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Forbes unveils its 2023 list of top-earning dead celebrities

Let's explore how these deceased A-listers continue to leave an everlasting mark on both our hearts and the global economy.
Forbes unveils its 2023 list of top-earning dead celebrities
Posted at 3:42 PM, Oct 31, 2023

In a world where fame knows no boundaries, even death can't dim the financial glow of some of the world's most iconic personalities.

Forbes, the renowned business and finance magazine, has released its much anticipated annual list of the highest-earning deceased celebrities. This tradition not only pays tribute to the enduring legacies of a number of musicians, authors, creators, and other A-listers, but also serves as a reminder that their influence continues to generate staggering fortunes from beyond the grave.

This year's rankings include earnings from sales, stream, licensing deals and other sources of income from Oct. 2022 through Sept. 2023. As we delve into the list, let's also explore how these iconic figures continue to leave an everlasting mark on both our hearts and the global economy.

1. Michael Jackson

$115 million

More than ten years after Michael Jackson's death, the King of Pop has returned to the top of the 2023 highest-earning list for the first time since 2019. The staggering $115 million his legacy brought in over the past year is thanks in part to the hit Broadway show "MJ: The Musical" which grossed roughly $85 million in ticket sales alone. Not to mention the millions of dollars from the "Michael Jackson ONE" Cirque du Soleil show in Las Vegas and — in tune with the Halloween holiday — sales from his classic hit album "Thriller."

Jackson died on June 25, 2009, of an overdose. He was 50 years old.

2. Elvis Presley

$100 million

The King of Pop might have retaken the No. 1 spot on this year's list, but the King of Rock 'n' Roll, Elvis Presley came in at a close second, earning $100 million over the past year.

While his Graceland estate in Memphis, Tennessee, opened to the public more than 40 years ago, it has remained one of the top tourist destinations in the state. The estate welcomed some 600,000 visitors over the past year, generating income from ticket and merchandise sales. Not to mention Presley's music catalog, which includes his popular Christmas album that remains the biggest selling holiday album of all time.

Presley died on August 16, 1977, of a heart attack. He was 42 years old.

3. Ray Manzarek

$45 million

In one of the year's most lucrative music deals, deceased Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek and living guitarist Robby Krieger jointly sold their band's catalog to Primary Wave Music. While details of the acquisition were not disclosed, a source told American magazine Variety that the numbers were "big." The deal includes the rights to all of the band's recorded music, publishing, trademarks, merchandising, and any related income.

Manzarek died on May 20, 2013, of cancer. He was 74 years old.

4. Dr. Seuss

$40 million

More than 60 years after publishing "The Cat In The Hat," Dr. Seuss — or Theodor Seuss Geisel — has a robust catalog of children's books he wrote and illustrated that continue to make an impact in young readers' lives. His fun, goofy, and rhyme-riddled books have also been made into films like "How The Grinch Stole Christmas," "The Lorax," and "Horton Hears a Who." He also coined arguably one of the most quoted lines of all time, saying "Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened."

Geisel died on Sept. 24, 1991, of cancer. He was 87 years old.

5. Charles M. Schulz

$30 million

Rounding out the top five is someone who may not be much of a household name, but you surely know him for the gang he created. The Peanuts — with characters including Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus and Lucy — has helped keep the Schulz estate raking in cash for more than two decades since his passing. More than 70 years after its creation, the Schulz's family may now only own a portion of the brand, but it's a pretty big slice considering the amount of branded content it continues to put out — including lucrative deals with Igloo Coolers, Cariuma sneakers, and more.

Schulz died on Feb. 12, 2000, of cancer. he was 77 years old.

Rounding out the top 12

6. Prince - American singer/songwriter/musician - $30 million

6. Whitney Houston - American singer/actress - $30 million

8. John Lennon - American singer/songwriter/musician - $22 million

9. Bob Marley - Jamaican singer/songwriter/musician - $16 million

10. Bing Crosby - American singer/actor - $14 million

10. George Harrison - English singer/songwriter/musician - $14 million

12. Arnold Palmer - American professional golfer - $10 million

12. Marilyn Monroe - American actress/model - $10 million

For the full list with celebrity biographies, visit

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