Forbes magazine has released a list of the richest people in the world, but this particular ranking didn’t include the expected billionaires like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, or Bill Gates. No, what everyone on the list has in common is that they are making millions from beyond the grave.
The 13 departed celebrities on the list earned a whopping $1.6 billion, a 72 percent increase from 2021. For the first time in history, the top five decedents made more than $100 million each. But one name included on the list is barely recognizable to most and is raising eyebrows after raking in $25 million this year.
The top earners on the ‘other side’
At the top of the list is J. R. R. Tolkien, the author of the beloved fantasy series The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, who died half a century ago. Tolkien earned a whopping $500 million in 2022. This was thanks to the sale of Middle-Earth Enterprises, a company that maintains Tolkein’s intellectual property rights from the Lord of the Rings motion picture franchise, games, and merchandise, to the Swedish gaming company Embracer.
Just behind Tolkien is Kobe Bryant, one of basketball’s most prolific players. He died tragically in a helicopter crash in January 2020. Bryant, his thirteen-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others were all killed after the helicopter 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 Coca-Cola’s history.
Others on the list include David Bowie, who brought in $250 million after his catalog of music spanning six decades was sold to Warner Chappell Music. Elvis Presley, whose popularity reached new heights after the wildly successful Baz Luhrman biopic Elvis was released in June 2022, has earned $110 million from show tickets and merchandise.
An unexpected addition
The Forbes list continues with other top musicians and artists like Michael Jackson, James Brown, and Dr. Seuss, but ranking 9th was Jeff Porcaro – a name far less recognizable than Elvis or Bowie. Porcaro rose to fame in the 1980s as the drummer of the rock band Toto, whose most iconic song “Africa” – co-written by Porcaro – topped the charts in 1982.
Originally taught by his drummer father, Porcaro fell in love with music at a young age. By the time he was 13, he had joined his first band. After moving with his family to Los Angeles, Porcaro dropped out of high school to take a job on the TV show The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour. In 1973, he was given the opportunity to drum for Steely Dan during a four-month tour. Porcaro later drummed on Steely Dan’s albums Pretzel Logic (1974), Katy Lied (1975), and Gaucho (1980).
Porcaro formed Toto in 1977 with singer Bobby Kimball, guitarist Steve Lukather, keyboardists David Paich and Steve Porcaro (Jeff’s brother who co-wrote “Human Nature” with Michael Jackson), and bassist David Hungate.
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 Porcaro keeping the beat on his wildly successful album Thriller. Throughout his career, Porcaro also collaborated with Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen, and Paul McCartney.
Jeff’s unique style became “the sound of mainstream pop/rock drumming in the 1980s.” The drummer died on August 5, 1992, at the age of 38. He had a heart attack after spraying insecticide in his yard.
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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.