The Richest Fictional Characters and their Real-Life Versions

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Every year, Forbes comes up with an annual list of the filthiest richest people on Earth (Forbes Billionaire list), and a few months after that, it gets far more “contributor” responses in the form of (violent) reactions and computation corrections for its Forbes Fictional 15. Sans an accurate wealth valuation, we come up with our own list of the wealthiest in fiction, and their nearest, most probable counterpart on fact, making it a list not of wealth valuation ranking, but something closer in character and personality.

With no DNA on the part of the fictional rich, we base our matching type on self-confessed author inspirations, historical analysis, leadership and wealth accumulation patterns and the most important of all, fan fiction observations. Hints of semblance can also be useful, as we shall see later on.

So who are our film and television versions of the Rhodes, the Rothschilds and the Rockefellers? And who are the real people starring in life imitating “art”? Here’s our list of the filthy rich TV and film characters and their real-world counterparts.

1. Smaug the Dragon


Fiction note: Played by (voiced and “motioned”) Benedict Cumberbatch in the 2013 film The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

Net worth: Anywhere from $62 billion to $870 billion

Source of wealth:  Looting

Forbes listed Smaug as the wealthiest fictional character, with treasures valued over $62 billion dollars. This set a barrage of protest from the more calculating fiction fans (not just Tolkien fanbase), armed with accounting and inflation adjustment calculations that prove Smaug is worth at least $870 billion at a conservative estimate!

For those who are yet to make Smaug’s acquaintance, he is the  vast and bat-winged dragon in JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and appears in the book’s film series adaptation by Peter Jackson. Cutting a mythopoeic work into fractions, Smaug ruined the city of Erebor, home of the dwarves and lay claim to the Lonely Mountain and the treasures that lay there. The inventory is very impressive: gold, gemstones, mithril, silver, elf gems, pearls, crystals, emerald, sapphire, diamond, and the glory of Thorin, the Arkenstone. No wonder fans the world over made such a deal with a measly $62 billion!

Aside from a mountain of wealth, Smaug also exhibits the common traits of the filthy rich (keen senses, dangerously sharp mind and an encyclopaedic knowledge of their treasure hoard ( Smaug knew outright that a single gold cup is missing from his lair, stolen by the hobbit Bilbo).

Real-world counterparts:

Since Smaug is the undisputed filthiest, richest character (film and literature), it would be easy to assume that his real-life counterpart in the net worth department would be Carlos Slim Helu, the Mexican telecom billionaire with $73 billion as of Forbes 2013 listing. But much closer to Smaug in network sparring is actually Microsoft’s Bill Gates with his $67 billion.

But aside from the vast money, there are so few points of comparison between Smaug and Helu and Gates except maybe the possession of a soft belly (which only Helu and Gates can confirm).  The two real-life billionaires are also known to be physically active and not just lying around on mountains of gold and diadems. With these, Smaug’s real-world counterpart is more of another filthy rich creature of his own kind, from kingdom animalia. We have two candidates:

Gunther IV, the German shepherd. Though he is way below Smaug in the bloated wealth league (only $140 million), the definitely no slum dog inherited German countess Karlotta Liebenstein’s wealth, which first passed on to Gunther III, the fourth’s father, originally at $80 million, and grew to current valuation through investments. To date, the fashionable dog counts Madonna’s 8-bedroom Miami villa among his assets.

Silverstone the tortoise. Yet again, the dog match may not satisfy some readers, who would clamor for a physical likeness to Smaug aside from wealth.  So we will also consider Silverstone the Tortoise as the Smaug of the real world. Though extremely below the opulence rank of Smaug (only $200,000 in net worth, inherited from bookshop tycoon Christina Foyle after her death in 1999), Silverstone shares more similarities with Smaug – they are both “reptiles,” they can be gold plated all over, they have the same smug smile typical of the insanely rich, and the simplest tie that binds – their names both start with the letter S.

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2. Lord Tywin Lannister


Fiction note: Played by Charles Dance in HBO’s Game of Thrones,  an adaptation of the book series A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin.

Net worth: $2.1 billion

Source of wealth: Inheritance from father, money lending business, earnings from investments in Westeros’ war economy as well as profit shares from his appointments as Hand of the King (an administrative function) first in the Seven Kingdoms and later on for his grandson Joffrey Baratheon.

Unsmiling Tywin Lannister, Lord of Casterly Rock, was dubbed the richest man in the Seven Kingdoms and Lord Paramount of the Westerlands. His wealth primarily comes from his shrewdness and ruthlessness. His ironhold for money was tied with his personal views about power. Seeing his father Tytos unable to manage House Lannister’s honor and wealth (uncollected debts, gratuities for the “undeserving” and bannermen drinking and partying like rockstars), Tywin rebuilt his family’s fortune by eliminating bad Houses, hoarding, investing and using money to grow it further.

Real-world counterpart: King Edward I of England.

While many SOIF fans have varying opinions about the real-life version of Tywin, some have gone to the extent of scouring historical annals not only for the wealth comparison (which would be the easier part), but in his character traits. So far, the closest human version would be King Edward I. While Tywin dealt with annihilation, particularly of erring Houses Reine and Tarbeck, Edward I dealt with the Welsh and also led some infamous annihilation in English history.

Very much like Tywin in political leadership, estate administration and military prowess, Edward I was also involved with the political intrigues of his father, King Henry III who had to deal with unnerving English barons (like the Lannister bannermen.) Edward I  was eventually crowned King while Tywin eventually claimed the Lordship.

