Like us on Facebook
Follow us on Instagram

Among the Highest-Earning Dead Celebs, There’s a Big Surprise

Photo Credits: 1. Lester Cohen / Getty Images 2. Jim McCrary / Redferns / Getty Images 3. Canva 4. Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images
Photo Credits: 1. Lester Cohen / Getty Images 2. Jim McCrary / Redferns / Getty Images 3. Canva 4. Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

Forbes has released a list of the richest people in the world, but this particular ranking doesn’t include the expected billionaires like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk or Bill Gates. What everyone on the list has in common is that they’re making millions from beyond the grave.

These 13 departed celebrities earned a whopping $1.6 billion, a 72 percent increase from 2021, and, for the first time, the top five decedents made over $100 million each. One name, however, is barely recognizable to most and is raising eyebrows after raking in $25 million in 2022.

The top earners on the ‘other side’

J.R.R. Tolkien sitting in his office
J.R.R. Tolkien. (Photo Credit: Haywood Magee / Getty Images)

At the top of the list is J.R.R. Tolkien, author of the beloved fantasy series, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, who died half a century ago. Tolkien earned $500 million in 2022, thanks to the sale of Middle-Earth Enterprises – whose job is to maintain his intellectual property rights from the Lord of the Rings motion picture franchise, games and merchandise – to Swedish gaming company Embracer.

Just behind the author is Kobe Bryant, one of basketball’s most prolific players. He; his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna; and seven others were all killed in January 2020 after the helicopter they were in crashed into a mountain in Calabasas, California. Bryant’s estate earned $400 million this year after his share of the BodyArmor sports drink company was sold to Coca-Cola for $5.6 billion, making it the largest acquisition in the latter’s history.

Kobe Bryant standing on the basketball court
Kobe Bryant. (Photo Credit: Rob Carr / Getty Images)

Others on the list include David Bowie, who brought in $250 million after his music catalog was sold to Warner Chappell Music. Elvis Presley, whose popularity reached new heights after the wildly successful Baz Luhrman biopic Elvis hit theaters in June 2022, earned $110 million from show tickets and merchandise.

An unexpected addition

Jeff Porcaro sitting behind his drum set
Jeff Porcaro. (Photo Credit: Fryderyk Gabowicz / Picture Alliance / Getty Images)

The Forbes list continues with other top musicians and celebrities like Michael Jackson, James Brown and Dr. Seuss, but ranked ninth is Jeff Porcaro, a name far less recognizable than Elvis Presley or David Bowie.

Porcaro rose to fame in the 1980s as the drummer of Toto, whose iconic song “Africa” topped the charts in ’82. Originally taught by his drummer father, Porcaro fell in love with music at a young age. By the time he was 13, he’d joined his first band.

After moving with his family to Los Angeles, California, Porcaro dropped out of high school to take a job on the television show The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour (1971-74). In 1973, he was given the opportunity to drum for Steely Dan during a four-month tour, later drumming for them on the following albums: Pretzel Logic, Katy Lied and Gaucho.

Porcaro formed Toto in 1977 with singer Bobby Kimball, guitarist Steve Lukather, keyboardists David Paich and Steve Porcaro, and bassist David Hungate.

Portrait of Toto
Toto. (Photo Credit: Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images)

Porcaro’s career with Toto was just the tip of the iceberg. He quietly climbed the ranks as the go-to studio drummer for huge recording artists like Quincy Jones and even Michael Jackson – it’s him keeping the beat on the latter’s wildly successful album, Thriller. Throughout his career, Porcaro also collaborated with Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney.

Porcaro’s unique style became “the sound of mainstream pop/rock drumming in the 1980s.” He died on August 5, 1992, at the age of 38; he’d suffered a heart attack after spraying insecticide in his yard.

More from us: These Popular Musicians Grew to Hate Their Fame

After Porcaro’s publishing and recording royalties were acquired by Primary Wave for $30 million in 2021, the drummer’s estate brought in $25 million in 2022.

Elisabeth Edwards

Elisabeth Edwards is a public historian and history content writer. After completing her Master’s in Public History at Western University in Ontario, Canada Elisabeth has shared her passion for history as a researcher, interpreter, and volunteer at local heritage organizations.

She also helps make history fun and accessible with her podcast The Digital Dust Podcast, which covers topics on everything from art history to grad school.

In her spare time, you can find her camping, hiking, and exploring new places. Elisabeth is especially thrilled to share a love of history with readers who enjoy learning something new every day!

The Digital Dust Podcast