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Trick or treat: dead celebrities’ earnings

Just in time for Halloween, Forbes has released its annual list of the top-earning dead celebrities.

The October tradition sees a shakeup this year with Kurt Cobain, the frontman for legendary grunge act Nirvana, displacing Tupelo’s own Elvis Presley in the No. 1 spot.
Writing on Forbes.com, Lacey Rose explains the project: A nail in the casket is hardly the end for some stars. Instead, their work, as well as their iconic images, continues to appeal to fans who remember them, and to those born long after they died.

The 13 icons on our sixth annual Top-Earning Dead Celebrities list collectively earned $247 million in the last 12 months. Their estates continue to make money by inking deals involving both their work and the rights to use their name and likenesses on merchandise and marketing campaigns. To land on this year’s list, a star needed to make at least $7 million between October 2005 and October 2006.

The complete list of “The Lucky 13” is an eclectic mix of artists, entertainers, musicians and writers:

13. Bob Marley

12. George Harrison

11. J.R.R. Tolkien

10. Johnny Cash

9. Marilyn Monroe

8. Ray Charles

7. Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel)

6. Andy Warhol

5. Albert Einstein

4. John Lennon

3. Charles M. Schulz

2. Elvis Presley

1. Kurt Cobain

So how did Cobain unseat the King? According to Forbes, you can thank the dead rocker’s widow, Courtney Love, “who sold a 25% stake in his song catalog to publishing company Primary Wave for a reported $50 million.”

Tapping the potential

The obvious question: When can we expect the flood of business books offering how-to advice based on the investing strategies of successful dead celebrities?

Actually, they’re probably out there now — lining the shelves — but that’s a little too scary to consider this week.

Halloween, you know…

Contact MBJ editor Jim Laird at jlaird@msbusiness.com.

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