Being a top-rated celebrity sort of immortalizes you, doesn’t it? Long after these celebrities are rocking their afterlives, their fans can continue to see, hear, and read them to their heart’s content. But other than memories, there is another thing these celebs tend to leave behind as their legacy, and that is their continued and often sky-rocketing earnings.
A dead celeb can still be a top grosser for their families, and tearjerker advertisers are happy to buy the rights of dead celebs. It’s a simple formula: nostalgia and tragedy are often bigger sellers than your usual dose of sunshine and joy! And it’s not just Hollywood sirens like Marilyn Monroe or music geniuses like Michael Jackson who are still earning a bomb. Bob Marley is gracing a legalized marijuana brand and Albert Einstein is still selling T-shirts, tablets, and all sorts of memorabilia.
Being six feet down in the ground is no hurdle to your earnings, as many advertising and marketing agencies in the US will confirm. In fact, there are many agencies the world over whose entire dossier is filled with dead celebrities and the profitability from them! The thing is, once you are dead, you can't mess up your reputation anymore! So here are 16 Celebs Whose Earnings Skyrocketed After They Died! And as their survivors would say, the more moolah, the merrier it is…
16 Muhammad Ali: The Real Champ
Muhammad Ali was a true champion, one who became a stereotypical rags-to-riches story. He fought for the rights of African Americans and was principled enough to put his foot down against the US government and racism – even at great cost to his career. He refused to be drafted for the Vietnam War and had his honors and championships stripped off – all because he decided that the white man could not use the black man for America and yet not consider him American. Ali had been suffering from Parkinson’s for a long time, and finally on June 3, 2016, he died at age 74. His net worth stands at $80 million and though he has been gone for more than a year, his earnings are still growing by the day. While he did not make the Forbes list of the top earning dead celebs of 2016, he was certainly an honorable mention.
15 Bruce Lee: The Asian Hollywood Star
One of the undisputedly best martial artists of all time, Bruce Lee changed the face of the Asian actor in Hollywood, who, till him, were always considered to be stereotyped comic relief characters. With Bruce Lee successfully breaking Hollywood, things became good for future acts to follow and martial arts became a big milking asset for Hollywood. He was well on his way to stardom as a film director, screenwriter, and actor, if it wasn't for his tragic death at age 32 on July 20, 1973, a freak reaction to a headache medicine. Aside from being an actor, Bruce Lee was also a martial arts instructor, martial arts founder (Jeet Kune Do) and philosopher. And while he too has missed being a part of the Forbes richest dead celebs list last year; he certainly was an honorable mention with a net worth of $10 million. Most of Bruce Lee’s current earnings come from various endorsement deals as well as his school of martial arts.
14 Marilyn Monroe: A Beauty Unparalleled
A sex and beauty symbol like no other, Hollywood has not seen the likes of Marilyn Monroe since her early and shocking death at just 36 years old on August 25, 1962. Her net worth stands around $27 million and in 2015 her earnings remained at a high $17 million, presumably from film royalties and more so from endorsements. Despite being so popular with the world (especially the male part), Marilyn was at heart an unhappy and insecure woman who never really got over her childhood abandonment issues. Being bounced from foster home to foster home, and assaulted and raped a couple of times, Marilyn was a heartbreaking beauty with a tragic shadow. Her search for love led to three failed marriages and many affairs but she never really found what she was looking for – despite having all the material comforts of the world. She died alone in her bed of acute barbiturate poisoning and while the world mourned her passing, they never could make her happy when she was alive. An honorable Forbes mention, Marilyn makes for one very rich dead celebrity.
13 Elizabeth Taylor: Of Marriages & Money
Elizabeth Taylor ruled the roost, be it as an actress with the most in demand roles, as a woman with the choice of husbands, or as a lady who basically had it all and lived life queen size. Married a total of eight times to seven husbands, Liz Taylor was just different from the rest of her contemporaries. And her net worth is a whopping $600 million! And she wasn’t just an actress, her foray into the world of perfumes got her plenty of royalties as well. She’s number 13 on the Forbes list of top-earning dead celebrities and 2016 earned her a cool $8 million. But frankly, what’s eight when you got 600, and can’t spend any of it anyway! She died at 79 of heart failure on March 23, 2011, and by then this pocket Venus (she was 5’2") already had ten grandchildren and four great-grandchildren! Quite a legacy.
