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Cashing in on the dead: 13 top-earning dead celebrities

Nobody can extend the financial life of the dead and famous better than Jamie Salter

Published: Feb 26, 2019 11:59:37 AM IST
Updated: Feb 26, 2019 12:34:29 PM IST

Cashing in on the dead: 13 top-earning dead celebritiesImage: Kevin Mazur / Wireimage
The Times Square headquarters of Authentic Brands is a glamorous graveyard. A black-and-white photo of Marilyn Monroe hangs above the front desk. On a wall opposite, Elvis Presley sings and signs autographs in an endlessly looping video. Nearby, a pair of Muhammad Ali’s gilded boxing gloves glimmer alongside red-and-black Michael Jackson ‘Thriller’ socks.

Marilyn, Elvis, Ali, Michael: They’re four of the world’s top-earning dead celebrities, pulling in a combined $509 million last year. And their estates are all represented, in full or in part, by Authentic Brands Group, the creation of Jamie Salter.

Most are owned by family members who can’t all agree or who have little experience. “They live off the music or off certain parts of the assets. They’re not building them into long-term brands,” says 55-year-old Salter.

Before focusing on celebrities, Salter concentrated on reviving decayed brands such as Airwalk shoes and Aeropostale clothing, building Authentic Brands up to an estimated $400 million in revenue.

He purchased 80 percent of the Monroe estate in 2012 for a reported $20 million to $30 million before slashing its 300 licencing deals down to 80. Then he built the business back up, purchasing the other 20 percent and increasing the number of licenses to the sweet spot of 100, focusing on venerable brands that Monroe actually used in life—like Chanel No 5.

“You can sell x amount of Marilyn Monroe fragrance at a mass-market retailer, or you can do a deal with Chanel No 5,” says Salter. “A No 5 deal doesn’t pay as well, but I think that’s important for the brand because it gives a halo effect. And the truth of the matter is, she wore Chanel No 5.”

The 13 Top-Earning Dead Celebrities
They’re alive! Well, their businesses and brands are, anyway. These late celebs haul in millions each year through a variety of licensed goods and continuing sales from their music, films and books. Here are their takes for the past year:

Cashing in on the dead: 13 top-earning dead celebrities

(This story appears in the 15 March, 2019 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Vikas kumar

    nice i like it , very superb article and performannce Daily news online

    on Mar 1, 2019