They may have passed away, but their legend lives on. As does their income. The monetary value of most artists survives long after they have. With copyright now extending seventy years after the death of the author, literal rather than post-modern, the companies that own the rights to deceased artist’s work can generate a nice profit from it. Not to mention the millions to be earned through the artists likeness. The ethical implications notwithstanding, Forbes has released a list of the highest earning dead celebrities. So let’s count down the Top Ten Highest Earning Dead Celebrities Estates.
Top Ten Highest Earning Dead Celebrities Estates
#10 – Bettie Page $10 Million
The original fetish pin-up. Bettie Page represented the kinky side of the 1950s, a side seldom thought about when we imagine the era. While she was popular during her hey day, it wasn’t until the 1980s that she gained more mainstream appeal. Unfortunately she wasn’t aware of it. In the mid-nineties she signed on with the same company that managed the James Dean and Marilyn Monroe estates, finally getting her dues. She spent much of her latter days in mental institutions, suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and died of a heart attack in 2008. Her impact on the fashion industry, especially now, is unprecedented. Everyone from Katy Perry to Dita Von Teese owe some aspect of their career to this woman.
#9 – Paul Walker $10.5 Million
A talented actor taken too young. Paul Walker was best known for the “Fast and the Furious” movies, starring opposite best friend Vin Diesel. Upon his death the Paul Walker Estate was worth in excess of $23 million, split between homes, cash, cars and investments. He left it all to his daughter., Meadow Walker. Paul died in a car crash, when his Porsche Carrera GT collided with a concrete lamp post at around 100mph. His friend Roger Rodas was driving at the time. Roger died on impact but the soot found in Paul’s lungs indicate that he survived the crash only to die from trauma. Last year Meadow Walker filled suit against Porsche for the wrongful death of her father, citing known design faults in the car.
#8 – Albert Einstein $11 Million
The father of modern physics. Einstein’s contribution to the sciences cannot be over stated. His theories have stood the test of time, with his predictions coming true year after year. He published numerous papers in his time, though most are in the public domain these days. His brand and image are worth a mint though. Between sponsorship deals and the Baby Einstein line from Disney, it’s no surprise that his estate is worth so much. The current owner of the estate is Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.
#7 – John Lennon $12 Million
Some might say the greatest Beatle. The original guitar band, without whom the modern music landscape would look very different. Influential in rock, pop and avant-garde art-rock, it’s no surprise that John Lennon’s estate still generates a huge amount annually. It’s easy to figure out how they make money from John Lennon, his extensive back catalog of music. From the Beatles to his solo work, even his paintings are worth a few bob. His wife, Yoko Ono, was the executor of his estate, though with his children all grown up now they may get a portion of the income.
#6 – Marilyn Monroe $17 Million
One of the most bankable stars of her era, and a pop culture icon. From her blond hair to her ruby red lips, she is in many ways the antithesis to Bettie Page. Marilyn was as famous for her off-screen dalliances as much as her on-screen talents, being romantically linked to President Kennedy and Marlon Brando. She died in 1962 of a drug overdose. Marilyn left the bulk of her wealth to her acting coach Lee Strasberg. Upon his death in 1982 it feel to his second wife, Anna who handed it off the CMG Worldwide to manage. The income comes from licensed products that bear her name and likeness.
#5 – Elizabeth Taylor $20 Million
Both one of the last stars if Old Hollywood and the first modern celebrity, the the violet eyed Elizabeth Taylor’s career spanned the decades. She made her film debut with a minor role in “One Born Every Minute” but achieved international recognition with “National Velvet”. She won the best actress Oscar in 1961 for “BUtterfield 8” and again in 1967 for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”. She also lent her name to ranges of perfume and owned an impressive collection of jewelry. She died in 2011 of complications following heart failure. Much of the current income generated by her estate comes from the jewelry and perfume companies that bear her name.
#4 – Bob Marley $21 Million
The man who codified modern reggae, Bob Marley’s music is still as important today as is was when first released. Along with Bunny Wailer, Bob formed The Wailers in the early sixties. The group hit big in the early seventies when they help popularize the fledgling reggae genre worldwide. Many of the band members would pursue solo careers, but none would match the fame and recognition of Marley. In July of 1977 doctors found a malignant melanoma under the nail of of a toe. He refused amputation, instead having the blemish removed. He would die from cancer in 1981. Much of the Bob Marley estate’s income is generated from music royalties.
#3 – Charles Schulz $40 Million
Nicknamed Sparky, the creator of Peanuts is seen as one of the most influential cartoonist who ever lived. He created the series in 1950 and at its height was featured in 2,600 newspapers worldwide. Much of the estates income comes from licensing revenue from the Iconix owned comic, including revenue from merchandising sales, with Peanuts characters appearing on T-Shirts, lunchboxes and even a few video games. Charles Schulz died of colon cancer in 2000.
#2 Elvis Presley $55 Million
The King of Rock and Roll. Elvis Presley combined the sounds of southern gospel, country and rhythm and blues to make Rockabilly. His energetic, sexualized style and his mix of influence across race lines made him enormously popular, and quite controversial. Seeming a little tame these days though. His music still enjoys tremendous mainstream success, so it isn’t much of a surprise to find him so high on this list. His image is extremely valuable in addition to the royalties from music sales. He died in 1977. Drugs and diet were implicated.
#1 – Micheal Jackson $115 Million
From the King of Rock and Roll to the unquestioned King of Pop. Micheal Jackson is a musical legend. His contentious personal life notwithstanding, his music really speaks for itself. Beginning his career as the lead singer of the Jackson 5 in the sixties before going solo in the early seventies, he released hit after hit, and was at one point the highest paid recording artist ever. His untimely death from a drug overdoes in 2009 was a blow for the industry, and considering his forthcoming tour a blow for his fans too. His estate makes money not only for Micheal’s back catalog, which is extensive, but also from Sony ATV, of which is currently owns half. Sony ATV owns the rights to over 750,000 songs, including tracks from the Beatles, Taylor Swift and the Rolling Stones. The estate is currently in talks with Sony, whether they will sell their share or buy Sony’s remains to be seen.
So there we have it, the Top Ten Highest Earning Dead Celebrities Estates. Most of the estates listed here have been generating millions of dollars in income every year for a very long time. It is a trend that is likely to continue, as every year we’ll have something new to remind us of the deceased. I’ll be interested to see the estates that don’t make the next list. Which ones do you think won’t make the cut? And why isn’t Walt Disney included in this?
source – Forbes.com