So who gets all the money from a rich dead celebrity's ongoing earnings? I'm thinking Michael Jackson; his family exploited him and doesn't deserve his millions.
—In Michael's Name, via the inbox
Michael Jackson does indeed make more money dead than most other musicians make alive, and, yes, his mom and minor kids get most of his money. But not every dead celebrity automatically enriches his spawn. In fact, a few wealthy corpses have bypassed their families altogether, and there's even a chance that you, indirectly, are benefiting from a deceased star ...
Let's start with which dead people are rich in the first place. Forbes has released its annual list of exquisite corpses (just in time for Halloween!) and Jackson is No. 1 on the list this year. He made $170 million in the past year. (He's also the second highest-earning pop act at all, behind U2. Really. Still.)
Elvis, of course, is the No. 2 dead star moneymaker. But consider some of the others on the list. Let's look at Albert Einstein, with the help of David Reeder, whose company, GreenLight, handles Einstein's rights on behalf of his beneficiaries.
According to Reeder, Einstein made sure that learning would continue after his death.
"He willed all of his rights, such as they were when he died, to Hebrew University in Jerusalem," Reeder tells me. "They use the money for things like construction and scholarship."
But here's the most interesting thing: Some dead celebrities earn money not for people or schools, but corporations. A company called Authentic Brand Management out-and-out bought the rights to Marilyn Monroe's estate earlier this year.
Didn't know corporations could buy dead people? How wrong you were. The company also essentially owns the late Bob Marley. That means that if you want to use Monroe's image in, say, a commercial for Dior perfume, the six figures that you pay (you read that right) goes to a company.
Even the money from Elvis Presley's ongoing earnings goes mostly to a company, and not to daughter Lisa Marie. The younger Presley retains a 15 percent stake in her father's name; the rest goes to a company called CKX. (The family still owns Graceland.)
So if you don't like the idea of enriching a slacker kid whenever you buy dead celebrity memorabilia, think on this: You may be handing money to a company instead.