12 Steve McQueen: Damn, He Was Cool
The original daredevil of the West, there was something so different about Steve McQueen that he became an instant hit. His masculinity and devil-may-care attitude, coupled with that inner turmoil and encased with those icy blue eyes earned him the title of King of Cool. And pretty soon, he became the highest paid actor of 1974. And yet his past came back to haunt him in the worst way. Before becoming an actor, he was a United States marine. The exposure to asbestos during his time in the navy led to him developing malignant mesothelioma for which there was no cure. Steve McQueen was terminal. All the money in the world failed him and desperate to save his life, he signed up for surgery to remove his tumors at a clinic in Mexico. He never woke up post the surgery and died on November 7, 1980, aged 50. His endorsement earnings in 2016 were $9 million, from various deals with luxury brands like Tag Heuer, Porsche, Persol, and even Dolce & Gabbana and his net worth is $30 million.
11 David Bowie: Them Colorful Performances
With a cool net worth of $230 million, David Bowie can be best described as a legendary singer, record producer, actor, and songwriter with a very strong but different screen presence. His singing career spanned almost five decades and songs like "Let’s Dance" and "Fame" gave him a rock-solid fan following. In 2013, after some industrious hard work, the Thin White Duke released what would be his final album titled Blackstar. Two days later, Bowie was dead and the outpouring of grief made him outsell Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley. He died, age 69, from cancer on January 10, 2016, after having won some 14 awards from prestigious organizations like American Music Awards, BRIT Awards, and BAFTAs. His 2016 earnings were $10.5 million and he’s at number 11 on the Forbes top-earning dead celebrities.
10 Bettie Page: The Pin-Up Girl Extraordinaire
For millennials today, Bettie Page is not really a name that immediately comes to mind. Born in 1923, Bettie Mae Page was an American model with a net worth of $20 million dollars. She is famous for her 1950s pin-up photos; while she started out wanting to be a model or an actress, a photographer (who was also a cop) took some risqué photos of her, and firmly established her as a pin-up girl. Bettie carried on this legacy till she could, posing for fetish shots and appearing on erotic magazine covers. In 1955, she became a Playboy Playmate of the Month centerfold and the same year was also crowned Miss Pin-up Girl of the World. She retired from modeling in the late 1950s but became popular again in the 1990s. With a net worth of some $20 million and 2016 earnings of $11 million, Bettie Page passed away on Dec 11, 2008.
9 Albert Einstein: The Original Brainiac
How do we compliment someone who is very intelligent? We dub them The Next Einstein. Such were the accomplishments of this man, who not only gave the world the formula of equivalence between energy and mass but also the theory of relativity, quantum theory, and the particle theory. His net worth post his passing was $12 million. Einstein died when an abdominal aneurysm burst – causing internal bleeding and pain – but he refused further treatment and preferred to leave this world with elegance. And so on April 18, 1955, he did. In 2016, Albert Einstein earned $11.5 million for his face and name that is now being lent by his estate to various tech and artificial intelligence brands and companies. Half a century has passed, and this frizzy haired gent is still at it, turning science into moolah.
8 John Lennon: A Very Nice Musician Indeed
What do we say about John Lennon? That he was a wife beater? Yes. That he was a bloody good musician? Yes. That he was the first who wanted to break off from The Beatles? Yes. That he left his wife for his second one? Yes to all… Lennon may not have been the best guy to be with and probably not the most faithful either, but he was an undeniably talented musician. His songs and lyrics were one of a kind though he’s also the guy who infamously peed into Jayne Mansfield’s cocktail. That said, Lennon was gone way too soon – killed by the psycho Mark David Chapman – all because he wanted to be famous. The man who famously changed his name to John Winston Ono Lennon after his marriage to Yoko Ono died at 40 when he was shot on December 8, 1980 with a net worth of $800 million. His 2016 earnings were at $12 million, from various royalties.
7 Dr Seuss: The Man Behind The Grinch
The brain behind The Cat in the Hat series and many other books for children was that of Theodor Geisel or Dr. Seuss as we know him. Born in 1904, he has 46 books to his name altogether, also writing under the pseudonyms Rosetta Stone, Theophrastus Seuss, and Theo LeSeig. This amazing writer, poet, and cartoonist died of oral cancer on July 24, 1991, aged 87 with a net worth of some $11 million. That said, in 2016 his earnings jumped to $20 million because of an unpublished manuscript that was released in 2015, What Pet Should I Get? His books were whimsical and beautiful, and made for an interesting read for adults and children alike, which is why when this book came out in 2015, it became such a big hit!
