Fans often reel from the death of their favorite celebrity. Just this year, we’ve seen the deaths of musician David Crosby and singer Lisa Marie Presley among others.
Stars like media icon Barbara Walters, Brazilian soccer legend Pele, dancer and DJ Stephen ‘tWitch’ Boss passed away at the end of 2022 and Queen Elizabeth II passed away at 94 last fall.
However, there are some celebrities that have died and continue to make an impact in the entertainment world around them, earning millions in the process.
Here are some of the top earners making income years after their death, with the top five, making more than $100 million each.
10 Charles Schulz – $24 Million
Ah, the Peanuts gang. If nothing else, Charlie Brown and his friends are consistent and favored by fans across the globe. According to Newsweek, just in television specials like It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and A Charlie Brown Christmas the Schulz estate has earned over $730 million in the 21st century. Include merchandise and the recent Apple TV payment ($32 million) for streaming services on their platform and Schulz’ legendary gang will be around for years to come.
9 Jeff Porcaro – $25 Million
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Though Porcaro might not be as well-known as others on the list, it’s likely you know his music. The music legend co-wrote “Africa”, was the drummer for Michael Jackson’s Thriller album and collaborated with other legends like Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton and Bruce Springsteen. In 2022, a New York-based independent music publisher, Primary Wave, snagged Porcaro’s publishing and recording royalties.
8 Dr. Seuss – $32 Million
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Who doesn’t love the people of Whoville? Theodor Seuss Geisel wrote and illustrated over 60 books prior to his death in 1991. Classics such as How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Lorax continue to rake in profit through movies, merchandise and other entertainment. It’s even rumored in 2022 that the Dr.’s estate is negotiating a Netflix deal. Seuss has been on the list of highest paid celebrities for the past three decades. His widow established Seuss Enterprises and the organization has reported $30-$40 million annual earnings ever since.
7 Leonard Cohen – $55 Million
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He had a net worth of $10 million at the time of his death but ironically, Leonard Cohen is made more in 2022 than any other year during his lifetime. The “Hallelujah” singer has had his famous song covered by the likes of Jon Bon Jovi, Ed Sheeran, Willie Nelson and hundreds of others. In 2016, at the age of 82, Cohen passed away from leukemia and was considered to be one of the most influential musicians and writers of modern times.
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6 Michael Jackson – $75 Million
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It’s not a surprise that the King of Pop’s legendary music, likeness and family history continue to bring in massive income. MJ The Musical is on Broadway, entertainment giant Cirque de Soleil has a Jackson-themed show and merchandise sales continue in a steady stream. According to Celebrity Net Worth, Jackson’s estate has earned over $2 billion in the years since his death at the age of 50 in 2009 and we can assume the income will continue as his family keeps his legacy alive.
5 James Brown – $100 Million
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The singer/songwriter died of heart failure at the age of 73 in 2006 and after years of court proceedings and fights regarding the “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” singer’s will, Primary Wave has finally got their hands of the Godfather of Soul’s music rights, real estate and likeness. In honor of Brown’s wishes, a portion of the estate will be used to fund academic scholarships.
4 Elvis Presley – $110 Million
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At the age of 42, The King passed away from a heart attack and sadly, his only daughter Lisa Marie, passed away in Jan. However, the Elvis estate continues to rake in dough through a variety of sources. The vast majority of Elvis’ income is the result of tour tickets and merchandise as fans flock to the Graceland mansion. While the estate isn’t making much off of the new Elvis biopic, the film and revitalized interest in the family is expected to lift earnings for the next 18 months.
3 Davie Bowie – $250 Million
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The singer’s publishing catalog and masters were sold to Warner Chappell last Jan. to the tune of $250 million. The “Sound and Vision” singer had a network of $230 million at the time of his death in 2016 from cancer and the money just keeps coming. For nearly five decades, Bowie was one of the most influential rock artists of all time, releasing 27 albums and known for his distinctive voice and eclectic catalog of work.
2 Kobe Bryant – $400 Million
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The world was stunned when 41-year-old NBA star Kobe Bryant suddenly passed away in a helicopter crash in 2020. Bryant was immersed in numerous endorsement deals, plans for future and a love for his family. The legend owned seven percent stakes in the BodyArmor energy drink. According to Forbes, Coca-Cola agreed to purchase the remaining stakes of Body Armor and Bryant’s estate received a cool $400 million from the deal.
1 J.R.R. Tolkien – $500 Million
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The author of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy passed away in 1973 at the age of 81 but since his death, a film series, additional book sales and more has continued to earn money under Tolkien’s name, through Middle Earth Enterprises. Other companies own a piece of Tolkien’s intellectual property like HarperCollins, Amazon and the Tolkien Estate. With the sale of Middle Earth Enterprises to Embracer, Tolkien made several million just this year.
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Sources: Newsweek, Celebrity Net Worth, Forbes
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