Just because a beloved star has left us, it doesn’t mean that we aren’t spending money on the things they created or things that have been licensed to use their images by their estate.

Every year, Forbes produces a list of the highest earning dead famous people, and it makes for some interesting reading. The cut-off point for the list is in mid-October, so stars who died later in the year may not appear (for example, Carrie Fisher who died in December 2016 would not be counted for that year, despite the use of her image in the high grossing movie Rogue One). The list for 2017 has already been released, therefore, and covered on top celeb watching sites like richestlifestyle.com.

Here are some of the notable entries:

Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson may have died over eight years ago, but he has topped the deceased rich list for the past five of those. 2017 is no exception, as his brand has brought in $75 million. A lot of this is as a result of a Las Vegas show by Cirque du Soleil themed around his work, along with a TV special on CBS aired at Halloween and a new compilation album of his music, entitled Scream. While $75 million is a huge amount for a dead star to be bringing in, last year, the figure for Jacko was actually $825 million – more than any living artist, let alone other deceased stars. This was from the sale of part of his back catalog.

Tom Petty

Tom Petty is unusual in this year’s list of highest earning dead celebrities, as he made most of his income for the year by touring prior to his death in early October (just prior to the cut-off for the Forbes list). All of the other entries, which include Elvis, Einstein, and Bob Marley, earned their listed income posthumously. Petty did see a boost in earnings for his estate after his death, however, with a spike in sales for his albums from fans wanting to pay tribute.


Prince was one of what seemed like a huge number of stars who passed away in 2016 at a surprisingly young age. Like Tom Petty, a lot of his earnings in 2017 were as a result of fans continuing to buy his music. He is in 7th place on the list with an income from his estate of $18 million. Another big name in music who died in 2016, David Bowie, sits just outside the top 10 in 11th place with $9.5 million – also primarily from music and movie sales, as well as takings from an exhibition about his life, which has been on display in various world cities.

It is interesting to see how much of a legacy that stars, especially beloved musicians, leave behind, and how valuable their music and images can still be whether their passing was recent, like Tom Petty, or even a long time ago like Elvis Presley!