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'Lucille Ball: Life, Death & Money': What was 'I Love Lucy' star's net worth at the time of her death?

Ball's death and the fight that was sparked to claim her estate is the subject of the latest special from Reelz, 'Lucille Ball: Death, Life & Money'
Lucille Ball (Getty Images)
Lucille Ball (Getty Images)

When Lucille Ball died in 1989, she was a household name. Ball was best known for her role in 'I Love Lucy', which she also produced and acted alongside her first husband, Desi Arnaz, the first person of color to play a male lead on American television. She was also the first woman to run a major television studio, Desilu Productions, which produced many popular television series including 'Mission: Impossible' and 'Star Trek'. 

Ball's death and the fight that was sparked to claim her estate is the subject of the latest special from Reelz, 'Lucille Ball: Death, Life & Money'. After she died, her estate was split among her two children, Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz Jr, and her second husband, Gary Morton. Morton later married pro golfer Susie McAllister after Ball's death and when he died, he left Ball's personal items to McAllister. McAllister then put the items up for auction for hefty amounts. This brought about a full-out estate war between McAllister and Ball's children as Ball's heirs fought to get back her precious items including jewelry, lifetime achievement awards and love letters.

Who is Lucille Ball?

American actor Lucille Ball reacts to Cuban-born actor Desi Arnaz in a still from the television show, 'I Love Lucy', 1956 (Getty Images)

Ball was one of the prominent leading ladies of the 20th century who paved the way for female characters on television. At a time when female actors and characters were mainly used to set up "interesting" scenes for their male counterparts, she was the star of her own show, making people laugh in the way she wanted to entertain. Her work with fellow 'I Love Lucy' star Vivian Vance on 'The Lucy Show' featured female leads working together to support each other – a format that influences television to this very day with modern shows like 'Grace and Frankie', 'Sex and the City', and 'Broad City'.

When Arnaz and Bell bought their own television studio, Lucille Ball went on to become the first woman to run a major television studio, though what she loved to do was entertain in front of the camera. Under her leadership, Desilu Productions brought shows like 'Star Trek' and 'Mission Impossible' to audiences, shows that have since sparked franchises and have a major cultural impact today.

What was Lucille Ball's net worth at the time of her death?

American actress Lucille Ball and her husband Desi Arnaz arrive at London Airport with their children Lucie and Desi Jr., 10th June 1959. They have just arrived from Naples for a three-day visit. (Photo by J. Wilds/Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

With Arnaz, Bell struck a deal to get ownership for 'I Love Lucy', When CBS later brought back the rights to the show, the couple sold it to the network in 1957 for $4.5 million, an amount when adjusted for inflation would be $40 million today. With this money, Ball and Arnaz started their own production company known as Desilu Productions. In 1962, Ball bought Arnaz's share of the company for $2.5 million. She then sold the entire company to Gulf+Western in 1967 for $17 million – amounting to $130 million today.

In 1989, Ball died at 77 years old from a ruptured aorta. Arnaz had died three years earlier of lung cancer. When she died, she had an estimated net worth of $40 million, equivalent to $80 million today, according to the Gazette Review. The estate was split between her children and her second husband. 

'I Love Lucy' continues to mint money even today and is a major source of income for CBS. The show's reruns help CBS earn $20 million in its annual income, according to the Los Angeles Times.

'Lucille Ball: Life, Death & Money' premieres on Reelz on Monday, January 25 at 10 PM ET.