Reaping Millions After Death
Forbes Magazine via Netscape
10.26.04, 7:00 AM ET
NEW YORK - It's not easy to earn $5 million per year when you're dead.
The earning power of most deceased people, even famous ones, slows
considerably or stops altogether when they die. But for a select few,
the paychecks keep coming, and some draw even bigger paydays than when
they were alive.
Welcome to our fourth annual assessment of the Top-Earning Dead
Celebrities, where we assess the earning power of deceased musicians,
actors, authors, songwriters and composers.
The criteria for making our list are simple. A person's estate must
pull down a minimum of $5 million annually. How does a deceased person
earn money? For musicians like John Lennon, the bulk of it comes from
worldwide publishing royalties. He and Paul McCartney co-wrote most
Beatles songs, and they get a cut every time a song is played on the
radio stations of Viacom's Infinity Broadcasting, sold on a CD, used in
a film or covered by another artist.
Elvis Presley's estate earns tens of millions of dollars annually, not
from music sales--Elvis' manager famously sold the rights to pre-1973
recordings to RCA (now part of Sony for $5 million--but from
merchandising and admissions to Graceland.
Elvis Lives--In Merchandising, At Least
Because actors don't own rights to the films in which they appear,
revenue comes almost entirely from licensing and merchandising. The
image of Marilyn Monroe, for example, is used to sell literally
hundreds of different products worldwide. Likewise, the estate of
Charles Schulz has licensed the cartoonist's Snoopy as pitchman for
everything from MetLife insurance to PepsiCo sodas.
CMG Worldwide handles business affairs for Monroe's estate, whose
beneficiary is Anne Strasberg, widow of famed acting coach Lee
Strasberg. CMG, a major rights management firm, represents the estates
of hundreds of deceased celebrities, including athletes like Babe Ruth.
It sometimes takes shrewd business acumen to earn millions in death.
Presley's estate, whose sole heir is his daughter, Lisa Marie, would
not rake in what it does were it not for Elvis Presley Enterprises'
aggressive licensing, marketing and use of courts to secure publicity
And would James Dean's beneficiary, a cousin, be reaping the rewards
of Dean's promising but extraordinarily short career were it not for
business managers at CMG? Not likely.
In any case, it's not easy to earn when you're gone. That's partly why
our list doesn't change dramatically from year to year. One recently
departed celebrity to keep an eye on is screen legend Marlon Brando,
whose executors are seeking trademark protection against any
individuals trying to profit off Brando without the proper blessings of
Rank Name Earnings ($mil)
1 Elvis Presley 40
2 Charles M. Schulz 35
3 J.R.R. Tolkien 23
4 John Lennon 21
5 Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel 18
6 Marilyn Monroe 8
7 George Harrison 7
8 Irving Berlin 7
9 Bob Marley 7
10 Richard Rodgers 6.5
11 George and Ira Gershwin 6
12 Jimi Hendrix 6
13 Alan Lerner and Frederick Loewe 6
14 Cole Porter 6
15 James Dean 5
16 Dale Earnhardt Sr. 5
17 Jerry Garcia 5
18 Freddie Mercury 5
19 Tupac Shakur 5
20 Frank Sinatra 5