Worth More Dead Than Alive?

I saw this blurb somewhere recently and I was kind of fascinated by it.   

Michael Jackson has earned nine figures every full year since his death. The top-earning celebrity estates in 2015: 
            Name                    $Millions

  1. Michael Jackson         115.0
  2. Elvis Presley                  55.0
  3. Charles Schulz              40.0
  4. Bob Marley                    21.0
  5. Elizabeth Taylor            20.0
  6. Marilyn Monroe             17.0
  7. John Lennon                 12.0
  8. Albert Einstein              11.0
  9. Paul Walker                   10.5
  10. Bettie Page                    10.0
  11. Dr. Seuss                         9.5
  12. Steve McQueen               9.0

I’m not shocked by the top three.  I suspect Michael Jackson’s estate includes the revenue on the vast library of songs he’d invested in while he was alive.  And I’d always heard that Elvis had earned far more dead than he did alive.  That is thanks in large part to his manager – Colonel Tom Parker.  Elvis no doubt deserved better.  Charles Schultz at #3 is no surprise.  His characters seem nearly as ubiquitous now as when he was alive.   

But Bob Marley at 4?  Does he still get revenue from sales of weed?  If so, I’m surprised he’s not ranked higher.  No pun intended.  And younger readers not familiar with the concept of the “pin up girl” may not be familiar with Bettie Page.  But apparently,   She was the subject of an almost cult like following in the 80’s. Who knew? And while I am glad to see my favorite author – Dr. Seuss – at #11, I really can’t figure out how Steve McQueen comes in at 12.   While he was in some truly awesome films – the chase scene in Bullitt is freaking awesome – he died 36 years ago. Impressive staying power.  

I have to believe Prince will crack this list next year – although his estate will likely still be in litigation.   And I wonder if David Bowie will have a shot.  I really don’t mean to be as morbid as that sounds.  

In any event, there is a legal reason why this list exists.  The “right of publicity” – the ability to control the use of one’s name and likeness – survives death.  That may seem obvious, but not all rights do.  Libel claims, for example, typically expire when a person dies.  So while the estate of Michael Jackson could sue me for using his photo to help publicize my blog, it couldn’t sue me if I besmirched his reputation.  (editor’s note – I am pretty sure this is the first time I have ever used the word “besmirched” in my blog).  Elvis’s estate was really aggressive about enforcing his right of publicity after his death, so much so that a bright eyed young law student wrote a law review article on the subject.    

So, for my celebrity readers out there, know that you may have an annuity to leave to your heirs by virtue of your current body of work. And for everyone else, don’t be like Prince.  Get an estate plan in place!