30 of the Highest-Earning Dead Celebrities
James Dean died in a tragic car accident in 1955, but over a half-century later the Rebel Without a Cause star is still worth millions of dollars. Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel) has been gone for over 20 years, but is still a bestselling children’s author. They, along with the rest of the gone-but-not-forgotten artists, musicians and athletes on this list prove that being rich isn’t just for the living.
Yves Saint Laurent
With his radical Le Smoking suit and expansive vision of what women’s fashion could be, legendary French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent redefined haute couture and ready-to-wear through his collections for Dior in the 1950s and his own eponymous fashion label. He dedicated his life to the idea that comfortable clothing and luxury fashion didn’t have to be mutually exclusive.
With over 62 PGA Tour title wins and a spot in the World Golf Hall of Fame, Arnold Palmer is regarded as one of the best professional golf players of all time. His reign during the 1960s, alongside other major players like Jack Nicklaus, helped popularize the sport outside of the traditional country club demographic.
It’s been over 40 years since Elvis left the building but the The King is still very much a part of contemporary pop culture — and his estate has the receipts to prove it. In 2018, Elvis was certified by the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) as being the second highest-selling artist of all time, which helps the late singer’s estate bring in over $50 million each year.
Bob Marley was a legend in his own lifetime and his message of hope, love and peace has continued to inspire generations of fans. The late Jamaican singer’s estate makes an average of $10 million a year from royalties and sales of the nearly dozen albums he recorded as a solo artist and with the Wailers.
Every year since his death in 2009, Michael Jackson has topped the list of richest dead celebrities. Between royalties from streaming services, licensing deals from his estate and the top-grossing documentary Michael Jackson’s This Is It, the late King of Pop has routinely made anywhere between $90 to $150 million a year.
When Charles Schulz created his iconic Peanuts comic in 1950, he had no idea how popular and influential it would become — and how much money it would make him, both during his life and after his death. The Minnesota-born cartoonist made an estimated $30 to $40 million a year until his death in 2000 and still posthumously brings in $30 million annually.
In some ways, it’s still hard to believe that Prince is no longer with us. His 2016 death from an accidental overdose of the prescription painkiller fentanyl shocked the world. For many, his death was a reminder that the musician responsible for some of the most iconic music of the 20th century was still just a man.
Like Prince, the death of David Bowie seemed surreal for someone who meant so much to so many people. From his earliest days as a glam-rock icon to his later exploration of the worlds of fashion and art, Bowie was never interested in doing what was commercially acceptable or proper. This was precisely why his fans adored him so much.
Since breaking onto the scene with his band (Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers), Tom Petty was a fan favorite who never got tired of the thrill of performing. Between his work with the Heartbreakers, his own solo career, and his two albums with the supergroup, Traveling Wilburys, Petty was responsible for some of the biggest hits of the ‘70s and ‘80s.
If you grew up in the 1990s, you couldn’t turn on the television without seeing an ad for Elizabeth’s Taylor best selling fragrance, White Diamonds. That is one of the many reasons why the actress, who passed away from congestive heart failure in 2011 (at the age of 70), still earns anywhere from $8 million to $20 million a year.
Yes, really — the theoretical physicist, who unlocked the secrets of relativity and played a pivotal role in the development of quantum mechanics, continues to earn the not-so-small sum of about $10 million a year. When Einstein died in 1955, he left his entire estate to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. This included the exclusive rights to his image and likeness.
When Dr. Suess (Theodore Geisel) died in 1991 at the age of 87, he was perhaps the world’s most beloved children’s author. He had written nearly 60 classic books that have since become children’s literature canon. From the sweet-natured elephant, Horton, to the mischievous Cat in the Hat, Dr. Suess’ literary creations continue to bring in nearly $30 million a year.
You can’t take it with you when you die, so Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner made sure to enjoy it while he could; the legendary publisher and partier married three times (and had at least as many girlfriends) while running his worldwide network of Playboy Clubs and serving as the face of his iconic brand. Even after Hefner’s death in 2017, his estate still earned an impressive $15 million.
Though her Hollywood heyday lasted less than 10 years before she died tragically in 1962, Marilyn Monroe is one of the few true global pop culture icons. Her blonde bombshell persona, which she craftily used to gain control over her career, continues to earn the long-dead actress an average of $15 million a year.
John Lennon wasn’t just a one-half of the greatest songwriting duo of all time but a groundbreaking musical figure in his own right. His solo career gave the world the peace anthem "Imagine", and his work with his wife Yoko Ono in the Plastic Ono Band pushed his musical boundaries even further.
