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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Michael Jackson tops the most exclusive power list: Top-earning dead celebs

October 27, 2010 |  6:05 pm

Michael_jackson Everyone loves to rank the rich and famous, but there is one celebrity power list that even the most self-infatuated star would avoid like the plague -- Forbes' Top-Earning Dead Celebrities list. Heading the new list is none other than Michael Jackson, who made so much money last year that he actually out-earned every living celebrity except for Oprah Winfrey. When it came to dead celebs, it was no contest. Having grossed $275 million, the King of Pop out-earned all of the other 12 deceased stars on the list combined, with most of his loot coming from his stake in the lucrative Sony/ATV music catalog, his piece of the film "This Is It" and, well, fan fascination with all things MJ.

To qualify for the list (which extends from Oct. 1, 2009, to Oct. 1, 2010, sort of like the Grammys) you have to earn at least $5 million, which I guess is why this year's list only ranks 13 celebs, not just because 13 is an unlucky number. To make the story even more dryly funny, Forbes writers Dorothy Pomerantz and Lacey Rose talked with a guy who handles the personality rights for two celebs on the list, Steve McQueen and Albert Einstein (no word on why Einstein made the list, although maybe he has a line of American Apparel khakis that's big with the kids these days).

Anyway, David Reeder, the personality rights guy, puts it all in the proper, if slightly ghoulish perspective, saying, "The death of Michael Jackson really put a focus on -- crassly, quite frankly -- what someone's worth when they're deceased. In a more positive way, it exposed consumers to this idea that there actually is a market for, and an enduring legacy for, these people."

The list has the usual suspects, such as Elvis, who's No. 2, JRR Tolkien, who's No. 3, and Dr. Seuss, who's No. 7. Newcomers include George Steinbrenner, who debuted at No. 9 and "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" author Stieg Larsson (No. 6), who died in 2004 but whose estate is finally getting some movie money along with its book earnings. If nothing else, the list reminds you of the timelessness of capitalism, since in what other economic system could a movie star like McQueen be dead for 30 years and still be selling cool threads for Tommy Hilfiger?

And by the way, putting aside rock icons such as Jimi Hendrix, could you possibly guess which great American composer made the list? Here's a hint: He's one of only two people who've won an Oscar, an Emmy, a Grammy, a Tony and a Pulitzer Prize.   

It's Richard Rodgers, whose estate must still be getting lots of dough from "South Pacific," Oklahoma!" and "The Sound of Music."

Photo: Michael Jackson shown at a 2009 press conference in London. Credit: Joel Ryan/Associated Press