They were besties while alive, but Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson are duking it out in death. This year, Lovely Liz officially overthrew two-time list-topper Michael Jackson on Forbes’ Magazine’s annual round-up of the top-earning dead celebrities, with Liz’s $210 million kicking the ass of Jacko’s meager $145 million.
You might wonder: is it tacky to compile such a list? The answer is yes, of course it is. But that’s what Forbes does, make lists of largely unimportant, money-related, non-issues. The endless list-making leads one to suspect that Mr/Mrs Forbes is at least mildly obsessive compulsive … but the lists are eerily fascinating.
For the two years following his 2009 death, Jackson topped the list of dead celebrity money-earners, but this year proved that beauty squashes talent, at least in the short term. This is Liz’s first year of eligibility, since she died in March 2011, and the list is based on estimates of each star’s gross earnings from October to October. Her inclusion, and the incomprehensible upswing of reggae star Bob Marley, knocked Marilyn Monroe and John Lennon out of the top five. With Whitney Houston and Dick Clark entering the pool next year, it’s game on.
The majority of Liz’s estates’ post-mortem income is a one-time binge, stemming from a Christies auction of the late actress’ jewelry, movie memorabilia, and artwork. Liz’s disgustingly oppressive signature fragrance, White Diamonds, continues to rake in money, as do residuals from her movies, of which the clever Liz maintained a 10% ownership stake.
Michael’s estate is ridiculously lucrative, and the income is theoretically more lasting than Liz’s. In addition to the licensing of his own music, Michael owned 50% of Sony’s ATV publishing catalog, which has the rights to The Beatles catalog, amongst others. His estate is further supplemented by a Cirque du Soleil extravaganza called the Immortal World Tour, based on Michael Jackson, which has so far been extremely successful, though God only knows who is actually paying to see this show.
A distant third on the list was Elvis Presley with a puny $55 million. Considering that he’s been dead for about a hundred years, it’s still pretty amazing. Peanuts creator Charles Schultz ranks fourth with $37 million, which is expected to bloom with a potential feature film from Fox’s animation division in the coming year.
Fifth and most surprising is legendary pot smoker Bob Marley. Dead for more than thirty years, his progeny has still raked in $17 million in income in the past year. Their products include a relaxation drink called Marley’s Mellow Mood and the House of Marley’s “Lively Up” bags. Supposedly the drink contains nothing illegal, though it’s basically marketed as liquid pot “designed to reduce stress and relieve tension while calming the soul and easing the mind.” Contrary to what the name suggests, “Lively Up” bags are actual bags, and not ones filled with pot.