1. Michael Jackson - $145 million. A full year after he died, Michael has sold more than 8 million albums in the US, more than twice what runner-up Taylor Swift has done. His 50% stake in the Sony/ATV publishing catalog will continue to throw off cash pretty much forever, and his Cirque Due Soleil show already grossed $160 million on only the first leg of its tour. This number won't go down much in the near future.
2. Elvis Presley - $55 million. Believe it or not, the King's revenues were flat this year, yet he still continues to be a goldmine in the afterlife.
3. Bob Marley - $17. In death he's bigger than in life, at least revenue-wise, having sold more than 75 million records since 1992 alone. Now that the reggae king has added an energy drink and lifestyle company to his brands portfolio, expect this revenue to climb in the future.
4. John Lennon - $12 million. The Beatles have sold more that 62 million albums in the US alone since 1992, and the Love Cirque Du Soleil show continues to be a big hit.
5. Richard Rogers - $6 million. Rogers and Hammerstein vast catalog of show tunes continue to be standards, and their publishing throws off cash accordingly.
6. George Harrison - $5.5 million. As with Lennon, GH still gets a cut of The Beatle empire as well as publishing from perennial favorites "Here Comes The Sun" and "Something."
What's interesting is who didn't make the list. Whitney Houston never wrote her songs so there's no publishing income, plus she never made back her last $40 million label advance, so no income there. Jimi Hendrix, Les Paul and Tupac Shakur all pulled in a bit more than $3 million, which somehow seems low. That said, it just goes to show that some celebrities can truly live forever, at least financially.
Help support this blog. Any purchases made through our Amazon links help support this website with no cost to you.You should follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.
Check out my Big Picture blog for discussion on common music, engineering and production tips and tricks.