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Michael Jackson Named Forbes’ Top-Earning Dead Celebrity for Fifth Straight Year

The promotional campaign around the premiere of the CBS special “Michael Jackson’s Halloween” got an inadvertent connection Monday when the late singer topped Forbes annual list of top-earning dead celebrities for the fifth straight year.

The singer’s estate raked in some $75 million, driven by a new greatest hits album, the Las Vegas Cirque du Soleil show and its stake in the EMI music publishing catalog. Still, that tally is dwarfed by last year’s $825 million total — the highest annual tally for any entertainer dead or alive — which was primarily due to the $750 million sale of Jackson’s half of the Sony/ATV Music Publishing catalog, the biggest in the world.

Elvis Presley (fourth with $35 million) and Bob Marley ranks (fifth with $23 million) are the other two musicians in the Top Five. Presley’s total was up from last year’s $27 million, due partially to the new Elvis Presley’s Memphis entertainment complex and the recently opened hotel, The Guesthouse at Graceland. Marley’s estate was boosted by House of Marley audio products and the Marley Beverage Co.

Tom Petty, who passed away just days before the eligibility period ended, came in at No. 6 with $20 million, while Prince — who died last year apparently without a will and whose assets remain seriously under-exploited — came in at No. 7 with $18 million. David Bowie, who died in January of 2016, was No. 11 with $9.5 million.

Golf legend Arnold Palmer is second with $40 million (largely through sales of Arizona lemonade and the iced tea bearing his name) and third is Charles Schulz, creator of the Peanuts cartoon franchise, with $38 million. (The list measures pretax income from October 15, 2016 through October 15, 2017 before deducting cuts for agents, managers and lawyers. Sources include Nielsen SoundScan, IMDB, Pollstar Pro and interviews with celebrity estate experts.)



  1. Michael Jackson $75 million
  2. Arnold Palmer $40 million
  3. Charles Schulz $38 million
  4. Elvis Presley $35 million
  5. Bob Marley $23 million
  6. Tom Petty $20 million
  7. Prince $18 million
  8. Dr. Suess $16 million
  9. John Lennon $12 million
  10. Albert Einstein $10 million




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