April 9, 2009
Pretty unbelievable, 23 million people out of work, and they pay dead people a fortune. Elizabeth Taylor tops them all!
When it comes to dead celebrity earnings, it's hard to beat Michael Jackson. The pop singer, who died in 2009 at the age of 50, earned more than any living artist in the past 12 months: $145 million.
But this year that wasn't enough to get him to the top of our list of the Top Earning Dead Celebrities. Instead, Jackson ranks second. Taking his place in the No. 1 spot is Elizabeth Taylor. The glamorous actress, who was 79 when she passed away last year, earned a staggering $210 million last year.
In pictures: the highest-paid dead celebrities
Most of that money came from the record-breaking Christie's auctions of the star's jewelry, costumes and art work. The multi-day auction brought in $184 million. Every one of the 1,800 lots sold. The most expensive items were an 1889 Van Gogh painting that sold for $16 million.
Michael Jackson (Getty Images)
The rest of that money came from property sales and residuals from Taylor's movies. After Cleopatra, the star smartly negotiated a 10% ownership stake in each of her films. She also collects money from "Around The World In 80 Days," which was produced by her ex-husband, Michael Todd.
The highest-paid celebrities
The residuals will help keep Taylor on our list but without the money from the one-time auction, it will be tough for her to topple Michael Jackson again. The singer has too many steady revenue streams. Not only does he earn from sales on his own music but Jackson owned a 50% stake in Sony's ATV catalog which includes artists like The Beatles, Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga. His estate also collects money from the successful Cirque Du Soleil show "The Immortal Tour."
Elvis Presley (Everett Collection)
Jackson earned $90 million more than our third ranked celebrity, Elvis Presley. With $55 million in earnings the king of rock n' roll pulled in the same amount as he did in 2011. Like it did with Jackson, Cirque Du Soleil built a whole show around Presley's music. But the ticket sales for the show at MGM's Aria were sluggish so the casino company asked Cirque to close it down. The last performance of "Viva Elvis" was August 31st. Luckily for the king, traffic was brisk at Graceland this year and that helped make up what the estate lost from the ending of Viva Elvis.
Hollywood’s highest-paid actors
Our list looks at earnings between October 2011 and October 2012. We count money coming into the estate and we don't deduct for how the estate handles the money once it comes in. So for example, some of the proceeds from Elizabeth Taylor's auction went to her AIDS Foundation but we did not subtract that contribution from her total earnings.
The highest-paid actresses
Peanuts creator Charles Schulz ranks fourth with $37 million. Sixty years after the comic strip debuted, Charlie Brown and the gang are as hot as ever. The Peanuts are the 9th most lucrative franchise bringing in $2 billion globally at retail. The kids are about to get the big screen treatment thanks to Fox's animation division Blue Sky which also produced the "Ice Age" movies. Making the old-fashioned Peanuts hip in today's world will be a challenge. The new movie is slated for 2015.
Bob Marley (Getty Images)
TV’s biggest moneymakers
Singer Bob Marley rounds out the top five. The reggae star brought in $17 million last year. The singer has become a diversified businessman from beyond the grave. There is now a Marley beverage company which sells Marley's Mellow Mood, a "relaxation" drink. Then there's the House of Marley which sells headphones, speakers and "lively up" bags.