Sympathy for the Devil: Dead Rock Stars Sell Their Souls

ByABC News
January 24, 2007, 6:25 PM

Jan. 24, 2007 — -- In the booming energy drink business, one newcomer promises to help clear the purple haze around your brain: "Liquid Experience" will carry the iconic image of Jimi Hendrix, who died of a drug overdose after a short-lived, rock-studded career.

The non-alcoholic drink -- produced by New-Zealand based Beverage Concepts and due to hit the market in April -- is just one of many products from cars to baby clothing that are capitalizing on the star power of aging or dead rockers.

Celebrity and estate sales accounted for $3.5 billion in licensing ventures in the U.S. and Canada this year, according to Licensing Letter, a tip sheet that provides industry data for executives.

"Celebrities and estates are getting stronger -- it's not just dead rock stars," said publisher Ira Mayer, a baby boomer who says he watched Hendrix's last performance of "The Star Spangled Banner" in 1970. "We all have our own audiences and emotional connections."

Though Hendrix doesn't make Forbes magazine's Top-Earning Dead Celebrities, Hendrix's estate still made $6 million in 2004. The richest dead rock star is Kurt Cobain, with an annual income of $50 million, followed by Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, George Harrison and Bob Marley.

To some rock aficionados, the message of "Liquid Experience" is paradoxical -- an ostensibly healthy vitamin-imbued drink tied to a raucous guitar player who suffocated to death from a barbituate overdose at the age of 27.

And many who hold Jimi Hendrix in musical god-like status say his image as been poisoned. Flea, bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, told the Associated Press that the greatest guitar player of all time had been "cheapened" by commercial venture.

But the Hendrix family defends the Liquid Experience deal.

Janie Hendrix, Jimi's sister, who is CEO of the family's Seattle-based company, said Beverage Concepts agreed to give back a percentage of sales to education and music-related charities and to drug rehabilitation programs. They also hope to sponsor a guitar competition for young people.

"Jimi was a huge inspiration to people," said Hendrix of her brother, who wrote 110 songs durings his tragically short career. In the 1990s, after a series of lawsuits, the family gained control of his music. "He transcended generation, color, sex and race, and that legacy continues to last."

Bob Merlis, publicist for the Hendrix Experience, says the drink deal is not out of bounds."I don't think it's egregious," he says, "It's a standard grocery product, not arsenic. The market for his music is growing younger and younger."

Jimi Hendrix and other celebrity rock stars are effective advertising tools in a new era of cross-generational marketing, when age means less than lifestyle. .

In television commercials, Led Zeppelin is background music for a Cadillac commercial. The Who, The Rolling Stones, Bono and John Mellencamp shill for cars, insurance companies, iPods and trucks. Target's latest ad campaign features the Beatles' "Hello, Goodbye."

This kind of advertising appeals to both young and old and is a new shift in marketing, according to Matt Thornhill of The Boomer Market, a company that advises the marketing industry on how to reach the 77 million consumers born between 1948 and 1960.