It’s been 57 years since Marilyn Monroe died, but the legendary actress is still earning a fortune. With her face and name plastered on everything from T-shirts to jewelry, she remains a major pop-culture force — and a major moneymaker — even though her last film, The Misfits, came out in 1961.
Marilyn Monroe died in 1962
Monroe may have been beautiful and beloved by fans, but she led a troubled life. Born Norma Jeane Mortenson in 1926 (she later went by Norma Jeane Baker), she did not know her father and was raised by a single mother who struggled with mental illness and was ultimately institutionalized. Monroe ended up in the foster care system; later, she talked about being sexually abused as a child.
Monroe married at 16 — in part to avoid being sent back into foster care — but she wanted to become an actress. She started out as a model and eventually landed a Hollywood contract. With it came her signature platinum blonde look and a new name: Marilyn Monroe.
Monroe found success but she couldn’t shake her demons. She divorced her first husband and married two more times, to baseball player Joe DiMaggio and playwright Arthur Miller. But those marriages also failed. Her career faltered due to her unreliability and tendency not to show up on time on set. On August 5, 1962, she was discovered dead of a drug overdose in her home in Brentwood, Calif. She was 36 years old.
Monroe earned $13 million last year
Monroe was a major star at the time of her death, and her untimely demise only cemented her status as a tragic icon. Her 23 movies initially grossed a combined total of $200 million, but that was nothing compared to the windfall that was to come later.
When she died, Monroe left the bulk of her estate to her acting coach Lee Strasberg. She also left money to her mother, her half-sister, and close friends. After adjusting for inflation, she was worth $10 million at the time of her death, according to Celebrity Net Worth.
When Strasberg died in 1982, Monroe’s estate went to his second wife, Anna. She hired a company to license Monroe products. Since then, official Marilyn Monroe items have brought in millions of dollars. (Though the estate’s licensing activities have been controversial and led to a number of legal battles.) Plus, the estate still earns residuals from her movies. Some Like It Hot alone earned $4.5 million for her heirs in 1999.
All that licensing paid off. From October 2018 to October 2019, Monroe’s estate earned $13 million, according to Forbes. That put her at no. 8 on the magazine’s list of top-earning dead celebrities, ahead of Prince and Whitney Houston but behind John Lennon and Bob Marley. Elvis and Michael Jackson held the top two spots, with $39 million and $60 million in earnings, respectively.