Dead celebrities: A list of the highest earners

  • Here’s a look at the past decade’s biggest money-makers among the dearly — and famously — departed. These stars are still pulling in revenue (most often for their estates) through marketing and licensing deals, and royalties on their work.

    Each icon noted here appeared on Forbes’ annual list of the top-earning dead celebrities at least once from 2010 to 2019. The 31 stars are ranked by their biggest posthumous year.  

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  • TV producer
    Died: 2006, at age 83

    The late impresario made the Forbes list in 2010 on the strength of the CW’s then-still-running “Beverly Hills, 90210” revival and his company’s film library. 

    Credit: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic/Getty Images

  • Artist
    Died: 1987, at age 58

    Warhol was a perennial on Forbes’ lists in the early 2000s, but only made it once in the past decade — in 2011. As with others in our rundown, he didn’t fall out of favor as much as his steady posthumous income was topped by others.  

    Credit: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

  • Musician 
    Died: 1970, at age 27

    In 2011, the guitar god made a strong showing on the Forbes list on the strength of the release of the box set, “Winterland.”

    Credit: Joby Sessions/Guitarist Magazine/Future/Getty Images

  • Singer
    Died: 2012, at age 43

    A surge in music sales following Rivera’s death in a plane crash, plus the posthumous release of her autobiography, “Unbreakable: My Story, My Way,” propelled the Latin Grammy nominee onto the 2013 Forbes list. 

    Credit: John Parra/Univision/Getty Images

  • Composer
    Died: 1979, at age 77

    The musical giant’s estate scored its biggest posthumous payday of the decade in 2010 and 2011 thanks to Rodgers’ solo work (such as “Something Good,” from the film version of “The Sound of Music”), and his collaborations with Lorenz Hart (“Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered”).    

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  • Baseball team owner
    Died: 2010, at age 80

    Just months after Steinbrenner succumbed to a heart attack, the New York Yankees boss made Forbes’ annual list of top-earning dead celebrities. The outlet said the estate was boosted by team merchandise sales and revenue from the Yanks’ sports network.  

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  • Musician
    Died: 2001, at age 58

    A mainstay on the Forbes list in the 2000s, the late Beatle posted his biggest earnings of this past decade in 2019, when the estate got a boost from a 50th-anniversary reissue of his band’s “Abbey Road.”

    Credit: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic/Getty Images

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  • Actor
    Died: 1980, at age 50

    According to Forbes, the hard-driving star’s estate earned $9 million annually from 2013 to 2016.

    Credit: Warner Bros.

  • Over the years, the Steve McQueen estate has been powered by deals with the likes of the Swiss watchmaker Tag Heuer. McQueen wore a Tag Heuer in his 1971 racing movie, “Le Mans.” 

    Credit: National General Pictures

  • Singer
    Died: 2012, at age 48

    Seven years after her death, Houston made the Forbes list for the first time in 2019 on the strength of an estate sale and her first gold-selling posthumous hit, “Higher Love,” a remix masterminded by the DJ Kygo. 

    Credit: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

  • Musician
    Died: 2016, at age 69

    Bowie’s biggest year on the Forbes list was his first: 2016. The distinction came just months after the star died from cancer — and his final studio album, “Blackstar,” posted big sales. 

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  • Musician
    Died: 2019, at age 33

    The Grammy-nominated rapper, born Ermias Asghedom, was in the prime of his career when he was slain on March 31, 2019. His catalog continued to post big sales in the months following his death.  

    Credit: Harry How/Getty Images

  • Model
    Died: 2008, at age 85

    Licensing deals for “lingerie, bridal wear and handbag[s]” powered the pinup’s estate to its biggest posthumous year in 2016, Forbes reported. 

    Credit: Bettmann/Getty Images

  • Musician
    Died: 2018, at age 20

    Fatally shot just a few years into his career, the rapper, born Jahseh Onfroy, left behind a top-selling catalog that, to date, has led to two appearances on the Forbes list. 

    Credit: Jason Koerner/Getty Images

  • Scientist
    Died: 1955, at age 76

    Having passed away a few months before James Dean, Einstein has been deceased longer than any other bold-faced name in this rundown. His estate rakes in millions from the licensing of his likeness. In the past decade, he scored his best showing on the 2016 Forbes list. 

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  • Writer
    Died: 2004, age 50

    The Swedish author didn’t live to see “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” or its sequels become best-sellers. In 2010, a year after the books were optioned by a Hollywood studio, Larsson was, per Forbes, the sixth-highest-earning dead celebrity. 

    Credit: Andrew Francis Wallace/Toronto Star/Getty Images

  • Musician
    Died: 1980, at age 40

    A mainstay of the Forbes list, the slain Beatle was never bigger in the past decade than in 2010. Forbes cited the release of “Gimme Some Truth,” a box set of his solo work, for the earnings spike. 

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  • Writer/Illustrator  
    Died: 1991, at age 87

    Another regular in the Forbes rankings, the creative force behind classics like “The Cat in the Hat,” born Theodor Seuss Geisel, posted his biggest-earning posthumous year to date in 2016.

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  • Musician 
    Died: 1981, at age 36

    The earnings of the reggae icon’s estate exploded in the 2010s, going from $4 million in 2007 to $23 million in 2018 and 2017, according to the Forbes rankings.  

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  • Per Forbes, the Bob Marley estate benefits from strong music-streaming numbers, and the sale of turntables and other items via the House of Marley brand.

    Credit: Isaac Brekken/ House of Marley/Getty Images

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  • Actor 
    Died: 1962, at age 36

    The long-dead, but still-ubiquitous, bombshell earned $13 million in 2019, per Forbes, and hit a decade high of $27 million in 2011, a year after her estate was acquired by a new marketing company.

    Credit: Marice Cohn Band/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service/Getty Images

  • Athlete
    Died: 2016, at age 87

    According to Forbes, the estate for the late golfing great and pitchman pulled in $30 million in 2019 from deals with MasterCard, Rolex, Arizona Beverages and MolsonCoors. That’s actually down from the decade-best $40 million that the Palmer brand netted in 2016 and 2017. 

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  • Writer
    Died: 1973, at age 81

    The fantasy author only made the Forbes list once in the decade  in 2010 — but it was a monster year for the long-dead Tolkien, thanks to the Hollywood deal to bring his Hobbit trilogy to the big screen (like his “Lord of the Rings” saga before it). 

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  • The Presley estate’s 2010 windfall was attributed, in part, to the debut of “Viva Elvis,” an Elvis-themed Cirque du Soleil show. The show closed in Las Vegas in 2012. 

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  • Actor
    Died: 2011, at age 79

    The Oscar-winner (“Butterfield 8,” “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”) hasn’t appeared on a Forbes list since 2017, but her estate did very, very well in the first few years following her death. 

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  • An auction of Elizabeth Taylor’s jewelry, accessories, clothing and memorabilia helped net her estate $210 million in 2012.

    Credit: Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images

  • Musician
    Died: 2009, at age 50

    In life, the “Thriller” pop star was beset with financial troubles. In death, Jackson has topped every Forbes list of top-earning dead celebrities since 2013. 

    Credit: Isaac Brekken/Cirque du Soleil/Getty Images

  • Michael Jackson’s biggest posthumous year to date was 2016, when Forbes reported that the star’s estate earned nearly $1 billion from the partial sale of the Beatles-heavy Sony/ATV music publishing catalog. 

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