Death hasn’t ended Michael Jackson’s commercial success.
Jackson again tops our list of the highest-paid dead celebrities list after hauling in $400 million over the past year, mostly from the sale of his EMI Music Publishing stake. Additional cash comes from his Mijac Music catalogue, a new Sony record deal and projects like TV special Michael Jackson’s Halloween, which returned to CBS on October 20 for the second consecutive year.
“You see Charlie Brown Christmas and Charlie Brown Thanksgiving every year, so now we’re looking to have Michael Jackson’s Halloween every year,” says John Branca, the Jackson estate’s co-executor. “We hope that it’ll become evergreen.”
Behind the King of Pop on our list is another music monarch: Elvis Presley, who takes the No. 2 spot with $40 million over the past year; Arnold Palmer rounds out the top three with $35 million. In all, the dead celebs pulled in $628 million, more than double last year’s $312 million tally—thanks entirely to Jackson’s windfall, which gives him $2.4 billion in earnings in the decade since his death.
Highest-Paid Dead Celebrities 2018
1. Michael Jackson
Died: June 25, 2009
Jackson’s posthumous roll continues, bringing in $287 million recently from the sale of his estate’s stake in EMI Music Publishing to Sony.
2. Elvis Presley
Died: August 16, 1977
Cause: Heart Attack
He still moves more than 1 million albums every year, but the bulk of the King’s coin comes from tickets to Graceland and a new $45 million entertainment complex called Elvis Presley’s Memphis.
3. Arnold Palmer
Died: September 25, 2016
Cause: Heart disease
Mmm! There’s a new addition to the Arnold Palmer beverage line: an alcoholic version made in conjunction with MolsonCoors.
4. Charles Schulz
Died: February 12, 2000
Cause: Colon Cancer
Snoopy sure is one pedigreed beagle: DHX Media paid $345 million in 2017 to get 80% of the Peanuts business previously owned by Iconix.
5. Bob Marley
Died: May 11, 1981
6. Dr. Seuss
Died: September 24, 1991
The good doctor sold 4.8 million books last year.
7. Hugh Hefner
Died: September 27, 2017
Cause: Cardiac arrest
The Playboy founder got lucky one last time when his heirs sold the remaining portion of his estate for an estimated $35 million last year, getting more than a third up front.
8. Marilyn Monroe
Died: August 5, 1962
Marilyn is back on the list this year thanks to new licensing deals, including Montblanc pens.
Died: April 21, 2016
The Purple One is rolling in green, having sold a quarter-million physical albums over the past 12 months.
10. John Lennon
Died: December 8, 1980
Between his solo work and his Beatles oeuvre, Lennon continues to sell nearly 2 million albums annually.
Died: June 18, 2018
No dead musician—and few living ones—clocked more streaming spins than XXXTentacion last year. The rapper, who had domestic-violence charges pending when he died, racked up 4 billion streams.
12. Muhammad Ali
Died: June 3, 2016
Cause: Septic shock
A Tag Heuer deal and a settlement with Fox Broadcasting over a Super Bowl ad that used Ali’s image lands the Greatest of All Time on our list for the first time.
13. Bettie Page
Died: December 11, 2008
Cause: Natural causes
The classic pinup’s allure has been turned into clothing, shoes, handbags, lingerie, wigs and even a fitness DVD.
Figures are for pretax earnings from October 1, 2017, through October 1, 2018, before deducting fees for agents, managers, lawyers and estate executors. Sources: Nielsen SoundScan, NPD BookScan, insider interviews, Forbes estimates.
Edited by Zack O’Malley Greenburg and Natalie Robehmed; additional reporting by Kurt Badenhausen and Elisabeth Brier.