Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley: Long Gone but Still Earning Millions


Each year, Forbes compiles a list showcasing the top-earning deceased celebrities, featuring a roster of legendary figures whose influence transcends their lifetimes. Consistently dominating this list are two iconic figures: the King of Rock, Elvis Presley, and the King of Pop, Michael Jackson.

In 2019, Michael Jackson, who passed away in 2009, secured the top spot on Forbes’ list of the highest-earning deceased celebrities, a position he’s held for seven consecutive years. His music career soared in the 80s, and that’s predominantly why Jackson’s legacy lives on, amassing $60 million in that year alone.

Elvis Presley, who left the world on August 16, 1977, due to a heart attack, holds the second spot. Presley’s enduring popularity, coupled with the annual influx of over half a million visitors to his Graceland estate, now enhanced by a $45 million expansion named Elvis Presley’s Memphis, significantly contributes to his posthumous earnings. To discover the journey of Elvis Presley becoming an iconic figure in classic television, just read this article.

Backgrounds of the Icons

Michael Jackson: The King of Pop

Michael Jackson watercolor art

Michael Jackson’s journey from a child star in the Jackson 5 to becoming the undisputed King of Pop is a testament to his unparalleled talent and dedication to his craft. Born on August 29, 1958, in Gary, Indiana, Jackson’s career in music began at a tender age, captivating audiences with his extraordinary vocal skills and dynamic performances. His 1982 album “Thriller” shattered records to become the best-selling album of all time, a title it still holds today.

Jackson’s influence extended beyond music; he was a trendsetter in dance and fashion, popularizing moves like the moonwalk and setting fashion trends with his sequined gloves and military-style jackets. His innovative music videos transformed the medium into an art form, making him a staple on MTV and helping to break down racial barriers in the music industry. Despite controversies that clouded his later years, Jackson’s legacy as a musical genius and humanitarian continues to endure.

Elvis Presley: The King of Rock and Roll

Elvis Presley in 1970

Elvis Presley’s ascent to the throne as the King of Rock and Roll is a story of how one man’s voice and charisma could revolutionize American music and culture. Born on January 8, 1935, in Tupelo, Mississippi, Presley’s fusion of country music with rhythm and blues introduced a new sound that shook the foundations of the 1950s music scene. His first hit, “That’s All Right,” released in 1954, marked the beginning of a new era in music. You may also read our post about the Key Figures in Elvis Presley’s Life to find out more about him.

Presley’s provocative performance style and magnetic stage presence made him a national sensation, while his good looks and smooth voice endeared him to millions of fans worldwide. His impact was not confined to music alone; Presley starred in numerous films, becoming a major box office draw. Even after his untimely death on August 16, 1977, Presley’s influence on music, fashion, and culture remains undiminished, cementing his status as a cultural icon.

Together, Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley’s groundbreaking contributions to music and popular culture have left an indelible mark on the world. Their lives, filled with both unparalleled success and personal challenges, continue to fascinate and inspire generations of fans and artists alike.

Posthumous Earnings Overview

Even after their passing, icons like Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley continue to amass significant earnings, a testament to their enduring legacies and the timeless appeal of their work. These earnings come from a variety of sources, contributing to their estates’ continued financial success.

Types of Revenue Streams

Music Royalties: Both artists’ music catalogs generate substantial royalties from album sales, digital downloads, and streaming services. Every play, purchase, or use of their music in commercials, movies, and television shows contributes to their posthumous earnings.

Licensing Deals: The use of their names, likenesses, and trademarks on merchandise ranging from T-shirts and posters to more unique memorabilia fuels a significant portion of their income.

Estate-Run Attractions:

  • For Elvis Presley, Graceland, his former home turned museum, draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, serving as a pilgrimage site for fans and a major source of revenue.
  • Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch and related properties also hold potential for earnings through tours, exhibitions, and themed attractions.

Posthumous Releases: Unreleased recordings, anniversary editions of classic albums, and compilation albums are curated and released by their estates, often to critical and commercial acclaim.

Film and Documentary Rights: Documentaries and biopics that explore their lives, careers, and legacies contribute to their earnings, as do the licensing of their music and images for use in other films and documentaries.

Digital Platforms: The advent of digital media and platforms has opened new revenue streams through social media, exclusive online content, and virtual reality experiences that celebrate their music and personas.

The continuous flow of income from these diverse sources ensures that the legacies of Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley not only endure but thrive, allowing new generations to discover and celebrate their music and impact on culture.

Michael Jackson’s Continuing Empire

A note left at the Hollywood Walk of Fame star in the days following the June 25, 2009, death of pop star Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson’s legacy continues to thrive well beyond his lifetime, establishing an empire that not only commemorates his unparalleled contributions to music and entertainment but also ensures a steady stream of posthumous earnings. Here’s how Michael Jackson’s empire sustains its growth and relevance:

  1. Music Royalties and Sales: Jackson’s music continues to sell millions of copies worldwide, with classic albums like “Thriller,” “Bad,” and “Off the Wall” remaining popular among fans old and new. These sales, along with streaming revenues, ensure a significant and steady income.
  2. Licensing and Merchandising: The King of Pop’s image, music, and trademarks are licensed for a wide array of merchandise, from clothing and collectibles to digital content, contributing significantly to the estate’s earnings.
  3. Neverland Ranch and Other Properties: Though Neverland Ranch has not been commercialized to the extent of Graceland, its potential as a tourist attraction or themed experience related to Jackson’s life holds considerable revenue possibilities.
  4. Cirque du Soleil and Live Performances: Michael Jackson’s partnership with Cirque du Soleil for shows like “Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour” and “Michael Jackson ONE” has proven to be a lucrative venture, blending his music and persona with the troupe’s spectacular performances.
  5. Posthumous Releases and Productions: The estate has released previously unheard music and reissued classic albums with additional content, keeping Jackson’s music fresh and accessible. Documentaries and concert films, such as “This Is It,” have also contributed to his ongoing revenue stream.
  6. Music Catalog Investments: Jackson’s estate has made significant investments, including the ownership of rights to a vast array of music catalogs, further diversifying its income sources and ensuring financial stability.
  7. Digital Ventures: The digital realm offers new opportunities for Jackson’s music and brand, including social media engagement, digital streaming, and innovative experiences that utilize technology to celebrate his artistry.

