They may be dead but they ain’t broke. And from the looks of the income that these departed celebrities seem to be able to generate from the grave, they will continue to be top earners in any regard (based on list compiled by Forbes Magazine, estate earnings from Oct 1/08 – Oct 1/09). It is quite amazing how relevancy can far outlast life, whether in personal image or in the works that some of notables on this list have left for us, the living.
John F Kennedy is quoted as saying, “A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on”. Apparently so does earning power, and the earning power of this list will give you an idea of how much power really can be wielded from the grave. Maybe Andy Warhol had it right when he said, “Death means a lot of money, honey. Death can really make you look like a star”.
13. Andy Warhol: $6 million
Andy Warhol. who died in 1987 from complications during routine surgery, was one of quintessential influences on modern art, and perhaps the best known pop artist of his day. More than just soup cans and images of Marilyn, he glamourized the world of music, art, theatre and culture and drew artists to him as a mentor and protege. Although the scope of his work includes painting, avant-garde film production (his version of Frankenstein is truly like no other!), record and music production and writing, he is perhaps best known for coining the term “15 minutes of fame” and framing Campbell’s Soup cans. He popularized the consumer culture in his art, while at the same time recognizing his skills as an astute businessman. He made money while making art and all the while kept his credibility with the community of artists from New York to Los Angeles – no easy feat. Pulling in $6 million in 2009, his image and caché of cool are still relevant decades after his passing, showing us that he certainly did something right.
12. Aaron Spelling: $8 million
Aaron Spelling died in 2006 at the age of 83 from from complications due to a stroke, and left in his wake a slew of some of the most popular American television shows of the 20th century. More than just a Hollywood magnate, he served in the US Air Force during the Second World War and was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster. His influence on modern television is undeniable, with behemoth hits like Charlie’s Angels, Dynasty, Starsky and Hutch, Family, Hotel, The Rookies, Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Vegas, Hart to Hart, T.J. Hooker, 7th heaven, Charmed, Burke’s Law, The Mod Squad, and S.W.A.T. to his credit.
11. Jimi Hendrix: $8 million
Jimi once said that in 1969, “Once you are dead, you are made for life”. At the time of his death he left an estimated $21,000 in cash, plus copyrights, claims to royalties, reels of unreleased tape and his share of the Electric Lady Studios in New York. year after year Hendrix continues to sell gold, more merchandise than most current living bands. This, along with a new publishing deal with Universal after years with Sony combined to generate an annual income of over $8 million. Purple Haze apparently translates will into green cash.
10. Michael Crichton: $9 million
Michael Crichton, who passed away in 2008 at the relatively young age of 62, was an American author, producer, director, screenwriter, and medical school graduate, whose books have sold over 150 million copies worldwide. He is best known for his Jurassic Park series and the television show ER, both of which are the main sources for the $9 million that his estate earned in 2009. Before embarking on a career as a writer, he was a medical doctor with an MD from Harvard Medical School, and initially wrote under pseudonyms to protect his medical career from being “undermined” by the less prestigious work of writing. Apparently, and lucky for us, he found his niche and became a full time author. In addition to Jurassic Park, other movies made from his novels include The Andromeda Strain, Congo, Travels, Sphere, Eaters of the Dead (13th Warrior), Rising Sun, Disclosure and The Lost World.
9. Albert Einstein: $10 million
Hey, isn’t this cool – smart and rich! He has made an impression on the world, not just through the mind that gave us the theory of relativity (is there anyone who doesn’t know that e=mc squared?) but through the image that genius is accessible to us all. His famous image as the crazy-haired, big-moustached genius and the simplicity of the equation gives us someone who we can at the same time relate to and be impressed by. And interestingly, to this end, it is not patents or scientific rights that continue to earn money for the Einstein name; it is using this image of the accessible genius to make learning “cool”. Disney has licensed his name for its line of Baby Einstein products, and other video and electronic “brain games” also use the name.
8. Theodor Geisel (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss): $15 million
Most children have grown up with at least one if not more of this beloved author’s stories. In fact, Green Eggs and Ham has become a figure of speech for not trying something first, while someone who does not like Christmas is a “grinch”. Horton Hears a who, Cat in the Hat, the Grinch Who Stole Christmas have all been made into bug budget Hollywood movies, in 2008 the late author still sold 5 million books – bottom line, we love Dr Seuss from his Lorax to his Sneetches. Thank you for the generations of entertainment and showing kids that reading is fun – every penny of this $15 million is well earned indeed.
