Roy Orbison’s Legendary Musical Career and $20 Million Net Worth

Roy Orbison net worth, was an iconic American singer-songwriter who became world famous in the 1960s for his brooding rock ballads and distinct voice. By the time of his tragic death at age 52, Orbison had accumulated an estimated net worth of $20 million.


Born in 1936 in Texas, Orbison was one of the most distinctive voices in rock music. He was known for wearing dark sunglasses and black clothes that matched his dark, emotional songs like “Only the Lonely” and “Crying.” Orbison started his career in the late 1950s and had his greatest success in the 1960s, during which he charted 22 singles on the Billboard Top 40 charts.1

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Though his popularity declined in the 1970s, Orbison made a comeback in the 1980s as part of the supergroup Traveling Wilburys with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, and Tom Petty. When Orbison died suddenly of a heart attack in 1988, his net worth was estimated to be around $20 million, making him one of the wealthier musicians at the time.2


NameRoy Kelton Orbison
NicknameRoy Orbison
Birthday23 April 1936
Died6 December 1988
PartnerBarbara Orbison
KidsRoy Orbison Jr., Wesley Orbison, Alex Orbison, Anthony King Orbison, Roy Dewayne Orbison
ParentsNadine VestaShults, Orbie Lee Orbison
SiblingsGrady Lee Orbison and one more brother
ProfessionSinger, songwriter
Net Worth$20 million

Orbison’s Early Life and Career Beginnings

Roy Kelton Orbison was born on April 23, 1936 in Vernon, Texas.3 His family moved around Texas frequently when he was a child before settling in Wink when Orbison was 13. He was passionate about music from a young age, and formed his first band The Wink Westerners while in high school.4

After graduating in 1954, Orbison enrolled at North Texas State College, where he continued making music nights and weekends with the band. He dropped out of college after his sophomore year to pursue music full-time.5

In 1956, Orbison landed a contract with Sun Records and released the singles “Ooby Dooby” and “Go! Go! Go!” Neither were major hits, and Orbison later moved to Monument Records. It was at Monument in the early 1960s that Orbison would record and release the songs that made him famous.

Orbison’s Rise to Fame in the 1960s

Orbison broke through to mainstream success in 1960 with the song “Only the Lonely,” a brooding ballad that established his trademark sound of merging rock and roll with emotional vulnerability. It was a major hit, peaking at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts.6

More emotionally powerful hits soon followed. In 1961 Orbison released “Crying” and “Running Scared,” both of which went to #1 in the U.S. and cemented him as a star.7 His most successful single was 1964’s “Oh, Pretty Woman,” which hit #1 in the U.S. and U.K. The song has endured as an iconic rock hit, further boosted by its use in the 1990 film Pretty Woman.8

During his peak period of productivity from 1960-1965, Orbison charted 22 singles in the Billboard Top 40 and sold more records than any other musician worldwide besides Elvis Presley and The Beatles.9 His success allowed him to buy lavish homes and cars like Ferraris and Rolls Royces.10

Tragedy Strikes Orbison’s Personal Life

Just as Orbison’s career was skyrocketing, his personal life was struck by immense tragedy. In 1966, his wife Claudette was killed in a motorcycle accident while riding alongside Roy. Two years later in 1968, a fire destroyed his Tennessee home, killing two of his three young sons.11

These devastating losses sent Orbison’s life into turmoil. His musical output slowed and his popularity waned in the 1970s amidst changing music tastes. However, Orbison continued touring smaller venues and collaborated with prominent musicians like Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt to keep his career afloat.12

Resurgence With the Traveling Wilburys

After years out of the limelight, Orbison’s career was revitalized when he joined the supergroup Traveling Wilburys in 1988 alongside Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Tom Petty, and Jeff Lynne. Their debut album Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 was a surprise commercial and critical success. Orbison’s contributions were singled out, introducing him to a new generation of fans.13

Tragically, Orbison died suddenly of a heart attack on December 6, 1988 at age 52, just as his career was experiencing an incredible resurgence. The remaining members of the Traveling Wilburys paid tribute to Orbison by including his vocals on their second album in 1990, releasing it as a free-standing single “End of the Line” which rose to #5 on the charts.14

Orbison’s posthumous induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 further cemented his legacy as a rock pioneer whose unique voice and songwriting abilities left an indelible mark on music history.15

Breakdown of Roy Orbison’s Net Worth

Despite career ups and downs over 30 years in the music business, Roy Orbison still amassed an impressive net worth of approximately $20 million by 1988.

16 Here is a breakdown of where his wealth came from:

Record sales: At his peak in the 1960s, Orbison sold more records than any musician worldwide besides Presley and The Beatles. He moved over 40 million records total over his career.17

Songwriting royalties: Orbison wrote most of his own material and earned lucrative songwriting royalties from radio play, film/TV licensing, and covers by other artists.

Tours/live performances: Even during leaner times, Orbison could still earn well from extensive tours across the U.S. and internationally.

Investments: Orbison was savvy with his money and invested in real estate, cars, art, and other assets.

Traveling Wilburys: Orbison earned significant income from the Traveling Wilburys’ album and single releases late in his career.

Estate value: After his death, the value of Orbison’s song catalog, image rights, and remaining assets contributed to his net worth for his family.

Frequently Asked Questions About Roy Orbison’s Wealth

What was Roy Orbison’s peak net worth?

Orbison’s net worth was likely highest in the mid-1960s at the peak of his fame, estimated at around $30-$40 million. By the late 1980s it had dropped to $20 million.

How much did Roy Orbison earn from record sales?

Estimates place Orbison’s total record sales at over 40 million. In the 1960s alone he likely earned millions from huge hits like “Oh Pretty Woman.”

Did Orbison lose money in his career decline?

Yes, his net worth declined significantly in the 1970s as his star faded. Poor financial decisions and the rebuilding of his burned home drained his wealth.

How did the Traveling Wilburys boost Orbison’s wealth?

The surprise success of the Traveling Wilburys in 1988 added millions to Orbison’s net worth by the end of his life.

What happened to Orbison’s net worth after his death?

Orbison left his estate and remaining fortune estimated at $20 million to his wife and sons when he died in 1988.


Roy Orbison was an exceptionally gifted musician who earned a immense net worth during his decades-long career. Though marred by devastating personal losses, Orbison’s success in the 1960s as well as his late career revival with the Traveling Wilburys allowed him to amass an estate of $20 million by the time of his sudden death at only 52 years old. The uniqueness of Orbison’s voice and songwriting brilliance have made him an icon of American rock music whose legacy continues today.

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