Lisa DiCarlo: The earning power of most deceased people, even famous ones, slows considerably or stops altogether when they die. But for a select few, the paychecks keep coming, and some draw even bigger paydays than when they were alive.


Here’s the complete list:

The criteria for making our list are simple. A person’s estate must pull down a minimum of $5 million annually. How does a deceased person earn money? For musicians like John Lennon, the bulk of it comes from worldwide publishing royalties. He and Paul McCartney co-wrote most Beatles songs, and they get a cut every time a song is played on the radio stations of Viacom’s Infinity Broadcasting, sold on a CD, used in a film or covered by another artist.



Elvis Presley’s estate earns tens of millions of dollars annually, not from music sales–Elvis’ manager famously sold the rights to pre-1973 recordings to RCA) for $5 million–but from merchandising and admissions to Graceland.



Because actors don’t own rights to the films in which they appear, revenue comes almost entirely from licensing and merchandising. The image of Marilyn Monroe, for example, is used to sell literally hundreds of different products worldwide. Likewise, the estate of Charles Schulz has licensed the cartoonist’s Snoopy as pitchman for everything from MetLife insurance to PepsiCo sodas.



1 Elvis Presley $40M

2 Charles M. Schulz $35M

3 J.R.R. Tolkien $23M

4 John Lennon $21M

5 Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel $18M

6 Marilyn Monroe $8M

7 George Harrison $7M

8 Irving Berlin $7M

9 Bob Marley $7M

10 Richard Rodgers $6.5M

11 George and Ira Gershwin $6M

12 Jimi Hendrix $6M

13 Alan Lerner and Frederick Loewe $6M

14 Cole Porter $6M

15 James Dean $5M

16 Dale Earnhardt Sr. $5M

17 Jerry Garcia $5M

18 Freddie Mercury $5M

19 Tupac Shakur $5M

20 Frank Sinatra $5M


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