The ability to earn gigantic amounts of money from beyond the grave may be a strange concept, but there are some deceased celebrities who are still raking it in. At the top of the Forbes "Highest-Paid Dead Celebrities" list for 2022 is author J.R.R. Tolkien, best known for his fantasy epics The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
Although the former Oxford professor died in 1973, the estate of this long-gone literary figure has continued to accumulate wealth through a variety of means, including the sale of rights for TV, films, video games, merchandise, and board games. Last year, Tolkien jumped to the top of the annual Forbes list due to the sale of Middle-Earth Enterprises to the Swedish video game company Embracer for a reported $500 million USD. Although Embracer now has the rights to motion pictures, video games, merchandise, and more, other entities such as Amazon, HarperCollins, Warner Brothers/New Line, and the Tolkien Estate also retain a share of Tolkien's intellectual property.
Finding success, dead or alive:
- The other deceased celebrities rounding out the top 3 of the Forbes list in 2022 include former NBA star Kobe Bryant ($400 million) and musician and actor David Bowie ($250 million). Other top earners include Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Dr Seuss, and Charles Schulz. John Lennon and George Harrison are also in the top 20, earning the usual royalties from their successful careers as Beatles members, plus the music rights acquired by Disney for the docuseries Get Back, among other Beatles-related ventures.
- An author also took the top place on the 2021 list, with Roald Dahl earning $513 million through Netflix's acquisition of the Roald Dahl Story Company. The sale gave the streaming platform complete control over all of Dahl’s stories and characters.
- Though very much still living, The Lord of The Rings director Peter Jackson earned a substantial payout when he sold part of his visual effects firm Weta Digital to Unity Software for $1.6 billion USD in late 2021, becoming the third person to become a billionaire through filmmaking. Jackson, 61, shares this impressive achievement with Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.