Michael Jackson Tops Forbes List of High-Earning Dead Celebrities

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Kimimasa Mayama / Reuters

Forbes‘ list of the 2011′s top 15 dead celebrity earners featured a number of familiar faces, and perhaps a few surprises.

It was a battle of music royalty for the top spot, as the King of Pop went head to head with the king of rock and roll in a battle of the hip-shakers.

With a slew of merchandise, Graceland admissions and a Las Vegas show bringing his 2011 earnings to $55 million, Elvis Presley put up a valiant fight. But Michael Jackson moonwalked his way into first with a staggering $170 million of revenue for the year. A legendary back catalogue helped account for a large chunk of this, as the Gloved One’s fans continue to his music. The singer’s stake in the Sony/ATV catalog also helped swell his coffers.

(PHOTOS: Michael Jackson Memorabilia Goes Up for Auction)

Despite his profits taking a dip compared to 2010′s $275 million haul, next year could be Jackson’s best yet, as his recently unveiled Cirque Du Soleil tour goes into overdrive across North America, drawing large crowds and even larger wads of cash.

The remaining royalty-rakers featured a range of actors, animators, pin-up girls and nuclear physicists, while ninth spot was shared by the unlikely foursome of Jimi Hendrix, Stieg Larsson, Steve McQueen and Richard Rodgers, who all brought in $7 million dollars last year.

But for all the focus on the celebrities themselves, NewsFeed can’t help but think the real winners here are their families, who actually get to use the cash.

See the top five (well, six) below, and head to Forbes for more.

1. Michael Jackson – $170 million
2. Elvis Presley – $55 million
3. Marilyn Monroe - $27 million
4. Charles Schulz - $25 million
5= John Lennon - $12 million
5= Elizabeth Taylor - $12 million

PHOTOS: Artifacts from the Michael Jackson Estate

Jak Phillips is a contributor at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @JakPhillips. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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