The 10 Top-Earning Dead Celebrities Of All Time

“In the physical world, it would die down to the point where that stuff just wasn't carried anymore,” says David Bakula, Nielsen’s Senior VP of Insight and Analytics. “That barrier's been removed, and it's just simply as long as you're still thinking about that artist, you're still going to go in and play it with really no friction at all.”

Earnings for the 10 dead celebrities are essentially flat compared with last year if you remove Michael Jackson’s windfall of almost $300 million from the sale of his EMI publishing stake. That sale boosted the total earnings to $628 million last year, compared with $285 million in 2019, with the dips of non-musicians like Arnold Palmer canceling out the streaming gains.

1 | MICHAEL JACKSON: $60 million

The 10 Top-Earning Dead Celebrities Of All Time

Deceased: June 25, 2009

Cause of death: Overdose/Homicide

The King of Pop’s streaming surged despite recent controversy: 2.1 billion U.S. spins, up from 1.8 billion a year ago. With proceeds flowing from his Mijac Music catalog, a Las Vegas show and a long-term deal with Sony, he retains his postmortem cash crown for the seventh consecutive year.

2 | ELVIS PRESLEY: $39 million

ELVIS PRESLEY

Deceased: August 16, 1977

Cause of death: Heart Attack

For decades, 500,000-plus visitors have made the pilgrimage to Graceland annually, prompting a recent $45 million addition called Elvis Presley’s Memphis. Up next: a biopic directed by Baz Luhrmann, starring Tom Hanks.

3 | CHARLES SCHULZ: $38 million

CHARLES SCHULZ

Deceased: February 12, 2000

Cause of death: Cancer

Snoopy’s creator continues to cash in around his Peanuts franchise’s 70th anniversary. A licensing deal with Met Life, expiring this year, also adds double-digit millions to his eternal coffers.

4 | ARNOLD PALMER: $30 million

ARNOLD PALMER

Deceased: September 25, 2016

Cause of death: Heart Disease

The golf legend’s empire remains well above par, thanks to partnerships with MasterCard and Rolex. Then there’s his eponymous Arizona beverage, plus a boozy version launched by MolsonCoors this year.

5 | BOB MARLEY: $20 million

BOB MARLEY

Deceased: May 11, 1981

Cause of death: Cancer

With nearly 1 billion streaming spins in the U.S., the ubiquity of Marley’s music keeps his House of Marley products—including headphones, speakers and turntables—from going up in smoke.

6 | DR. SEUSS: $19 million

DR. SEUSS

Deceased: September 24, 1991

Cause of death: Cancer

Oh, the places he still goes! Licensing deals with Hallmark, Universal Studios and others add to publishing empire that moved more than 5 million books stateside over the past 12 months.

7 | JOHN LENNON: $14 million

JOHN LENNON

Deceased: December 8, 1980

Cause of death: Homicide

The 50th anniversary of Abbey Road has boosted the Beatles across streaming and digital—moving 2.2 million U.S. album-equivalents over the past year, more than any defunct act—with Lennon’s own catalogue leaping 52%.

8 | MARILYN MONROE: $13 million

MARILYN MONROE

Deceased: August 5, 1962

Cause of death: Overdose

One of the most popular dearly departed stars when it comes to licensing, Monroe has added a Zales collection to deals with the likes of Chanel and Montblanc.

9 | PRINCE: $12 million

PRINCE

Deceased: April 21, 2016

Cause of death: Overdose

The Purple One continues to move music, including a robust 320,000 physical units and half a billion on-demand streams, an overall increase of 12% year-over-year.

10 | NIPSEY HUSSLE: $11 million

NIPSEY HUSSLE

Deceased: March 31, 2019

Cause of death: Homicide

Business savvy is eternal: Nipsey’s prescient focus on retaining the rights to his music monetized his 1.85 billion streams, third-most of any act on our list, at a greater rate than most artists dead or alive.

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