his windfall. His advisor, James Gibbs, later told media that his advice could have ensured that Edwards was set for life with a monthly allotment of $85,000. However, Edwards did not follow Gibbs’s advice and spent roughly $3 million within just three months of receiving his money. He also sold off all of the bonds and stocks that Gibbs had invested for him.
WHAT DID HE DO WITH HIS MONEY?
Despite his statement at his press conference, it wasn’t long before Edwards was spending money on big-ticket luxury items. He and his wife Shawna purchased two homes, one of which was a $1.6 million, 6,000-square-foot mansion in a gated community in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. The other home came with a $600,000 price tag.
Edwards also started collecting cars, purchasing a $200,000 Lamborghini Diablo and a $90,000 Dodge Viper. He even bought his teenage daughter Tiffani a $35,000 Hummer golf cart, as she wasn’t quite old enough to drive at the time. At one point, a newspaper reported that Edwards had $1 million worth of cars sitting in his driveway. However, high-end cars weren’t the only kind of transportation Edwards had a liking for—he also bought a $1.9 million private jet so that he could fly between his home in Florida and his hometown in Kentucky.
Other luxury items Edwards purchased include a $30,000 plasma screen TV, a $78,000 gold and diamond watch, and a $159,000 ring. In addition to collecting cars, Edwards also started collecting antiques, swords, and armour. At one point, he had a collection of around 200 of these items.
It seems that Edwards did try to make some investments on his own, though they don’t appear to have been wise ones. He purchased three racehorses, none of which were winners, and two businesses—a fibre optics installation business and a limo company—for a total of $4.5 million.
After only a year of living as a millionaire, Edwards had reportedly spent $12 million. By 2006, just five years after hitting the jackpot, Edwards had spent all of his money and joined the ranks of lottery winners who went bankrupt.
HOW DID DAVID LEE EDWARDS DIE?
Unfortunately, spending loads of money on luxury items wasn’t Edwards’ only bad habit. Like lottery winner Amanda Clayton, he and his wife Shawna both became addicted to drugs. They were arrested multiple times for possession of crack cocaine, heroin, and prescription pills, and Shawna was in and out of rehab for an addiction to OxyContin. James Gibbs also stated that Edwards would often supply his friends with drugs, many of whom died from overdoses. When friends passed away, Edwards would pay for their funerals.
As though things couldn’t get any worse, David and his wife both contracted hepatitis as a result of their drug use, and by the time they ran out of money, they were living in a run-down storage unit. Shawna eventually separated from David and got remarried. However, it doesn’t appear that Edwards was ever able to turn his life around, and he ended up passing away in 2013 in hospice care. He was 58 when he died and had no money left for his daughter to inherit—breaking the very promise that he had made so publicly after his win.
The sad tale of David Lee Edwards, as well as so many other lottery winners’ stories, serves as a cautionary tale for any person who hopes to one day win the lottery. While different winners go broke for different reasons, one thing is clear: without proper guidance and advice, it is far easier than it may appear to spend unwisely. Far too often, what should be a dream come true turns into a nightmare for lottery winners.