7. John Lennon: $15 million
John Lennon – one quarter of the Beatles, half of the music. John continues to bring in fans from the “newer” generation while his original “older” set of fans has not grown at all tired of his music or his philosophy of peace and love. The Beatles continue to top charts of “best of all time” songs and albums, are consistently played on radio stations of all generes, from easy listening to classic rock. as if this is not enough to keep the earnings ball rolling, the Fab Four have had newly innovated reincarnations of their music released – such as video games (Rockband), Broadway musicals, Las Vegas shows (Cirque du Soleil) – to huge demand. While John Lennon has made this list individually, the band collectively could easily top the on-going list.
6. Charles Schultz: $35 million
Mr Schultz – born in 1922, passed in 2000 – left us with some of the most recognized and beloved characters of our generation. Everyone has their favorite – Snoopy, Linus, Lucy, Schroeder with his little toy piano that plays full Beethoven concertos – and of the most Charliest Browniest of them all – the man himself. We all know about the kite getting stuck in the tree or the football getting pulled away by Lucy at the last moment. With the gang still managing to rake in $35 million in 2009, it looks like they are still pretty popular – keep it up Chuck, we love ya! …click to hum along…
5. J.R.R. Tolkien: $50 million
The Lords, the Rings and the Hobbits – the incredible imagination of JRR Tolkein continues to excite and enthrall people of all ages. Tolkein, who is also an accomplished poet, philologist, and university professor, is of course best known for his literary fantasy classics The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. Born in 1892 he passed in 1973, was also a tenured professor at Oxford University and a close friend of C. S. Lewis (author of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe), who were both members of the informal literary discussion group known as the Inklings. The ongoing love of is stories and success of the most recent movie version keeps his earnings quite legitimately in this exclusive list.
4. Elvis Presley: $55 million
Elvis – the king. Now, keep in mind that as the first qualifier to be on this list you have to be, well…dead. Gone. So for all those Elvis sightings out there – deal with it, the man has left the building, permanently! Meanwhile, everything from music sales to action figures and t-shirt to Graceland prove to be the on-going money machine, bringing in enough for anyone to be proud of and live well by. The guy is definitely still taking care of business.
3. Michael Jackson: $90 million
No doubt we have not seen the last of MJ on this list, since he only passed at the halfway point of the “tracked” year. Not much can be said about the pop icon, that is not already not known. His life has been dissected and presented dozens of times already, and love him or hate him, he continues generate big bucks from his estate, whether from production rights, record sales or merchandising just about everything to do with him. he may very well top this list next time around, but the better story will be the family infighting that follows the money. Now that will be a production!
2. Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein: $235 million
Hammerstein, who died in 1960, was succeeded by his partner in music, Rodgers, who passed in 1979. The pair were one of the most prodigiously productive partners in music production (ok, carried away with alliteration!). Among their most famous and best loved musicals were Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, and The Sound of Music. And if success is measured by awards, then they had plenty – thirty-four Tony Awards, fifteen Academy Awards, the Pulitzer Prize, and two Grammys. If success is measured by self-perpetuating income, the $235 million estimated to have been earned by the pair in 2009 is not too shabby. And if it measured by peer and public admiration, it continues to this day, with their shows still playing to sold out audiences around the globe.
1. Yves Saint Laurent: $350 million
Yves St Laurent has been called the most influential designer or the 20th century and is credited with bringing high fashion to the ready-to-wear market. When his logo became available in regular retail stores it marked the first designer brand for the people, becoming an instant hit and status symbol. He rose quickly through the Paris fashion circles in the 1950′s, with his rise to stardom evident when at the age of 21 he was given the position of head designer of the prestigious House of Dior. He died in June 2008 of brain cancer at his residence in Paris. Unlike many of the celebrities in this list whose estates continue to earn due to sales of their art-made-during-life, the first place ranking of St Laurent on this 2009 list is a result of the sale of his estate, as he died halfway during the period that this list was measuring. In February 2009, an auction of collector’s items owned by St Laurent was held by Christie’s at the Grand Palais in Paris. These possessions ranged from paintings by Picasso to ancient Egyptian sculptures. The a proceeds were donated to charity to create a new foundation for AIDS research.
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