Celebrity death, while sad, is often very lucrative for the survivors. You can’t just put anyone’s mug on those commemorative plates they sell at flea markets. How else do you expect a hillbilly to invest his money? Here are 15 dead celebrities that are cranking out more remixes, re-releases, re-re-releases, post-mortem re-imaginings and pretty much every other noun starting with “re” short of the now-impossible relapse and rehab.
Michael Jackson’s most famous role was arguably playing a zombie, he now, ironically, could qualify to be one. Michael Jackson has had a movie, major album and a video game released all while being dead. In fact, Michael Jackson’s most successful year was the year he was a little too dead to enjoy it. Not bad for a guy that’s been little more than a running joke for the past decade.
All those years of eating boiled shoes finally caught up with the Little Tramp and he’s no longer with us. To honor his memory, the laziest of Halloween participants make sure to dress up like him. On top of that, 15 years after his death Robert Downey Jr. starred in his biopic, which portrayed Chaplin as the lovable family man he always was. Haha, just kidding, it portrayed him as the tawdry, womanizing, obsessive mess he actually was. It also happened to make about four times what Modern Times, Chaplin’s most successful movie, made at the box office.
Speaking of tired, Tupac Shakur’s productivity post-death would push any living rapper to the edge of exhaustion. Before his death, Shakur put out about half a dozen albums, only a small few of which went anywhere in the charts. After his death, dozens of albums, remixes and even poetry compilations were released in his name, almost all of which were top-sellers. This makes hip hop artist perhaps the only career where several dozen bullets in your chest cavity amounts to a sound business investment.
For better or for worse, Marilyn Monroe has fallen far from her throne of lasciviousness. Unfortunately, she fell straight in to the realm of unbearably tacky. What was once considered near-pornography in the 1950’s is now printed on almost every piece of plastic crap you can find inside a souvenir shop. If you’re a smoker, you have a Marilyn Monroe lighter, if you’re a trucker, Norma Jean is keeping the mud off your under carriage. Maybe by 2060 they’ll be printing hardcore Jenna Jameson scenes on the bodies of our hovercars. Oh wait — we kind of already have that (NSFW).
If Jim Morrison weren’t dead, he’d be happy to know that
pretentious assholes old people who just can’t get on with it already continue to keep his iconic image alive. The Lizard King’s merchandise catalog currently reads like a hipster’s Christmas list, and, thanks to the iconic photo of his emaciated frame, even someone who has never heard a single Doors song is forever acquainted with Jim Morrison’s nipples.
While it’s impressive that Michael Jackson was at his most successful after he died, Elvis Presley has been pulling down massive paychecks for more than 43 years. Up until 2009, when the king of rock was supplanted by the king of pop, Elvis was out-earning even still-living big-name performers like Justin Timberlake and Madonna. Not only has Elvis been making several hundred times what you could ever hope to in your life simply by rotting slowly in the ground and stealing music from black people, put you have to look at his smug face staring back at you from the mantle of every house south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Hell they even gave him a stamp.
On the upside of Biggie’s death, with a body like that, he was probably spared a massive heart attack in the middle of the BET awards. It’s still something of a miracle that bullets managed to reach his vital organs through that flab. Though Biggie may not have been as prolific as Tupac post mortem, he left behind a wonderful fashion legacy. All rap fans by law must have at least two t-shirts with his face airbrushed on them.
In case you were still feeling okay about your life, here is a story about an adorable, non-sentient animal that, even though dead, manages to make more in a year than experts calculate your life is worth as a whole. Lassie is an unusual case in celebrity death in that there were probably a few dozen dead Lassies over the decades. This still doesn’t seem to deter her from making a mint off of Lassie-related stuffed animals or cashing in on Lassie 50th Anniversary DVDs.
The image of the Godfather is one of the most iconic in American culture, sacrosanct to Italians and fat older men who are desperate for any way to feel cool. So it’s no surprise that you’re going to find a Don Corleone somewhere, it just a matter of where. Through his unparalleled talents, Brando created so many iconic characters it was inevitable that their images would be used to make a boatload of cash. Unfortunately, replicating the jowls on Don Corleone and Colonel Kurtz has caused a worldwide plastic shortage.
When James Brown decided he’d had enough of the world, there was some controversy over the fact that his death received more attention than the death of Gerald Ford a few days later. Clearly Gerald Ford should have focused more on getting his face on more commemorative plates, because the Godfather of Soul was also the Godfather of putting his face on crap you don’t need. Pick Upon This, he was a Greedy Man–even in death he was on the take and that’s Superbad (sorry).
John F. Kennedy
Ask anyone in your parent’s generation what events they remember most vividly from their lives, and the assassination of JFK is likely to end up pretty high on the list. It was a national tragedy that shocked the country, and has widely been classed as the moment the idyllic American innocence of the 1950s came to an end. So of course retailers were happy to exploit this heart-wrenching national tragedy for every last dollar it was worth. The Catholic Elvis has ended up on more memorial plates in Irish households than a serving of bangers and mash.
The Three Stooges
The Three Stooges are best known for basically inventing vaudevillian slapstick humor full of cheap tricks and even cheaper hits. Which is ironic, because they are now chiefly remembered with cheap, crappy gifts. If the Stooges ever come back as hilarious zombies, may they first eat the brains of the guys that continue to make money on them. Poor Larry, Moe and Curly should’ve been live billionaires instead of dead, moderately wealthy comedic geniuses.
The suicidal Cobain couldn’t take that his music would be co-opted by soulless corporate studios. Unfortunately, there’s nothing Americans like more than tragic death that can be sensationalized for profit. So it’s ironic, but not especially surprising, that his fans continue to buy crap with his face on it.
No matter how popular a celebrity is, and no matter how much merchandise they sell, they can never be more popular than the son of God, who is worshiped with only slightly more devotion than most celebrities. Jesus Christ shows up in more immigrant homes than the INS and there isn’t a single piece of merchandise that hasn’t had his dead hippie face plastered over it. If you start counting Bibles, there’s almost no one that compares.
There’s only one set of dead celebrities bigger than Jesus, and the half of the Beatles that are dead still continue to generate money for the live ones. Being perhaps the most prolific band in human history means that John Lennon (who, everyone knows, wrote most of the hit songs) has been generating an ungodly amount of revenue over the past few decades. Official dollar amounts are difficult to come by, but the Beatles have sold in excess of one billion units. Assuming a real-world value of about $12 per unit, that means that — when split evenly among the living Beatles — Paul or Ringo could single handedly purchase just about any country in Africa. All this commercial wealth may seem a bit incongruous with later-day hippie John Lennon, but it makes a lot more sense when you realize that Lennon and McCartney used to write songs just so they could buy a swimming pool.