6 Bob Marley: Buffalo Soldier, In The Heart Of America
This much-idolized and loved Rastafarian musician left a net worth of some $130 million – a rather impressive number considering the fact that he died when he was just 36 on May 11, 1981 from a malignant melanoma that had invaded his entire body, starting just at his littlest toe. Bob Marley’s music, his ideology, and his free use of marijuana made him a huge hit in the flower generation of the 70s, and he was the central attraction of Woodstock. In 2016, his earning power was still on a roll – he earned a cool $21 million. This moolah doesn’t come from his album sales but rather the House of Marley audio products, Marley’s Mellow Mood Beverages, and various merchandising deals (think legalized weed!). Long live the joint!
5 Prince: Just Upped & Died & Shocked
Prince’s untimely and sudden death on April 2, 2016, shocked the whole world. This flamboyant 57-year old was still very much at the top of his game, earning upwards of $2 million for each touring show! And when he keeled over from a prescription drug overdose, the world mourned the loss of yet another great biting the dust. With one Golden Globe and Academy award each, as well as seven Grammys under his belt, this singer, songwriter, musician and actor gave no inkling that he was about to go. The shock of his death led to unprecedented album sales in 2016, surpassing any other dead musician’s sales at 2.5 million albums, all under his own label. His 2016 earnings were a cool $25 million and he is number 5 on the Forbes list of the top-earning dead celebrities of 2016! His net worth stands at a staggering $300 million.
4 Elvis Presley: The King Has Left The Building
The undeniable King of Rock, Elvis was simply unique and never has the world come across another flashy, handsome, and gorgeous musician as he was. His popularity was still up despite his ballooning weight and increasingly erratic behavior but all was forgiven when this flamboyant and adored megastar collapsed and died at just 42, on August 16, 1977. The world was shocked and mourned the loss of The King. His net worth some 40 years after his death remains high at $300 million – not surprising since he was making music since the age of 21 and was even awarded the Lifetime Achievement Grammy when he was just 36 years old! His 2016 haul was $27 million, from the one million or so albums he still manages to sell to date and from the still bigger sales of Graceland tickets! It’s good to be Elvis Presley, alive or dead!
3 Arnold Palmer: No Fore Before His Death
Number three on the Forbes list of top-earning dead celebrities is a bit of a shock, but for those who knew about this golfing legend, not really! Tiger Woods was probably well on his way to becoming the next Arnold Palmer except for the fact that he couldn’t really keep his junk in pants! That said, Tiger Woods’s net worth at $740 million is still more than that of Arnold Palmer’s at $675 million. Palmer was known to be a down to earth family man and this nature of his made him a legend in golf as well as in business. He died on September 25, 2016 aged 87 of heart disease but raked in a whopping $40 million the same year. The Arnold Palmer stores as well as his ice tea and lemonade mix beverage will probably make him a top contender in 2017’s list of top-earning dead celebrities as well.
2 Charles Schulz: Charlie Brown Pays Well
Charles Schulz is sure worth a lot simply because the annual revenue of the Peanuts strip remains upwards of $80 million to $1 billion, considering it is published in some 2,600 publications in 21 languages in 75 countries and has some 700+ licensing agreements as well. In 2016, Charles Schulz became number two on the Forbes list of top-earning dead celebrities with a huge inflow of $48 million, thanks to his share earned from the movie sales of the 2015’s successful 3-D Peanuts movie. In 1989, Charles Schulz was earning roughly $30-40 million a year thanks to the success of this strip and he kept up that annual income till he finally forever fell silent on February 12, 2000, succumbing to colon cancer.
1 Michael Jackson: The Man In The Mirror
The King of Pop. The man who loved children and gave them Neverland. The musician who married Elvis’s daughter. The man they accused of child molestation. The singer who has been onstage since the age of 5 and who rose to unseen heights as a solo performer in his later years. One can keep talking about Michael Jackson, who died ever so suddenly, over drugged by his doctor, on June 25, 2009, aged just 50. While the drug-happy doctor was indicted, Michael was gone forever. But his songs and his amazing videos remained. And as never-before-seen footage and unheard songs were found, his earnings began to grow. But in 2016, Michael became another kind of legend altogether with a jaw dropping haul of $825 million in earnings that year – and no, you haven’t misread the figure. In 1985, Michael Jackson spent some $47.5 million (equivalent to $140 million in 2016) to buy the Beatles-packed ATV publishing catalog. In 1994, Sony paid him $115 to form a 50:50 joint venture with him and in March 2016, Sony bought the other half. This had made Michael the richest top-earning dead celeb of any year to date! Now that’s what we call a KING!