Here's Who Inherited These Rock Star Fortunes After They Passed Away

Deciding who gets your money after you die can be a fraught process. For some there's the added complication of being a famous and wealthy musical icon. Many of the great and the good who are no longer with us left their money to their partners and children and therefore (almost) guaranteed that their legacy would be stress-free and out of the headlines.

Yet families are a breeding ground for disputes and grievances, particularly when large sums of money are involved. If you were written out of your father's will (and your father happens to be an ex-Beatle), then you're unlikely to take that lying down for long.

If you throw in the hedonistic lifestyles of many rock stars, with drugs and alcohol often hastening the march to an early grave, then you might have been lucky if your parent or spouse took time between binges to leave a will.

If after all that, the money still somehow gets to you, then there's the question of how to manage and spend it. It's not a question everyone is well-placed to answer — especially if your dad died before you were even 2 years old. In the case of some rock stars, death was not the end — it was only the beginning. Here's who inherited these rock stars' fortunes after they passed away.

John Lennon

A member of the most successful band of all time, John Lennon's life (and death) were never short of drama. As Ultimate Classic Rock details, his first child, Julian Lennon, was born in 1963 to Cynthia Powell. Their marriage was troubled, and he eventually left her for artist Yoko Ono. They had a son, Sean Lennon, in 1975 as the Express relates. However John soon lost contact with his eldest child, and by the time of his tragic murder in 1980, he had all but cut his first born out of his life. The two had barely begun to mend their relationship. 

Upon his death, John's estate was worth £220 million. Yet Julian was mostly written out of the will. While he didn't grow up in poverty, his upbringing was modest compared to his half-brother's. According to the Express, Julian commented on this during an interview with the Telegraph in 1998: "Dad could talk about peace and love out loud to the world but he could never show it to the people who supposedly meant the most to him: his wife and son."

Julian fought a court battle for a share of John's estate, and a settlement was reached in 1996. He has refused to say what the exact figure was. Most of John's money and possessions remain with Ono, who as the executor of his estate was the one facing the challenge from her stepson. According to attorneys Danielle and Andy Mayoras, Ono receives $12 million per year in money earned through Lennon's royalties and the use of his image. 

Kurt Cobain

The lead singer and guitarist of seminal grunge band Nirvana died after shooting himself in 1994, at the age of 27, as reported by the New York Times. Kurt Cobain had wrestled with addiction issues like drugs and alcohol, leaving him with little inclination to write a will.

The courts decided that his partner Courtney Love and their daughter, Frances Bean Cobain, would inherit his money. Love became the executor and took ownership of his writing and publishing rights, which, according to Business Insider, was worth about $245 million total. Her daughter inherited 37% of Kurt Cobain's estate, a stake that had increased in value to $450 million by 2014.

Frances Bean had a difficult relationship with her mother and went through periods of estrangement. She has spoken about feeling uncomfortable with the amount of money she inherited. Having never known her father, who died when she was 18 months old, she has talked about seeing it as unearned, coming at the behest of a dead stranger. On the "RuPaul: What's the Tee?" podcast, she said she had an "almost foreign relationship" to it.

Love continues to benefit from Kurt Cobain's estate, but in an interview in the Sunday Times (referenced by Business Insider), she estimated she had lost around $27 million dollars. Some of this was due to legal fees accrued from court battles with other members of Nirvana, but money was also lost due to Love selling off some of the rights to Nirvana's back catalogue. She still holds half of Kurt Cobain's assets.

Jimi Hendrix

Over two decades before the death of Kurt Cobain, guitar legend Jimi Hendrix joined the 27 Club (the name given to rock legends who died at that age) when he was killed by a drug overdose in 1970, as stated by Rolling Stone.

He sired no children and died without writing a will, leaving his father Al Hendrix to take over the management of his estate. Al's death in 2002 meant that control of Jimi Hendrix's finances and the use of his name passed to his adopted daughter, Janie Jinka. According to Rolling Stone, Jimi's younger brother Leon tried to contest the arrangement in 2004, demanding a portion of the estate. In 2007 a court ruling declared that Al's will would be upheld, and the estate and the right to sell merchandise bearing the Hendrix brand would remain with the company Experience Hendrix LLC. 

