Jewish World Review August 19, 2002 / 11 Elul, 5762

Greg Crosby

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Consumer Reports

Dead but making big bucks | Most people are born, live for a few decades and die. Then there are celebrities. Some celebrities are just too valuable a commodity to let die -- they have too much earning potential. But contrary to popular belief, celebrities are still mortal, so sooner or later they must die like the rest of us. Or must they?

Classic movie stars from Hollywood's golden years are alive and kicking every night of the week on popular Cable TV channels like Turner Classic Movies. Music by recording artists from the thirties, forties and fifties has been transferred to compact disc and still continue to turn profits for the record companies. Deceased authors like Mark Twain and Charlotte Bronte are still being published in print-runs of great numbers. And that's not all. Dead celebrities are being put to work on NEW projects, too.

Remember that horrible television commercial a few years ago where they had poor dead Fred Astair dancing with that carpet sweeper? Anyone who has seen a Three Stooges T-shirt or a Marilyn Monroe doll knows that licensing famous deceased people is big business. And many of them are worth more dead than they were alive.

The best example is Elvis Presley, whose estate was worth somewhere around $4 million at the time of his death twenty-five years ago. This past year alone, Elvis earned around $37 million, according to Forbes Magazine's "Top-Earning Dead Celebrities" list.

The Forbes article goes on to say that rapper Tupac Shakur, who was shot to death six years ago in Las Vegas, has actually put out more albums dead than alive -- selling 2.7 million albums last year which earned $7 million. Also on the list, the late "Peanuts" cartoonist, Charles Schulz, ranked second after Elvis with an income of $28 million. John Lennon and Dale Earnhardt tied for third earning $20 million each. Dr. Seuss pulled in $19 million. George Harrison, $17 million. Not bad for a bunch of dead guys.

All these high-earning dead celebrities must really irk some of the struggling LIVE celebrities. I mean, it's tough enough to compete against living people, but it's downright humiliating to have to keep up with the dead ones, too. You can imagine some of the Hollywood cocktail party talk -- "Listen, you little punk, I'll make more money DEAD then you'll make in your whole life!"

Even dead civil rights leader Martin Luther King is generating vast sums of income for his relatives -- around $2 million per annum, and this figure could go up considerably next year if the family has their way. They're asking the Library of Congress to pay $20 million for King's personal papers and other documents.

Dead spouses of celebrities seem to be doing okay too. Just this past spring, Heinz Frozen Foods launched a line of frozen vegetarian meals to supermarkets across the country under the name "Linda McCartney." Paul McCartney's wife Linda, who was an avid vegetarian, died in 1998. Makes ME want to eat that stuff, how about you?

Am I crazy or does a line of "healthy foods" bearing the name of a woman who died prematurely only a few years ago seem a bit morbid ... and maybe in bad taste? (No pun intended.) It's like licensing Ted Williams ice-cube trays. You might as well market Judy Garland diet pills. Or a Princess Diana Special Edition Mercedes Benz. Well, there I go making jokes again.

But hold on -- it's no joke! Listen to this -- this one is for real. James Dean died in a highway collision when he crashed his Porsche Spyder, remember? -- well, now it has been announced that a new "James Dean Special Edition Boxster" will soon be produced. CMG Worldwide, the company that licenses Dean's name and likeness, says it was "created with racing enthusiast James Dean in mind." I kid you not.

Can a "John Kennedy Jr. Special Edition Piper" aircraft be far behind?

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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.

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© 2001 Greg Crosby