Monday, 2 March 2009

The Grateful Dead

It is hard enough making your millions when you still have a pulse but for a select few, even the next life can not prevent them raking it in, writes Chris Sayer

Heath Ledger is gone, but definitely not forgotten. His recent haul of awards, including an Oscar last night for his part in Batman: The Dark Knight, have boosted his income to an estimated $35 million, all of which will go to his young daughter Matilda.

Positioning him at a respectable third on Forbes’ Top Earning Dead Celebrities, Ledger’s Joker role has arguably become one of those legendary performances that define a career. For a film that has taken over $1 billion worldwide, some sort of revenue back to the man that played such a huge part is definitely deserved.

Many sceptics, though, feel the hype and mystery surrounding his death has surpassed his acting skills in rocketing him to the top of the prosperous posthumous list. As the subject of many internet blogs, the role that has earned him prestigious awards this year has come under some scrutiny. One blogger on Entertainment Weekly, Josh, commented: “Ledger did a good job as the Joker, but no better than Philip Seymour Hoffman in his portrayal of Father Flynn in Doubt. I'm not sure why everyone thinks that acting awards need to be given out to the actors in the years most popular movies. The awards are ideally about talent, not about popularity.”

Even so, many of Ledger’s fans have stuck by him without doubt. Many feel his acting skills more than deserve to be recognized at the Oscars. Cameron, another blogger, writes: “Heath is without a doubt an Oscar winner for his role as the Joker. He should have won for the role of Ennis Del Mar in ‘Brokeback Mountain’. Just the range between those two parts is beyond compare.”

Undisputedly and deservedly however, the staple at the top of the list is the King himself. Since 2001, Elvis has only missed out on the top spot once, to former Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain in 2006 after his widow Courtney Love sold a 25% stake of his song catalogue for $50 million.

Nevertheless, for a second year in a row Elvis’ $52 million pay cheque last year sets him above all others, with the 30th anniversary of his death in 2007 helping to increase CD sales and admission to his Graceland home attraction. In previous years, Elvis has continued to get to the UK number one music chart spot, even getting three different chart toppers in four weeks in 2005. When compared to Madonna’s $40 million income, Elvis’ earning power from beyond the grave is better than any other living musician.

Like Heath Ledger, another debutant on the list this year is actor Paul Newman, who died at the age of 83 last September. Although since 1982 all the $250 million profit from his salad dressings, organic popcorn and spaghetti sauces went to charity, keeping his legacy alive through foodstuffs has kept his film role wage, for characters such as Butch Cassidy, at an estimated $5 million.

However, the next life is the only place for some that money making begins. This is true of author John Kennedy Toole. His book, A Confederacy of Dunces, despite his best efforts, could not get published anywhere, resulting dramatically in his suicide. Ironically, due to his death the book was snapped up by publishers and is now a cult classic. Toole even won a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for it in 1981: one of only two of the awards to be given to deceased authors.

For these select few, life’s ultimate demise poses no problem in keeping the bank balance healthy. Supporting a family after death is something everybody wants to do. Before taxes and agency fees, the 13 top earning celebrities combined earned almost $200 million according to Forbes’ list. Enjoying the money in this world would be nothing to complain about, but certainly, everyone would settle for making such a killing in the next life.

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