However, this didn't stop Leon from selling Hendrix merchandise under the Hendrix Licensing company. This resulted in a lawsuit launched in 2009 by Jinka, with an injunction being imposed in 2015 that prevented Leon's company from using registered trademarks bearing Jimi Hendrix's image and moniker. Leon was due to pay damages for copyright infringement, but he and his adopted sister opted for an out-of-court settlement. The amount remains undisclosed to the public.

In 2021 the Guardian reported that Leon and his daughter, Tina, had flouted the 2015 injunction by setting up the non-profit music school, the Hendrix Music Academy. They were ordered to pay the opposing side's legal fees, rename the school, and remove any merchandise depicting the guitar legend.

Freddie Mercury

The charismatic lead singer of the rock band Queen died of complications from a strain of pneumonia related to AIDS in 1991. Freddie Mercury was 45 years old, as reported by the BBC.

According to the New Zealand Herald, Mercury had been engaged to Mary Austin, an art student he had met in 1970 when she was 19 and he was 24, as per Biography. The arrangement ended after six years when he came out publicly as a gay man. Despite this, he and Austin remained close for the rest of his life.

When Mercury died, his close friend inherited half of his projected earnings. The remaining half of his estate was split between his sister and his parents. When Mercury's parents died, Austin's share increased to 75% of her late companion's wealth. She also inherited his vast, 28-room home in west London, his antique furniture, and most of his $17 million estate.

The recent, hugely popular Queen biopic, "Bohemian Rhapsody," earned her a further $75 million in royalties. She holds a 19% stake in Queen's overall earnings, with the rest split between Mercury's former bandmates, Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon. Apparently the three were not happy with Mercury's decision regarding his affairs, with Austin describing May, Taylor, and Deacon's attitude towards her as resentful. 

David Bowie

British music legend David Bowie died in New York in early 2016 of liver cancer at age 69, states the Guardian, shortly after his final album "Blackstar" was released.

His considerable estate, which according to Celebrity Net Worth was $230 million, was split in a straightforward manner between his wife and two children. His widow Iman received half of the Bowie estate while the other half was split between Duncan Jones, Bowie's son from his ex-wife Mary Barnett, and his daughter Alexandria Jones, from his marriage to Iman.

According to lawyers DuPont and Blumenstiel, Duncan and Alexandria are due to inherit a 50% stake each upon Iman's passing after the deduction of any required taxes. Around the time of his death, Bowie's son was due to become a father, but no special financial provisions were made for the rock star's grandchildren.

However, Rolling Stone confirmed that the singer did leave $2 million and his shares in the corporation Opossum Inc. to his assistant Corinne Schwab, and $1 million to his daughter's former nanny.

John Bonham

Former Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham lived a highly hedonistic lifestyle even by the hard-partying standards of the era, ingesting so much drink and drugs that he died in 1980 at the age of 32. The cause of death was deemed to be alcohol and vomit having been inhaled into his system, as described by Ultimate Classic Rock

At the time of his death Bonham's net wealth was $10 million. It was inherited by his wife and children.

Had the drummer lived, his estate may have been closer to the $200 million that Celebrity Net Worth claims former Zeppelin singer Robert Plant is currently valued to be. His ex-bandmate Jimmy Page is said to be worth $170 million, while erstwhile Zeppelin's bassist, John Paul Jones, is said to have a fortune worth $90 million, according to "On Borrowed Fame," by Donald Jeffries. 

Janis Joplin

Celebrated Texan rock singer Janis Joplin wrestled with substance abuse issues throughout her career. She died tragically in 1970 at the age of 27 from a heroin overdose. At the time of her death, Celebrity Net Worth states that she amassed a fortune of $250,000, which when accounting for inflation was worth $1.7 million in terms of current-day value. Unlike some of her fellow members of the 27 Club, Joplin wrote a will in which she left half of her estate to her parents, Dorothy and Seth Joplin, and a quarter each to her brother and sister, Michael Joplin and Laura Joplin.

Since the death of their parents, