Just in time for Halloween and all things bordering on the macabre, Forbes magazine has released its annual list of top-earning dead celebrities. And Michael Jackson’s estate didn’t place first again, which means no lead-ins about “Thriller,” zombies, and werewolves. No, the King of Pop landed in second. But he would be happy to know that one of his dearest friends took the top spot this year: Elizabeth Taylor.
According to Forbes, a Christie’s record-setting auction brought in $184 million for the late “National Velvet” star, pushing her from the No. 5 position she held on the list last year into the top spot this go-round. An original Van Gogh painting owned by Taylor sold for $24 million by its lonesome. Taylor was not only beautiful and talented, she was an astute businesswoman, negotiating for 10 percent of ownership in many of her films and not only lending her name to one of the world’s best selling perfumes, White Diamonds, but garnering residuals from its annual haul as well ($75 million in 2011). The estate took in $210 million total in 2011.
Just a mere $65 million behind, last year’s top dead celebrity moneymaker, Michael Jackson, took in $145 million. Among his assets are his extensive music catalog (his album Bad was just reissued in a 25th anniversary edition) and his 50 percent stake in the Sony/ATV publishing catalog, which lists among its artists Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga.
Following the King of Pop is The King himself, Elvis Presley. Presley estate dominated the dead celebrities list for years and still manages to place in the Top 5 every year. His estate, which makes money off of his image and his extensive music catalog brought in $55 million. What makes Presley’s take impressive is that he passed away in 1977, three and half decades ago. That’s staying power, especially in an industry where the styles and stars rise and fall like a series of fads.
The fourth dead celebrity top moneymaker to make the 2012 list is the iconic “Peanuts” cartoonist, Charles Shultz. The creator of Charlie Brown and Snoopy (well, his estate) raked in a tidy $37 million last year from revenue created from the franchise — images, print, and film — built around his iconic illustrated characters.
Another musician rounded out the Top 5: legendary reggae artist Bob Marley. His estate has branched out from music and making money off of the music man’s image to owning a beverage company (makers of Marley’s Mellow Mood “relaxation” drink) and the House of Marley, a business specializing in eco-friendly products. The “Stir It Up” singer pulled in a cool $17 million and his 1984 song collection, Legend: The Best of Bob Marley, currently holds a recurring position on the Billboard 200, having found a slot on the chart for 245 weeks to date.
In fact, of the Top 13 dead celebrity earners listed by Forbes for the past year, six were musicians, four were actors, and even one was a scientist — Albert Einstein, whose estate brought in $10 million, placing him at No. 8. Einstein holds the distinction of having been dead the longest of all the celebrities making the list.
Falling off the list from last year were music icon Jimi Hendrix, author Stieg Larsson (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), and artist Andy Warhol.
The Forbes 2012 List of Top-Earning Dead Celebrities
13. George Harrison, musician — $5.5 million
12. Richard Rogers, musician — $6 million
11. Bettie Page, actor — $8 million
10. Steve McQueen, actor — $8 million
9. Theodor Geisel (“Dr. Seuss”), author — $9 million
8. Albert Einstein, scientist — $10 million
7. Marilyn Monroe, actor — $10 million
6. John Lennon, musician — $12 million
5. Bob Marley, musician — $17 million
4. Charles Schultz, cartoonist — $37 million
3. Elvis Presley, musician — $55 million
2. Michael Jackson, musician — $145 million
1. Elizabeth Taylor, actor — $210 million