For David Lee Edwards, winning the lottery was a wild rocket ride

In the fall of 2006, David Lee Edwards and his wife, Shawna, decorated their front door for Halloween. But if trick-or-treaters made it to the couple's home, a storage unit in Riviera Beach, no plastic ghost was as scary as what they'd have found inside: two pale, withered junkies from Kentucky living amid dirty clothes, rotting food, and their own filth.

And these were lottery winners.

Today, with David on what could be his deathbed and much of his $27 million prize squandered on big-boy toys and drugs, the saga of the Edwards clan is like the Beverly Hillbillies replayed as tragedy.


To a modern-day Euripides, the point would be that those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make suddenly rich.

The Edwards' story is all the more compelling because of the distance the family traveled, like a rocket that shoots into space and, slowly at first, then faster and faster, tumbles back to Earth.

Liftoff happened toward the end of the summer of 2001, as much of the country was gripped by Powerball mania. Eighteen drawings had failed to produce a winner in 21 states and the District of Columbia. The Powerball pot had swelled to more than $280 million, the third-biggest in U.S. history.

On Saturday, August 25, David walked into Clark's Pump 'n Shop, a convenience store and gas station in Westwood, Kentucky. He was 46, a high school dropout, an ex-con who had robbed a gas station 20 years before. He'd spent a third of his life behind bars. Now he was on unemployment and owed child support. He had chronic back pain from a 1988 car accident. He lived nearby in Ashland, Kentucky — a fading steel town, population 25,000 — in a home without running water.

He spent $7 on lottery tickets.

That night, when winners were finally drawn, David was one of four, scoring $73.7 million. He could have taken that in annual payments of $2.9 million over 25 years — but that was perhaps too safe, too conservative. Instead, he took a one-time payout of $27 million.

On Monday, August 27, David appeared at the Louisville Slugger Museum in Louisville, Kentucky, to receive his ceremonial check. He had his long hair pulled back in a ponytail and was doing his best to look natural in a suit. Reporters peppered him with questions.

Yes, he'd made some mistakes in life, he said, speaking slowly, trying not to sound too country. Yes, he was no stranger to the inside of a jail cell — but from now on, folks could leave poor out of poor white trash when they referred to David Lee Edwards.

Shawna Maddux, his 27-year-old girlfriend, stood by his side. The mother of three boys, she had her own demons — she already had a history of substance abuse — but under the TV lights at the museum, she looked plump and healthy, if awkward.

"You know, a lot of people, they're out of work. Doesn't have hardly anything," David said solemnly.

"And so I didn't want to accept this money by saying I'm going to get mansions and I'm going to get cars, I'm going to do this and that. I would like to accept it with humility.

"I want this money to last, for me, for my future wife, for my daughter and future generations."

Then he said he had his eye on a Bentley. And Shawna wanted a Ferrari.

"We need a new everything," they said, one repeating after the other.

"We're going to be the new and improved David and Shawna," Shawna predicted.

The day he heard he'd won the lottery, David said, his ex-wife, Gail, remarried.

"Congratulations, hon!" he said, gloating.

The Edwards rocket was accelerating. David sought advice from lawyers in Ashland and hired James Gibbs, a 31-year-old Morgan Stanley broker, as his financial adviser. The first thing Gibbs did was arrange a $200,000 loan so David could celebrate in Las Vegas while awaiting the Powerball payment.

After six days in Vegas, David was broke, says Gibbs, speaking by phone from Ashland. (David Lee Edwards could not be reached to comment for this article.)

When his lottery payment came, on September 10, 2001, David was like a kid in a candy store — that is, a kid whose favorite treat was OxyContin, the narcotic painkiller.

When long-lost acquaintances turned up asking for money, David was generous.

His pals "went hog-wild," Gibbs says. "He actually had I don't know how many friends OD once he won the money, from him giving them money and them going and buying so much and doing so much drugs that they died. Then he would pay for their funerals. I would just sit there and cringe."

David decided he needed a new home, in a place where his wealth wouldn't be so conspicuous. So in November 2001, he bought a 6,000-square-foot house in a gated golf and tennis community in Palm Beach Gardens. Price: $1.5 million.

David began to travel back and forth from Florida to Kentucky. On several occasions, he spent $8,500 for a private flight. He sometimes brought an entourage.

This was torture for Gibbs: "I'd be over there grittin' my teeth, with the calculator, saying, 'David, you gotta stop this.'

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He was a drug addict plain and simple anyone with any kind of addiction would be hard pressed to not do the same I have seen other stories about lottery winners who do the same thing if you are a drunk and win millions you will be even more of a drunk if you are a crack head and win millions you will do even more crack and they all do it....what ever their addiction is to the point that they end up broke and dead it's not that uncommon for this to happen I saw this guy David Lee Edwards thank Jesus that he won that money he should have followed what Jesus taught and his kids and family would be rich and so would he and most of all alive but in the end may God have mercy on his soul....so the lesson of this story is don't be a drunk or drug addict and don't buy a bunch of junk that you don't really need you can have fun and live the good life but don't be stupid about it


I do hope this tragic story does not put people off having fun with the lottery. Because that's what it should be - just a bit of fun. How things will turn out for you if you win the lottery is all about the individual, not the lottery itself. Suddenly acquiring countless millions will not turn a loser into a winner, but only into a very rich loser. Sad to say, but David Lee Edwards may well have have ended up in a very similar way, even he had continued to struggle through a life of misery and never had a penny. If you are still going to hope for a lottery, even after this sad story,  then have a look for Villalibra Lucky Numbers - it is just for fun, of course, but you never know...


On one hand it's tempting to feel sorry for David Lee Edwards, the man ravaged by his own drug addictions, lack of understanding of how to properly use the money, the ease that he too with all the vast riches suddenly in his hands succumbed to the notion of spend, spend, spend and acquire one's pleasure, status, identity, it is after all what we are so often reminded what to do should anyone of us make it big.

Yet at the same token there are others who have never had the good fortune of David Lee Edwards, who were forced to reckon with persistent discrimination, oppression, lack of funding, sickness, life's bad shots, things that David Lee Edwards managed to leap frog but still hurl himself back to the abyss of darkness.

Which raises the question, what was it about Edward's make up, his will, his nature, his idealism that turned him into a flashy existence, and drugs perhaps in a way to never really confront himself in the first place.....he just did the implosion more spectacularly than most of us do all day long....



Maybe Holbrooks should be talking about the millions he took from David instead of what is owed him. I feel sorry for anyone ripped off by so many claiming to be friends. Especially a supposed father figure. Even Elmer tried to straighten up his son. Holbrooks is obviously acting as if he's a victim so no one will realize what a crook he is. After all he spent time in prison as well.


@atlbobby215 If David followed what Jesus taught then he and his kids and family would not be rich because he would have given most, if not all, of the money to charity. What is it that Jesus said in your holy book? "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." Matthew, 19:24. At the end of the day, he has a better chance of getting into heaven now than he did when he was rich. You would be happy for him if you actually knew the teachings of your so-called "savior."

While your compulsion to praise your deity at every turn is obnoxious, I do agree with your overall sentiment. One-time income is not an excuse to live outside your means. David was an idiot about it, plain and simple, and his story has a moral to it that most Americans need to wrap their heads around: spend reasonably and proportionate to your income, not your savings.