In the physical sense, Edward I was described as rather tall for the period he lived hence he was nicknamed “Edward the Longshanks.” In terms of character, he was said to be temperamental and with his towering height, he instilled intimidation and fear among his friends and foes. Tywin is tall, slender, broad-shouldered, green-eyed and with a “very powerful presence combined with an unflinching gaze that can make lesser men swiftly turn away.”

3. Anthony “Tony” Stark


Fiction note: Played by Robert Downey, Jr. in all film adaptations of the Marvel Comics series, including The Avengers.

Net worth: $9.3 billion

Sources of wealth: Inheritance from father Howard Stark and profits from Stark Industries plus multi-billion defense project contracts.

Tony Stark is an engineering genius, producing biomimetic armors, nuclear-powered refrigerators and ultra-fast cars. He is also friends to some superheroes and does part-time superhero duties himself. Stark is downright intelligent with a willful and unstoppable power of concentration. He is also a futurist, able to predict and experiment with the outcome of future events with the goal of aiding humanity in future catastrophes.

Real-world counterpart: Elon Musk

With a net worth $2.8 billion as of March 2013, “futurist” can also be rightly said of Elon Musk, the South African-American inventor and entrepreneur involved in outer space navigation, futuristic cars, solar power and cash remittance (before). Musk is now better associated with SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies), a space aviation company that designs, develops and manufactures spacecrafts and commercial space vehicles, where he is chief “designer.”

Before this, Musk was known as the guy who founded PayPal (then Like Stark, Musk’s company SpaceX deals with government contracts, particularly getting funding from NASA space development programs. He is also chairman, CEO and product architect for his other company Tesla Motors, sharing an interest with Stark in electric vehicles. Musk has a bachelor’s degree in Economics from Wharton and in Physics from UPenn’s School of Arts and Sciences. On the other hand, Stark, according to his LinkedIn, was educated in MIT with doctorates in physics (a field shared with Musk), philosophy and artificial intelligence.

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4. Charles Foster Kane


Fiction note: Played by Orson Welles in the 1941 film Citizen Kane.

Net Worth: $8.3 billion today

Charles Foster Kane is a publishing mogul who dealt with personal and professional struggles, and whose life mystery centers around his childhood memory of Rosebud.

Real-world counterpart: William Randolph Hearst

The general consensus remains strong that William Randolph Hearst was the primary inspiration for Kane, mainly because the fiction-fact overlaps  proved too convincing and too many to ignore. These include their parents’ mining businesses, Harvard education, publishing empires, New York political bids, palatial residences (Kane’s Xanadu and Hearst’s 56-bedroom Hearst Castle) and “poignant” life struggles.

But it was their oddly similar personal affairs that was cited as the reason real-life Hearst used the power of his money and influences to stop the film’s release, but failed, in an attempt to bury his scandalous affair with actress Marion Davies (which was the same with Kane’s failed efforts in making his second wife Susan Alexander a famous opera star in the story).

Welles and co-writer Herman J. Mankiewicz remained steadfast in claiming that lives of other rich men including Harold McCormick, Samuel Insull and Howard Hughes were used to profile Kane, while names of other media moguls like Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch have also been mentioned. But while Hearst left offsprings to carry on the name and the wealth (his grandson William Randolph Hearst III heads Hearst Corporation today with a net worth of $2 billion), Kane left no heir. Both died of old age.

5. Lillian Celia “Lily” van der Woodsen (née Rhodes)


Fiction note: Played by Kelly Rutherford in the CW Network television series Gossip Girl, an adaptation of the book series by Cecily Von Ziegesar.

Net Worth: $2 billion

Sources of wealth: Rhodes family fortune, Bass Industries majority share plus her own personal wealth from marriages to billionaires, among them Dr. William van der Woodsen and Bartholomew “Bart” Bass.

Lily van der Woodsen is the youngest daughter of music executive Richard “Rick” Rhodes and socialite Celia “CeCe” Rhodes. A true-blue  Upper East Side queen, Lily is a ballerina and was educated in Brown University. Living in LA in her 20’s made significant changes to her life, but her deep understanding and respect for societal constraint and hierarchy remain.

Real-world counterpart: Gloria Vanderbilt

Anyone of the same breed, family legacy and marriage history (with the exception of King Henry VIII) is a likely candidate for Lily van der Woodsen’s factual version. But the closest we can get as far as life and personal style are concerned would be no other than Gloria Vanderbilt.

Gloria is the famous American artist, author, actress, heiress, and socialite identified with her famous family name, a designer jeans and CNN anchor Anderson Cooper (her son). She is worth $200 million today. There may be some contrasts, including Lily’s love and devotion for her socialite mother CeCe with that of Gloria who cut ties from her mother Gloria Morgan (involved in the young Gloria’s controversial 1934 child custody case).

But on the majority, Lily and Gloria share the same wealth and life patterns. Like Gloria, Lily comes from the gilded age lineage and was raised amid industry and philanthropy. And while the Vanderbilt family fortune diminished by the mid-20th century, they remain the 7th wealthiest family in history at around $168 billion net worth. Apart from the socialite, philanthropist and artist tags, both Lily and Gloria share the same fondness for wealthy marriages, four for Gloria and three (known) for Lily.

Are there other wealthy characters that have real-world counterparts that you can think of?


By Jenny Chang

Senior writer at FinancesOnline who writes about a wide range of SaaS and B2B products, including trends and issues on e-commerce, accounting and customer service software. She’s also covered a wide range of topics in business, science, and technology for websites in the U.S., Australia and Singapore, keeping tabs on edge tech like 3D printed health monitoring tattoos and SpaceX’s exploration plans.

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