The Lucrative Business of Death

60 Minutes recently did a report (included below) on Mark Roesler, agent to stars. His clients include well-known celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Babe Ruth, Frank Lloyd Wright and Amelia Earhart. What's that? They are all dead you say? Well, they wouldn't be his clients if they were alive, I would reply. Roesler is an agent to deceased stars. He acquires their image rights from the family and licenses it out for different products, like this classy lunchbox-thing.

Technology has introduced new methods for these stars to be reanimated, if only to hock new products. In 1997 Dirt Devil aired a Super Bowl commercial that included Fred Astaire dancing with one of their newest products. They had superimposed the image of their product over the original prop with the permission of his estate. You can see it here. There were three commercials of this nature produced for the Super Bowl that year starring Mr. Astaire.

It appears each celebrity makes more money as a dead legend than as a living one. In fact, its an $800 million a year industry, and that number is only poised to get larger with the death of Michael Jackson this year.  Elvis, who died in 1977 (depending on who you believe), still earns $50 million a year.

Elvis' Graceland rakes in $28 per person contributing to this number and one can only assume Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch will do the same to become a tourist's destination. The amusement park rides that adorn it are likely to help.

While Elvis' music career is mostly dormant as far as new music goes, there have been other examples of artists, such as rapper Tupac Shakur, releasing music on a regular basis after their death. Knowing there is much unreleased music in Jackson's catalog, I'd wager on occurring with him too.

Video provided by CBS News

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