Last week, FORBES launched its annual Halloween-spooky special package on the top-earning dead celebrities. Atop the list was MichaelJackson, who earned $170 million last year–more than any other departed star, and more than any living musical act besides U2.
The late King of Pop wasn’t the only musician on the list. Among the top 13 postmortem money-makers, five were musicians. All of them saw strong earnings from a combination of recorded music, publishing, image and likeness rights, and a slew of other revenue streams opened up by savvy executors. And what better day than October 31st to take a deeper look at their finances.
Michael Jackson is the best example of how a star can continue to shine from beyond the grave, both musically and financially. His estate made a flurry of deals in the wake of his death, including a seven-year music deal with Sony worth as much as $250 million. Another $60 million rolled in for the rights to This Is It, which subsequently became the highest-grossing concert film and documentary of all time.
More recently, DVD sales and publishing royalties from Jackson’s stake in the Sony/ATV publishing catalog and his own Mijac Music have added double-digit millions to his annual take. Next up: A Cirque du Soleil show, “Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour.”
Michael Jackson may be the King of Pop and of postmortem earnings, but Elvis will always be the King of Rock and Roll. That’s not a bad line of afterlife work, either—Presley racked up $55 million last year, the bulk of which came from Graceland admissions, licensing and merchandising, and a Cirque du Soleil show of his own. CKx, the company that bought the bulk of the Presley estate from daughter Lisa Marie, was acquired by billionaire Leon Black’s Apollo Global Management in June.
Third on the list is John Lennon, who pulled in $12 million. The former Beatle was killed in New York City over 30 years ago, but his estate continues to collect cash. Buoyed by long-awaited inclusion in the iTunes Store, the Beatles sold 1.6 million albums in 2010, tenth-best of any musical act dead or alive. In addition to those royalties, Lennon earns from the group’s Cirque du Soleil show and from licensing deals with the likes of Cisco and Mont Blanc.
Jimi Hendrix ranks fourth with $7 million. The original guitar hero endures with his song Foxy Lady currently running in an HP campaign and a wave of new releases in the works.
This year, the Hendrix estate partnered with Amazon to release an exclusive fifth disc to go along with his four-disc Winterland boxed set. In addition, two more live DVDs were added to the mix, supplementing income from sales of Hendrix’s music.
Rounding out the top five is George Harrison, with $6 million. The youngest Beatle continues to earn from the beloved group’s immortal popularity. Like bandmate John Lennon, his earnings enjoyed a boost from the 1.6 million albums the group sold in 2010, as well as the Cirque du Soleil show and licensing deals.
To compile our list, we spoke to agents, lawyers and other sources to estimate each star’s gross earnings (before taxes, administrative fees and other costs) from October 2010 to October 2011. Two departed stars who didn’t quite make the top five: Amy Winehouse and Tupac Shakur.Alhough Harrison did pen hits like “Here Comes the Sun” and “Something,” his songwriting catalog is somewhat smaller than Lennon’s, as is the demand for image and likeness rights, hence the lower earnings.
A regular on this list in the ten years following his untimely departure, Shakur has sold over 75 million-records worldwide, the bulk of that coming after his death. Seven of his 11 platinum albums were released posthumously, but there hasn’t been another since 2006. He still made an estimated $4 million over the past year thanks to music sales and licensing.
As for Winehouse, her opus Back To Black sold 175,000 units in the month after her death, but it wasn’t quite enough to boost her earnings to the $6 million mark required to make this list. The beehived diva may yet make the list, though–her estate has just announced that her third album, Lionness: Hidden Treasures, will be released on December 5th.