Just because you’re dead doesn’t mean you have to stop earning money — and in the case of some celebrities that can mean huge sums of cash.
According to financial website Forbes, the highest earning living celebrity is Madonna, who earned $125 million over the past year.
But that was dwarfed by the highest earning celebrity of all — the late and great King of Pop Michael Jackson, who earned an astonishing $160million over the same period despite dying in 2009. Here we look at the ten top earning dead celebrities and famous people.
10 Theodor Geisel ($9m)
You may not recognise this guy at all — but what if we were to tell you his middle name was Seuss and he used the title of ‘Dr’ in his pen name?
That’s right, Mr Geisel is the legendary Dr. Seuss, author of such legendary children’s classics as The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham and How the Grinch Stole Christmas!.
Despite passing away in aged 87 in 1991 his books are as popular as ever today, which is why he still manages to earn huge sums every year despite no longer being with us. A true legend of the literary world, may he rest in peace.
8 Bettie Page ($10m)
Fondly known as Queen of Pin-ups, Bettie Page adorned many a teenage boy’s bedroom wall throughout the 1950s. The model and actress passed away in 2008 from natural causes — but left behind her one of the most iconic looks of all time, with her trademark bangs, raven-black hair and blue eyes.
Her image is worth millions alone, and there are also a string of clothing shops and fashion lines across the US bearing her name and trademark style.
8 Albert Einstein ($10m)
Probably a surprise entry on the list for many people, Einstein is most famous for having the biggest brain in the history of the universe (well, one of them at least). The estate of the man behind the general theory of relativity and E =mc2 is worth millions through the licensing of his name and image in various products, scientific equipment and computer gadgets.
7 John Lennon ($12m)
“Imagine all the money” — probably not something the late John Lennon would have sung about, considering his ideals. But he would indeed be extremely rich if he were still alive today thanks to the millions earned through rights to Beatles songs, the band’s image and licensing for things like the Cirque du Soleil’s Beatles-themed musical hit Love.
6 Marilyn Monroe ($15m)
Probably the most famous sex symbol of all time, Monroe’s image right are worth millions alone. Her estate is run by the Authentic Brand Group — and makes a fortune from her image being used in films and adverts worldwide today as much as they ever were, even more than 50 years after her death.
But this is Marilyn Monroe we’re talking about, the girl who sang happy birthday to the President of the United States and who wore that white dress. So it’s hardly surprising.
5 Bob Marley ($18m)
The reggae legend died in 1981 aged just 36 — but his estate’s coffers are still brimming with cash thanks to the longevity of his songs and his iconic dreadlock-adorned look.
You’ll struggle to walk down any high street across the world without seeing a t-shirt with his face on — and his songs continue to populate radio and iPod playlists in every corner of the world to this day with more than 75 million of his albums sold in the past 20 years.
There’s also the other businesses which have been set up under his name since his death, including the Marley Beverage company and the House of Marley music accessory store.
4 Elizabeth Taylor ($25m)
The star of Cleopatra, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? has been filling her estate’s coffers ever since her death in March 2011 thanks to savvy business moves while she was alive, including stock purchases and real estate.
She has made masses of cash from the sale of her jewelry and art collection, as well as her White Diamonds fragrance. Much of her jewelry is said to have sold for around $150million following her death. Like Marilyn Monroe and Bettie Page above, she was so iconic that her image will be worth a fortune for years to come.
3 Charles M. Schulz ($37m)
Like Theodor Geisel, Charles M. Schulz is another star who maybe many younger people don’t recognise by name. But you will have heard of Snoopy — and Schulz is his legendary creator. The cartoonist created the iconic Peanuts comic-strip featuring the much-loved characters of Snoopy the dog and his owner Charlie Brown.
Schulz died in February 2000 and his famous cartoon strip stopped with him. But his characters’ images are still very much in use today — a true testament to his talent, and meaning his estate is still earning huge sums of cash more than a decade later.
2 Elvis Presley ($55m)
Now for the big guns. The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll is not a surprise entry on this list. If you haven’t heard an Elvis song on the radio or on television in the past few days, we’d be mighty surprised. Elvis’ image is likely to remain famous for decades into the future, so expect to see his name appear on lists like this for a long time to come.
His estate is owned by Apollo Global Management, and rakes in millions through image rights and from the use of his songs on movie soundtracks and radio playlists, as well as album and song sales. With his music standing the test of the time for nearly 50 years since his death in 1977, it’s unlikely it will lose popularity any time soon.
1 Michael Jackson (£160m)
Even the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll couldn’t quite match the King of Pop when it comes to earning a fortune in death. Jackson may have earned even more had he got to perform his 50-show run called This is It at London’s O2 arena before his death from a prescription drugs overdose.
But he still earned more than any living artist last year thanks to the popularity of his music and image rights. And his estate’s bank accounts will have been filled even further recently with the release of his posthumous album Xscape in May 2014, which featured previously unreleased tracks from Jacko which he had recorded before his death. It’s likely that the King of Pop will continue to inspire through his music — and continue to make money as a result — for many years to come.
This article was updated on January 21, 2015