12 Highest Paid People of 2009

The year’s work of financial journalism would not be complete without recapping the highest paid people of 2009. From CEOs to athletes to Hollywood actors and actresses, even these recessionary times are brimming with high achievers who left the rest of the earning world in their dust this year. In fact, for some of these individuals, 2009 proved to be their personal income peak! Today we profile the 12 highest paid people of the year and discuss what led to their exalted earnings.

Stephan Schwarzman: $702,440,573


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Taking home top pay honors is Stephan Schwarzman, co-founder of the Blackstone Group private-equity firm. Just two years after being named on Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World list, Schwarzman took home an eye-popping $702,440,573 in total compensation (including salary, equity and bonuses) according to CNN Money. Since taking Blackstone public in 2007, Schwarzman’s net worth now stands at a towering $7.8 billion.

Larry Ellison: $556,976,600


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Coming in at a close second is Oracle CEO Larry Ellison. It wasn’t easy wrestling away the title of highest-paid tech CEO from Steve Jobs, but Ellison has joined the ranks of truly astonishing executive compensation in a year when executive pay, on average, fell 11%. Despite earning the type of salary ($556,976,600) that makes politicians and fellow executives envious, Ellison recently pledged to take a pay cut. According to C/Net, Oracle’s ring leader “will receive a base salary of $1 for fiscal 2010” – down from $999,999 in 2009. The rest of his mind-blowing compensation, as you might have guessed, comes from owning 23.4% of all Oracle stock – over a billion in shares.

Oprah Winfrey: $275,000,000


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Often described as the most influential woman on earth, entertainment magnate Oprah Winfrey pulled in $275 million last year, according to Fox News. Like Tiger Woods (the next highest earner on our list), much of Oprah’s prodigious earning power stems from relentlessly shrewd branding of everything about herself. Simultaneously funny, inspiring, entertaining and — as witnessed by her outspoken support of Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign — controversial, Oprah has created a media empire that analysts say is among the most powerful brands in the world. With an estimated 44 million TV viewers, Oprah’s been near the top for a while now and we can expect her name to be a mainstay on lists like these for years or even decades to come.

Ray Irani: $222,639,705


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In an April 2009 profile, Forbes clocked Occidental Petroleum CEO Ray Irani’s yearly compensation at over $222 million, noting also that Irani’s five year compensation totaled over $740 million. The 74 year old executive derived only $1.3 million of 2009 pay from his salary, getting another #3.6 from bonuses, $33 million from “other” sources and $184 million from appreciation in company stock. This last figure is common among highly-paid executives: taking a trivial (relative to their position) salary and making their “real” money from bonuses and company stock. Few executives prospered so greatly from this approach as Irani in 2009.

Tiger Woods: $110,000,000


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It is a testament to the unshakable branding of Tiger’s persona that he managed to “rack up more than twice the earnings of any other athlete over the past 12 months despite being sidelined for eight months after knee surgery”, according to Forbes. How did Tiger manage to pull off such a Herculean earnings feat while injured and, recently, ensnared in a sex scandal? In a word: endorsements. Only around $11 million of this sum came from actual golf winnings. In addition to running a burgeoning golf course design business, Tiger was able to bank on lucrative endorsement deals with Nike, Accenture and Gillette while on the injury rehab trail.

Madonna: $100,000,000


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Ranked as the top-selling female artist of the twentieth century, pop diva Madonna raked in a cool $100 million in the last 12 months. And don’t think for a second that she’s resting on her laurels. According to the UK’s Guardian, Madonna “reigns supreme in Billboard’s 2008 Money Makers list”, ranking as the biggest-earning musician of 2008. As the Guardian reports, the bulk of Madonna’s massive recent earnings owe to her phenomenally successful Sticky and Sweet world tour, which broke records by grossing roughly £160m. While her album sales have sagged as of late, Madonna remains a financial juggernaut on the strength of undiminished demand for her live performances.

Tyler Perry: $75,000,000


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“Diary of a Mad Black Woman” and “House of Pain” star Tyler Perry quietly took home $75 million during the last 12 months, according to Fox News 5 Highest Paid People segment of Power Rankings. Primarily, Perry’s gigantic haul is a result of retaining full ownership of his movies and placing his name in front of every title in which he is involved. While Lionsgate Entertainment is his distributor, Perry nevertheless reaps the lion’s share of the profits from every project he invests himself into. In addition to movies, Perry has also written and toured with a dozen different stage plays.

Harrison Ford: $65,000,000

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The 2008 blockbuster Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull heralded a triumphant return to the big screen for Harrison Ford. Starring in the fourth installment of the cult classic, Ford’s earnings from the film came solely from his stake from the profits remaining from the $786 million in box office revenue. Largely owing to this, Ford made off with $65 million in total compensation in the last 12 months, following several years of relatively low-profile living for the grizzled Hollywood veteran.

Adam Sandler: $55,000,000


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He might play a down-and-out loser in most of his movies (see Happy Gilmore, Big Daddy and 50 First Dates as just a few examples), but he always seems to come out on top in the end. 2009 was no exception for Adam Sandler, who rode box office hits like Bedtime Stories and Don’t Mess With The Zohan to $55,000,000 in total compensation according to Forbes. Together, these films grossed $413 million, leading to a most enviable payday for one of Hollywood’s most popular funny men.

Kobe Bryant: $45,000,000


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Long one of the most dynamic players in the NBA, Kobe Bryant proved this year that he could win without Shaq and his earning power is at an all-time high. According to the Los Angeles Times, Bryant’s number 8 Lakers jersey is the top seller in the NBA, edging out Boston’s Kevin Garnett and Cleveland’s LeBron James for top honors. The 11-time All-Star is sure to remain an economic powerhouse in the near future, as he is still in his prime on a Lakers team that competes year in and year out for the NBA championship. Bryant’s growing, friendly rivalry with James is another factor contributing to high merchandise sales.

Nicolas Cage: $40,000,000


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Nicholas Cage’s claim to high-earning fame is a “quantity over quality” approach that saw the ambitious actor commit himself to starring in six films in two years. Things aren’t all good for Cage, however. In spite of taking home $40,000,000 in the last 12 months, the ever-serious actor has fallen upon hard times in other financial respects. TheStreet.com reports Cage’s former business manager, Samuel J. Levin, as saying the star “was outspending even his large Hollywood paychecks.” As a last-ditch effort to get back to square one, Cage fired off a $20 million suit against Levin, auctioned off a dozen automobiles and a comic book collection valued at $1.6 million.

Dale Earnhardt Jr: $35,000,000


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Recent years have proven that not even diminished performance can slow Dale Earnhardt, Jr. down. According to Forbes, Earnhardt has been NASCAR’s most popular driver for seven years standing, despite winning only one race in the past two seasons. His merchandise sales were “twice the total of any other driver”, with additional money coming from his lucrative endorsement deals with the likes of Adidas, Nationwide Insurance, Polaris and Wrangler. With so much support and momentum behind him, Earnhardt promises to keep it a close race earnings-wise for years to come.

Written by Jeff Springer

Jeff Spring is the Finance & Markets Editor at BusinessPundit.com. He's currently spending his days backpacking across Europe. While he may be living outside of the United States, he stays connected to American financial markets and M&A's more than is probably healthy for any single person. His love of a good book and a Bloomberg terminal can't be understated.