Celebrity PR: Better Off Dead

Finally, tangible proof that there is indeed life after death—as long as you are, or were, a famous celebrity.

The Forbes 2012 Top-Earning Dead Celebrities report is out, and many will be surprised to learn that both Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley have been relegated to the #2 and #3 spots, respectively. That’s right, Elizabeth Taylor snuck into the 2012 lead by virtue of an estate auction which earned a cool $210 million last year. Taylor’s collection of jewelry was legendary, but she also owned works by both Picasso and Van Gogh, and her perfume line White Diamonds remains a top-seller.

The public wants its celebrities to be both exceptional and human, and nothing reminds us of the humanity of the ridiculously talented and fortunate more than death. We all die, after all–and death doesn’t care who we are.

Death can visit us in the shower, on a highway or during a beachside stroll. It has neither remorse nor regret. It simply does what it does when it wants, and dying turns out to be a defining career move for many celebrities thanks to the misplaced nostalgia of an eager public.

Many of us show our admiration for a late, beloved celebrity by purchasing an official Bob Marley T-shirt, an Elvis candle or a Marilyn Monroe coffee table book. Yet much of the money spent on such products goes toward less controversial personalities: publicists and estate managers.

Take, for example, #4 on the list: Charles Schulz, creator of Peanuts, Charlie Brown, Lucy and our personal favorite, Pig Pen. The Schulz estate brought in $37 million in 2012, and the future looks bright for the Peanuts gang because, well, cartoon characters never die (some superheroes excluded).

PR experts understand the great appeal of death, because it’s the one thing all of us view with pity and compassion. It’s sad when someone dies; everyone can relate to that. Saying goodbye is tough to do, and most of us would rather not do it at all.

So instead we buy a T-shirt to show the world that, although we will never be famous, we really like someone who was–and the fact that our money will support others doesn’t really matter all that much. It’s true what they say about fame and fortune: You can’t take it with you. Not even if you’re a celebrity.