NEW YORK – They made it big in life, and continue to make it big after death.
Legends like Albert Einstein, John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, and Steve McQueen are resurrected year after year in various advertising campaigns.
And someone has to represent these long-dead celebs. For many, that man is agent Roger Richman, whose Beverly Hills-based agency specializes in representing the interests of some of the country's most dearly departed.
"We have two major functions. The most important thing is to protect the image of these major personalities from unauthorized use," Richman said in an interview at the International Licensing Show in New York City last month.
Richman's other function, licensing these images "in tasteful ways to perpetuate the image for younger generations," is what keeps these famous faces alive even today.
There's big money in the deceased celebrity business. While most agents who represent the living collect about 10 percent of their clients' incomes, Richman gets more. Just how much more he wouldn't say.
"We get more than 10 percent but it's different, a living celebrity is doing all the work," he said. "In our case, we're doing all the work for that deceased personality."
Diane Stone of Advanstar Communications, which produces the Licensing Show, estimates all licenses worldwide generated $177 billion last year. "That's billion," Stone emphasized. That number includes licenses for just about every brand, image or copyright out there, like Harry Potter or Snoopy for instance, she said.
"There's probably nothing that can't be licensed," said Stone.
She added that people are always on the lookout for copyrighted material, like recognizable faces, to be associated with their product or promotion.
And dead celebrities make for good pitchmen.
Actor Steve McQueen, who was "the king of cool" during his prime, has appeared posthumously in ads for The Gap, Levi's, Tag Heur, and most recently Ford, when the car company updated the Mustang that he made popular in the 1968 film Bullitt.
And screen icon John Wayne has been resurrected several times over by Coors Brewing Co. in beer commercials.
But perhaps the most popular of Richman's "clients" is Albert Einstein, who has appeared in ads for Apple computers and Perrier water among other things.
"We've represented Albert Einstein for over 17 years," Richman said.
The rules for licensing the genius's image are a bit stricter than others. "We don't do alcohol or tobacco," said Richman. "We don't let them put fictitious quotations in his mouth and we're careful about captions."
Despite all the rules, Einstein remains one of his most requested licenses, and for good reason. According to Richman, there is a 90 percent Einstein recognition rate from every child in America.
"The licensing of brands and images is a pop culture mirror," said Stone. "The currency of brand in terms of license is a personal connection between the consumer and the brand."
And to borrow a tag line from one of America's most popular brands, MasterCard, that type of connection is "priceless."
But no matter how valuable a deceased legend may be to an agent such as Richman, he says he's no ambulance chaser.
"I've been in business for 24 years," he said. "We don't solicit families. They come to us because we have a reputation of having the same respect for the family member as they do."