Forbes names the 13 top-earning dead celebrities of 2016

Michael Jackson tops the list, but you'll never guess why.

Image: AP Photo/Rusty Kennedy

When a celebrity dies, their popularity doesn't disappear. All of the movies, albums and images remain forever, ensuring the stars will live on for years to come.

Some celebrities have broken away to become top earners in death, sometimes decades after they've passed away. But there's no secret formula to land a spot on this list, which includes musicians, actors, athletes, scientists, authors and models. 

Are you surprised by any of these celebrities?

1. Michael Jackson (2009)

It's not a shock Jackson tops the list. After all, his sudden death in 2009 still seems like it was just yesterday. While the king of pop earned royalties from album sales over the last year, an investment in the 1980s helped Jackson earn — wait for it — $825 million! In 1985, Jackson bought the Beatles publishing catalog, which he sold to Sony in 1995 for a 50/50 venture. Fast forward to 2016, and the Jackson estate sold its share and earned a pretax payday of over $800 million. It's the biggest annual haul for any celebrity — dead or alive. 

Image: YouTube

2. Charles Schulz (2000)

The creator of the Peanuts comic strip still earns a lot in an average year. But last year's well-received film adaptation, plus a portion of the popular brand's licensing arrangements, helped him earn a staggering $48 million

Image: AP Photo/Ben Margot

3. Arnold Palmer (2016)

Although Palmer died less than a month ago, he'll be appearing on this list for decades to come. The golfing legend has 500 branded stores in Asia, as well as an eponymous (and tasty) brand of iced tea that accounts for 25% of the Arizona Beverage Company's revenue. In all, Palmer earned $40 million in the last year. 

Image: AP Photo/LP

4. Elvis Presley (1977)

The king of rock 'n' roll still sells one million physical albums a year, but that's not why Elvis continues to generate income nearly four decades since his passing. Elvis' $27 million haul comes mostly from ticket sales to Graceland, the former Memphis, Tennessee, estate that currently serves as a museum.

Image: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

5. Prince (2016)

Prince's sudden death earlier this year meant he was still at the top of his game, earning almost $2 million per show. The constant touring and millions of album sales helped Prince earn $25 million. Similar to Elvis, Prince's estate in Minnesota recently opened as a museum, meaning his income will continue to climb well after his death. 

Image: penner

6. Bob Marley (1981)

The deceased reggae star doesn't earn much from album sales. Instead, Marley earned $21 million in the last year from merchandise sales, Marley's Mellow Mood beverages and House of Marley audio projects. 

Image: Wikimedia Commons

7. Theodore Geisel (1991)

You might be wondering who Theodore Geisel is and why he's on this list. We don't blame you, but he also goes by another name: Dr. Seuss. His childrens books still move millions of copies every year, and the release of the previously unpublished What Pet Should I Get? pushed his sales over the top, helping him earn $20 million

Image: Al Ravenna

8. John Lennon (1980)

Imagine how much the musician would make if he were still alive. To this day, Lennon continues to earn a share of the Beatles' record sales. Other ventures, including the Cirque du Soleil show Love! in Las Vegas, helped him earn $12 million

Image: Wikimedia Commons

9. Albert Einstein (1955)

Despite being deceased for more than six decades, Einstein still rakes in the cash. There's good reason the math whizz lands on this list, his face is plastered everywhere from t-shirts to tablets. A licensing deal with Salesforce's new artificial intelligence product helped Einstein make $11.5 million

Image: Associated Press

10. Bettie Page (2008)

The original pinup bested other sex symbols like Marilyn Monroe to land a spot on the list thanks to lingerie, bridal wear and handbag deals. In total, she made $11 million in the last year. 

Image: CMG Worldwide

11. David Bowie (2016)

The release of the album Blackstar two days before his death in January helped Bowie outsell Michael Jackson and Prince this year, eventually earning $10.5 million

Image: AP Photo/Joe Schaber

12. Steve McQueen (1980)

No, the legendary actor isn't earning the bulk of his royalties from Wanted: Dead or Alive. Instead, deals with Tag Heuer, Porsche, Persol and Barbour have endured thanks to his eternal cool factor and helped him earn $9 million.

13. Elizabeth Taylor (2011)

In a world where every celebrity has a least one fragrance to his or her name, Elizabeth Taylor still plays a commanding force in the field. Her various scents, including White Diamonds, helped her earn $8 million

Image: 20th Century Fox

 
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