In the time since Michael Jackson’s sudden death in 2009, the financial story that has played out has been nothing short of a thriller.
The King of Pop has earned more than $1 billion before taxes since then, enough to pay off his personal debts and then some.
This year Jackson again leads the list of the 13 top-earning dead celebrities, pulling in $115 million over the past year.
The main drivers of his afterlife fortune: the Vegas Cirque du Soleil show Michael Jackson One, the Mijac Music catalog, recorded music sales and half of the Sony /ATV publishing empire.
#1 Michael Jackson – $115 M
The King of Pop has earned nine figures every full year since his death in 2009.
The prime drivers of his afterlife fortune: permanent Vegas Cirque du Soleil show Michael Jackson One, the Mijac Music catalogue, music sales and half of the Sony/ATV publishing empire.
#2 Elvis Presley – $55 M
The King of Rock n’ Roll doesn’t rule the realm of postmortem cash, but he’s making more than most living stars thanks largely to Graceland ticket sales.
In August he earned his 53rd Top 40 album with Elvis Presley Forever, a compilation released by the U.S. Postal Service along with a commemorative stamp.
#3 Charles Schulz – $40 M
The Peanuts creator has a cut of licensing revenue from the popular comic to thank for his paycheck.
Charlie Brown and Co. are now hitting the big screen in a 3-D flick, The Peanuts Movie, out in November 2015.
#4 Bob Marley – $21 M
Not exactly a capitalist icon in life, the reggae legend is becoming quite the businessman in death.
Three reasons: the Marley Beverage company (home to “relaxation drink” Marley’s Mellow Mood), House of Marley (maker of eco-friendly audio and lifestyle products) and music (over 75 million albums sold).
#5 Elizabeth Taylor – $20 M
The legendary actress remains the titan of a dwindling celebrity fragrance business.
Her hit scents include White Diamonds, which launched in 24 years ago and continues to sell.
Fellow (living) licensing queen Kathy Ireland adopted her two Maltese dogs when she died.
#6 Marilyn Monroe – $17 million
Though she died more than a half century ago, Monroe remains an international icon, part of the reason Authentic Brand Group bought the rights to her brand in 2011.
In addition to a Macy’s clothing label, there’s also a Monroe lingerie line.
#7 John Lennon – $12 million
The singer-songwriter continues to share in the Beatles’ spoils—over 63 million albums sold in the U.S. alone since 1992—both in terms of recorded music and publishing.
Other ventures such as the Beatles-themed Cirque du Soleil show Love! in Las Vegas, are still padding his coffin’s coffers.
#8 Albert Einstein – $11 million
There are avid buyers among the inventor’s cult-like nerd following: Einstein-branded merchandise includes apparel, posters and tablets designed by Israeli tech company Fourier Systems.
Packed with built-in sensors, the tablets measureheart rate, humidity and temperature.
#9 Paul Walker – $10.5 million
Walker’s untimely death and Furious 7’s celluloid tribute to him propelled the movie to $1.5 billion at the box office, making it the franchise’s biggest intake to date.
He may have died while the movie was filming, but his estate is still thought to have profited from a slice of the movie’s backend.
#10 Bettie Page – $10 million
Iconic Playboy pinup Bettie Page has licensed her sex appeal into growing fashion lines, including lingerie and bridalwear, which account for most of her earnings.
A Vegas show featuring a hologram of Page performing one of her famous striptease acts is in the works.
#11 Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) – $9.5 million
From Green Eggs and Ham to green stacks in hand, Theodore Geisel (penname: Dr. Seuss) has nonsensical kids books such as The Cat in the Hat to thank for his dough.
These classics and their anthropomorphized characters sell millions annually, and have spawned merchandise, movies and Universal Studios rides.
#12 Steve McQueen – $9 million
The gearhead actor now makes money licensing his name and image to ongoing ad campaigns for the likes of Tag Heuer, Barbour and Persol.
A McQueen-branded Porsche clothing line includes a $900 leather jacket.
#13 James Dean – $8.5 million
“You got that James Dean daydream look in your eye,” crooned Taylor Swift in her 2014 hit “Style,” introducing the actor to a new audience.
Despite his Hollywood hits, Dean now makes most of his millions from brands including Jockey and Dolce & Gabbana; there’s even a James Dean bar in Prague.
There are only 13 names on our Top-Earning Dead Celebrities List, but plenty more pulling in millions beyond the grave.
Among those closest to making the cut: Frank Sinatra, Bruce Lee, Joan Rivers, George Harrison, Richard Rogers, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash and Kurt Cobain.
In order to compile our list of the Top-Earning Dead Celebrities, we look at pretax earnings from October 1st, 2014 through October 1st, 2015.
We include income from record sales, music publishing, film residuals, licensing and other ventures.
Our sources include lawyers, managers and agents connected to key celebrity estates.
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