Michael Jackson has been dead for more than 28 months, but thanks to the ugly ongoing trial of Dr. Conrad Murray and the steady stream of tributes in MJ’s memory, his passing still feels quite fresh. Time certainly hasn’t slowed the stream of posthumous income for Jackson, who according to Forbes is the most successful dead celebrity and is the number two money-maker among all musicians.
Between October 2010 and October 2011, Jackson pulled in $170 million thanks to music sales and licensing. That’s down from the $275 million he made the previous year, but his album sales remain pretty steady, and the income from the just-launched Cirque Du Soleil production Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour could keep him at the top of the list for a while.
It’s not surprising that Jackson earns so much more than other dead celebrities, but it’s a little shocking that he takes in more than almost any other living musician. Over the past year, only U2 made more money than Jackson, and they had to go on a lengthy, health-threatening tour that ended up being the most lucrative of all time.
Obviously, a lot of these Jackson-centric projects and renewed record sales would not be what they are had he not passed away, but even still, these are singularly impressive numbers. When you consider the richest musicians, almost all of their income is derived from touring, which is why there’s always so much turnover from year to year (if Bruce Springsteen doesn’t tour, he makes significantly less based on back catalog sales and licensing alone).
Though Lady Gaga sold a million copies of Born This Way in a week, the money she cleared on that album is chicken feed compared to the dump trucks full of cash her Monster Ball tour brought in.
Legacy acts can rely on album sales up to a point (especially if they are like AC/DC and don’t ever release a greatest-hits album), but the road still represents the big bucks. When Jackson’s posthumous income flirts with a quarter of a billion dollars next year, he’ll have touring (or “touring,” as a hologram) to thank as well.
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