They say the best thing you can do for your career is to die. Whether we like it or not, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that singers and songwriters see a disproportionate rise in album sales upon their death. It’s as though the consumer experiences FOMO and must quickly catch up on all the summer jams they never appreciated.
Forbes recently released a list of the highest-paid celebrities of 2018 – whether dead or alive. These numbers represent pre-tax earnings from things like album sales, royalties, and more. The number also doesn’t account for fees for estate executors, lawyers, and agents (for whatever purpose they still have).
Even though Bettie Page died 10 years ago (at the age of 85), there has been a recent rise in her presence after some exclusive deals to use her image on merchandise, such as bags, jewelry, shoes, and fitness DVDs. Her estate has earned $9m because of it.
Muhammad Ali was one of the many celebrities who died in 2016. The athlete did not seek earnings from endorsements or pre-existing deals that survive his death. In fact, there was a settlement with Fox Broadcasting and Tag Heuer after the latter used his image with permission. It resulted in him earning $10.3m and marks the first time he has made the list.
You may not directly recognize his name, but no other dead musician managed to clock up as many music streams as this rapper this year. Sadly, XXXTentacion was only 20 years old when he was killed in June 2018. Since then, he had made $11.5m – who knows what future he could have had?
It’s been 38 years since a member of one of the largest bands in the world was shot dead. That doesn’t stop his estate from earning $11.5m this year. Royalties came through album sales (from both The Beatles and his solo work) as well as using his image in products. It doesn’t appear as if the sales will show signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Like a lot of celebrities, he died in 2016 from an accidental drug overdose. His premature death saw a spike in his album sales and a resurgence in overall popularity resulting in an income of $12.8m. His songs like When Doves Cry, Kiss, and Purple Rain saw a huge rise in purchases and streams as he found a brand new younger generation of fans.
Marilyn Monroe died in 1962 from a drug overdose which was (at the time) ruled as a probable suicide. Events surrounding her death were deemed as suspicious, but this article isn’t about that. Her estate recently signed a new deal to have her be the face of the Montblanc pens. Amazingly, 56 years after her death, she is still considered a draw for sales – earning $14.1m in the process. Happy birthday!
Hugh Hefner founded Playboy magazine and died last year at 91 after probably the best life a man can ask for. He managed to earn $15m this year from various publications, books, and merchandise. Today, he lies in the crypt next to Marilyn Monroe, which he bought in 1992 for $75,000 in a move many people think is rather creepy.
Books, he wrote, worthy of note. The writer and illustrator racked in $15.4m last year from film and book royalties. He passed away in 1991 at the age of 87 after a battle with cancer. His most famous work includes Green Eggs and Ham, The Cat in the Hat, and The Grinch. After the poorly-received reception of the live-action Cat in the Hat film, his estate has banned live-action remakes of his work. An animated version of The Grinch is due out this year.
Bob Marley earned $19.3m last year in merchandise and album sales. Today, his legacy is one that is credited for bringing reggae music into the mainstream around the world. He died in 1981 at the age of 36 from skin cancer, but his music is listened to by millions of stoned students around the world.
This American cartoonist created Charlie Brown and Snoopy, among other characters who are loved to this day. Following the release of The Peanuts Movie in 2015, the franchise saw a resurgence in popularity which helped him earn $33.4m in this year alone. Schultz, nicknamed Sparky, died in 2000 but his characters live on in our hearts.
The name Arnold Palmer might not ring a bell to those who aren’t golf fanatics, but this champion, nicknamed The King, made a whopping $34.7m last year despite dying two years ago. He is the head of many enterprises, such as his golf courses and sweet iced tea. At the age of 87, he might be gone but people will be enjoying his drinks on his courses for years to come.
This King of Rock and Roll is widely considered to be one of the most culturally significant people of the 20th century. Despite dying in 1977 at the age of 42, his presence in Americana has never been bigger. Last year he earned $39.9m from album sales, merchandise, tickets to Graceland, and his brand new complex called ‘Elvis Presley’s Memphis’.
The only dead person to earn more than the King of Rock and Roll was the King of Pop himself. Not much can be said about this icon that hasn’t been said before. In 2017, he earned a whopping $404.1m from album sales and merchandise. He has been the top-earning dead person for the last six years. He died in 2009 and it is estimated that his estate has earned more than $2b since 2009.