Sources: Forbes – By Zack O’Malley Greenburg | Eventbrite | All Things Michael
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 our 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.
“When a composer [or] a performer dies, that’s it,” says Josh Rubenstein, National Chair of Trusts and Estates at Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP. “It’s no more … once they’re dead and there can’t be any more [work], all of the sudden everybody comes in and says, ‘Oh, we’ve got to get this guy.’”
Peanuts creator Charles Schulz ranks third with $40 million, much of it from his cut of licensing revenue from the popular comic. In November Charlie Brown and Co. will hit the big screen in a 3-D flick, The Peanuts Movie.
“The marketing of the film … is boosting awareness for the Peanuts brand,” says Steven Marotta, an analyst at C.L. King & Associates who tracks Iconix, Peanuts’ parent company. “That, coupled with their international sway–about two-thirds of Peanuts revenue comes from overseas–means Peanuts is set to grow.”
Bob Marley ($21 million) and Elizabeth Taylor ($20 million) round out the top five. In death, Marley is becoming quite the businessman with his Marley Beverage company (home to Marley’s Mellow Mood) and House of Marley (maker of eco-friendly audio and lifestyle products). Taylor remains the titan of a celebrity fragrance business that includes White Diamonds, which launched 24 years ago and continues to sell.
Other notables include actor Paul Walker, who banked $10.5 million on the success of Furious 7–which grossed $1.5 billion at the worldwide box office, making it the franchise’s biggest intake to date. Albert Einstein earned $11 million, thanks to branded merchandise including apparel, posters and tablets designed by Israeli tech company Fourier Systems.
“Einstein has a very large cult-like following from the nerd-science community,” says Kevin Connelly, Director of Rights Representation at Corbis Entertainment, which represents Einstein.
Though there are only 13 names on our Top-Earning Dead Celebrities list, plenty of others are pulling in millions from 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 this year’s list of the Top-Earning Dead Celebrities, we looked at pretax earnings from Oct. 1, 2014 through Oct. 1, 2015. We included income from record sales, music publishing, film residuals, licensing and other ventures. Our sources include lawyers, managers and agents connected to key celebrity estates.
Michael Jackson’s list-leading total of $115 million marks an 18% drop from last year’s $140 million figure. The shift is largely due to the conclusion of the Michael Jackson Immortal World Tour, which grossed over $350 million in its three-year run.
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