When a true icon dies, their icon status is usually all it takes for their families to keep eating. For a few icons their families and attorneys (out of either greed or love or both) have negotiated enough posthumous licensing deals and released enough posthumous work that the great grand children they've never met will still be eating in 30 years. These people make up Forbes' list of the Top Earning Dead Celebrities, and this year's top 15 earned a total of $366 million between October 2010 and October 2011. A few of the names on here are the usual suspects you would expect, but more than a couple will likely surprise you. (Don't miss the "Honorable Mentions" after #1)
13. Andy Warhol (tie) $6 million Artist Died: Feb. 22, 1987 Age: 58 Cause: Complications from surgery More than the two decades after his passing, the man who helped define what it was to be a brand remains a central figure in a host of advertising campaigns. Diane von Furstenberg maintains a line of swimwear featuring Warhol images, while Pepe Jeans London offers Warhol-inspired apparel.
13. Bettie Page (tie) (Pioneering Pinup Girl) $6 million Actress Died: Dec. 11, 2008 Age: 85 Cause: Natural causes The pinup girl's style is hotter than ever. Now her estate is cashing in with a line of stores called Bettie Page Clothing that cater to young women who want to emulate Page. Located in places like Hollywood and Las Vegas, the stores helped land Page on our list for the first time.
13. George Harrison (tie) $6 million Musician Died: Nov. 29, 2001 Age: 58 Cause: Cancer The youngest Beatle continues to earn from the beloved group’s immortal popularity. Like bandmate John Lennon, Harrison’s earnings enjoyed a boost from the 1.6 million albums the group sold in 2010, as well as the Cirque du Soleil show and licensing deals. Though Harrison did pen hits like Here Comes the Sun and Something, his songwriting catalog is somewhat smaller than Lennon’s, as is the demand for image and likeness rights, hence the lower earnings.
9. Richard Rodgers (tie) (of Rodgers & Hammerstein) $7 million Song writer Died: Dec. 30, 1979 Age: 77 Cause: Chronic illness With Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein's catalog no longer owned by the estates, the New York composer and playwright's dividends come from solo works and approximately 550 more with Lorenz Hart. Popular Rodgers & Hartz works include Blue Moon and This Can't Be Love.
9. Steve McQueen (tie) $7 million Actor Died: Nov. 30, 1980 Age: 50 Cause: Complications from surgery Three decades after his passing, the onetime Bullitt star continues to personify cool. McQueen’s image and likeness have been licensed for a host of signature collections for high-end brands like Dolce & Gabbana and Persol sunglasses. More recently he became the face of Tommy Hilfiger’s fall “icon collection” and UBS’ global “We Will Not Rest” campaign.
9. Stieg Larsson (tie) (Author) $7 million Author Died: Nov. 9, 2004 Age: 50 Cause: Heart attack Larsson died before The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was published, so he didn’t live to see the incredible success of his series of three books, known as The Millennium Trilogy. (A fourth book has reportedly been found.) More than 40 million copies of the books have been sold in 44 languages, and Sony's film version of the first book hits theaters this Christmas.
9. Jimi Hendrix (tie) $7 million Musician Died: Sept. 18, 1970 Age: 27 Cause: Overdose The electric guitar icon endures with his song Foxy Lady presently appearing in a HP campaign. The Rock & Roll legend's estate continues to curate fan experiences through posthumous releases. This year's Winterland four CD box set partnered with Amazon to offer core fans an exclusive fifth disc. Additionally, the Hendrix estate authorized the release of two more live-show DVDs, joining a steady stream of catalog sales from Hendrix' living works.
8. Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) $9 million Author Died: Sept. 24, 1991 Age: 87 Cause: Natural causes In the last month, a new Dr. Seuss collection The Bippolo Seed And Other Lost Stories was published, adding to the children's author's indelible legacy. The fresh Random House-backed book brought about a boost in Seuss book-sales from last years' numbers, with over 2.2 million sold prior to the holiday season. The Seuss Estate maintained licenses with the likes of Universal Studios, Hallmark, and Leapfrog.
