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  • The Highest-paid Dead Celebrities Of 2022—a Writer Earns Half-a-billion From The Great Beyond – Forbes

 October 31

by Carolina

What’s old is new again. Classic literature and rock n’ roll dominates this year of celebs making bank in the afterlife.

Pictured above (left to right): Elvis Presley, Kobe Bryant, David Bowie


Seems not even the boneyard is immune from inflation. The 13 departed artists, athletes and entertainers on this year’s list of the top-earning dead celebrities earned a record $1.6 billion, making it a 72% increase over last year’s total. It’s by far the biggest 12-month haul since we started tracking graveyard earnings in 2001 – and, for the first time ever, the top five made more than $100 million each.

At the top of the heap: J.R.R. Tolkien, the long-deceased author of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. The former Oxford don, who died of pneumonia in 1973, earned $500 million from the sale of Middle-Earth Enterprises, which handles intellectual property rights for motion pictures, videogames, merchandise, and more to Swedish gaming company Embracer in August.

Following close behind is basketball legend Kobe Bryant with $400 million from his estate’s sale of his stake in the BodyArmor sports drink company to Coca-Cola. It marks the largest acquisition in the soft drink firm’s history.

Elvis Presley may have left the building, permanently, but the King of Rock N’ Roll is still an economic powerhouse. Forty-five years after his death, Elvis’ estate generated $110 million in income. The lion’s share was made from box office and merchandise sales at Graceland, Presley’s Memphis home—just $5 million of that came from rights for Elvis, the Baz Luhrmann-directed biopic.

Overall, the music of yesteryear is seen by investors as a reliable income stream. Nearly $700 million of the $1.6 billion in total earnings came from the estates of the nine musicians on the list, including David Bowie ($250 million), Michael Jackson ($75 million) and “Hallelujah” songwriter Leonard Cohen ($55 million). Some of those earnings came from one-time sales. The estate of Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro, for instance, sold his publishing and recording royalties for $25 million in November 2021. Others, like Beatles John Lennon and George Harrison remain mainstays on the list due to their annual recurring royalty streams.

“In the early days of rock n’ roll, companies owned everything and fought with the artists’ representatives to gain control of their IP,” says entertainment attorney John Branca, who manages Michael Jackson’s estate. “Now it’s swung back in the other direction as artists get older, and are estate planning, and tax planning, and selling their IP back to the companies.”

“It’s come full circle.”

#1 $500 Million

Forbes

J.R.R. TOLKIEN

September 2, 1973 (81)

Pneumonia

AP

When Swedish video game company Embracer announced its acquisition of Middle Earth Enterprises in August, they didn’t disclose the deal price, instead opting to share they’d spent $788 million on six acquisitions including Tolkien. But one clever hobbit told Forbes that Embracer spent at least $500 million for Middle Earth Enterprises, a number Embracer didn’t refute. After the deal closes, Embracer will share the shire with a multitude of other companies who own other pieces of Tolkien’s intellectual property, including HarperCollins, Amazon, Warner Brothers/New Line, and the Tolkien Estate, in what’s been described as the most complex IP rights split in history.

#2 • $400 Million

Forbes

Kobe Bryant

January 26, 2020 (41)

Helicopter crash

Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

The late L.A. Lakers legend had a 7% stake in the BodyArmor energy drink and served on the company’s board prior to his 2020 death. In November 2021, Coca-Cola agreed to buy out the 70% of BodyArmor it didn’t already own for $5.6 billion at an $8 billion valuation. Bryant’s estate received a reported $400 million in proceeds from the sale.

#3 • $250 Million

Forbes

David Bowie

January 10, 2016 (69)

Cancer

Marty Lederhandler/AP

“Is there life on Mars?” the Thin White Duke famously asked on 1971’s Hunky Dory. We still don’t know—no worries: Elon Musk is working on it—but the sale of David Bowie’s publishing catalog and masters to Warner Chappell in January generated enough income to make Major Tom jealous, to the tune of $250 million. Man Who Sold the World, indeed.

#4 • $110 Million

Forbes

Elvis Presley

August 16, 1997 (42)

Heart attack

Michael Ochs/Getty Images

The King benefited handsomely from Covid cooped-up tourists ready to treat themselves to a vacation at his Graceland mansion and resort. At least $80 million of Presley’s earnings came from tour tickets, shows, and merch, according to sources close to the estate. The estate didn’t make a ton directly off the smash Elvis biopic, but the hit film is expected to lift Presley’s earnings for at least the next 18 months as fans, new and old, look to own their own piece of the King. Even sales of Disney’s Stitch plush animals dressed in Elvis jumpsuits are up from last year.

#5 • $100 Million

Forbes

James Brown

December 25, 2006 (73)

Heart failure

David Redfern/Getty Images

“The hardest working man in show business,” just keeps working, even though he is dead. Primary Wave, a New York-based independent music publisher, snapped up the Godfather of Soul’s music rights, real estate, and name and likeness. Brown’s estate will reportedly use some of the proceeds to fund academic scholarships for needy children in perpetuity.

