Are Artists Worth More Dead Than Alive?

By Tisa Silver | May 11, 2010 AAA
Are Artists Worth More Dead Than Alive?

Some deceased celebrities, also known as "delebs," have made or stand to make more money post-mortem than while they were living. The arts appear to offer substantial after-death earnings. Here we will examine the pay structure of singers, songwriters, actors and authors, and several of them whose works have appreciated significantly since their deaths.

In Pictures: 6 Hot Careers With Lots Of Jobs

Singers
Singers typically earn 10-25% of a CD's suggested retail price prior to deductions for many items, including packaging, touring and promotion. When popular singers pass away, sales tend to rise markedly. Artists whose works have received a substantial posthumous sales bump include Aaliyah, Johnny Cash and Michael Jackson.

The estate of The King of Pop (Jackson) has perhaps the most future cash flow potential. According to Forbes, the estate brought in $90 million in the four months following his death in June, 2009.

Singers like Patsy Cline, Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles have sold millions of records over many years following their deaths. Rapper Tupac Shakur has also sold millions of records since his murder in 1996, in fact Shakur released more albums after death than while living.

In each year since his death in 1977, Elvis Presley has remained one of the highest-earning delebs. The King of Rock 'n' Roll continues to make millions from the grave annually; his estate brought in $55 million in the year ended October 1, 2009, according to Forbes. (Skip the first step and build off of someone else's successful business model. Find out how in Share The Wealth With Franchises.)

Songwriters
In the world of music royalties, songwriters typically receive more money for their songs than the performers who sing them. Like the singers, writers make money from the sale of their music, but writers are also compensated for print music, performance and synchronization royalties.

Royalties from Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein's many songwriting projects, including "The King and I" and "The Sound of Music", continue to provide income, but the recent sale of The Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization to Imagem Music Group gave the estate a large boost. Rodgers and Hammerstein died in 1979 and 1960, respectively. (The glitz and glam of Hollywood could help put some more glitz in your pocket. Find out how, in Analyzing Show Biz Stocks.)

Actors
Actors must work their way into being able to demand hefty paychecks per appearance. According to the Screen Actors Guild, the rate for a theatrical day performer is slightly above $800 per day. James Dean earned $1,250 per week as the lead role in "Rebel Without A Cause." The young actor, who died over 50 years ago in a car accident at the age of 24, has remained extremely popular. According to Forbes, endorsements and image licensing continue to generate roughly $5 million a year.

Actress Marilyn Monroe has also been a high-earning deleb. Her estate was valued at under $100,000 at the time of her death in 1962, however licensing deals have earned her estate more money than she made while living. In 2008, her estate made approximately $6.5 million.

Authors
Authors are rarely made wealthy solely from the sale of books, since book royalties often range from 10-15% of the book's cover price. Unless the author receives a hefty advance from a publisher, the pay structure often makes books which are converted to movies the most profitable ones.

English author J.R.R. Tolkien penned several books including "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of The Rings" trilogy. The latter work has proven most profitable in theaters, bringing in nearly $3 billion of box office receipts worldwide, and a film version of "The Hobbit" is forthcoming. Tolkien passed away in 1973, but his works brought in $50 million in the 12 months ended October 1, 2009, according to Forbes.

Author Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel has generated similar after-death cash flows through movie versions of his works, including "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" and "The Cat in the Hat." The estate of Geisel, who died in 1991, earned a reported $19 million during the same period. (While it is important to invest early, it is also important to invest wisely. Learn more, in Top 5 Books For Young Investors.)

Conclusion
The death of a celebrity often draws a large amount of attention to their life and reignites interest in their work. From a financial perspective, death has proven profitable for the estates and/or families of many celebrities involved in the arts. Leaving behind a catalog of works can preserve one's memory as well as their cash flows.

Feeling uninformed? Check out the financial news highlights in Water Cooler Finance: Greece Is Burning And Buffett's Under Fire.

comments powered by Disqus
Related Articles
  1. 5 Famous MLB Players Who Went Broke
    Investing News

    5 Famous MLB Players Who Went Broke

  2. 4 History-Making Wall Street Crooks
    Personal Finance

    4 History-Making Wall Street Crooks

  3. A Day Without Spending, A Lifetime's ...
    Budgeting

    A Day Without Spending, A Lifetime's ...

  4. Play The Market Like Tiger Plays Golf
    Active Trading

    Play The Market Like Tiger Plays Golf

  5. Thomas Rowe Price: Always Right
    Retirement

    Thomas Rowe Price: Always Right

Trading Center