Curse of the Lottery Winners

ByABC News via logo
March 11, 2007, 8:19 AM

March 11, 2007 — -- The record setting $390 million lottery jackpot shared by two American winners this week has put stars and dollar signs in the eyes of millions of would-be millionaires. But a sudden cash windfall hasn't always resulted in a happy ending for past lottery winners.

Psychologist Steve Danish, a professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University, has studied the impact instant wealth has on lottery winners.

"The dream you have about winning may be better than the actuality of winning," he said. "There have been families that have just -- just been torn apart by this process."

Kenneth and Connie Parker were winners of a $25 million jackpot. Their 16-year marriage disintegrated just months after they became rich beyond their wildest dreams.

Jeffrey Dampier, a $20 million winner, was kidnapped and murdered by his own sister-in-law.

In 2002, Jack Whittaker won the largest individual payout in U.S. lottery history.

"I can take the money," Whittaker said at the time. "I can take this much money and do a lot of good with this much money right now."

But it didn't work out like that. Whittaker's life was consumed by hardship, including the death of his beloved granddaughter Brandi, who was a victim of a drug overdose, and the breakup of his marriage.

"If I knew what was going to transpire, honestly, I would have torn the ticket up," said Jewell Whittaker, Jack Whittaker's ex-wife.

For Eddie Nabors, the 52-year-old truck driver from Georgia turned recent mega millionaire, Danish offers this advice.

"I think you can probably fish for a couple days but I'm not sure you can fish for 10 or 20 or 30 years," Danish said. "Without that goal or plan about what you expect to happen for yourself it could be your worst nightmare."