Fact Check

Did J.K. Rowling Drop Off Forbes Billionaires List Due to Charitable Donations?

A popular Internet meme says 'Harry Potter' author J.K. Rowling dropped off the Forbes billionaires list because she gave so much money to charity.

Published Aug 20, 2016

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Author J.K. Rowling was the first person to fall off of the Forbes billionaires list due to donating so much money to charity.
What's True

J.K. Rowling dropped off the Forbes billionaires list in 2012 due to a combination of factors, including the estimated $160 million she donated to charity and Britain's high tax rates.

What's False

J.K. Rowling wasn't the first billionaire to fall off the Forbes list due to charitable donations.

In 2004, welfare-mom-turned-bestselling-novelist J.K. Rowling of fame became the first author to make the Forbes billionaires list, thanks to the film and marketing empire based on her seven-book Harry Potter series, the first volume of which launched in the UK in 1997. She remained on the list for seven years, all the while building a reputation for her philanthropic endeavors, including contributions to the Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Children's High Level Group (now known as Lumos), the building of a regenerative neurology clinic in Scotland, and various other charitable causes through her philanthropic trust, Volant.

In 2012, Forbes announced that Rowling had dropped off its billionaires list, citing two reasons: the estimated $160 million (16% of her fortune) she had given to charity, and Britain's high tax rates:

Contrary to the Internet version of events, Rowling was not the first billionaire removed from the list thanks to her charitable generosity. We don't know if the name of the first billionaire to do so has actually been recorded anywhere, but we can affirm that Jon Huntsman Sr. was reported to have fallen of the list in 2010 due to donations he made to his cancer foundation.

Regarding her commitment to charity, J.K. Rowling was quoted in the Telegraph as saying, “I think you have a moral responsibility, when you’ve been given far more than you need, to do wise things with it and give intelligently."


Eden, Richard.   "Duchess of Cornwall Asks J.K. Rowling for Harry Potter Magic."     The Telegraph.   5 June 2011.

Prince, Rosa.   "Forbes List: J.K. Rowling Fortune Under Vanishing Spell."     The Telegraph.   7 March 2012.

Regan, Michael P.   "Rowling Joins Forbes Billionaires List."     Washington Post.   26 February 2004.

Watson, Julie and Tomas Kellner.   "J.K. Rowling and the Billion-Dollar Empire."     Forbes.   26 February 2004.

Whelan, David.   "Jon Huntsman on Giving Away $1.2 Billion."     Forbes.   18 May 2011.

David Emery is a West Coast-based writer and editor with 25 years of experience fact-checking rumors, hoaxes, and contemporary legends.