Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley Are Top-Earning Dead Musicians - Rolling Stone
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Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley Are Top-Earning Dead Musicians

Bob Marley, John Lennon, George Harrison also on Forbes list

Michael Jackson and Elvis PresleyMichael Jackson and Elvis Presley

Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley.

Frank Edwards/Fotos International/Getty Images/ Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Raking in an impressive $145 million in 2012, Michael Jackson tops Forbesnew list of the top-earning dead musicians, which also includes Elvis Presley, Bob Marley, John Lennon, George Harrison and the Broadway composer Richard Rodgers.

The six names on the list all earned more than $5 million from October 2011 to October 2012, and make up about half the names on Forbes’ list of the wealthiest dead celebritie, which was topped by Elizabeth Taylor. 

Jackson’s third straight year of earning nine figures stems from a handful of clver business deals following the pop icon’s death in 2009. His estate also continues to see revenue from other artists thanks to his 50 percent stake in the Sony/ATV publishing catalog. Jackson’s largest income stream, however, is the Michael Jackson Immortal World Tour, a joint venture with Cirque Du Soleil that grossed a whopping $160 million during its first leg. 

The Big Business of Rock Estates

Elvis Presley was second on the list with $55 million, while Bob Marley took third with $17 million. Along with the 75 million albums the reggae legend has sold over the past 20 years, Marley’s estate has diversified with the launch of the Marley Beverage company and House of Marley, which makes eco-friendly audio and lifestyle products. 

Lennon and Harrison round out the list, thanks to sales of 63 million Beatles albums in the U.S. alone since 1992; while Richard Rodgers’ estate benefits from his solo work and collaborations with Lorenz Hart including “Blue Moon” and “This Can’t Be Love.” (Rodgers’ work with Oscar Hammerstein was sold for a reported $200 million in 2009). 

Though it wasn’t enough to put them on the Forbes list, Jimi Hendrix, Les Paul and Tupac Shakur all made more than $3 million each. The magazine also notes that Whitney Houston missed making either dead celebs list because her recordings she still haven’t earned back the $30-$40 million advance she received as part of her $100 million record deal in 2001, and the singer did not leave much unreleased material behind. 

For more on how these rockers continue to rack up the millions despite being six feet under, be sure to check out our guide to the big business of rock estates.


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