These Are 2015’s Highest-Earning Dead Celebrities

There really is no rest for the famous. These celebrities may be dead and buried but their careers have never been in better health and many are earning millions more than their living counterparts. Whether it’s deceased divas being resurrected for blockbuster advertising campaigns or rock-star estates cashing in on a cult following, these 20 departed stars have left behind remarkably lucrative legacies.

20. Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse’s estate had a net worth of $4.66 million when she died in 2011 but, incredibly, she’s earned almost as much since. Continued record sales, a posthumous album and two profitable companies have all helped the British singer rack up an impressive $3.8 million in posthumous earnings.

19. Kurt Cobain

Record label Universal Music is still cashing in on Kurt Cobain more than 20 years after his death, producing countless documentaries, YouTube streams, box sets and DVDs. Cobain’s estate has been valued at $450 million while his band Nirvana, who haven’t performed together in decades, still managed to generate $4.4 million in record sales in 2013.

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18. Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash’s endorsement power is still going strong, with several applications made to his estate each day. Cash has continued to make millions from music too, with an extraordinary seven posthumous albums having been released, including one that made it all the way to the top of the charts.

Amigo Larsson OK.indd
Image: via Quotes Gram

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17. Stieg Larsson

Stieg Larsson, who didn’t publish a single book before his death, has made millions out of his novels since. More than 40 million copies of the author’s hugely successful Millennium Trilogy have been sold across the globe, bringing in $7 million in 2011 alone.

16. Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix’s siblings continue to capitalize on their brother’s famous fretwork 46 years after his death. Sister Janie runs Hendrix’s $80 million estate, which continuously releases CDs and box sets to the tune of $7 million a year. Hendrix’s iconic image and music, meanwhile, has been used to help advertise everything from HP sauce to cannabis candy.

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15. Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee has been dead for more than four decades but he’s still fighting fit on the PlayStation. In 2014 the hugely popular martial artist was introduced to the EA Sports UFC game and resurrected to feature in a Mazda commercial, bringing his annual earnings for that year to $7 million.

14. Frank Sinatra

Prolific performer Frank Sinatra left behind an incredible legacy of around 50 albums and 60 films when he died and hasn’t stopped working since. In 2015, 100 years after his birth, Sinatra’s estate released an extraordinary array of anniversary merchandise celebrating the singer’s fruitful career, and he’s now worth around $100 million.

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13. James Dean

James Dean starred in just three films during his lifetime – only one of which had been released while he was alive – but he achieved legendary status in death and is now making millions. The original Hollywood heart-throb has had his image reproduced across the globe on everything from T-shirts to greetings cards, netting him $8.5 million last year alone.

12. Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen has become an incredibly successful style icon in death as the face of luxury brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Tag Heuer and Porsche. The “King of Cool” earned a cool $9 million last year from licensing deals, including a role in UBS’s aptly named “We Will Not Rest” campaign.

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11. Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss)

Theodore Geisel, best known as Dr. Seuss, is still making millions from his best-selling children’s books 25 years after his death. More than 60 popular titles, movie deals and a truckload of branded merchandise have bagged the Green Eggs and Ham and Cat in the Hat creator $9.5 million in the last year alone.

10. Bettie Page

Trailblazing pin-up queen Bettie Page hasn’t posed for a photo-shoot in almost 60 years and she’s been dead since 2008, but the seemingly immortal beauty is still making a fortune from her looks. The 1950s sex symbol earned $10 million over the last year as the pretty face of a number of profitable clothing and lingerie lines.

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9. Paul Walker

Paul Walker is still earning from the Fast & Furious franchise two years after his death in a car crash in November 2013. The actor died before completing filming for Furious 7 but his estate still received a salary from the blockbuster, netting $10.5 million last year. His daughter Meadow inherited his entire $25 million estate.

8. Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein has been dead for 60 years but he’s still one of the highest-earning scientists on the planet, with an $11 million income last year. The man behind the theory of relativity is immediately recognizable and his name has now launched everything from neckties to an ultra-intelligent range of tablets.

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7. John Lennon

It’s been more than 45 years since the Beatles’ last performance together but the Fab Four continue to sell millions of albums, netting John Lennon a fortune from beyond the grave. Lennon made $12 million last year, thanks in part to the Cirque du Soleil and its Beatles-inspired Love! show in Las Vegas.

6. Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe has transformed from model to hugely profitable icon after death. Her brand was bought by Authentic Brand Group and is used on multi-million dollar fashion and perfume lines, raking in a $17 million profit last year. In 2013 Chanel chose the iconic blonde to be the face of its new No.5 campaign, more than 50 years after her death.

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5. Elizabeth Taylor

The Elizabeth Taylor fragrance line is still churning out bottles of White Diamonds even though its namesake passed away five years ago. The National Velvet star’s estate continues to pocket from movie rights, stock-exchange and real-estate investments too, bringing her total earnings last year to $20 million.

4. Bob Marley

Unlikely businessman Bob Marley is turning a huge profit from beyond the grave. He’s sold more than 75 million albums since his death in 1981 and he made $21 million last year alone, profiting from a drinks line and branded audio products. Now, there are even plans to launch an official line of Bob Marley-branded marijuana.

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3. Charles Schulz

Charles Schulz is still making millions from Charlie Brown, Snoopy and co. More than 15 years after his death, the Peanuts cartoonist’s estate continues to get a percentage cut from his hugely popular comic strip, but the bulk of his $40 million intake last year comes from the release of The Peanuts Movie.

2. Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley fans continue to visit Graceland in their droves, contributing to the $55 million fortune the late singer made in 2015. Presley is still releasing chart-topping albums in the afterlife too, and his 53rd album, Elvis Presley Forever, made it to number 11 in the Billboard Album Chart last year.

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1. Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson is comfortably 2015’s highest beyond-the-grave earner after banking $115 million — more than living pop stars Taylor Swift and Beyoncé combined. The King of Pop owes his colossal posthumous fortune to record sales, a 50 per cent stake in Sony/ATV music publishing and a Cirque du Soleil show.

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