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Richest Dead Celebrity: Bob Marley

Is reggae superstar Bob Marley bigger than Jesus? That's debatable, but the music legend who died 28 years ago is about to challenge Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson for the title of richest dead celebrity.

Toronto-based private-equity firm Hilco Consumer Capital has struck a management deal with the Marley estate, which is expected to generate worldwide annual sales in excess of $1 billion by 2012. That seems like a huge number, but by some estimates the Marley name, sound, and image already generate as much as $600 million in pirated merchandise.

"Marley is a strong global brand," says Mickey Goodman, a professional marketer and professor at New York University's Stern School of Business. "He enjoys a high level of awareness, and people feel positive about his music."

Major licensing agreements for the Marley brand are about to be launched in two key areas: consumer electronics -- including headphones, docking stations, and speakers -- and health care, which will likely feature skin-care products and herbal supplements. Also in the works, according to Hilco, are deals for a Marley-branded calming beverage, a video game similar to Guitar Hero featuring Marley's songs, and a chain of restaurants celebrating the music superstar.

Could this be commercial overkill for the Rastafarian whose spiritual songs about social injustice, hope, and redemption have become anthems for billions of fans, from Marrakech to Tokyo, and will it alienate them?

"This is not just about money," says Jamie Salter, Hilco's chief executive. "We have to believe in the people and products we partner with." Salter adds that the Marley estate will have final say on all business ventures, and that charities will figure into the overall mix of Marley branding.

Licensing of dead celebrities is an industry that has exploded in the last decade, thanks in large part to the proliferation of websites and blogs devoted to their memory. Typically, an estate receives 10% to 15% of gross proceeds from a licensing deal, which in this case will be divided between Hilco and the Marley family.

The artist who created such reggae hits as "One Love," "No Woman, No Cry," and "I Shot the Sheriff" fathered a total of 13 children, some out of wedlock, and it's not clear how many are included in the estate. Salter declined to explain how proceeds will be divided between his management company -- which also has an equity stake in a number of high-profile brands, including Polaroid, Sharper Image, and fashion label Halston -- and the Marleys.

However, at a conservative 10%, licensing fees from $1 billion in annual sales should pull in about $100 million for Hilco and the Marleys. That tops the latest figures reported for Presley ($55 million), John Lennon ($15 million), and Jimi Hendrix ($8 million).

Michael Jackson -- who is worth more dead than alive with an estimated $90 million in earnings in the last 12 months -- appears to be Marley's nearest rival for the richest-dead-celebrity crown. However, much of Jackson's reversal of fortune is due to a sharp spike in the sales of his albums and merchandise in the weeks following his death, as well as the one-time success of "This Is It," a film documenting rehearsals for shows he never performed at London's O2 arena.

But the danger of operating the Marley marketing machine in overdrive is that it could irreparably harm the natural mystic's image. Some brand experts now view Elvis as more of a caricature than icon as a result of overexposure.

For Sanjay Sood, director of the Entertainment & Media Management Institute at UCLA, there's one question to ask: If Marley were alive today, would he want his name associated with a particular product? "A lot of artists would say 'no,'" says Sood. "Otherwise, they would have done it when they were alive."

Presley's estate, which is managed by New York-based CKX, launched a line of clothing that turned out to be a bust. (CKX also controls the Muhammad Ali brand and has an equity stake in the company that produces the "American Idol" television show.)

More recently, Lennon's widow Yoko Ono has licensed her husband's song "Real Love" to be used by JC Penny (JCP, Fortune 500) in television ads, and she's given Ben & Jerry's ice cream permission to release a Lennon-inspired flavor called "Imagine Whirled Peace."

Salter of Hilco says the Marley brand has a long way to go before reaching saturation, noting he also considered doing business with the Dean Martin, Marilyn Monroe, and Jimi Hendrix estates, but settled on the Rastafarian from Trench Town, Jamaica, because that's where he says he saw the biggest potential.

There has never been a better time, it seems, to be a dead celebrity -- or perhaps, more precisely, the heir to a dead celebrity's name

Source: Google / Updated: Nov 23, 2009
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Reactions

