1. Elvis Presley
2. Charles M. Schulz
3. Heath Ledger
4. Albert Einstein
5. Aaron Spelling
6. Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel)
7. John Lennon
8. Andy Warhol
9. Marilyn Monroe
10. Steve McQueen
11. Paul Newman
12. James Dean
13. Marvin Gaye
While things might be topsy-turvy in financial markets above ground, it's still a bull market in the bone yard. The 13 famous names that comprise our Top-Earning Dead Celebrities earned a combined $194 million over the last 12 months.
Topping the list for the second year running, is the former King of Rock 'n' Roll, Elvis Presley. Without so much as lifting a finger, the Memphis Flash earned a whopping $52 million in the last year.
That's more than some of the music industry's biggest living acts command--Justin Timberlake pulled in $44 million last year; Madonna $40 million.
The 30th anniversary of Elvis' death helped boost attendance and merchandise sales at Graceland, and new ventures such as an Elvis Sirius Satellite Radio show add to a long list of publishing and licensing deals.
Debuting on the list in third place is Australian actor Heath Ledger, most famous for his role as the Joker in The Dark Knight, the latest installment of the Batman movie franchise. At the time of his tragic overdose in January, the 28-year star seemed poised on the cusp of a lucrative film career.
Ledger had reportedly secured a deal for his role in The Dark Knight that included merchandising (think Joker action figures) and a percentage of film revenues. With The Dark Knight grossing $991 million in box office revenue worldwide, we estimate his earnings at $20 million.
Also debuting on our list is Paul Newman, who died in September at age 83. His "Newman's Own" line of salad dressings, organic popcorn and spaghetti sauces had sales of more $120 million last year. When he was alive, Newman donated all of his profits from the venture to charity, and his estate plans to continue doing so. Add in the residuals from a lifetime of high-profile movie roles, and we calculate Newman earned $5 million last year.
Adding up paychecks of dead celebrities can be a wicked task--after all, they don't exactly sit for interviews. To get to the bottom line, we talked to experts and sources inside their estates and dug up the gross earnings (before taxes, management fees and other costs) from the period of October 2007 to October 2008.
Some celebrities, like Charles Schulz and Albert Einstein, are staples on our list. They owe their spots to steady revenue streams from their artistic creations (planning to watch It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown again this Halloween?) and licensing of their names and images. But finding other big earners meant scouring the cemetery for posthumous one-hit wonders.
Take Marvin Gaye, who lands in 13th place on the list this year, with earnings of some $3.5 million. Gaye had a great year. Coinciding with Motown Records' 50th birthday, two major studios have announced upcoming Marvin Gaye biopics, and some of his classic albums have been remastered and re-released.
He is also a hit among hip-hop artists who frequently sample his work--and pay licensing fees to do so. Of course, like the postmortem comeback of troubadour Johnny Cash, who appeared on our list in 2006 with earnings of $8 million but fell off in 2007, this surge in popularity might be temporary. It seems fame can be just as fleeting in the afterlife.
For real staying power beyond the pale, the best bet is a face like Marilyn Monroe's or an attitude like James Dean's--marketers are always eager to exploit that kind of iconic fame. This fall, an ad campaign from Mercedes-Benz features the two '50s icons, who pulled in $6.5 million and $5 million, respectively. Both were on our first list of Top Earning Dead Celebrities back in 2001; this is Marilyn's eighth year in a row.