The 5 highest-earning dead celebrities

Michael Jackson topped Forbes' rich list of deceased celebrities, but Bob Marley and his marijuana merchandise could be closing in.

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 19 Nov 2014

With Bob Marley’s estate selling the rights to a line of marijuana products in the reggae superstar’s name, it seems the power of celebrity brands can last long after their demise.

Marley came 5th in Forbes’ recent ranking of dead celebrities’ earnings, pulling in $20m (£12.8m) over the last year from sales of everything from clothing to his music and a ‘relaxation drink’ called Marley’s Mellow Mood.

The Jamaican, who died of cancer aged 36 in 1981, still trails Michael Jackson’s $140m annual earnings and Elvis Presley’s $55m (to put that in context Beyoncé was the world's highest earning female musician in 2013 on $115m). But with an increasing market for smoking up legally from Colorado to Uruguay, Marley could soon be leaving the other famous-and-five-feet-under trailing in his whacky baccy-tinged wake.

As Forbes journalist Dorothy Pomerantz put it, 'While living, celebrities can be temperamental and demanding. In death, they simply become brands to be managed.'

Here is Forbes’ top five:

1.  Michael Jackson

Credit: Themeplus/Flickr

Died: June 25th 2009
Age: 50
Cause: Overdose/Involuntary manslaughter
Annual earnings: $140m - Two Cirque du Soleil shows; income from half of the Sony/ATV music publishing empire; music sales.

2.  Elvis Presley

Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Wikimedia Commons

Died: August 16th 1977
Age: 42
Cause: Heart attack
Annual earnings: $55m - Las Vegas Cirque du Soleil show; music, licensing and merchandise sales; Graceland admissions.

3.  Charles Schulz

Credit: Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons

Died: February 12th 2000
Age: 77
Cause: Cancer
Annual earnings: $40m - Sales and merchandising from his Peanuts cartoon.

4. Elizabeth Taylor

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Died: March 23rd 2011
Age: 79
Cause: Heart failure
Annual earnings: $25m - Perfume sales; image licensing.

5. Bob Marley

Credit: Jason H. Smith/Flickr

Died: May 11th 1981
Age: 36
Cause: Cancer
Annual earnings: $20m - Sales of merchandise including clothing, headphones and coffee and music.

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