7. Albert Einsetin $10 million Scientist Died: April 18, 1955 Age: 76 Cause: Natural causes Associated with all things intelligent, Einstein's name continues to be used to peddle Baby Einstein products, a majority Disney-owned venture designed to make infants smarter. Other lucrative tie-ins include Italy’s Banca Profilo’s “Face Value” campaign, Chrysler’s Ram brand truck ads and a collection of A.J. Morgan “geek chic” glasses. The scientist's estate has also expanded into videogames with a Nintendo DS brain game that retails for about $50.
5. Elizabeth Taylor (tie) $12 million Actress Died: March 23, 2011 Age: 79 Cause: Heart Failure Taylor was the last of the truly glamorous movie stars. She’s already earning big from her successful perfume, White Diamonds. In December Christie’s will auction off the star’s jewels, art and gowns in a sale that is expected to bring in at least $30 million. After that, it will be up to her estate’s executors to decide if they want to license Taylor’s image or keep her profile low.
5. John Lennon (tie) $12 million Musician Died: Dec. 8, 1980 Age: 40 Cause: Murder Though the former Beatle was killed in New York City over 30 years ago, his estate continues to collect cash. Buoyed by their long-awaited inclusion in the iTunes Store, the Beatles sold 1.6 million albums in 2010, tenth-best of any musical act dead or alive. In addition to royalties from those sales, Lennon earns from the group’s Cirque du Soleil show and from licensing deals with the likes of Cisco and Mont Blanc.
4. Charles Schulz ("Peanuts" Creator) $25 million Cartoonist Died: Feb. 12, 2000 Age: 77 Cause: Colon Cancer After last year's Iconix purchase of an 80% stake, Schulz' prized cartoon characters maintained a bulk of their reported 1,200 licensing agreements with the likes of Met-Life, Warner Home Video, ABC and Hallmark. The focus of the last year has been bringing Peanuts to the digital space, with a Capcom video game, low-priced e-books, a Facebook application and comics and graphic novels on iTunes.
3. Marilyn Monroe $27 million Actress Died: Aug. 5, 1962 Age: 36 Cause: Overdose Almost 50 years after her death, Monroe is getting a makeover. Authentic Brands Group bought the rights to Monroe’s estate earlier this year with an eye toward upgrading the star’s image. She’s already co-starred in an ad for J’Adore fragrance with Charlize Theron. Next up: a line of Marilyn Monroe cafes.
2. Elvis Presley $55 million Singer, Actor Died: Aug. 16, 1977 Age: 42 Cause: Heart attack Michael Jackson may be the King of Pop and of postmortem earnings, but Elvis will always be the King of Rock and Roll. That’s not a bad line of afterlife work, either—the bulk of Presley’s revenue comes from Graceland admissions, licensing and merchandizing and a Cirque du Soleil show launched last year in Las Vegas. CKX, the company that bought the bulk of the Presley estate from daughter Lisa Marie, was acquired by billionaire Leon Black’s Apollo Global Management in June.
1. Michael Jackson $170 million Musician Died: June 25, 2009 Age: 50 Cause: Overdose Jackson’s own publishing company, Mijac Music, adds double-digit millions to his annual afterlife take.
Honorable Mention Tupac Shakur Died: Sept. 13, 1996 Age: 25 A regular on this list in the ten years following his untimely departure, Shakur has sold over 75 million-records worldwide, the bulk of that coming after his death. Seven of his 11 platinum albums were released posthumously, but there hasn’t been another since 2006. He still made an estimated $4 million over the past year thanks to music sales and licensing. Bob Marley Died: May 11, 1981 Age: 36 The Jamaican singer's catalog remains consistent, though some of Marley's most popular works no longer belong to the estate. A line of headphones was recently produced by House of Marley, with 14 models and styles, ranging from earbuds to studio-quality headphones
Amy Winehouse Died: July 23, 2011 Age: 27 The beehived British diva was found dead in her London flat this summer, and though many believed her death to be drug-related, her family has stated that no illegal substances were found in her system. Winehouse’s opus, Back To Black, sold 175,000 units in the month after her death, but it wasn’t quite enough to boost her earnings to the $6 million mark required to make this list. Kurt Cobain Died: April 5, 1994 Age: 27 Twenty years ago this fall, Nirvana released the album that defined a culture in Nevermind. With the band's sophomore LP selling over 30 million copies to date, this season has been filled with recognition and remembrance of its principle writer and lead vocalist. The Cobain Estate licensed Kurt's name to Fender for the Jaguar Guitar, made as a replica model for the Grunge pioneer.