Rich, famous and dead: Seven musicians, a cartoonist and a theoretical physicist are among the 13 dead celebrities who earned a collective $247 million in the past year on royalties, publishing rights and licensing agreements from their famous names, images and creative works.
“People are fascinated with all things celebrity, so it’s no surprise that these posthumous icons appeal to fans old and new,” said Lacey Rose of Forbes.com, which released its annual roster of “Top-Earning Dead Celebrities” yesterday.
“In the case of this list, it isn’t so much what they did while they were living, it is how it has been marketed after their death,” she added.
Old-time rock ‘n’ roll was bested by upstart grunge music. Elvis Presley has not left the building, but he’s vacated the top spot for the first time in six years.
Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, who committed suicide in 1994, made $50 million on sales of his catchy, melancholy tunes — which will be heard on the CBS drama “CSI: Miami” in November.
But don’t listen for the music on fast-food pitches or vacuum cleaner ads. It will be meshed instead with high-tech or “eco-friendly” promotions, said Lawrence Mestel, who manages licensing agreements for the deceased singer-songwriter.
Now in second place, Presley brought in $42 million last year, with a beagle close behind. Snoopy and the other endearing characters created by Charles M. Schulz until his death six years ago earned $35 million. And no wonder. The “Peanuts” clan is still featured in 2,400 newspapers and on countless wearables and knickknacks.
John Lennon — dead for nearly 26 years — still earned a hefty $24 million, primarily though music royalties. The Beatles continue to sell more than a million CDs a year. Lennon’s quirky artwork will soon be featured in I Am A Dreamer — a line of children’s apparel, bedding and accessories promoted by Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono.
“She wishes to wrap a new generation of children in love, peace and joy,” said Lynne Clifford of Bag One Arts, Mrs. Ono’s publishing company, which is coordinating the project.
It is an odd cultural moment indeed when fifth-place winner Albert Einstein manages to earn $20 million, not on his theory of relativity but for his brainy reputation and signature appearance. His image appears in marketing campaigns for Apple Computer, Nikon and Disney’s “Baby Einstein” line of toys. All revenues, however, go to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Although he died in 1955, Einstein has an agent. The Seattle-based management firm Corbis now tends to the scientist’s affairs, along with Sigmund Freud, the Wright Brothers and 49 other legends of Hollywood, sports and other endeavors.
Meanwhile, Indiana-based CMG Worldwide represents the business interests of James Dean, Marilyn Monroe — who’s ninth on the Forbes list at $8 million — and 250 other deceased celebrities or celebrated things.