10 Highest Earning Dead Celebrities


So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Thus ends one of the most widely quoted of Shakespeare’s sonnets – number 18. Even after four centuries the master sonneteer wrote them, the theme of art defying the ravages of time continues to unfold in many ways – just like people still flock to see Monalisa across the world and newly-discovered art works are sold for millions of dollars, some artists and performers long gone ago continue to rake in millions. Here is thus a list of the top ten earning dead celebrities, based on 2012 Forbes ranking1.

  1. Elizabeth Taylor

    The glamorous actress whose love of diamonds and luxuries was legendary during her lifetime passed away in 2011 at the age of 79 after a long battle with ill-health. Her estate though earned a staggering $210 million in 2012; and most of this money came from the record-breaking Christie’s auctions of the star’s jewelry, costumes and art work, which brought in $184 million. While each one of the 1,800 lots was picked up, the most expensive item turned out to be an 1889 Van Gogh painting that sold for $16 million. Apart from her estate, a steady chunk of Taylor’s earnings from her perfume, White Diamonds, which is one of the best selling perfumes around bringing in $75 million at retail in 2011. The rest of the money came from property sales and residuals from Taylor’s movies. After Cleopatra, the star was smart enough to negotiate a 10% ownership stake in each of her films. Her estate also collects money from Around The World in 80 Days, which was produced by her husband, Michael Todd.
  2. Michael Jackson

    The King of Pop though continues to be highest earning dead celebrity on a long term basis. unlike the one-time auction which put long time friend Liz Taylor on the top of the rankings, Jackson’s estate has several sources of steady revenue, all of which has helped it to rake in a whopping $145 million in 2012. Not only does it earn from sales of his own music, Jackson owned a 50% stake in Sony‘s ATV catalog, which includes artists like The Beatles, Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga. apart from this, his estate also collects money from the successful Cirque Du Soleil show The Immortal Tour.
  3. Elvis Presley

    Ranking third on the list of highest earning dead celebrities is the King of Rock and Roll, himself – Elvis Presley. His estate got richer by a massive $55 million in 2012 and what’s more remained steady at the same position in the list as the year before. Most of the earnings came from tours at Graceland, Presley’s home which continues to be the holy grail of rock and roll as well as Presley fans the world over. As with Jackson, Cirque Du Soleil too launched a whole show around Presley’s music in 2010, Viva Elvis, at MGM’s Aria casino in Las Vegas. But with ticket sales flagging, MGM asked Cirque to bring down the curtains at summer’s end.


  4. Charles Schultz

    Cartoonist Charles Schultz is the first celebrity from outside entertainment industry to figure on the list of the highest earning dead celebrities and ranks fourth with $37 million. Sixty years after the comic strip debuted, Charlie Brown and the friends continue to be popular as ever with millions of newspaper and magazine readers going through their daily tribulations at school, home and play. The Peanuts are the ninth most lucrative entertainment franchise, bringing in $2 billion a year globally at retail. recently, the strip was in news about being readied for a big-screen debut in the wake of negotiations with Fox’s animation division Blue Sky, which produced the Ice Age movies. Should that come through, Shultz’s earnings in coming years are sure to rise even more.
  5. Bob Marley

    The reggae star of the 1960s and 70s whose songs gave voice to many the civil rights protests of the times has turned into an enduring icon of counter-culture and anti-establishment activists. Incredibly enough, his name and estate continues to reap high returns – to the tune of $17 million in earnings in 2012 - thanks to prevailing consumerist sentiments. There is now a Marley beverage company which sells Marley’s Mellow Mood, a “relaxation” drink. Then there’s the House of Marley which sells headphones, speakers and “lively up” bags. but all said and done, Marley remains the most widely known and revered performer of reggae music, and is credited with helping spread both Jamaican music and the Rastafari movement to a worldwide audience.
  6. John Lennon

    It may be more than three decades that the legendary singer and songwriter from Beatles was shot down but John Lennon’s popularity remains undiminished. one proof is the fact that his estate earned a cool $12 million in 2012 mainly from the Beatles albums which sold over 63 million albums sold in the U.S. alone since 1992. this hardly comes as a surprise since at the height of the Beatles craze it was said that the group came after only Jesus Christ in terms of world popularity. A Las Vegas Cirque Du Soleil show and licensing agreements with Cisco and others acts are further proof of the star’s commercial longevity. Meanwhile, his passion for activism has been taken up by son Sean and widow Yoko Ono, who have strongly opposed the gas industry practice known as fracking.
  7. Marilyn Monroe

    One of the most enduring sex icons of the silver screen, her image is now practically a byword for feminine appeal. An untimely death from drug overdose at the age of 36 has further helped to cement her position as one of the most attractive women of modern times. However now her image and name are being transformed into a profitable brand as well. Authentic Brands Group bought the rights to license Monroe in 2011 helping boost the star’s earnings to $27 million. However if only licensing money is taken into account, her earnings would be a more modest $10 million. But they are expected to rise in the coming years, what with ABG licensing the Monroe name to select locations like a line of Monroe spas and a café line which is being tested in Toronto.
  8. Albert Einstein

    The only scientist on the list of top earning dead celebrities, Albert Einstein estate was believed to have got richer by $ 10 million in 2012, primarily on the basis of licensing revenues. However the scientist's estate is careful about the kind of entities the name and image of Einstein is associated with, for instance picking high net worth companies like Qatar National Bank. However with the 100th anniversary of his theory of relativity approaching in 2015, his estate may have lined up quite a few lucrative ventures.
  9. Theodor Giesel

    Better known as Dr. Seuss to generations of kids, Theodor Giesel was an immensely popular writer of poems and stories. Millions of children all around the world still start to learn how to read with books like One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish..no wonder then that sale of his books has remained strong which in turn has helped his estate to bring home a neat $9 million in 2012. apart from books though, his works have also proved lucrative in popular media. in 2011, the movie The Lorax, based on Giesel’s classic tale of environmental stewardship, earned $341 million on an estimated budget of $70 million. A new version of The Cat in the Hat – after the 2003 version starring Mike Myers - is again in the works.
  10. Steve McQueen

    More than thirty years after he died of complications from surgery, actor Steve McQueen continues to serve as the embodiment of cool masculinity which in turn has helped his image to rake in the goods. In 2011, his estate earned a substantial $ 8 million dollars, primarily from the sale of a limited edition Steve McQueen Triumph motorcycle that has been pegged at $10,000 a pop. Brands like Tommy Hilfiger and Persol have also embraced the aura of McQueen and the actor still serves as a Tag Heuer ambassador alongside living celebrities like Cameron Diaz and Leonardo DiCaprio.


  1. Forbes.com – Elizabeth Taylor is the new queen of dead celebrities