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

Forbes collects a list of the highest-earning dead celebrities each year, which consists of a number of icons whose legacies extend far beyond their mortal lives. And every year, there are two names who never fail to be part of the list, and they are always on top. Who are they? No other than the King of Rock and the King of Pop, Elvis Presley, and Michael Jackson.

In 2019, the late King of Pop Michael Jackson had topped the list of Forbes’ Top-Earning Dead Celebrities. He died in 2009 but still continues to top the list with $60 million. In fact, he is far ahead of other celebrities because he is the titleholder for the highest-earning dead celebrity for seven years straight.

Second on the list is Elvis Presley, who died on August 16, 1977, due to a heart attack. Aside from people who are still listening to the songs of Elvis Presley, the artist has been earning a lot because, for decades, there were more than 500,000 visitors going to his recently expanded Graceland home annually. This prompted a recent $45 million addition, which is called Elvis Presley’s Memphis. In addition to that, Elvis also got a Warner Bros. biopic, which was directed by Baz Luhrmann on deck, with Tom Hanks as his manager.

How Artists Still Make Millions After Death

If you’re a celebrity or artist, making money does not stop when you die. In fact, the earning power of popular artists can rapidly increase when they are six feet under because advertisers scramble to sign them up to front different advertising campaigns.

For example, in 2014, Michael Jackson topped the list of dead celebrity windfalls after his estate earned $140 million, which includes takings from album sales and two-stage shows. This is much greater compared to the $14 million generated by each member of One Direction during their youthful peak.

The growing trend for nostalgia is one of the things that causes a sharp rise in the value of dead celebrities’ brands for product promotions based on some marketing and branding experts. It’s actually a massive business because in the United States, there are whole agencies that have grown up to represent dead celebrities, and they were able to do substantial business by doing it. Things from the past are also a very tempting gold mine to go to when advertisers are looking for success.

There are some recent blockbuster advertising campaigns that have included well-known people from the past. One example is the advertisement of Galaxy chocolate, which featured a computer-generated Audrey Hepburn. Other examples are Steve McQueen in Porsche commercials, Gene Kelly singing in the rain for Volkswagen, and Marilyn Monroe promoting Chanel N°5.

Aside from advertisements, artists, such as the highest-grossing ones, namely Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, Prince, and John Lennon, have sold a great deal of albums years and sometimes even decades after their deaths. But typically, it’s merchandising and licensing that rakes in big amounts of money.

Another thing that helps grow the incomes of dead musicians is the growing business of music streaming services. An example is Spotify, where people subscribe for a cost to listen to music. In its entire life as a public company, towards the end of 2019, it reported an operating profit of $60.3 million. And a lot of people are using this platform to listen to the songs of artists who’ve passed away.

For example, Higher Love by Whitney Houston has been streamed on Spotify more than 175 million times by people all over the world. And Xxxtentacion, who was murdered in mid-2018, was the most-streamed musician in the United States, having 5.6 billion spins when his songs were released on Spotify. The same goes for the music of reggae legend Bob Marley which registered close to one billion streams in the United States. Michael Jackson’s music, on the other hand, recorded a 17% increase in the number of streams. In 2018, his music was streamed 1.8 billion spins in the US, which grew to 2.1 billion in 2019.

Where Do Their Earnings Go?

One question you might have in mind is where the earnings of these dead artists go. Well, most of the time, the large amount of their earnings goes to their family and friends. It means that the people receiving them haven’t really done any work to earn them. This is also the reason why some believe that the federal estate tax should be raised a great deal.

What happens to the money depends on the person receiving it. For example, in the case of Michael Jackson, his children have been struggling to lead normal lives after they were initially burdened with a huge amount of their father’s debt. The earnings of these artists can give their families the freedom to pay off debts and donate to charities, as well.

Musicians like Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, and more may be dead, but they are still playing a crucial role in keeping music and music streaming alive. And the value of their music is likely to increase even further as older people who listen to their music are also adjusting to the changing industry as they are also starting to use streaming services today. It means that these artists will still continue to earn in the years to come.

The infographic was originally created by Betway

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