The Mystery of Marc Bolan's T-Rex Millions

Copyright 1997 London Observer

LONDON (August 25, 1997) -- Marc Bolan's was a rock 'n'roll life and a rock 'n'roll death. And since that death, 20 years ago next month, the legacy of the T. Rex star for those closest to him has been pure rock 'n' roll, too -- empty pockets, untimely deaths and business arrangements as tangled as Bolan's "corkscrew hair."

Now, with Bolan's music back in fashion, his surviving family -- including Rolan, his son by American girlfriend Gloria Jones -- and former band members are intent on recovering a share of the cash denied them for 20 years.

In the early Seventies -- when T. Rex enjoyed 10 top five singles in the British hit parade, including "Hot Love," "Get It On" and "Telegram Sam" at number one -- Bolan and his advisers set up a string of "tax-efficient" offshore companies. After his death, ownership of these companies scattered. Most are now defunct, but one, Wizard Bahamas, survives and owns the copyright to Bolan's post-1972 recordings.

In his will, drawn up in October 1973, Bolan -- real name Mark Feld -- left it up to his trustees to do as they saw fit with his estate and to select charities to benefit. So what is Wizard Bahamas? Recently the Observer of London contacted Wizard's solicitor in the UK, but was unable to get any comment from the company.

"Wizard was Marc's company. Now it's just money people," says Harry Feld, Bolan's brother, a bus inspector from Portsmouth, on the south coast. "In 1973, when Marc was starting to travel abroad a lot, his management said, 'You've got to make a will,' but Marc was interested in music, not wills. So I believe the will was made up and Marc signed it. At the time of his death, Marc wasn't even on speaking terms with some of the people who benefited from the will."

Among those left money were Bolan's wife June; Gloria Jones, whom the will describes as his secretary; and Bolan's parents -- but not Harry.

Harry Feld said: "As soon as Marc was dead, the business people talked as if he'd never existed. That's the way it has been for 20 years. We've never had the money to get it sorted out. The royalties would be phenomenal, but we can't even find out where the money is going. We've tried, but we've just been told that it's none of our business. Once, my mum even wrote to the Lord Chancellor's office but didn't get anywhere. There's no way you can get through brick walls."

By 1977, Bolan had began to suspect all was not well with the management of his finances and decided to act. Fate intervened. At 5 a.m. on Sept. 16, his purple Mini, driven by Jones, hit a tree on Barnes Common, south London, killing him and badly injuring Jones. He was two weeks short of his thirtieth birthday.

Within hours Bolan's flat was broken into and his papers, letters and receipts stolen. None has been recovered. At 9:30 that morning, four and a half hours after Bolan died, somber taxmen turned up at his office and demanded $5.2 million in unpaid tax.

In February 1979 a court in Jersey made a judgment against two trustees of the Bolan estate over the misuse of $700,000 of the star's money. The court heard the cash had been used to buy works of art which subsequently fetched only $277,000 at auction. A different group of trustees is now running the estate.

Bolan's 21-year-old son, who lives in Los Angeles near his mother, believes it is time for the uncertainties to be cleared up. An aspiring rap musician, Rolan claims that, with the exception of a trust fund set up by his father to pay for his schooling, he has yet to receive a cent of the Bolan fortune. "I feel that from the second my dad passed away, everything went down," he says. "It was my dad's desire to become a big star and to make the money. And I think the children and the family are entitled to their part of that existence."

Rolan, who is to attend the unveiling of a memorial to his father on Barnes Common next month, says: "Some things are still wrong and I feel it's my responsibility to sort them out. My dad did some incredible things and he deserves the credit. As a family, we deserve the respect back."

Some of Bolan's money goes to charity. His original trustees nominated two beneficiaries, one being the Performing Rights Society's Members' Fund. The PRS collects and distributes royalties on behalf of copyright holders. Its fund receives around $97,800 a year from the Bolan estate that is used to support impoverished musicians and songwriters. The other beneficiary is the London-based Ravenswood Foundation, which cares for people with learning disabilities. Ravenswood would not reveal how much it receives from Bolan's estate.

Some of those who might have been able to shed light on Bolan's business arrangements are dead. In 1980, Steve Peregrine Took, Bolan's bongo player in the original Tyrannosaurus Rex, blew the proceeds of a belated royalty check on morphine and magic mushrooms, knocked back a cocktail and choked to death on the cherry stone. Six months later T. Rex bassist Steve Currie was killed in a road accident in Portugal. In August 1994 Marc's former wife, June, died of a heart attack aged 48 while on holiday in Turkey, a trip she funded by selling some of Bolan's unreleased recordings.

Two of the original T. Rex line-up are alive, impoverished and wondering who's getting the money from record sales. Drummer Bill Legend, now 53, unemployed and living in Essex, southeast England, says: "Money would be a great help to me. It's unfair. I'd love to do something for my kids. The T.Rex phenomenon has expanded. It's a megabucks industry now. Marc's made more money since his death than when alive."

Percussionist Mickey Finn, 50, was left pounds $16,300 in the will, but the money took years to come through. A chronic asthmatic and, like Legend, unemployed, Finn says: "I never got any performing royalties. It's a mystery. A bloody mystery."

Robin Strummer, London Observer