Michael Jackson broke into the Forbes magazine’s Top Earning Dead Celebrities list of moneymakers in a big way this year. When Sony bought the rights to the footage shot of his rehearsals to turn into a movie (which became the #1 blockbuster “Michael Jackson’s This Is It,” they paid the Michael Jackson estate $60 million. Without that large sum, Michael Jackson, who died at the end of June, would have still placed 6th on the list of dead celebrities, right behind Charles Shulz, the creator of “Peanuts.” Even pulling in $90 million, the King of Pop still placed only 3rd among the top earning dead celebrities. And the top spot wasn’t held by Elvis, the guy that usually holds the top spot (just as he did in 2008). In fact, the entire Top 3 were newcomers to the Forbes list. Even the King of Rock ‘n Roll placed behind Michael Jackson at #4.
So who was #1 on the Forbes annual “Top Earning Dead Celebrities” list? Fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent’s estate pulled in a cool $350 million.
In fact, according to the annual list, the two Kings of music together did not gross as much as the estates of the composing duo of Rodgers and Hammerstein. At $235 million, the writers of such musicals as “Oklahoma!”, “Carousel,” and “The Sound Of Music” placed second on the list, $145 million ahead of Michael Jackson.
But could Forbes have gotten it wrong? With Michael Jackson holding the #1 album on the Billboard 200 albums chart with the “Michael Jackson’s This Is It” Soundtrack and having the #1 grossing movie in the U. S. over the Halloween weekend, plus what they will earn before year’s end, is there any way the ranking would change? It is doubtful that no matter what kind of deal the Michael Jackson estate has concerning royalties and such, that deal would not produce another #145 million by year’s end to put him even with Rodgers and Hammerstein, not to mention surpassing the duo.
The creator of Middle Earth and The Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien, placed 5th on the Forbes list. As noted, the gifted cartoonist Charles Shulz landed in sixth. Another musician, John Lennon, occupied the 7th spot. Dr. Seuss, Albert Einstein, and Michael Crichton rounded out the Top 10. Forbes, though, always compiles a list of the “Lucky 13.” So Aaron Spelling, Jimi Hendrix, and Andy Warhol placed at 11, 12, and 13.
Who would have thought dead people could make so much money? (Lawyers, apparently, or dead celebrities (or their estates or beneficiaries… or lawyers) would not make anything.) The Forbes Lucky 13 for 2009’s Top Earning Dead Celebrities raked in $886 million.
So who will be the Top Earner next year? Michael Jackson? Yves Saint Laurent? Or will Elvis regain the top of the Forbes Top Earning Dead Celebrities list once again? Or will there be a newcomer, like Michael Jackson, Yves Saint Laurent, and Rodgers and Hammerstein, who just jumps into the top spot(s)?