Michael Jackson Top-Earning Dead Celebrity

Forbes magazine predicts Cirque du Soleil tribute show 'Immortal' will put King of Pop in the lead again next year.

For the second year in a row, Michael Jackson has topped Forbes magazine’s list of top-earning dead celebrities. The King of Pop, who died unexpectedly at age 50 in June 2009, earned an estimated $170 million over the past year, making him the second-highest-earning pop star this year (behind U2) — dead or alive.

The megabucks came in from sales of his music, as well as his stake in the lucrative Sony/ATV catalog, and while impressive, was a big step down from the $275 million the Jackson estate earned in the year after the singer’s death. Songwriters who own their work tend to place high on the Forbes list because their catalog sales often remain strong after their death, one of the reasons Jackson’s posthumous career has been so lucrative.

The magazine speculated that Jackson is likely to top the list again next year thanks to the recent launch of the Cirque du Soleil tribute show “Immortal,” which, if successful, could net more touring income for the singer in death than he earned in life.

In a distant second was the perennial chart-topper in the Forbes tally, Elvis, whose catalog and merchandise sales (not to mention his pricey Cirque show, “Viva Elvis”) helped bring in $55 million from October 2010 to October 2011. Two late Beatles, John Lennon and George Harrison, placed fifth and 13th on the list, respectively, at $12 million and $6 million, also thanks in part to catalog sales and the proceeds from a Las Vegas Cirque show, “Love.”

Fifty years after her death, blonde starlet Marilyn Monroe was #3 with $27 million, followed by “Peanuts” cartoonist Charles Schulz. Actress Elizabeth Taylor tied at #5 with Lennon at $12 million, mostly due to the perennially strong sales of her perfumes, just ahead of renowned genius Albert Einstein ($10 million) and Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel
($9 million).

Tied at #9 are guitar god Jimi Hendrix, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” author Stieg Larsson, actor Steve McQueen and songwriter Richard Rodgers ($7 million). Harrison was at #13, tied with pin-up icon Bettie Page and pop-art legend Andy Warhol ($6 million).

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