Cobain beats Elvis as richest artist (deceased)

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The Independent US

Death is not always the dumbest of career moves, especially if you are a rock star of enduring appeal. Kurt Cobain, the one-time frontman for Nirvana who committed suicide in 1994, earned $50m (£25m) over the past year, according to Forbes magazine's annual list of Top-Earning Dead Celebrities published yesterday.

That figure catapulted Cobain into first place, beating the most reliable of posthumous money-spinners, Elvis Presley, as well as a predominantly musical dozen of also-rans including John Lennon, Ray Charles and Bob Marley.

The list is a ghoulish, darkly humorous send-up of the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans, timed to coincide with Halloween, but it is also a reflection on the extraordinarily lucrative world of licensing and merchandising deals involving artists no longer with us.

"How does a posthumous star land, and stay, on our list?" Forbes asks. "Solitary events - a successful film release or an estate sale - won't necessarily do it over the long term. Staying power comes from a body of work or simply an iconic image with long-lasting appeal."

That explains the perennial presence of Elvis on the list. Cobain beat him for first place this year purely on the strength of a single deal - the sale of 25 per cent of his song catalogue by his widow, Courtney Love, to the music publishing company Primary Wave. The $50m deal opens up the prospect of Cobain songs popping up in films and television with greater regularity and even - perish the thought - in advertising.

Number three on the list was Charles M. Schulz, the creator of the Peanuts comic strip. Lennon was number four and Albert Einstein - a beneficiary of the Baby Einstein line of infant products - came in fifth place.

Other musicians on the list included Ray Charles (number 8), Johnny Cash (number 10), the country star and subject of the recent biopic Walk The Line, who had two new albums released over the past year; George Harrison (number 12) and Bob Marley (number 13). The other celebrities who made it were Andy Warhol, not so much an icon as a creator of icons, Marilyn Monroe, who was one of his subjects, the children's author Dr Seuss and J.R.R. Tolkien (with a little help from Peter Jackson).

Anyone who earned at least $7m in the year from October 2005 to October 2006 was eligible for inclusion on the list. The fact that this year's roster numbered 13 was pure happenstance, nothing to do with superstition or otherworldy superstition.

In an article accompanying publication of the list, Forbes even had a few hot tips on celebrities in line for inclusion in next year's list. They included Audrey Hepburn, currently cavorting in skinny black jeans in a television commercial for the clothing chain The Gap, and Johnny Carson, the popular American late-night television host, whose personal library of more than 4,000 hours of footage from NBC's The Tonight Show, may well find a commercial outlet thanks to the rise of online video streaming sites such as YouTube.

Top 10 'rich dead' list

1 Kurt Cobain ($50m - £26.3m)

2 Elvis Presley ($42m - £22.1m)

3 Charles Schulz ($35m - £18.4m)

4 John Lennon ($24m - £12.6m)

5 Albert Einstein ($20m - £10.5m)

6 Andy Warhol ($19m - £10m)

7 Dr Seuss/Theodor Geisel ($10ms - £5.3m)

8 Ray Charles ($10m - £5.3m)

9 Marilyn Monroe ($8m - £4.2m)

10 Johnny Cash ($8m - £4.2m)