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Elvis Presley Remains King of Top Earning Dead Celebrities

October 29, 2008 9:04 AM ET

When it comes to the wealthiest dead celebrities, Elvis Presley is still the king, according to Forbes. Helped in part by the 30th anniversary of Presley's death, Elvis' estate raked in $52 million last year, thanks to merchandise, Graceland attendance, licensing deals and a new station on Sirius. When it's all added up, Elvis actually made more money last year than a pair of hard-working, still-living musicians in Justin Timberlake and Madonna, who made $44 million and $40 million respectively. Heath Ledger ranked third on the list with $20 million, behind Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schulz. On the music front, the John Lennon estate made $9 million last year to ranked seventh, with the majority of that money going to anti-war charities. A pair of upcoming biopics and countless hip-hop samples helped Marvin Gaye to 13 on the list with $3.5 million. In the seven-year history of the study, Presley has sat in the top spot for six of the seven years, with only Kurt Cobain topping Elvis in 2006 on the strength of the release of rarities box set With the Lights Out.

Related Stories:
Elvis Presley Remembered: A Look at How Rolling Stone Covered the King on the Thirtieth Anniversary of His Death
Rock on the Block: Elvis' Rural Getaway
Album Review: Nirvana, With the Lights Out

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Song Stories

“Bird on a Wire”

Leonard Cohen | 1969

While living on the Greek island of Hydra, Cohen was battling a lingering depression when his girlfriend handed him a guitar and suggested he play something. After spotting a bird on a telephone wire, Cohen wrote this prayer-like song of guilt. First recorded by Judy Collins, it would be performed numerous times by artists incuding Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker and Rita Coolidge. "I'm always knocked out when I hear my songs covered or used in some situation," Cohen told Rolling Stone. "I've never gotten over the fact that people out there like my music."

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