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'Deadwood' Creator's Gambling Problem Left Him $17 Million In Debt To IRS, Lawsuit Says
The wife of David Milch, creator of Deadwood, is suing her husband's business managers for not telling her how much of his fortune he'd gambled away. It's a more tragic tale than Kanye West, whose wife's family is apparently worth around $300 million, claiming he's $53 million in debt. David Milch, who created HBO Western Deadwood and co-created NYPD Blue, has lost his fortune to a gambling addiction, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Milch would reportedly bet on horses, and once owned a few at racetracks. Milch also created HBO's Luck, a short-lived show about horse racing that was cancelled after three horses died while filming.
According to a lawsuit filed against Milch's business managers Nigro Karlin Segal Feldstein & Bolno LLP (NKSFB) by Milch's wife, Rita, he gambled away $25 million between 2000 and 2011, and despite an estimated $100 million worth of earnings in Hollywood, owes the IRS $17 million. The couple also bought multiple homes over the course of Milch's successful career, but now they've either been sold or are up for sale. The couple is currently living in an apartment in Santa Monica, and lawsuit states that Rita has been forced to sell much of her art and jewelry as well host garage sales to raise money. They have been married for 34 years.
Rita Milch claims she had no idea what dire straits they were in until 2011 when NKSFB informed her that she should transfer the title of their vacation home on Martha's Vineyard to herself. This led to her pushing for answers, finally revealing the extent of Milch's gambling addiction and debts. According to the suit, Rita maintains that NKSFB should have told her about this sooner, and that when she did ask about finances, she was told they were fine. The suit also alleges that Rita was informed that she was not told about the issues earlier because the firm was afraid they'd be fired. She is hoping to get $25 million in damages, and now apparently only allows her husband $40 in cash per week, to deter him from gambling. The suit says she also demanded that Milch get help for his addiction. Employees at racetracks where Milch was once a regular told the Hollywood Reporter they haven't seen him in a while.
Patricia Glaser, a lawyer for NKSFB, said, "We do not believe this case has any merit legally or factually, and we are extremely disappointed that they would attempt to sully our client's reputation, in our view with no basis whatsoever."
Milch is still hard at work. He's writing an adaptation of Peter Mattheissen's 2008 novel Shadow Country, and he's working on a Deadwood film. Both projects are with HBO, with whom he has an exclusive contract. HBO Chairman and CEO Richard Pleper called him a "preternatural talent," and lauded his mentorship of young writers. His income via HBO is estimated to be in the low seven-figures—so, still a lot. That, plus residuals, is what he and his wife are living on, and using to pay off the IRS.
More information on compulsive gambling, including symptoms and treatment, can be found here.