#6 • $75 Million

Forbes

Michael Jackson

June 25, 2009 (50)

Overdose/homicide

Chris Walter/Getty Images

With Covid restrictions lifted, the Jackson-themed Cirque de Soleil show in Las Vegas is back in action and raking in money alongside the King of Pop’s Mijac Music catalog. And there’s a new cash cow in town: MJ The Musical on Broadway, a jukebox retelling of Jackson’s story. By November the musical will have grossed $80 million, according to a Jackson estate source, an impressive feat given the show premiered only nine months ago.

#7 • $55 Million

Forbes

Leonard Cohen

November 7, 2016 (82)

Fatal fall

Jack Robinson/Getty Images

The “Hallelujah” crooner’s publishing and masters were snapped up by Hipgnosis, a publicly traded music management and IP firm helmed by Merck Mercuriadis, who has managed acts ranging from Beyoncé and Elton John to Guns N’ Roses and Morrissey. Cohen wasn’t overly bothered by money problems while alive: After his manager “misappropriated” some $5 million in the mid-2000s, Cohen had lunch with a pal, an industry attorney at L.A.’s Four Seasons. “I’m all worked up asking [Cohen] if he’s angry,” recalls the attorney. “He goes: ‘No, what good would that do?’ The guy was so Zen, it’s incredible.”

#8 • $32 Million

Forbes

Dr. Seuss

September 24, 1991 (87)

Cancer

John Bryson/Getty Images

The people of Whoville lived in a world the size of a speck of dust, Dr. Seuss once wrote, with Horton the elephant graciously carrying their speck on a fluffy dandelion. Those tiny Whos, alongside timeless characters including The Cat in the Hat, The Grinch, and The Lorax generated over $16 million in book sales since last November, alongside a Netflix deal and merchandising.

#9 • $25 Million

Forbes

Jeff Porcaro

August 5, 1992 (38)

Heart attack

Jim McCrary/Getty Images

The drummer from 80s rock outfit Toto doesn’t have the same nearly the same name recognition the rest of the dead celebs, but while living he was an industry legend. Not only did he co-write the platinum-certified song “Africa,” Porcaro was the go-to studio drummer for recording bigwig Quincy Jones and kept the beat on the best-selling album of all-time, Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Porcaro also collaborated with the likes of Steely Dan, Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen. His publishing and recording royalties were snapped up by Primary Wave.

#10 • $24 Million

Forbes

Charles Schulz

February 12, 2000 (77)

Cancer

Bettmann/Getty Images

Snoopy and the rest of the Peanuts gang are as reliable at generating income as they are at torturing poor Charlie Brown. But the nature of the game is changing. For the first time since 1965, classic holiday specials “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas” will not be airing on free broadcast TV after Apple TV snapped up the rights for their paid streaming service (nonsubscribers will be able to watch for free on certain days and PBS will also stream the specials.)

#11 • $23 Million

Forbes

Juan Gabriel

August 28, 2016 (66)

Heart attack

Michael Tran/Getty Images

One of the most prolific Mexican composers and singers in history, Juan Gabriel’s penned some 1,800 songs in his lifetime, moving an estimated 60 million albums which earned 2 Latin Grammys. Known for his flamboyant performing style and fashion—think lots of sequins—his nickname was “divo of Juarez,” a reference to Gabriel’s hometown. In April, Gabriel’s estate struck a deal with Universal Music Group in which the company will assign the singer’s post-2008 catalog to label subsidiary Virgin Music US Latin, while Universal’s publishing arm will oversee the entire catalog.

#12 • $16 Million

Forbes

John Lennon

December 8, 1980 (40)

Homicide

Max Scheler/Getty Images

In 2022 the “Imagine” singer made his usual royalties from his time as a Beatle and his solo work. Additionally, an estimated $3.5 million was added to Lennon’s coffers from Beatles music rights secured by Disney for its Peter Jackson-directed Get Back, an epic docuseries rehashing the British group’s infamous final recording sessions.

#13 • $12 Million

Forbes

George Harrison

November 29, 2001 (58)

Cancer

Keystone/Getty Images

The “quiet Beatle” likewise profited from the Get Back docuseries, adding another $2.5 million to his annual solo and Fab Four royalties. Harrison’s estate, along with Lennon’s, gets another $2.6 million from the Beatles Cirque de Soleil show.

Additional reporting by Richard Chang, Kyle Henderson, Conor Murray and Emily Washburn.


METHODOLOGY

This year’s Dead Celebrity ranking includes pretax earnings from sales, streams, licensing deals and other sources between November 1, 2021 and October 30, 2022, as well as estate acquisitions made or announced during the same period. We compile our numbers with the help of data from Luminate, IMDbPro, NPD BookScan and interviews with industry insiders. Fees for agents, managers and lawyers are not deducted.

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Credits: AP, Ronald Cortes/Getty Images, Marty Lederhandler/AP, Michael Ochs/Getty Images, David Redfern/Getty Images, Chris Walter/Getty Images, Jack Robinson/Getty Images, Michael Tran/Getty Images, John Bryson/Getty Images, Jim McCrary/Getty Images, Bettmann/Getty Images, Max Scheler/Getty Images, Keystone/Getty Images.

Original posted at news.google.com

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