When I first heard about the financial woes of Annie Leibovitz, the gay media had latched on to erroneous reports that it was somehow related to the “gay tax” incurred from inheriting the estate of the late Susan Sontag. That theory took about three seconds to dismiss, but I’ve been hooked on the unfolding drama ever since.

Then an article in The New York Times pointed the finger at the root cause and I posted about how Jean Chatsky used Leibovitz’s story to deconstruct the behavior of creative types. Even then, I was amazed at how someone who had achieved her commercial success could be so utterly challenged with the financial aspects of day to day life.

But now I’m a believer. The New York Magazine has a fascinating read with its recent study by Andrew Goldman in How Could This Happen to Annie Leibovitz? It’s several pages long, but basically explains how she had spent her way into a $24 million hole through the pretense of unlimited means:

Leibovitz had also built a life that had become extraordinarily expensive to maintain. It wasn’t just the mortgages on the homes. It was the Range Rover, the trips to Paris, the chef and housekeeper, the handyman, the personal yoga instructor, the terrace gardener, and the live-in nanny…

It’s impossible to account for all of Leibovitz’s line-item expenses, but as surprising as it may be to outsiders, she was clearly spending beyond her means. One close associate of Leibovitz’s theorizes that she identified too much with her subjects. “Photographers aren’t professional athletes, recording artists, or supermodels,” the source says. “Compared to 99 percent of the world, she makes a vast fortune. The problem occurs when a person becomes so famous that they start feeling that they’re more in line financially with Oprah or Madonna.”

I couldn’t put the magazine down and even a few days after reading it, I’m still digesting each juicy morsel.

Robert Frank writes at The Wall Street Journal:

Let’s be honest. Annie Leibovitz succumbed to the same leverage-and-live-large lifestyle as the rest of rich and famous over the past 10 years. No matter how much money they were earning, it was never enough to support the hunger for yet another house or car or household staffer.

Ms. Leibovitz’s story is gripping for her celebrity. But the same story is taking place with countless other millionaires and multimillionaires now that revenue and credit have dried up.

Darn right, gripping for her celebrity. But the scale of her debt and the diva details has me transfixed on this portrait of money mishap.

Photo credit: Flickr.