A Cop Once Tipped A Pizza Waitress $3 Million

And then it became a Nic Cage movie.
A Cop Once Tipped A Pizza Waitress $3 Million

It’s pizza week at Cracked. We were very hungry when thinking of this week’s theme. 

Have you seen the Nic Cage movie It Could Happen to You? In it, Cage's cop character orders a pizza, and he promises his waitress half his winnings if his lottery ticket pays out. He does win, and he makes good on his promise, giving her $2 million. It's a ridiculous way of getting the two leads in a romance movie together. It also happened in real life. 

In 1984, detective Robert Cunningham from Dobbs Ferry, New York, won a lottery payout and split it with his waitress, Phyllis Penzo, as he'd promised. In the movie, the cop promises to split because he has no money for a tip; in real life, Cunningham promised it because Penzo helped him pick the numbers. The real-life payout was bigger, $6 million instead of $4 million (though divided into 20 annual payments). In both stories, the tip was a tad bigger than either expected from a $5 ticket that could also have paid out something tiny. 

A decade later, when the media checked in on the winners, neither had been robbed and murdered, despite the attention their story had received. Cunningham had kept on working as part of the force until retirement kicked in. Penzo did retire early at 51, from the waitressing job she'd held for nearly three decades, but it took her three years of lottery payments to realize she didn't need to work anymore. 

The movie added a little more drama (it never claimed to be based on a true story). Cage's wife sues to get back the half of the money that he handed to a stranger, and a court sides with her. In real life, apparently Cunningham's wife was fine with the split, which is a little surprising. Sure, it's easy to imagine you'd say, "$3 million, $6 million, same thing, we're rich either way," but between taxes and the payment timeline, that's a difference between a family getting $86,000 a year and $172,000 a year, which can lead to two very different lifestyles. 

In the movie, Cage loses all the money to his wife, who leaves him (and then she loses the money to a con artist). Afterward, for silly Hollywood reasons, the whole country comes together and donates more money to him and the waitress, making them both very wealthy after all. Suddenly losing your entire fortune and then randomly getting another half a million had no basis in the real-life story—that was just based on Nic Cage's average Tuesday. 

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For more strange lottery wins, check out:

Amanda Clayton Wins a Million Dollars, Gets Arrested for Welfare Fraud

The Winners Who Hid the Money from Their Spouses

A Fortune Cookie Correctly Predicts Lottery Numbers For 100+ People

Follow Ryan Menezes on Twitter for more stuff no one should see. 

Top image: TriStar Pictures


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