The ‘Forbes’ Thirteen

“The bodies of irrational animals are bent toward the ground, whereas man was made to walk erect with his eyes on heaven, as though to remind him to keep his thoughts on things above.” St. Augustine of Hippo

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Forbes magazine’s annual list of the thirteen top-earning dead celebrities can be compared to the hagiographic works of Late Antiquity. Its publication is greeted with headlines implying that the deceased have actually transcended death. “Michael Jackson Once Again Biggest Earner in Afterlife.”  “Michael Jackson Pips Elvis.” “How Michael Jackson Earned Over $700 Million Since His Death.” 

The Forbes Thirteen have posthumously realized the sine qua non of human existence. In 2008, first-placed Elvis Presley earned $52 million, Forbes gushed, “without so much as lifting a finger.” Their descent to the underworld is distinguished by non-stop industry.

“The reggae star has become a diversified businessman from beyond the grave,” Forbes wrote of 2012’s fifth-placed Bob Marley ($17 million). “There is now a Marley beverage company which sells Marley’s Mellow Mood… Then there’s the House of Marley which sells headphones, speakers and ‘lively up’ bags.”

Like mosaics on the wall of a basilica, the Forbes Thirteen have reverted to their most pliant and beautiful. An ornery, anti-corporate musician in life becomes, “a dead celebrity on the rise… Expect [Kurt] Cobain’s estate to pick up steam in the next few years as companies compete to breath new life into [his] teen spirit.”


The patriarch of Alexandria Athanasius wrote The Life of St. Antony between AD 356 and 362. He recounted the life of the early Christian saint; how he visited Alexandria, and healed and converted many; how he confuted the philosophers by healing certain vexed with demons; how the Emperors wrote to Antony; how, when now 105 years old, he counselled the monks and gave advice concerning burial.

To anoint the Forbes Thirteen, reporters speak with “experts and sources inside their estates,” and calculate their gross earnings before taxes and management fees. Forbes magazine recounted how Michael Jackson confuted Jay Z, Taylor Swift and Kanye West by earning more money than all three combined; how his latest postmortem release Xscape debuted at No. 2 on the charts; how Sony gave him a 10-year, quarter billion dollar record deal, the largest of all time; how, when now 5 years dead, his hologram moonwalked onstage at the Billboard Music Awards.

Evagrius of Antioch’s 374 AD Latin translation of The Life of St. Antony was among the most popular works of Christian literature. It promoted the concept of asceticism in Europe during the Middle Ages. “And the fact that his fame has been blazoned everywhere; that all regard him with wonder, and that those who have never seen him long for him, is clear proof of his virtue and God’s love of his soul.”

The talent agency CMG Worldwide “represents the intellectual property of Celebratory Individuals from then, now, and forever.” CMG’s clients include Bette Davis, Bettie Page, Josephine Baker, James Dean, Peter Sellers, Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker, Jake Lamotta, Amelia Earhart, Neil Armstrong, Frank Lloyd Wright, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, and Malcolm X.

Michael Jackson statue“We are on course of imploding as the once great Roman Empire did,” wrote @realDonaldTrump, whose former wife Ivana is one of CMG’s rare living clients. On the second floor of the agency’s corporate headquarters in Indianapolis, a Legends of the 20th Century Museum “features displays that display an overview of our legendary clients… Visitors are encouraged to look deeper into yesteryear, and see what made the entertainment, sports, and music industries so great, as they peer into each display case, wondering about the past.”

In the lobby, a pink dress once owned by Bettie Page and a monogrammed golf bag which once belonged to O.J. Simpson are exhibited in wall mounted display cabinets.  A glass case stands in the middle of the foyer. Inside, a spotlit torso mannequin displays a glittery white shirt once worn by Michael Jackson.

Photo of statue: Sjors Provoost from Utrecht, Netherlands