Just because you can’t take it with you doesn’t mean you can’t keep making it.
In the tradition of its top earning actors, comedians, rappers and others, Forbes has compiled a list of the top earning celebrities who have died. These 13 continue to make money even after their deaths — in one case nearly 60 years after.
Even as physical sales continue their long decline, the nine musicians on the list “generated 15.2 billion streaming spins over the past year in the U.S., up 38.5% from the prior 12 months. That sort of consumption offers the departed a second career from beyond the grave,” Forbes reported.
Here are Forbes’ top earning celebrities who are no longer alive and why they are still making money:
No. 13: George Harrison, $9 million
Date of death: Nov. 29, 2001
Harrison “has benefited from Beatles reissues — as well as the Fab Four’s Cirque du Soleil show in Las Vegas — vaulting him back into our rankings for the first time since 2011,” Forbes said.
No. 12: Whitney Houston, $9.5 million
Date of death: Feb. 11, 2012
Half her estate sold for $7 million in May. That plus the success of the Kygo remix of her “Higher Love” cover paved the way for Houston’s debut on the list.
No. 11: XXXTentacion, $10 million
Date of death: June 18, 2018
The South Florida rapper remains the most-streamed deceased rapper in the United States more than a year after his death, with 5.6 billion spins.
No. 10: Nipsey Hussle, $11 million
Date of death: March 31, 2019
Hussle’s “focus on retaining the rights to his music monetized his 1.85 billion streams, third-most of any act on our list, at a greater rate than most artists dead or alive,” Forbes wrote.
No. 9: Prince, $12 million
Date of death: April 21, 2016
More than three years after his death, Prince continues to “move music,” Forbes wrote, “including a robust 320,000 physical units and half a billion on-demand streams, an overall increase of 12% year-over-year.”
No. 8: Marilyn Monroe, $13 million
Date of death: Aug. 5, 1962
Monroe died nearly 60 years ago, but she remains one of the most popular celebrities when it comes to licensing, Forbes stated. “Monroe has added a Zales collection to deals with the likes of Chanel and Montblanc.”
No. 7: John Lennon, $14 million
Date of death: Dec. 8, 1980
Like Harrison, Lennon has benefited from the 50th anniversary of “Abbey Road,” which “boosted the Beatles across streaming and digital—moving 2.2 million U.S. album-equivalents over the past year, more than any defunct act—with Lennon’s own catalogue leaping 52%.”
No. 6: Dr. Seuss, $19 million
Date of death: Sept. 24, 1991
Licensing deals added to the publishing business, which moved more than 5 million books in the U.S. over the past year.
No. 5: Bob Marley, $20 million
Date of death: May 11, 1981
“With nearly 1 billion streaming spins in the U.S., the ubiquity of Marley’s music keeps his House of Marley products — including headphones, speakers and turntables —from going up in smoke,” Forbes wrote.
No. 4: Arnold Palmer, $30 million
Date of death: Sept. 25, 2016
The golf legend continues to make money thanks to partnerships with MasterCard and Rolex, plus his half-tea, half-lemonade beverage deal with Arizona and the alcoholic version with MolsonCoors.
No. 3: Charles Schulz, $38 million
Date of death: Feb. 12, 2000
A licensing deal with Met Life adds millions to the Peanuts franchise Schulz created 70 years ago.
No. 2: Elvis Presley, $39 million
Date of death: Aug. 16, 1977
The bulk of Presley’s money comes from the half a million visitors each year to his Memphis home, Graceland.
No. 1: Michael Jackson, $60 million
Date of death: June 25, 2009
Jackson had “2.1 billion U.S. spins, up from 1.8 billion a year ago,” Forbes wrote. “With proceeds flowing from his Mijac Music catalog, a Las Vegas show and a long-term deal with Sony, he retains his postmortem cash crown for the seventh consecutive year.”
To determine its list, Forbes measured pretax income from Oct. 1, 2018, through Oct. 1, 2019. Numbers were compiled “with the help of data from Nielsen Music, IMDBPro and interviews with industry insiders. Fees for agents, managers and lawyers are not deducted,” Forbes stated.
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