At 31 years old, Charlie Munger was divorced, broke, and burying his 9 year old son, who had died from cancer. By the time he was 69 years old, he had become one of the richest 400 people in the world, been married to his second wife for 35+ years, had eight wonderful children, countless grandchildren, and become one of the most respected business thinkers in history. He eventually achieved his dream of having a lot of money, a house full of books, and a huge family. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t face unbelievable challenges and tragedies.
In 1949, Charlie Munger was 25 years old. He was hired at the law firm of Wright & Garrett for $3,300 per year, or $29,851 in inflation-adjusted dollars as of 2010. He had $1,500 in savings, equal to $13,570 now.
A few years later, in 1953, Charlie was 29 years old when he and his wife divorced. He had been married since he was 21. Charlie lost everything in the divorce, his wife keeping the family home in South Pasadena. Munger moved into “dreadful” conditions at the University Club and drove a terrible yellow Pontiac, which his children said had a horrible paint job. According to the biography written by Janet Lowe, Molly Munger asked her father, “Daddy, this car is just awful, a mess. Why do you drive it?” The broke Munger replied: “To discourage gold diggers.”
Shortly after the divorce, Charlie learned that his son, Teddy, had leukemia. In those days, there was no health insurance, you just paid everything out of pocket and the death rate was near 100% since there was nothing doctors could do. Rick Guerin, Charlie’s friend, said Munger would go into the hospital, hold his young son, and then walk the streets of Pasadena crying.
One year after the diagnosis, in 1955, Teddy Munger died. Charlie was 31 years old, divorced, broke, and burying his 9 year old son. Later in life, he faced a horrific operation that left him blind in one eye with pain so terrible that he eventually had his eye removed.