In a world where fame knows no bounds, not even death can dim the financial brilliance of some of the world’s most iconic figures.
Forbes, the renowned business and finance magazine, has released its long-awaited annual list of the highest-earning deceased celebrities. This tradition not only honors the enduring legacies of a number of musicians, authors, creatives and other dignitaries, but also serves as a reminder that their influence continues to generate staggering fortunes beyond the grave.
This year’s ranking includes earnings from sales, streaming, licensing deals and other revenue streams from October 2022 to September 2023. As we delve into the list, let’s also explore how these iconic figures continue to leave a lasting mark on our hearts as well and the world economy.
1. Michael Jackson
115 million dollars
More than ten years after Michael Jackson’s death, the King of Pop is back at the top of the 2023 top-earning list for the first time since 2019. The staggering $115 million his estate brought in over the past year is due in part due to the hit Broadway show “MJ: The Musical,” which grossed an estimated $85 million in ticket sales alone. Not to mention the millions of dollars from the “Michael Jackson ONE” Cirque du Soleil show in Las Vegas and – to coincide with the Halloween holiday – sales of his classic hit album “Thriller”.
Jackson died on June 25, 2009, of an overdose. He was 50 years old.
2. Elvis Presley
100 million dollars
The King of Pop might have reclaimed the top spot on this year’s list, but the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, came in second, earning $100 million over the past year.
Although his Graceland mansion in Memphis, Tennessee, opened to the public more than 40 years ago, it remains one of the top tourist destinations in the state. The estate welcomed around 600,000 visitors last year, generating revenue from ticket and merchandise sales. Not to mention Presley’s catalog of music, which includes his popular Christmas album, which remains the best-selling holiday album of all time.
Presley died on August 16, 1977 of a heart attack. He was 42 years old.
3. Ray Manzarek
45 million dollars
In one of the most lucrative music deals of the year, late Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek and living guitarist Robbie Krieger have jointly sold their band’s catalog to Primary Wave Music. While details of the acquisition were not disclosed, a source told US magazine Variety that the numbers were “big”. The deal includes the rights to all of the band’s recorded music, publishing, trademarks, merchandising and all related revenue.
Manzarek died on May 20, 2013 of cancer. He was 74 years old.
4. Dr. Seuss
40 million dollars
More than 60 years after the publication of The Cat in the Hat, Dr. Seuss—or Theodor Seuss Geisel—has a robust catalog of children’s books he wrote and illustrated that continue to influence the lives of young readers. His funny, wacky and rhyming books have also been made into movies such as How The Grinch Stole Christmas, The Lorax and Horton Hears a Who. He also came up with one of the most quoted lines of all time, saying “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened’.
Geisel died on September 24, 1991 of cancer. He was 87 years old.
5. Charles M. Schultz
30 million dollars
Rounding out the top five is someone who may not be a household name, but you certainly know him because of the band he created. Peanuts — featuring characters like Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus and Lucy — helped keep Schulz’s estate profitable for more than two decades after his death. More than 70 years after its inception, the Schultz family may now only own a piece of the brand, but it’s a pretty big piece considering the amount of branded content it continues to release — including lucrative deals with Igloo Coolers, Cariuma sneakers and More ▼.
Schultz died on February 12, 2000 of cancer. he was 77 years old.
Top 12 finish
6. Prince – American singer/songwriter/musician – $30 million
6. Whitney Houston – American singer/actress – $30 million
8. John Lennon – American singer/songwriter/musician – $22 million
9. Bob Marley – Jamaican singer/songwriter/musician – $16 million
10. Bing Crosby – American singer/actor – $14 million
10. George Harrison – English singer/songwriter/musician – $14 million
12. Arnold Palmer – American professional golfer – $10 million
12. Marilyn Monroe – American actress/model – $10 million
For the complete list of celebrity biographies, visit www.forbes.com.