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Like Jim Morrison, Working Stiffs from Elvis to Marilyn Are Still Striking It Rich

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They came, they made it, they died—and then the money really started to roll in. For such celebrities as the late Jim Morrison, whose flash-powder career inspired Oliver Stone’s new film, The Doors, paychecks don’t end when the star checks out. Elvis’s estate is worth 20 times what it was on the day he died; Marilyn Monroe’s beneficiaries, including a London-based charity, can count on sharing $2 million annually, almost 30 years after her death. Who’s the hardest-working departed celeb in showbiz? And who benefits from the largesse of the long gone? Here’s a look at how eight late greats rate:

Marilyn Monroe

Monroe’s estate, estimated at more than $500,000 when she died in 1962 from a sleeping-pill overdose at age 36, now collects about $2 million annually in licensing fees for the use of her name and image. When Monroe’s former psychiatrist, Marianne Kris, died in 1980, she passed her 25 percent inheritance on to the Anna Freud Centre in London, a children’s psychiatric institute (the rest goes to the estate of acting teacher Lee Strasberg).

Buddy Holly

Holly made only about $60,000 in royalties before his brief career ended in 1959, with his death at age 22 in an Iowa plane crash. Aided by a 1978 film biography starring Gary Busey and by a current London and Broadway musical, Holly’s records are still selling. Last June an auction of memorabilia earned more than $700,000, mostly for the singer’s widow, Maria Elena, in her 50s, who remarried and had three kids after Holly’s death. Busey bought one of Holly’s acoustic guitars for $242,000, and a pair of his horn-rimmed glasses went for $45,100.

Elvis Presley

Presley’s estate, worth $4.9 million at the time of his death in 1977, now takes in an estimated $15 million each year, thanks to ongoing royalties from 41 gold albums, the profits from Grace-land tours (which attract about 700,000 visitors annually) plus licensing and merchandising fees for everything from tombstone salt-and-pepper shakers to memorial plates. The sole beneficiary is daughter Lisa Marie Presley, who will inherit the estate—current estimated value is $100 million-when she turns 30 in 1998. Until then, she receives income from a large trust.

Jim Morrison

At the time of Morrison’s death from a heart attack in 1971, the Doors had already begun slipping from the ranks of sellout concert draws, and their bloated, 27-year-old lead singer had packed off to Paris to write poetry. Morrison’s estate, divided between his parents and those of girlfriend Pamela Courson (they inherited a share when she died in 1974 of a heroin overdose), now earns 25 percent of the royalties from the Doors’ albums (which still sell at the phenomenal rate of 2.4 million per year in the U.S.) and an additional $50,000 yearly from posters and other pop memorabilia. Each pair of parents also collected $125,000 for rights to The Doors movie—which, no doubt, will generate an upsurge in record sales.

James Dean

Dean earned $20,000 from Giant, his last film before the 1955 car crash that took his life at age 24. Now licensing fees from the sale of Dean posters, T-shirts, jogging suits, pillowcases and other items channel $2 million to $3 million annually to his father, Winton, now 86; to Or-tense Winslow, 90, the aunt who raised him; and to cousins Marcus Winslow, 47, and Joan Peacock, 62.

Marvin Gaye

Shot to death in 1984 by his father following an argument, soul singer Marvin Gaye, 44, left no will and $9 million in debts, much of it in unpaid taxes. Before his death, cash-strapped Gaye had sold most of his royalty rights to Motown Records but kept the publishing rights—payments owed when other musicians perform his works. The federal government gets all of the $1 million earned this way annually, and Gaye’s three children, Marvin III, 25, Nona, 16, and Frankie, 15, “really ended up with nothing,” according to a lawyer for the estate.

Patsy Cline

Cline, whose Greatest Hits recording is No. 34 on the country charts, now sells about five times as many albums as she did before her death in a 1963 plane crash at age 30. Royalties go to her two children, Julia Fudge, 32, and Allen Randolph Dick, 30, and to her second husband, Charlie Dick, 57.

Jim Croce

With hits like “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim,” “Operator” and “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” Croce sold more than 4 million albums before his death at 30 in a 1973 plane crash. His widow, Ingrid Croce-Rock, now 43, later sold all rights to his songs to Lefrak-Moelis Records, a New York City music company, which earns $3 million to $4 million from them annually.