Through strategic partnerships, investments, and the ongoing appeal of his music and persona, Jackson’s influence and financial legacy continue to thrive, ensuring that the King of Pop reigns supreme in the entertainment industry even in his absence.

Elvis Presley’s Enduring Legacy

Elvis Presley’s albums

Elvis Presley’s influence remains as potent today as it was during his lifetime, with his estate continuing to generate significant revenue through various channels. Here’s an exploration of how the King of Rock and Roll’s legacy continues to flourish:

  1. Graceland – A Pilgrimage for Fans: Graceland, Elvis’s iconic home in Memphis, Tennessee, has been transformed into a museum and tourist attraction, drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Fans from around the world come to pay homage, explore Elvis’s life, and experience the aura of the King.
  2. Music Sales and Royalties: Presley’s extensive catalog of hits continues to sell in various formats, including physical albums, digital downloads, and streaming. These sales, coupled with royalties from radio play and the use of his music in films and commercials, contribute significantly to his estate’s income.
  3. Merchandising and Licensing: Elvis Presley’s image and trademarks are used extensively in merchandise, from apparel and accessories to memorabilia and collectibles. These licensed products keep his image in the public eye and generate considerable revenue.
  4. Posthumous Releases: The estate periodically releases previously unreleased tracks, special editions of classic albums, and compilations of hits, keeping Elvis’s music relevant and introducing his artistry to new generations.
  5. Graceland Expansions and Events: Recent expansions at Graceland, such as the addition of Elvis Presley’s Memphis entertainment complex, have enhanced the visitor experience, offering more exhibits, restaurants, and event spaces, thereby increasing revenue potential.
  6. Films and Documentaries: Elvis’s life and music continue to inspire filmmakers and documentarians, leading to new productions that explore his impact on music and culture. These projects not only honor his legacy but also contribute to the estate’s earnings through licensing deals.
  7. Tribute Shows and Impersonators: Elvis tribute artists and impersonators maintain a vibrant subculture, performing worldwide and keeping the spirit of Elvis alive. Events like Elvis Week and tribute contests at Graceland celebrate his music and influence, drawing fans and tourists.
  8. Digital Presence and Innovation: The estate has embraced digital platforms, using social media, streaming services, and digital marketing to keep Elvis’s music accessible and to engage with fans across the globe, ensuring his timeless appeal endures in the digital age.

Through a combination of traditional revenue streams and innovative approaches to engagement and storytelling, Elvis continues to captivate audiences and secure his place as a cultural icon.

The Role of Their Estates

The estates of Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley play a crucial role in preserving and enhancing their legacies, ensuring that their artistry continues to be celebrated and remains financially viable. Here’s an overview of how these estates manage the legacies of these two iconic figures:

  • Strategic Management and Decision-Making: The estates are responsible for making key decisions about how the artists’ music, image, and assets are used. This includes negotiating licensing deals, overseeing posthumous releases, and deciding on partnerships and collaborations that align with the artists’ legacies.
  • Preservation of Legacy: A primary role of the estates is to maintain and protect the integrity of the artists’ work and image. This involves carefully curating their music, videos, and other artistic outputs to ensure that any posthumous projects reflect their standards and artistic vision.
  • Financial Stewardship: The estates manage the financial aspects of the artists’ legacies, including income from music royalties, merchandise sales, and other revenue streams. They are responsible for the prudent investment and allocation of these funds to ensure the long-term financial health and growth of the estate.
  • Legal Representation: The estates handle legal matters, including copyright issues, trademark protection, and litigation. They safeguard the artists’ intellectual property rights and take action against unauthorized use of their music, image, or other assets.
  • Philanthropic Endeavors: Both estates continue the philanthropic efforts of Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley by supporting charitable causes and using the artists’ legacies for social good. This includes donations to various charities and the establishment of foundations in their names.
  • Fan Engagement and Community Building: The estates play a significant role in engaging with fans and fostering a sense of community among them. They organize events, manage official social media accounts, and facilitate fan club activities to keep the fan base active and engaged.
  • Innovation and Adaptation: Recognizing the importance of staying relevant in a rapidly changing entertainment landscape, the estates embrace new technologies and platforms to bring the artists’ work to new audiences. This includes digital streaming, virtual reality experiences, and leveraging social media.

The management of Michael Jackson’s and Elvis Presley’s estates is a complex and multifaceted endeavor that requires balancing respect for their artistic legacies with the realities of the modern entertainment industry. By carefully stewarding their works and images, the estates ensure that the King of Pop and the King of Rock and Roll continue to inspire and entertain fans around the world, maintaining their status as two of the most beloved and influential artists in music history.


Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley remain towering figures in the world of music and popular culture, their legacies skillfully managed by their estates to ensure that their artistry, influence, and financial success endure. Through strategic stewardship, these icons continue to captivate and inspire new generations, proving that true legends never really fade away; they evolve, adapt, and continue to shine in the hearts of fans around the globe.

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