Death becomes them: Dead celebs cash in     

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7/21/2003 10:25:41 AM
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Death becomes them: Dead celebs cash in
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NEW YORK — Kicking the bucket can be like hitting the jackpot in Hollywood -- celebrities are getting fat paychecks from the grave.

For example, Tupac Shakur's latest album, Better Dayz, helped the rapper rake in over $7 million in profits last year -- pretty good for a guy who's been dead almost seven years.

And Tupac isn't alone among celebs -- or their heirs -- who've profited from death. Tupac, who's No. 10 on Forbes' list of the richest dead celebrities, joins the ranks of No. 1 Elvis Presley ($37 million), No. 3 John Lennon ($20 million) and No. 9 Jimi Hendrix ($8 million).

The Internet has fueled the cult-like followings of dead stars, with people looking for fan sites, biographies and even autopsy photos of their favorite celebs, according to Aaron Schatz, writer of's "The Lycos 50."

"Certain stars, when they pass away, achieve this status as an evergreen celebrity in the eyes of the public," he said.

Web sites like get about 800,000 hits a day, "Tupac" is consistently one of's 50 most-queried terms and people are buzzing about recently deceased singer June Carter Cash's soon-to-be-released album, Wildwood Flower.

Although household names like Lennon and Presley have banked big bucks for years, lesser-known personalities are also finding postmortem success. Some even produce more after death than in life. Tupac, who was killed in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas in 1996, released four albums before his death and 16 after it. Once a celebrity passes away, control over his or her intellectual property, which includes artistic works, images and likeness, goes to the heirs or guardians of his or her estate. The property can be used at their discretion, according to Owen Sloane, of Berger Khan law offices who represents deceased musician Frank Zappa's estate.

"The right of publicity generally dies with the person. At that stage, it is really the decision of the guardian whether they want to license it or not," Sloane said. "If the guardian doesn't care then there's nobody to complain."

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