The arts can pay—if you’re named Beyoncé, Oprah or Madonna.
They are among the nine entertainers on FORBES’ third annual ranking of America’s richest self-made women, which includes a daytime TV host, two authors and several musicians. Together, these celebrities count for 15% of the 60-person ranking and are worth a combined $6 billion.
Oprah (No. 3 on the overall list) is the wealthiest entertainer among them: With a $3.1 billion net worth, the former daytime TV host is making a resurgence, appearing in April’s HBO film, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and joining 60 Minutes as a special contributor this fall. Though her OWN network had its most-watched year in 2016, the majority of her wealth still comes from her talk show years.
She is joined by fellow screen queen Judy Sheindlin ($300 million). After 21 seasons, Judge Judy remains television’s arbiter de jure. Her daytime show has been on the air since 1996, but is still watched by an eye-watering average of 10 million viewers.
“Find something that you’re naturally adept at and figure out how to parlay it into a career,” advised Sheindlin. She ought to know: She spent nearly 25 years in New York’s Family Court before getting her start on camera, age 52.
Musicians reign supreme among America’s wealthiest women. Madonna, the second highest-ranked entertainer on the list, is worth $500 million – and shows no signs of letting up. Her Rebel Heart tour, which ended in March 2016, grossed $170 million. A savvy spender, the 58-year-old has scooped up New York real estate and fine art – reportedly including works by Picasso and Man Ray – as well as a stake in Jay Z’s Tidal streaming service.
She edges Celine Dion ($400 million) who resumed a Las Vegas residency in February that had been on hiatus for a month after her husband’s death. At 49, she’s back to playing 70-odd times a year at Caesar’s Palace, where she made $27 million in 2016; a Canada native, she’s earned most of her money in Sin City, hence her inclusion, just ahead of Barbra Streisand ($390 million). Streisand’s career tour tally is in the hundreds of millions, aided by her $46 million gross for 14 shows last year – all before her 75th birthday.
These legendary songstresses are joined by Beyoncé, who is already worth $350 million, aged just 35. (Combined with her husband, Jay Z, the couple’s cumulative net worth is estimated at $1.6 billion)
“I’ve never met anyone that works harder than me in my industry,” Beyoncé told FORBES in 2009. It remains difficult to contest: Last year’s Lemonade was her sixth solo No. 1 album—and spawned the Formation World Tour, which grossed a quarter of a billion dollars.
The youngest entertainer on the ranking, Taylor Swift, rounds out the list with a $280 million net worth. Her total benefited from continued earnings in music, endorsements and merchandise, despite a relatively quiet 2016.
Still, scribes are not to be forgotten: Two authors, Nora Roberts and Danielle Steel, make the cut. Roberts ($365 million) has churned out around five manuscripts a year since 1981, when she turned to writing while snowed in during a blizzard. She has since authored more than 220 romance and crime novels as Roberts and under the pseudonym J.D. Robb. She owns a bookstore, boutique B&B, gift shop, fitness center and restaurant in the 3,300-person town of Boonsboro, MD, that she calls home.
Danielle Steel ($330 million), meanwhile, has lived a life as glamorous as her romance novels, with two proposals on Valentine’s Day, five high-profile marriages and nine children. Thanks to a knack for spinning scintillating stories, she has published more than 130 books and sold an estimated 800 million copies. Her centimillion net worth is down to cumulative earnings from decades of bestsellers.
Among the entertainers to watch: Jennifer Aniston, whose estimated $200 million net worth makes her an up-and-comer for the self-made women’s list. The former Friends star still ranks among the world’s highest-paid actresses, with seven figure fees for lowbrow offerings such as Mother’s Day and Office Christmas Party. Today she makes more cash from modeling than movies, thanks to endorsements for the likes of Emirates Airlines, Smartwater and Aveeno.
The bulk of Aniston’s net worth is derived from career earnings of some $400 million (pretax), a chunk of which comes from her Friends salary and the show’s syndication. By the NBC comedy’s final season, she was earning $1.25 million an episode, more than TV’s top stars—the members of The Big Bang Theory cast—make now.
Not a bad gig, if you can get it.