The True Story of Ty Warner After 'the Beanie Bubble' Burst

beanie babies founder ty warner warner shaking the hand of a visitor at a toy expo
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Recently fired from the Dakin Toy Company in 1980, H. Ty Warner began a three-year sabbatical to Italy and made a discovery that turned him into a billionaire.

Inspired by plush cat toys he saw overseas, Warner set out to create his own stuffed animals. But even he likely couldn’t imagine the success the 1993 launch of “Beanie Babies” would bring him, with Warner's eponymous company Ty Inc. profiting more than $700 million only two years later. The new Apple TV+ movie The Beanie Bubble, which stars Zach Galifianakis as Warner, streams Friday and tells a fictionalized version of the incredible rise of the toy titan and his beanies.

The film is based on a 2015 book by author Zac Bissonnette called The Great Beanie Bubble: Mass Delusion and the Dark Side of Cute. As its title might imply, the movie explores the more problematic aspects of Warner’s venture, including his complicated personal and business relationships with three women—played by Elizabeth Banks, Sarah Snook, and Geraldine Viswanathan—key to the product’s success. But even after the beanie craze's end, Warner— born in Chicago on Sept. 3, 1944—has remained a controversial figure despite his somewhat reclusive existence.

From financial crimes to allegations of domestic abuse, here’s a look at the 78-year-old’s headline-grabbing life in recent years.

Conviction on Tax Evasion

According to Chicago magazine, Warner’s net worth was estimated to be as high as $6 billion before interest in Beanie Babies considerably waned during the mid-2000s. However, he nearly went to prison over a small fraction of that.

At the height of his company’s success in 1996, Warner opened a secret account at Switzerland's UBS bank and deposited an undisclosed amount of money. The cash compounded tax-free over the next dozen years, with Warner falsely indicating on his tax returns that he had no foreign accounts. By 2008, the account—which he had transferred in 2002 under the name of a shell corporation—was worth more than $107 million, according to Chicago.

Eventually, authorities discovered the account, and Warner was charged with federal tax evasion in September 2013. The charge carried a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. According to CNN, Warner pleaded guilty and paid a civil penalty of $53.5 million as part of a plea agreement.

U.S. District Judge Charles Kocoras considered this and Warner’s history of philanthropic efforts—such as giving more than $6 million to the Andre Agassi Foundation and $3 million to create Ty Warner Park in the Chicago suburb of Westmont. In January 2014, Kocoras spared Warner of prison time and sentenced him to two years probation, 500 hours of community service, and a $100,000 fine. “Society will be best served to allow Warner to continue his good works,” he said.

Abuse Allegations

ty warner looking out of frame to the right as he rest his arms on a fence
Ty Warner lived with longtime partner Kathryn Zimmie at his $400 million estate in Montecito, California. She alleged she suffered years of abuse in a 2021 complaint. Getty Images

While he is known to be charitable in the public eye, a former partner alleged Warner had a much darker side in private.

In September 2021, Warner’s longtime partner Kathryn Zimmie filed a complaint in Santa Barbara Superior Court in California, alleging she suffered years of abuse during their “marriage-like” relationship. She sought half of Warner's $400 million estate in Montecito, California.

According to the Santa Barbara Independent, Zimmie claimed she was under constant video surveillance at the estate. She alleged Warner berated her for coughing too much and not finishing her meals and that he would try to hide her walking cane. The most disturbing allegation in the complaint was that Warner choked Zimmie during a 2012 altercation in which she said she would leave him.

At the time, Warner’s lawyer, Gregory Scandaglia, called the complaint a “money grab filled with lies” and said Zimmie’s claims “have no legal basis and are entirely without merit.”

According to the New York Post, the suit was still ongoing in October 2022. Although official details of the case’s progression are unclear, Distractify reported in July 2023 that it has been dismissed with prejudice, according to Scandaglia’s team.

Four Seasons Hotel Disputes

the exterior of the four seasons biltmore hotel is shown
Ty Warner purchased the Four Seasons Biltmore hotel, seen in 2003, in Santa Barbara, California. The hotel remains unopen after Warner closed it in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Getty Images

With his considerable fortune, Warner also invested in real estate, including several luxury hotel properties. They included the Four Seasons Hotel in New York City and the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore in Santa Barbara, California. Warner closed both properties at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic and has shockingly yet to reopen them, prompting legal action.

According to SFGATE, a law firm representing 250 workers at the Biltmore filed a $6 million lawsuit in February 2022 alleging labor disputes and loss of wages. “A vast majority have not found comparable employment, resulting in evictions, foreclosure of mortgages, unpaid bills, the inability to purchase health insurance, and severe emotional damages,” attorneys told the outlet in February 2023. A Ty Warner Hotels and Resorts spokesperson responded by saying the property is undergoing renovations, and there is no timeline for reopening.

As for the New York property, the New York Post reported that Warner and Four Seasons management have been locked in an ongoing dispute. The spat is reportedly over Warner’s refusal to pay large upkeep fees demanded by Four Seasons management.

Even with his other properties, Warner’s efforts as a hotelier have not been profitable. In 2021, ProPublica reported that Warner did not pay federal income taxes for 12 years because his businesses had lost so much money.

It’s a far cry from the raging success of Beanie Babies, which are still available through Ty Inc. and remain Warner’s most recognizable contribution.

Watch The Beanie Bubble on Apple TV+

The Beanie Bubble, which offers a dramatized look at the Beanie Babies phenomenon and the key people behind it, streams on Apple TV+ starting Friday. It stars Galifianakis as Warner and Banks, Snook, and Viswanathan in supporting roles.

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