Take a dead Hollywood legend known for her stunning jewelry and a record-breaking auction and what do you get? The highest-earning dead celebrity, Elizabeth Taylor, who earned $210 million last year, beating out Michael Jackson's $145 million.
Zack O'Malley Greenburg, Forbes staff writer, said while Taylor's perfume line is still earning money, it was her record-breaking auctions through Christie's that gave her the top spot in Forbes' annual list of dead-earnings celebrities.
Here's a list of Forbes' five highest-earning dead celebrities.
Taylor, who died last year at the age of 79, was known as a savvy businesswoman. After "Cleopatra" she negotiated a 10 percent ownership stake in each of her films. A series of auctions sold expensive relics of her life and films, including jewelry that some of her husbands gave her and props from films. The wig worn by Taylor for the 1963 film "Cleopatra" sold for $20,315.
Taylor "will continue to be successful in her financial afterlife, but that sale was more of a unique event," said Greenburg.
Michael Jackson, who died in 2009 at age 50, earned more than any other living artist in the past 12 months, according to Forbes: $145 million. His music continue to provide Jackson's children and mother with strong earnings, including his 50 percent stake in the Sony ATV publishing catalog. The Cirque Du Soleil "Immortal World Tour" was the highest grossing concert tour in North America during the first half of 2012, higher than Taylor Swift and other living acts. The act is expected to go abroad sometime in the next year, where Jackson is even more popular.
"The future certainly looks for Michael Jackson's post-mortem fortunes," said Greenburg, author of the book, Michael Jackson, Inc., scheduled to be published in 2014 by Simon and Schuster.
Elvis Presley, the king of rock and roll, who died in 1977, also benefited from a Cirque Du Soleil show using his music and likeness called "Viva Elvis." The show launched in Las Vegas in 2010. Ticket sales were not as strong as other shows and the show closed, but Forbes notes that traffic at Graceland was strong this year, making up for the loss.
Creator of the "Peanuts" comic series, Charles Schulz died in 2000, but his earnings are coming in strongly. Peanuts, created 60 years ago, is the ninth most lucrative entertainment franchise, Forbes notes, earning $2 billion globally each year. Fox's animation studio, Blue Sky, announced this year they are making a film, which is sure to add to Schulz's estate.
Reggae artist Bob Marley died in 1981 at the age of 36, but his music and likeness are alive as ever. A Marley beverage company sells Marley's Mellow Mood and the House of Marley sells headphones and speakers, Forbes notes.
"The bigger star you were in your life, the more potent your image and rights are after death, and that adds a lot to an estate's coffers," Greenburg said.
When asked if dying at a particular life stage may contribute to a celebrity's success post-mortem, Greenburg said some stars who die relatively young or in unexpected ways, like Marley, Jackson and Presley, may have a "bit more potent earnings potential."
"We as a culture romanticize this notion of dying young and unfinished business and limitless possibility," he said.