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Agency for Dead Stars Is Sold

Times Staff Writer

The market for dead celebrities is alive and well.

Just ask Bill Gates. The billionaire’s Corbis Corp., a provider of archived news and advertising images, agreed Wednesday to buy for an undisclosed amount Roger Richman Agency Inc., a Beverly Hills company that pioneered the licensing of dead celebrity personas such as Steve McQueen, Sigmund Freud, the Marx Brothers and Mae West.

The deal comes as advertisers are discovering that while dead celebrities don’t tell tales, they can sure ring up sales. McQueen, who died in 1980, sells Ford Mustangs and TAG Heuer watches. John Wayne, who died in 1979, was used to sell Coors beer.

Seattle-based Corbis said the acquisition would allow it to capitalize on that growing hunger among advertisers.

“There’s an increase in global demand for these types of iconic personalities,” said Gary Shenk, Corbis’ senior vice president in charge of rights services. “They’re hugely valuable.”

Among dead celebrities, Elvis Presley generates the King’s ransom, $40 million annually by Forbes magazine’s estimates. That’s ahead of “Peanuts” creator Charles M. Schulz, “Lord of the Rings” author J.R.R. Tolkien and the late Beatle John Lennon. Scientist Albert Einstein is one of Richman’s biggest moneymakers.

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A lawyer, Richman established his celebrity licensing and marketing agency 27 years ago.

His firm represents more than 50 of the most recognized personalities, which are licensed to advertising agencies and corporations. Richman, who could not be reached for comment, will remain as a consultant.

The acquisition is the latest move by Corbis, which licenses images on behalf of photographers and artists to advertisers and corporations, to expand into the agency business. The company also has partnerships with the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and Marvel Enterprises Inc.

Gates founded the company in 1989 as a personal investment outside of software giant Microsoft Corp.

Corbis, which lists revenue of $170 million, today is the second-largest company in the field, dwarfed by Getty Images Inc. which has more than $600 million in annual sales.

Nonetheless, Corbis has bulked up with several key acquisitions. In December, it acquired the third-largest stock photography company, the German firm Zefa.


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