What do Elvis Presley, Albert Einstein, Marvin Gaye and Heath Ledger have in common? Well, according to Forbes, they all make more money dead than you do alive. The magazine has released its annual list of the world’s top-earning deceased celebrities, and for a second-straight year, the King leads the pack.
Presley raked in $52 million this year, up from $49 million in 2007, much of it due to the thousands who visit his Graceland estate each year and leave with souvenirs. New licensing ventures and the addition of the Elvis Channel to Sirius Satellite Radio’s programming list didn’t hurt either.
“While things might be topsy-turvy in the financial markets above ground, it’s still a bull market in the boneyard,” Forbes joked. Elvis earned more in the last year than some of pop’s biggest breathing names. By comparison, Justin Timberlake cleared $44 million, while Madonna pulled in $40 million.
With $33 million earned, “Peanuts” cartoonist Charles Schulz, who died eight years ago, follows Elvis at #2. Meanwhile, Australian actor Heath Ledger, who died in January of an accidental drug overdose , made the #3 spot on the list.
The magazine claims it was Ledger’s role as the Joker in this summer’s blockbuster Batman flick, “The Dark Knight,” that helped him make the cut. Ledger’s estate received a percentage of the movie’s box office take, as well as the film’s related merchandising deals. Add to that the up-front payments he received for his work on the unfinished film “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus,” and the late actor earned an estimated $20 million over the last year.
German-born physicist Albert Einstein follows at #4 on the list, earning an estimated $18 million. Most of that cash came from the Disney-owned line of Baby Einstein products, Forbes reports, as well as several licensing deals, including one that will be tied to a new line of Kobe Bryant sneakers.
Further down the list, at #7, is Beatles songwriter John Lennon, who was murdered back in 1980 at the age of 40. Lennon’s annual income peaked in 2006 at $24 million, but he is still one of the world’s top postmortem earners, thanks to music-publishing royalties, merchandising and licensing agreements. The late Paul Newman , who died last month at the age of 83 after a long bout with lung cancer, makes the list at #11, earning $5 million, mostly from film residuals.
Marvin Gaye, who was murdered in 1984, earned $3.5 million last year to land in the #13 position. Motown Records continued to remaster, repackage and rerelease the singer’s impressive catalog, and plans for a pair of big-budget biopics helped earn Gaye a spot on the roster for the first time. He also earned money through royalties and from hip-hop artists sampling his work.