Mar 16, 2020

Dead and Earning It! A Post-Mortem on Some Post-Moolah

After-lifestyles of the Rictus and Famous

By Ed Goldman
A well-meaning acquaintance recently sent me an article showing how much the estates of famous deceased writers and artists continue to earn each year. In response, I asked if she were suggesting that death might be a good career move for me.

She became very annoyed and did the email equivalent of slamming down her phone. (No, I can’t explain that gag, either. But I think you may know what I mean.)

Certainly, her point was well taken. Shuffling off this mortal coil has worked out pretty well financially for a number of people I’ve admired. 

For example, Vincent Van Gogh allegedly sold only one painting in his entire lifetime. (I believe it was of a group of bulldogs playing Bonken, the popular Dutch card game. But since my art consultant, R. Hugh Sirius, was out for the afternoon pricing surgical masks at the Dollar Store, I can’t be sure.) 

Regardless, in death Van Gogh has made hundreds of millions of dollars for his work. If only famed art collectors Eli Broad, Armand Hammer and J. Paul Getty had been around when Van Gogh was alive and painting. Their largesse may have extended both his life and ear count.

Surprisingly, some respectable publications compile statistics on the post-earthly income of celebrities, just as some not-so-respectable ones offer maps of where once-famous people bought the farm (which was rarely on one). 

Forbes Magazine, for instance, recently released its 2019 après-respiration list. Topping the chart (as always) was Michael Jackson (of “Beat It!” fame—and also a record called that, I believe). He made a cool $60 million last year. And while Elvis Presley came in second with $39 million, I think it’s fair to mention that he’s been dead a lot longer (1977) than The Gloved One (2009).

My favorite philosopher, the cartoonist Charles Schulz, scored $39 million in 2019 (not exactly “Peanuts,” ‘ey? Wait. Please come back. I’ll stop the puns). And Arnold Palmer wasn’t exactly under par at $34 million (I apologize. I thought you’d left). 

I won’t run through the entire list but as a writer, it pleased me to see Dr. Seuss represented with earnings of $19 million. Whitney Houston, whom I adored and miss, pulled in $9.5 million. Marilyn Monroe, Prince, John Lennon and his fellow ex-Beatle George Harrison, also piled up the millions, as did Nipsey Hussle, a rap performer I confess I’d never heard of until he died, though I did once interview the African American comic from whom he stole his name, Nipsey Russell.

I’ll admit it’s a very impressive set of numbers. And while I wish I made that kind of dough, I’m still not dying to do so.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).