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The Top-Earning Dead Celebrities Of 2017

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This past weekend, audiences were treated to the debut of CBS special Michael Jackson’s Halloweenan hourlong magical adventure in which the King of Pop comes to life in animated forms including that of a dancing pumpkin, an arachnid security guard and a feline scientist, set to a soundtrack of Jackson’s music.

“Michael’s songs are very important to people,” says Mark Dippé, the program’s director. “We just wanted to sort of tell a story that was based around the world that Michael had created with his music, and his dancing, and his performances.”

That level of continued interest is precisely why Jackson tops our Halloween-spooky list of the 13 highest-paid dead celebrities for the fifth year in a row – with earnings of $75 million. His postmortem empire is going strong, boosted by the Halloween special and new album Scream joining a list of ventures including a Cirque du Soleil show in Las Vegas and a stake in the EMI music publishing catalogue.

Golf legend Arnold Palmer claims the No. 2 spot with $40 million. Barely a year after his death, more than 400 stores still sell Palmer-branded apparel in Asia, and AriZona Beverages produces 400 million cans of its Arnold Palmer line annually. Peanuts creator Charles Schulz ranks third with income of $38 million—MetLife recently retired Snoopy and Charlie Brown from its ad campaigns, but the cartoonist’s contract does not expire until 2019.

Elvis Presley finishes fourth with $35 million, up from last year’s $27 million sum thanks to the new $45 million Elvis Presley’s Memphis entertainment complex and recently-opened hotel The Guesthouse at Graceland. Bob Marley rounds out the top five with $23 million, boosted by sustainability-focused House of Marley audio products and the Marley Beverage Co.

“When we decided to start that movement, it was [to] add relevancy to who we are as a family,” says Marley’s son Rohan. “We started that to really hone in on our legacy and protect what our father has given us.”

GALLERY: Highest Paid Dead Celebrities Of 2017

Our list measures pretax income from October 15, 2016 through October 15, 2017 before deducting cuts for agents, managers and lawyers. Sources include Nielsen SoundScan, IMDB, Pollstar Pro and interviews with celebrity estate experts.

Some names on the list passed just before the end of our scoring period—namely, rocker Tom Petty, who died on October 3. His inclusion on the list (No. 6, $20 million) reflects earnings from the past year on the road, where his band was grossing north of $1 million per night. Petty and fellow musicians Prince (No. 7, $18 million) and David Bowie (No. 11, $9.5 million) also got a boost from increased music consumption in the wake of their relatively-recent passing.

There are more ways than ever to earn money from beyond the grave, as our list members can attest. Elizabeth Taylor (No. 12, $8 million) lives on through top-selling fragrances such as White Diamonds, while Albert Einstein (No. 10, $10 million) lends his name and likeness to products ranging from dorm-room posters to tablets designed by Israeli tech company Fourier Systems.

Frank Zappa didn’t make the list, but perhaps he will soon. His son Ahmet recently announced plans to bring the rock star back in the form of a hologram-like illusion. The phantom Zappa will hit the road, most likely in 2018, in partnership with the firm Eyellusion. The goal is to make “the bizarre world of Frank come to life,” says the younger Zappa. “And I wake up every single day excited.”

To be fair, Frank Zappa won’t be the first celebrity to perform in such a manner. Tupac Shakur started the trend at Coachella in 2012, and Jackson currently appears in similar style in the grand finale of his Vegas show.

As for the King of Pop, his 2017 earnings pale in comparison to last year’s $825 million haul—the highest annual total for any entertainer dead or alive—mostly from the sale of his half of the Sony/ATV catalogue. But his $75 million tally this year still places him on par with the seventeenth-best-paid living entertainer, Bruce Springsteen. – Written by 

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