Image: J.K. Rowling
Louis M. Lanzano  /  AP file
J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, is a surprise addition to Forbes' annual list of billionaires.
updated 2/26/2004 6:15:49 PM ET 2004-02-26T23:15:49

Edited by Luisa Kroll and Lea Goldman

After two years of falling fortunes, the collective net worth of the world's billionaires jumped half a trillion dollars in the past year, to $1.9 trillion.

The biggest gainer in sheer dollars was Warren Buffett, who added $12.4 billion to his net worth and now is only a few billion dollars shy of ending Bill Gates' ten-year reign as the richest person on the planet.

This year Forbes reports a record 587 billionaires, including 64 newcomers.

Among this year's billionaires are some real surprises. In a fairy tale as fantastic as her popular Harry Potter series, former welfare mother J.K. Rowling makes her debut on the Forbes list. So do two geeks who have barely turned 30: Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who created the ultrapopular Google search engine and are expected to take their company public this year.

Canadian impresario Guy Laliberté, creator of Cirque du Soleil, joins the ten-figure club, as does Hong Kong's Michael Ying, whose Esprit line of apparel is spreading, Gap-like, around the world.

Thanks to rising oil prices, Russia minted 8 new billionaires and now has a total of 25, the third-highest concentration of in the world.

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