Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Posted here is a collage of faces that made the most money in the last few years while being dead. They are famous faces, icons of popular culture, can give us insight into what we celebrate in our culture. The names of the assembled deceased people of fame are: Martin Luther King, Jr., Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, Tupac Shakur, Dr. Seuss, Charles Schulz, Albert Einstein, James Brown, James Dean, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, ((Anna Nicole Smith)) Steve McQueen, Kurt Cobain, Andy Warhol, Che Guevara, Johnny Cash, Jim Morrison, John Lennon, JRR Tolkien.

Some conclusions:
The people with darker skin were entertainers or rebels.
The two women, both white, were on the list for their iconic beauty.
The white males did not have to be physically attractive to find themselves upon the list, although some were.
Despite Asians, both South Asians and East Asians, being a fair portion of the populace none made the list.

Earning power seems to have/have had to do with:
Charisma, Achievement, Popularity while alive, Iconic status while alive, and in many cases, famous photos that seemed to capture the essence.

Why do we savor the people who were icons in life, in death? There is a difference between say JRR Tolkien’s resurgent popularity and that of Anna Nicole Smith. Tolkien wrote something who’s legacy remains. Smith’s legacy was beauty. While beauty fades and literary excellence does not, beauty is not an eternal constant. Quality of literature is relatively secure. So while popularity in life might come from something like looks, there is little guarantee that the qualities seen will remain popular.

What else is there we can see? Achievement is not in itself the key, for many of the greatest deceased writers, scientists and scholars cannot be found upon the list Popular culture must therefore demand something beyond talent, and, beyond an iconic or recognizable image. I suggest what it demands is a moment in time. Where the talented person that existed appeared at the time to be an important actor of the time.

People who I thought would be on the list?:
Former US Presidents, Frank Sinatra, Audrey Hepburn, more women in general, and more people of ancestry outside of Africa or Northern Europe.

What am I missing here? Why else are these people upon the list? Why are some famous people who’ve died not bankable?


Alan Coil said...

You didn't name the second woman, although she looks like Pam Anderson, who isn't dead...just her career.

alex-ness said...

you are partly correct, I did not name her, but it is Anna Nicole Smith. Dagnabit.

Steve Chaput said...

Thanks, Alex.

I thought that was Smith as I looked closely at the photos. Then skimming down saw your comments which proved my guess.

I personally feel that it is a bit too soon to add Anna Nicole to a group such as this, being only a couple of years since her passing. Also, I don't really believe that it was her 'beauty' that turned her into the media star she became.

Smith, for a few years, before her abuse of drugs, food & alcohol became evident was attractive but I thought of her more as a Jayne Mansfield, rather than a Marilyn Monroe. This despite the media trying to paint her as some sort of MM reincarnation.

Monroe, in some of her films displays actual acting ability, while Smith like Mansfield was someone viewed as simply a sexual object who probably would have faded except for a tragic end in the public eye.

This is not meant to belittle either Smith or Mansfield, but just my two cents.

alex-ness said...

Actually Steve, I confess, I added her because she was a recently dead "beautiful" woman.

I am not actually of a mind that she is nearly as talented as any others on the list, and even then, her "talents" were giant sacks filled with saline or silicone.