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.’”
Next on the list is Elvis Presley, holding steady at $55 million. The King of Rock n’ Roll doesn’t rule the realm of postmortem cash, but he’s making more than most living stars thanks largely to Graceland ticket sales. In August he earned his 53rd Top 40 album with Elvis Presley Forever, a compilation released by the U.S. Postal Service along with a commemorative stamp.
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.