The Most Profitable Dead Celebrities

by M-Gillies

Elvis Presley starred in Metro Goldwyn Mayer's "Jailhouse Rock" in 1957 which grossed over $30 million when it was released.

It’s reassuring to know that during these hard economic times, when people are acting cautiously on how they spend their money and practice the delicate art of frugality, that even our beloved celebrities are also feeling the economic weight of the Wall Street Bull… or are they?

With movie theatre tickets plummeting, album sales at an all-time historic low and people plugging in and turning to peer-to-peer file sharing, it seems Hollywood and the record industry are taking some heavy blows. Well, this might be a little debatable considering that Forbes highest-paid actors of 2011 range from Leonardo DiCaprio earning $77 million, Johnny Depp earning $50 million and further down the list, Matt Damon making $18 million ($2 million less than Brad Pitt). But there’s something else that seems oddly peculiar about our most profitable celebrities.

It seems that in 2011 alone, Michael Jackson earned a staggering $170 million by the year’s end, two years after his death. “The death of Michael Jackson really put a focus on, crassly, quite frankly, what someone’s worth when they’re deceased,” says David Reeder, vice president of Corbis’ GreenLight, a global consultancy agency that manages the estates and trademarks of post-mortem celebrities.

As morbid as it may sound, these celebrities have become the ideal clients. They’ll never grow old; they’re immune to career shattering scandals and controversies; their fans, who tend to increase with new generations, will continue to be eternally devoted to them; their life stories will be sought after; their memorabilia will be cherished and their profits will continue to increase as the years continue.

Not only do the estates of deceased celebrities see a revitalization in the works they produce, or an increase in profits from merchandising bearing their image, but alternative sources of media find a silver lining in what becomes a surefire cash cow. With commemorative magazine issues, television specials, biopics, and social media soapboxes providing outlets for the public’s grief as well as their curiosity, this commemorative memorabilia gives many adoring fans a piece of that celebrity’s life as a memento that lives on, years upon years after the celebrity’s death.

In terms of Jackson’s funeral, his three hour memorial was shown live on 18 cable and broadcast networks, with a viewership of 31.1 million, making his memorial comparable to the likes of Princess Diana of Wales’ funeral (watched by 33.1 million Americans) and former President Ronald Reagan’s funeral (watched by 35.1 million). Though Jackson has been a top-earning dead celebrity since his death in 2009, it has been his former father-in-law, Elvis Presley who has subsequently been, not just the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, but also the King of top-earning dead celebrities.

Unlike Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and the rest of the members of the 27 Club, these celebrities didn’t have to die at such a young age to secure their place as iconic figures in pop-culture. Marilyn Monroe was the only 36 at the time of her death, Presley 42 and Jackson 50. Though their lives were ended prematurely by most standards, all three had managed to build a worthy cult status that has earned their estates a significant amount of profits.

Here’s a look at the annual earnings of Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe during the last 10 years and Michael Jackson during the last three years:

Elvis Presley:

2011: $55million
2010: $60million
2009: $55million
2008: $52million
2007: $49million
2006: $42million
2005: $45million
2004: $40million
2003: $40million
2002: $37million
2001: $35million

Total: $510million

Marilyn Monroe:

2011: $27million
2010: $ ——
2009: $ ——-
2008: $6.5million
2007: $7million
2006: $8million
2005: $8million
2004: $8million
2003: $8million
2002: $7million
2001: $4million

Total: $83.5million

Michael Jackson

2011: $170million
2010: $275million
2009: $90million
Total: $535million

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