Ask anyone who the greatest boxer of all time is and they’ll all say Muhammad Ali (and if you’d asked the man himself, chances are good he would have said the same thing). With his powerful physicality and contentious public persona, Ali always made sure all eyes were on him. Even now, the late heavyweight champ still brings in $8 million a year.
Even decades after his death, Steve McQueen is still the King of Cool. The rebellious, racing-obsessed actor, who was famously combative on-set after spending his youth in the Marines, was the epitome of cool in films like Bullitt and The Getaway. Now his family manages his estate, which brings in an average of $8 million a year.
James Dean was just 24 when he died, but the actor has since become a universal symbol of teenage attitude and rebellion. Like Steve McQueen, Dean harbored a passion for racing that only added to his allure — it is still strong enough to bring in between $3 million and $8 million a year.
Paul Walker had enjoyed some small success in the ‘90s with roles in films like Varsity Blues and Pleasantville, but in 2001, his career took off on an entirely different trajectory with his role as Brian O’Connor, an undercover cop turned street racer in the massively successful Fast and the Furious franchise.
Bruce Lee was just 32 when he died in 1973 of complications from a reaction to antibiotics, leaving behind a handful of films and a personal philosophy that changed the way the world viewed Asian actors and martial arts forever. As one of the most recognizable pop culture figures of the 20th century, his estate still brings in $8 million to $9 million a year.
Andy Warhol started out as a commercial illustrator and ended up becoming one of the most successful and influential artists of the 20th century. He was a prophetic figure who blended celebrity culture and mass advertising principles into what came to be known as pop art. Campbell soup cans, silkscreens of Elizabeth Taylor — nothing was off limits for Warhol, who still earns around $6 million annually.
Has any musician ever accomplished as much in as short a period of time as Jimi Hendrix? His official musical output amounted to just three studio albums – Are You Experienced, Axis: Bold as Love, and Electric Ladyland, all released within two years – his performances at Monterey Pop and Woodstock were iconic. The revolutionary guitarist still earns around $7 million a year.
His name might not be as recognizable as James Dean or David Bowie, but you probably know many of Richard Rodgers’ songs. The New York composer, through his collaborations with lyricist Oscar Hammerstein, created such Broadway classics as Oklahoma!, The King and I and The Sound of Music, and eventually became the first person to win all five top entertainment awards (the coveted EGOT) and a Pulitzer.
Over the course of his nearly 50-year career, Frank Sinatra reigned as one of the greatest singers of the 20th century and a legendary entertainer. After his death in 1998, Sinatra and his legacy grew even further, with licensing deals for his extensive back catalog and likeness pulling in around $5 million a year.
NASCAR racing was in Dale Earnhardt’s bones. His father, Ralph, had been a successful short-track driver in North Carolina and even won a championship in 1956. He’s where Dale formed his commitment to racing and the drive to become the greatest NASCAR racer ever, piling up championships and wins until his death from a collision at the Daytona 500 in 2001.
Jerry Garcia, singer and lead guitarist for the influential ‘60s group Grateful Dead, was more than just a musician to his legions of fans — he was a mystic, a guru and a shaman who led them on a long, strange trip through the wilderness of life. When Garcia died of a heart attack in 1995, his larger-than-life persona translated into an estate worth more than $15 million, which brings in $5 million annually.
There’s an entire generation that knows Paul Newman simply as “the salad dressing guy,” which is an honor the late actor would surely appreciate. That salad dressing, which has expanded from a simple vinaigrette into an entire line of baked goods and other items, has so far raised over $500 million for various charities.
Charlie’s Angels. The Love Boat. Dynasty. Reading through film and TV producer Aaron Spelling’s IMDB is a crash course in some of the most popular TV shows of the last four decades — the late producer is listed as having over 200 producer or executive producer credits over the course of his prolific career, and it’s why he continues to earn anywhere from $5 to $15 million a year.
George Harrison had always been known as the “Quiet Beatle,” but his contributions to the band couldn’t have been more clear — his interest in Indian music and spirituality in the 1960s led him to incorporate sitar and other world instruments into the Beatles’ music. Royalties and licenses from his work with the Beatles as well as his successful solo career still earn the late guitarist well over $10 million a year.
The death of Tupac Shakur in a 1996 drive-by shooting hit the world hard. The 25-year old rapper and actor had just released his groundbreaking double album, All Eyez On Me, a few months earlier, and was riding a wave of critical and commercial acclaim. Since his death, Shakur has become one of the best selling artists of all time and still earns anywhere from $5 to $7 million a year.