The top-earning celebrity in the world in 2013 was, in fact, a dead celeb. This is surely testament to the fact that our society loves to immortalize our heroes, our idols, our beloved entertainers. We hold onto them even after they are long gone; in fact, when celebrities leave the mortal coil they tend to take their negatives with them, as we seem to focus only on their greatness rendering them almost flawless in death. Once a favourite celebrity is gone we cling to whatever they left for us here on Earth, whatever gifts they brought us, and when they die those items – music, art, personal items, pictures – instantly increase in value because of their now necessarily finite nature. But that’s not to say the celeb in question can’t keep developing an empire. The name itself, on merchandise, in movies and in advertising, seems to have even larger earning potential when the celebrity is passed. And so, many of our society’s most cherished departed celebrities continue to rake in the big bucks long after they’re gone. The legacy these celebrities leave is so huge it’s guaranteed to bulk up their estates for years to come: Indeed, some of these celebs are earning millions annually, up to 50 years after their death. Here’s the breakdown of the 5 immortal celebrities who just keep on earning, ranked in terms of annual earnings in 2013.
15. Jenni Rivera – $7 million
Jenni Rivera is the most recently deceased celebrity on the list, and so although her long-term stamina as a posthumous musical icon has been tested very little, she holds strong at the end of 2013. Rivera, a Mexican-American singer who died in a plane crash in 2012, has sold nearly as many records in death as she did in life; over 880,000 records have been sold since her death. Her postmortem earnings have also been boosted by her autobiography, ‘Unbreakable: My Story’ – selling over 400,000 copies since its release -as well as the reality TV show ‘I Love Jenni’, which has reached an audience of 5.5 million.
14. Bruce Lee – $7 million
Bruce Lee finds his place on the Top-Earning Dead Celebrities list but finds it in the form of a four-way tie. However, Lee might be jumping much higher on the list as technology advances. Rumours are rife that a new movie is in the works starring this dead celebrity, which would utilize cutting-edge technology to bring Lee and all his glory back to life; well, on the big screen at least. While many are skeptical, a glimmer of hope for fans came in the form of the Johnnie Walker “Keep Walking” campaign, where a computer animated Lee appears in this short film on a balcony in Hong Kong.
13. Jimi Hendrix – $7 million
This music icon endures with multiple posthumous releases. Most recently the Hendrix estate released a Winterland four CD box set and surprised fans by releasing an exclusive fifth disc. Above and beyond this Jimi Hendrix’s estate authorized two more live-show DVDs to be released, which will join the steady stream of sales of the musician’s works released during his lifetime. Other contributions to Hendrix’s posthumous earnings have been ad campaigns, like HP campaign which featured his song ‘Foxy Lady’. It seems this revolutionary guitar player’s image has gotten little rest since his overdose in 1970.
12. Stieg Larsson $7 million
Stieg Larsson’s heart attack and subsequent death in 2004 was indeed untimely, mostly due to the fact that he died before The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was even published, and therefore didn’t have a chance to witness the incredible success the series has had. The three book series has become known as The Millennium Trilogy and there have been rumours of a possible unpublished fourth book, which should surely keep Larsson on this list for another few years. To date, more than 40 million copies of The Millennium Trilogy have been sold, and it has been published in 44 languages, and the books’ film adaptations have been worldwide successes.
11. Steve McQueen -$9 million
Steve McQueen embodies everything that is “cool.” This reputa referred to as “The King of Cool.” He became a leader of a counterculture, a symbol of the “anti-hero” that developed during the Vietnam War-era. As an American actor some of his great moments on the big screen included movies like The thomas Crown Affair, The Sand Pebbles, The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, and The Towering Inferno. Even if you haven’t seen these movies, chances are you’ve heard of them. His legend is strong and lives on. This super cool anti-hero passed in 1980 due to complications during surgery. Today, his estate still booms thanks to relationships he McQueen established in life with Tag Heuer and Persol. McQueen is now partnered with Lucky Jeans, which has helped maintain his popularity.
10. Theodor Geisel – $9 million
Having the creator of the Dr. Seuss books, on this list – even at number 10 – reestablishes a bit of faith in our humanity. Perhaps our values as a society aren’t as screwed up as some the other rich lists would lead us to believe. Geisel died back in ’91, at the age of 87, and yet people continue to value the man who taught generations of children how to read. Good job America! The Dr. Seuss empire is huge, and with consistently-selling books, merchandise and successful movie adaptations of his work – The Lorax made $349 million – it’s easy to see why Geisel’s net worth just keeps increasing annually, even beyong the grave. It’s rumoured Hollywood is about to inject more wealth into the Dr. Seuss world soon, with updated versions of both The Cat in the Hat and How the Grinch Stole Christmas in the works.
9. Bettie Page – $10 million
One thing that is true about every single person on this list is that they created one heck of a staple image for themselves, and if anyone did this to perfection it was Bettie Page. This glamour model broke the mould and defined a style and an era, so much so that there are a line of Bettie Page boutique stores in New York City, Portland and Las Vegas where fans can find whatever they need to emulate her style. Page was the ultimate pin-up girl, with her low-cut tops and severe bangs. There’s no mistaking her style! Page truly made her mark, which is why she’s number nine on the highest-earning dead celebrity list. She died in 2008, of natural causes, but she has a legacy worth $10 million last year alone.
8. Albert Einstein – $10 million
Einstein has always been one of the most well-known scientists. His popularity can be partly attributed to his appearance. He has always had that cool scientist look that we absolutely adore: quirky, and weird, with wild hair and soft intelligent eyes.
