Jackson's estate brought in $170 million over the past 12 months from sales of his music and his stake in the Sony/ATV catalog, Forbes said Tuesday. He was also the second highest-earning pop act over the past year after U2.
Forbes said songwriters who own their own music catalogs can keep earning big money long after they're gone.
Cirque Du Soleil has also turned out to be a huge profit generator for dead celebrities. Jackson's estate and Cirque Du Soleil are splitting the costs and profits of the "Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour" and the estate also collects performance royalties.
Forbes said the Cirque show "Viva Elvis" played a major role in Presley's ranking. John Lennon, who tied with Elizabeth Taylor, for fifth place with $12 million, and George Harrison, tied for 13th with $6 million, have also benefited from the Cirque show "Love."