The Highest-Paid Dead Celebrities Of 2018


Death hasn’t ended Michael Jackson’s commercial success

Michael Jackson in Thriller
Michael Jackson in Thriller

Jackson again tops our list of the highest-paid dead celebrities list after hauling in $400 million over the past year, mostly from the sale of his EMI Music Publishing stake. Additional cash comes from his Mijac Music catalogue, a new Sony record deal and projects like TV special Michael Jackson’s Halloween, which returned to CBS on October 20 for the second consecutive year.

“You see Charlie Brown Christmas and Charlie Brown Thanksgiving every year, so now we’re looking to have Michael Jackson’s Halloween every year,” says John Branca, the Jackson estate’s co-executor. “We hope that it’ll become evergreen.”

Behind the King of Pop on our list is another music monarch: Elvis Presley, who takes the No. 2 spot with $40 million over the past year; Arnold Palmer rounds out the top three with $35 million. In all, the dead celebs pulled in $628 million, more than double last year’s $312 million tally—thanks entirely to Jackson’s windfall, which gives him $2.4 billion in earnings in the decade since his death.

Highest-Paid Dead Celebrities 2018

1. Michael Jackson
$400 million


Died: June 25, 2009

Age: 50

Cause: Overdose/Homicide

Jackson’s posthumous roll continues, bringing in $287 million recently from the sale of his estate’s stake in EMI Music Publishing to Sony.

2. Elvis Presley
$40 million

Musician, Actor

Died: August 16, 1977

Age: 42

Cause: Heart Attack

He still moves more than 1 million albums every year, but the bulk of the King’s coin comes from tickets to Graceland and a new $45 million entertainment complex called Elvis Presley’s Memphis.

3. Arnold Palmer
$35 million


Died: September 25, 2016

Age: 87

Cause: Heart disease

Mmm! There’s a new addition to the Arnold Palmer beverage line: an alcoholic version made in conjunction with MolsonCoors.

4. Charles Schulz
$34 million


Died: February 12, 2000

Age: 77

Cause: Colon Cancer

Snoopy sure is one pedigreed beagle: DHX Media paid $345 million in 2017 to get 80% of the Peanuts business previously owned by Iconix.

5. Bob Marley
$23 million


Died: May 11, 1981

Age: 36

Cause: Cancer

Products include headphones and Marley Natural cannabis and smoking accessories.

6. Dr. Seuss
$16 million


Died: September 24, 1991

Age: 87

Cause: Cancer

The good doctor sold 4.8 million books last year.

7. Hugh Hefner
$15 million

Media Mogul

Died: September 27, 2017

Age: 91

Cause: Cardiac arrest

The Playboy founder got lucky one last time when his heirs sold the remaining portion of his estate for an estimated $35 million last year, getting more than a third up front.

8. Marilyn Monroe
$14 million


Died: August 5, 1962

Age: 36

Cause: Overdose

Marilyn is back on the list this year thanks to new licensing deals, including Montblanc pens.

9. Prince
$13 million

Musician, Actor

Died: April 21, 2016

Age: 57

Cause: Overdose

The Purple One is rolling in green, having sold a quarter-million physical albums over the past 12 months.

10. John Lennon
$12 million


Died: December 8, 1980

Age: 40

Cause: Homicide

Between his solo work and his Beatles oeuvre, Lennon continues to sell nearly 2 million albums annually.

11. XXXTentacion
$11 million


Died: June 18, 2018

Age: 20

Cause: Homicide

No dead musician—and few living ones—clocked more streaming spins than XXXTentacion last year. The rapper, who had domestic-violence charges pending when he died, racked up 4 billion streams.

12. Muhammad Ali
$8 million


Died: June 3, 2016

Age: 74

Cause: Septic shock

A Tag Heuer deal and a settlement with Fox Broadcasting over a Super Bowl ad that used Ali’s image lands the Greatest of All Time on our list for the first time.

13. Bettie Page
$7 million


Died: December 11, 2008

Age: 85

Cause: Natural causes

The classic pinup’s allure has been turned into clothing, shoes, handbags, lingerie, wigs and even a fitness DVD.


Figures are for pretax earnings from October 1, 2017, through October 1, 2018, before deducting fees for agents, managers, lawyers and estate executors. Sources: Nielsen SoundScan, NPD BookScan, insider interviews, Forbes estimates.

Edited by Zack O’Malley Greenburg and Natalie Robehmed; additional reporting by Kurt Badenhausen and Elisabeth Brier

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