If Marilyn Monroe embodies our society’s idea of “sexy”, Einstein is the epitome of our idea of “smart”. In today’s world smart sells almost as easily as sex does. Smart is in! Look at our new favorite shows like The Big Bang Theory, or all of our huge paying game shows. Geeks, nerds, you name it…they’ve never been hotter. For example, an Einstein pen just sold for $3,000. Einstein looks like he’ll be a competitor on this list for awhile.
7. John Lennon – $12 million
Researching this section, produced an amazing one liner: “imagine all the profits!” It’s true, just imagine it. The Beatles’ spoils remain enormous, and Lennon — as both songwriter and a performer — has sold over 63 million albums since 1992 in the U.S. alone. Other capital showers in from the Cirque du Soleil show Love! Apparently, Cirque du Soleil is a huge fan of contributing to the estates of the deceased and the famous: you’ll understand more when you reach the end of the list.
6. Marilyn Monroe – $15 million
We all love to love to Marilyn Monroe don’t we? Her sex appeal has trumped any societal ideals of women over the decades, and continues to do so. She is the eternal sex symbol. Monroe’s estate is booming. The estate, now run by Authentic Brand Group, is taking Monroe into numerous markets. She now has a line of clothes at Macy’s, was recently in an ad campaign for Sexy Hair, and is now the new face of Chanel No. 5. Not only this but Marilyn Monroe spas and cafes seem to popping up all around the country these days. Over 50 years after he death at 36 years old, Monroe’s legacy lives on and her fortune stands at $15 million.
5. Bob Marley – $18 million
Any true fan of Bob Marley knows that the idea of his image for capital gain is probably making him turn in his grave. We’re sorry Bob! But we love you so, and this is how American’s show their love…we buy stuff.
Since his death, Marley has ventured into beverage companies, such as Marley Beverage — which makes Marley’s Mellow Mood, the “relaxation” drink, and One Drop (it’s like coffee) — and has also started House of Marley — which produces lifestyle and eco-friendly audio products. If Marley were alive today Marley’s Mellow Mood may or may not be in existence, but one thing he would be happy about is that in the past two decades he has sold over 75 million albums.
4. Elizabeth Taylor – $25 million
Last year Elizabeth Taylor, who died in 2011 at age 79, participated in a bit of a beyond-the-grave battle with the King of Pop, when she stole the number one spot away from him, with an astounding $185 million in earnings in 2012. This was accomplished through a series of successful auctions of her jewelry, her clothes and her art. While other earnings throughout the year piled in from her ever popular fragrance, White Diamonds, which — in the U.S. alone — accounted for about $35 million (2012). Also, smart investments in real estate and stocks, as well as her rights to movies continue to roll on in. Taylor’s estate continues to find ways to bump this Hollywood glamor girl up on this list, and are looking into high-end clothing and cosmetics to keep her a competitive star even after death.
3. Charles M Schulz – $37 million
Oh, Charles Schulz and his beloved Peanuts comic-strip. From 1922 to 2000, his tender-hearted characters reached tens of millions of readers every day; through 21 different languages and in 75 countries no less. Schulz did his part to soften the world. He took many moments from his own life and wove them into the storylines — making the comic not only extremely personal and close to his heart, but relatable and true to life. People fell in love with Charlie Brown and his innocent, charming ways, and the fact that the Little Red-Haired Girl never gave him the time of day added to his tenderness. He was such a vulnerable little guy.
People fell in love with the whole gang: with Charlie’s dog Snoopy; and his little sister Sally; his odd, yet wise, friend Linus; and of course the bullying, bratty Lucy. Yes, we fell in love with them all. And we still love them. This is proven in Schulz sweeping the number three spot on this posthumous earnings list. Rumor has it he could be moving higher on the list in the near future, as a new movie, starring the whole Peanuts gang, is supposedly in the works at Fox.
2. Elvis – $55 million
Second on the list is the King of Rock n’ Roll. We didn’t adorn him with the title of “King” for no reason, and he continues to remain worthy of such a title as he is the second highest on our list of deceased celebrity earners.
Elvis’ image has become eternally popular. He is legend. Elvis is one of the stars whose death seemed to be the hardest for the public to accept. To this day people claim they see him walking around, sipping coffee in some dark corner of a coffee shop. There are a plethora of conspiracy theories denying Elvis’ death. If that is in fact the case, and Elvis has been alive all these years in hiding, he surely would have had plenty of money to do it with.
1. Michael Jackson – $160 million
Leave it to Michael Jackson to still rock everyone’s socks off from six feet under, 5 years after his death. Even living stars still have nothing on the King of Pop. From the afterlife his $160 million easily surpassed the second highest earning celeb, Madonna, at $125 million.
Jackson’s continued reign of success from beyond the grave can be partly attributed to two incredibly successful Cirque du Soleil shows: One, and Immortal. Oddly, One is the performance that features a hologram-esque illusion of Jackson singing “Man in the Mirror”, but Immortal seems a more fitting title for such trickery. Regardless, Cirque du Soleil is definitely contributing to Jackson’s immortal back account.
Besides Cirque du Soleil, Jackson has left behind little golden eggs everywhere. Like the enormous one he left at Sony/ATV Music Publishing, where he still earns not only from his own music but from his half of the company. As the largest music publishing company in the world (think The Beatles, Lady Gaga, and Taylor Swift), you can imagine the deceased King of Pop makes a pretty penny off of it.