13 Top-Earning Dead Celebrities

You'd think a person would have to work pretty hard t­o make more than $5 million a year. But maybe not. The people on this list are making more money in one year than most of us will see in a lifetime -- and they're not even alive to enjoy it! Each year, Forbes magazine compiles data on the top-earning dead celebrities. Altogether, these individuals earned more than $250 million in 2006.


Kurt Cobain -- $50 million

American singer and guitarist Kurt Cobain (1967 - 1994), performs with his group Nirvana.
American singer and guitarist Kurt Cobain (1967 - 1994), performs with his group Nirvana.
Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

The lead singer of Nirvana may have taken his own life in 1994, but he still has a presence in the music biz. His widow, controversial and drug-addled Courtney Love, controls his estate and continues to license his name and song catalog to advertising agencies and television shows including Six Feet Under and CSI. In fact, Cobain took over the number one spot following a huge licensing deal that Love made in 2006 -- Elvis usually holds the top position on this list. Cobain was famously anti-commercial, so many fans feel uncomfortable with the money the poster boy of grunge continues to pull in.


Elvis Presley -- $42 million

The King was recently dethroned as the top-earning dead celebrity.
The King was recently dethroned as the top-earning dead celebrity.

Until 2006, Elvis had been the number one money-making dead celebrity for years. Die-hard fans continue to­ buy box sets, remastered recordings, biographies, and other Elvis memorabilia by the millions, even though there's been no new material from the King since he died in 1977. In addition to merchandising, income comes from ticket sales at Graceland and the licensing of Elvis's identity to developers in Las Vegas who are planning a new Elvis attraction.


Charles M. Schulz -- $35 million

Snoopy, Woodstock, Charlie Brown, Linus, Peppermint Patty, and Lucy continue to grace the pages of more than 2,400 U.S. newspapers every day. Charles Schulz, the cartoonist behind the "Peanuts" comic strip, died of cancer in 2000, but annual television specials and licensing agreements with apparel companies continue to make Schulz a wealthy man.


John Lennon -- $24 million

John Lennon
John Lennon

In 1980, Beatles member John Lennon was killed by a crazed fan in New York City and mourned by fans around the world. The Beatles still sell more than a million records every year, even though they split up in 1970. Lennon's solo work also moves hundreds of thousands of copies each year. In addition, widow Yoko Ono filed a $10 million lawsuit against record company EMI to obtain back royalties and master recordings, which helped boost Lennon's bank account.


Albert Einstein -- $20 million

Without a doubt, Einstein was a genius.
Without a doubt, Einstein was a genius.

Licensing giant Corbis has image rights to Einstein's wild-haired visage and says that the physics genius is their most requested figure. Disney pays top dollar for the use of Einstein's name in their Baby Einstein line, and T-shirts around the globe feature Einstein's famous face and formula, E=mc². Einstein died in 1955 at age 76, but every generation since instantly recognizes the great physicist.


Andy Warhol -- $19 million

An Andy Warhol painting.
An Andy Warhol painting.

Avant-garde pop artist Andy Warhol once said that in the future, everyone will have 15 minutes of fame. He died before he saw how right he was -- reality TV appeared only a few years after Warhol's death in 1987. The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts continues to sign off on deals with companies such as Levi Strauss and Barney's New York to reproduce Warhol soup cans and portraits for the masses, which keeps the Factory creator cranking out the dough more than two decades after his death.

Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss -- $10 million

With movies, apparel, and even Broadway musicals based on Geisel's characters, such as the Cat in the Hat and the Grinch, not to mention dozens of Dr. Seuss titles that continue to fly off the shelves, it's easy to see how Geisel continues to make money even after his death in 1991.




Ray Charles -- $10 million

Ray, the hit biopic of 2004, clearly had a lot to do with the resurgence of all things Ray Charles. The beloved singer-songwriter died of liver failure in 2004, but his record sales are better than ever. DVD sales of the Oscar-winning film and biographies of the dynamic performer are up, too, and continue to bring money to his estate.


Marilyn Monroe -- $8 million

No one before or since has embodied Hollywood glamour like iconic sex symbol Marilyn Monroe. Her platinum blonde hair and breathy voice are gold mines for ad campaigns that want to nab the attention of both male and female audiences. General Motors, Absolut, and Dom Perignon have all paid a pretty price for permission to use Monroe in their advertisements. The controversy surrounding Monroe's 1962 death has only served to reinforce her popularity.


Johnny Cash -- $8 million

Like Ray Charles, the "Man in Black" enjoyed newfound popularity posthumously. The Oscar-winning movie Walk the Line greatly increased interest in the country singer-songwriter. In 2006, he sold 3.6 million records, up from 2.8 million the year before. Cash's estate offers a steady stream of compilations, never-before-heard tunes from the song vault, and remastered versions to keep fans coming back for more, even after his passing in 2003.


J.R.R. Tolkien -- $7 million

If you saw any of the three Lord of the Rings movies, you paid Tolkien, even though the fantasy novel genius hasn't been around since 1973. Producer Peter Jackson paid handsomely for rights to make the silver screen version of the trilogy and, financially, it was worth it -- the movies are among the highest grossing films of all time. Aside from the novels themselves, which continue to sell well in bookstores around the world, the movie version of the tale brought DVDs, toys, clothes, collectibles, and box sets.


George Harrison -- $7 million

The "Quiet Beatle" passed in 2001 as a result of cancer, but before he left, he made a lucrative deal with the popular dance/circus/performance troupe Cirque du Soleil. LOVE is a production that pays tribute to the Fab Four by showcasing their song catalog and has quickly become one of the company's most popular shows. In addition, Harrison's solo records still sell well, and he collects royalties from Beatles merchandise and lawsuits, too.


Bob Marley -- $7 million

When people think of reggae music, they think of Bob Marley. This universally recognized Rastafarian still rakes in millions from record sales, largely due to his estate's savvy handlers. Limited edition CDs, digitally remastered copies of classics, and various other Marley-related items are continuously released, even though he died in 1981.


Helen Davies, Marjorie Dorfman, Mary Fons, Deborah Hawkins, Martin Hintz, Linnea Lundgren, David Priess, Julia Clark Robinson, Paul Seaburn, Heidi Stevens, and Steve Theunissen



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