The Top-Earning Dead Celebrities of the Past 5 Years

Written by Carly Hallman

You can’t take it with you … or can you? These are the highest-paid dead celebrities, who make more money posthumously than most of us will in our lifetimes. Usually routed to their estate, record label, or an organization set up in their name, the money of these top-grossing dead celebrities is still getting pumped into the economy, albeit more slowly. Some of these musicians, artists, and figures have been dead for decades, and some of them didn’t see a fraction of the cash they’re earning now when they were alive. Should people be allowed to earn this much after they’ve died?

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The Top-Earning Dead Celebrities of the Past 5 Years Transcript

Rank 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
1 Michael Jackson $140M Michael Jackson $115M Michael Jackson $825M Michael Jackson $75M Michael Jackson $400M
2 Elvis Presley $55M Elvis Presley $55M Charles Schulz $48M Arnold Palmer $40M Elvis Presley $40M
3 Charles Schulz $40M Charles Schulz $40M Arnold Palmer $40M Charles Schulz $38M Arnold Palmer $35M
4 Elizabeth Taylor $25M Bob Marley $21M Elvis Presley $27M Elvis Presley $35M Charles Schulz $34M
5 Bob Marley $20M Elizabeth Taylor $20M Prince $25M Bob Marley $23M Bob Marley $23M
6 Marilyn Monroe $17M Marilyn Monroe $17M Bob Marley $21M Tom Petty $20M Dr. Suess $16M
7 John Lennon $12M John Lennon $12M Dr. Suess $20M Prince $18M Hugh Hefner $15M
8 Albert Einstein $11M Albert Einstein $11M John Lennon $12M Dr. Suess $16M Marilyn Monroe $14M
9 Dr. Suess $9M Paul Walker $10.5M Albert Einstein $11.5M John Lennon $12M Prince $13M
10 Bruce Lee $9M Bettie Page $10M Betty Page $11M Albert Einstein $10M John Lennon $12M
11 Steve McQueen $9M Dr. Suess $9.5M David Bowie $10.5M David Bowie $9.5M XXXTentacion $11M
12 Bettie Page $9M Steve McQueen $9M Steve McQueen $9M Elizabeth Taylor $8M Muhammad Ali $8M
13 James Dean $7M James Dean $8.5M Elizabeth Taylor $8M Bettie Page $7.5M Bettie Page $7M

How Much This Year’s Highest-Paid Dead Celebrities Made Per Hour, Every Hour, 24 hours Per Day in 2018

Name (And 2018 Net Income) Hourly Net Income (Every hour, 24 hours per day)
Michael Jackson ($400M) $45,662.10/hr
Elvis Presley ($40M) $4,566.21/hr
Arnold Palmer ($35M) $3,995.43
Charles Schulz ($34M) $3,881.28/hr
Bob Marley ($23M) $2,625.57/hr
Dr. Suess ($16M) $1,826.48
Hugh Hefner ($15M) $1,712.33/hr
Marilyn Monroe ($14M) $1,598.17
Prince ($13M) $1,484.02
John Lennon ($12M) $1,369.86
XXXTentacion ($11M) $1,255.71
Muhammad Ali ($8M) $913.24
Bettie Page ($7M) $799.09/hr

Sources:

Who Is the Richest Dead Person?

Of the highest-grossing dead celebrities of 2018, Michael Jackson beat them all by a great deal. Jackson had $400 million in earnings in 2018 alone, making him the highest-earning dead celebrity.

Who Else Is On the List of Top-Earning Dead Celebrities?

While this list has shifted and changed over the years as estates produce new merchandise and allow major companies to use the artists’ images or works, the major players have remained fairly consistent over the past five years.

Here’s our list of the top 10 highest-paid dead celebrities of 2018:

  1. Michael Jackson — $400 million
  2. Elvis Presley — $40 million
  3. Arnold Palmer — $35 million
  4. Charles Schulz — $34 million
  5. Bob Marley — $23 million
  6. Seuss — $16 million
  7. Hugh Hefner — $15 million
  8. Marilyn Monroe — $14 million
  9. Prince — $13 million
  10. John Lennon — $12 million

How Much Did Michael Jackson Make Last Year?

In 2018, Michael Jackson earned $400 million, which is ten times more than the next on the list — Elvis, who only made $40 million. About $287 million of that came from the sale of a stake in EMI Music Publishing. If you were to calculate that as an hourly wage, Michael Jackson’s 2018 income would’ve been $45,662.10 per hour.

But that’s nothing compared to only a few years ago. In 2016, Jackson’s estate sold a huge stake in Sony/ATV, which owns songs by Bob Dylan and the Beatles. The estate’s earnings for that year were about $825 million, nearly a billion dollars.

How Do These Celebrities Make So Much Money Posthumously?

Among the highest-grossing dead musicians are Elvis Presley, Bob Marley, Prince, John Lennon, and David Bowie, all of whom have sold a great deal of albums years and sometimes even decades after their respective deaths. Typically, though, it’s merchandising, such as Bob Marley cannabis and smoking accessories, and licensing that rakes in the big bucks. Authors and artists like Charles Schulz and Dr. Seuss still sell comics and books but have also made a ton of money from film deals, advertising, and, again, merchandising.

Where Does the Money Go?

Often, this ridiculous amount of wealth goes to the person’s family and friends. These exorbitant sums and the fact that the people receiving them haven’t really done any work to earn them is why some believe the federal estate tax should be raised a great deal.

For now, though, what happens to the money rather depends on the person receiving it. In the case of John Lennon’s wealth, Yoko Ono, his wife, has donated millions to charity, including building more than 90 schools. In Michael Jackson’s case, his children, Paris, Prince, and Blanket, have been struggling to lead normal lives after they initially were saddled with a huge amount of their father’s debt.

While the cash gives family the freedom to pay off debts and donate to charities, these exorbitant post-death sums may be worth taking a closer look at.


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