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Straight in at No 3, Ledger enters list of highest-earning dead celebrities

Elvis Presley tops poll with income of $52m - more than Madonna made this year

The passing of Heath Ledger and Paul Newman this year may have left Hollywood minus two of its most talented stars but death doesn't have to be the end, particularly where greenbacks are concerned.

Despite departing from the real world, their continued presence on the silver screen, in merchandise and even, in Newman's case, on the front of salad dressing bottles, means both deceased stars have made it onto this year's Top-Earning Dead Celebrities list.

Perhaps more surprising is the continued presence on the list of Charles M Schulz, creator of Charlie Brown and Snoopy. Despite dying eight years ago from colon cancer, Schulz is the world's second-richest dead celebrity, beaten only by Elvis.

The list is compiled by experts at Forbes magazine, who spend the year analysing estates to estimate how much stars earn beyond the grave.

Heath Ledger, who died of an accidental overdose in his New York flat at the start of the year, debuts at number three in this year's list with estimated earnings of $20m (£12m) for 2008.

And even if you discount Newman's Own – a line of salad dressings, organic popcorn and pasta sauces which boasted sales of $120m this year and donates all its profits to charity – Paul Newman still made $5m this year making him the 11th-richest dead celeb.

Ledger debuts so high up the list this year because of a merchandising deal that the Australian actor signed as part of his role as the Joker in the latest edgy incarnation of the Batman franchise – The Dark Knight. Released after his death in January, the movie took $991m worldwide. Upfront payments for The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus, which Ledger was halfway through filming at the time of his death, and revenue from merchandising such as Joker action figures added millions to Ledger's coffers.

Top of the list this year for the second year running was Elvis Presley, who, despite being dead for 31 years, still managed to pull in $52m thanks to merchandise sales and soaring attendance rates at his Graceland home thanks to the 30th anniversary of his death. Living, breathing stars such as Justin Timberlake and Madonna raked in just $44m and $40m respectively.

The second-richest dead celebrity Charles M Schulz created the Peanuts comic strip in 1950 – still a major money-spinner. A deal signed between the Peanuts comic strip and Warner last year sparked fresh DVD sales this year which netted Schulz's estate $33m.

In fourth place is Albert Einstein, not known for his ability to make a fast buck. The 20th-century science icon grossed $18m this year because of a popular Disney-owned suite of learning tools for toddlers called "Baby Einstein" and an ad campaign for Nestlé's Japanese coffee, "Charge".

Marilyn Monroe, the only dead female star to have ever made it into the top 13, fell just behind John Lennon and Andy Warhol, whose posthumous salaries both hit $9m. The blonde bombshell made $6.5m in 2008 because of advertising deals with Unilever and Mercedes Benz, in which she featured alongside James Dean. Lennon's late salary peaked in 2006 at $24m, mainly because of a one-off settlement following a lawsuit between the Beatles, Apple and the music distributor EMI.

Top earners: Profits from beyond the grave

1. Elvis Presley, $52m (previous position 1)

2. Charles M Schultz, $33m (3)

3. Heath Ledger, $20m (-)

4. Albert Einstein, $18m (5)

5. Aaron Spelling, $15m (-)

6. Dr Seuss (Theodore Geisel), $12m (7)

7. John Lennon, $9m (2)

8. Andy Warhol, $9m (6)

9. Marilyn Monroe, $6.5m (9)

10. Steve McQueen, $6m (10)

11. Paul Newman, $5m (-)

12. James Dean, $5m (13)

13. Marvin Gaye, $3.5m (-)

Source: Forbes