Forbes magazine's 2009 list of top-earning dead celebrities surprised some, since Michael Jackson didn't top the list. But Jackson, whose spending and legal troubles ate up income substantially reduced by his troubles and tarnished brand, was sure to be worth more dead than alive, thanks in part to the success of the rehearsal documentary This Is It.
Now, CNNMoney.com reports, Bob Marley, who died almost three decades ago, is poised to eclipse all other dead celebrities in earning power, even including Jackson, whose estate has earned $90 million since his June passing. Marley -- the legendary Jamaican reggae artist who inspired people with spiritual, socially-conscious songs -- has given rise to a market for pirated merchandise, thought to have generated as much as $600 million in illegal sales.
But as we reported this month, the Marley estate is moving aggressively to protect his brand from dilution via knockoffs, and to reap the rewards from aggressive merchandising. Estimates are that earnings associated with Marley will top $1 billion in the next three years as a result of a new licensing deal between the Marley estate and Hilco Consumer Capital, a private-equity management firm.
Why so high? Because Marley's name will be on just about everything you can imagine. How about Bob Marley headphones and speakers... Bob Marley skin-care products and herbal supplements... a Bob Marley beverage... a Bob Marley chain of restaurants... and a Bob Marley video game.
Hilco's chief executive Jamie Salter says "This is not just about money. We have to believe in the people and products we partner with." Hilco has acquired and revived a number of dying brands, among them Polaroid and Sharper Image.
Managing a dead celebrity brand can be much simpler than when they were alive. Departed stars become immortal icons whose memories are preserved by fans and legend. Through licensing deals, their names, likenesses, and intellectual property (such as books written and music performed) continue to generate revenue long after the celebrities die, while problems associated with their spending and bad publicity (as in Jackson's case) are "deathwashed" away.
It seems some celebrities are destined for greatness, both here and in the hereafter.