rodsch56 (profilecontact) wrote on Jan 3, 2010report abuse
we can´t say one artist is bigger than other, i find it ridiculous comparisons! for me Elvis is the best, but this is only my opinion and my taste and of course many of you agree with me. It is a fact that Elvis image has been overexposed as a caricature because of those halloween dresssed impersonators doing the "thank you very much" with hick accent and lip synch" those dolls, dancing telephone, underwear,cookjar, etc... and Elvis presley enterprises is at fault, they are even selling halloween costumes of Elvis! how can an official website that should protect his legacy is making him look a ridiculous clown!? for people who are not fan and do not know his career finds him ridiculous , he was the only guy to wear sideburns and thing he would wear a wig! can you believe it? they are only interested in maling money and we are the only ones who can stop this by not buying ridiculous souvenirs and attend those ridiculous impersonators shows.
Mofoca22 (profilecontact) wrote on Nov 26, 2009report abuse
upon reading this i think its rediculous to say that and to say they are bigger than elvis. today alone i have seen 3 commercials consiting of elvis's music first one was the verizon commercial with blue christmas, another one was a little less conversation, and the 3rd one i seen today was elvis singing all shook up from the 68 comeback performing the song in his black leather saying he changed the way we listen to music and they kept playing all shook up to promote sirius stattelite. elvis makes more money tahn all these suckers combined but no one will ever state the truth or facts in the usa or anywhere for that matter -why? because tehy are embarassed to think anything good would come out of the southa nd last 32 years beyond the day he left the world and still be more popular than anyone who has come before or since. its rediculous to hear adam lambert saying hes the next elvis and i say that also because elvis never claimed to be like anyone he was his own person which is why the world loved him and always will. people are pretenders elvis will always be king of music and sales. these people need to take into consideration that price of things at the time of his death were very cheap compared to prices these days when jacko and marley all kicked the bucket.
Cher (profilecontact) wrote on Nov 26, 2009report abuse
Well just to add my 2 cents to the fray, I also have questioned the portrayal of Elvis by media, impersonators and even the sanctioned merchandise. When I think of Elvis I see the sleek, handsome, dark haired, blue eyed and totally hot Elvis. It is only when I see media, impersonator and merchandise depictions of a fat, bloated, over the top hair and sideburned clownish figure do I think of Elvis that way. And I hate it. It seems everybody only remembers and makes a joke of what Elvis may have looked like in the last few months of his life. They seem to have conveniently forgotten what he looked like for the first 42 years of his life. And when I see these depictions coming from EPE directly, it really makes irks me. Marley was great and I love his music but nobody will ever be as big or as influential as Elvis, dead or alive.
MJB63 (profilecontact) wrote on Nov 25, 2009report abuse
Impersonators are not the problem.There are good ones who have real black hair real sideburns high quality jumpsuits and look & sound great.I know people who became fans of Elvis because they saw a good impersonator.The problem could be the way he's portayed in his final years as drugged,bloated vegas star.There's gonna be good and bad with Michael Jackson and Bob Marley too.
elvis1279 (profilecontact) wrote on Nov 24, 2009report abuse
What the so called "experts" always fail to mention is that Elvis has been gone 32 years now. MJ's post mortem craze will die down very quickly. He doesn't, in my opinion have the same grab that EP has. As far as Marley, it will be interesting to see where this goes..........I doubt the pirated figure that was given about his sales, but it will still be interesting to see nonetheless. Elvis will always be near or at the top of that list, while only the flavors of the month, or year, will come and go. MJ will be a big example of that.
Jim says hello (profilecontact) wrote on Nov 24, 2009report abuse
"already generate as much as $600 million in pirated merchandise"... in their dreams... he's ok but he's hardly Microsoft.
Natha (profilecontact) wrote on Nov 24, 2009report abuse
Jesse, you are right again. In the Dutch and Belgium press Elvis is treated with quite a reverence, unlike in the sixties and seventies! According to my contacts in the USA it is there that Elvis is often made to a caricature, though one may find an impersonator in adds in EUrope too. And as the caricature-like impersonators pretend to be Elvis fans, the whole Fan base is ridiculed.
Jesse Garon Presley (profilecontact) wrote on Nov 24, 2009report abuse
MJ fans also impersonate MJ, they do the same thing like Elvis Impersonators, dress like him
sing like him, shall i go on? also goes for Bob Marley(who?) and other performers. Elvis shows everyday that he is not a caricature, never heard such nonsense in all my life and in the media elvis is also not portrayed as a caricature, the great Cirque Du Soleil Viva Elvis thing going on at this moment is not what you call a show about a caricature,in the dutch media is a lot about the musical "Love Me Tender All Shook Up" it's a great succes, so much that this musical goes through europe, because of the great reviews and response from the audience, Elvis a caricature? not even close ...Always El
Dixieland Rock (profilecontact) wrote on Nov 23, 2009report abuse
To me, the Elvis impersonators have done more damage than good in making Elvis more of a "caricature" or a circus clown, running around in outdated 1970's style outfits, wearing fake wigs, paste on sideburns and saying "Thank you, thank you very much" every chance they get. The average person seeing this probably thinks of the real Elvis as more of a joke because they constantly see these fakes trying too hard to be him. It's bad enough that Elvis' own company encourages this circus to continue. It doesn't surprise me that marketing experts now see him as a caricature. I don't see Bob Marley or Hendrix impersonators running around trying to be like them & they seem to get more respect too from the public & not looked upon at as a caricature.
Brian Quinn (profilecontact) wrote on Nov 23, 2009report abuse
Personally, I cannot see Bob Marley getting into the Top 5 on this List.
Great Dane (profilecontact) wrote on Nov 23, 2009report abuse
Who cares which is the richest dead celebrity,i like them both Elvis and Bob. 2 Kings.

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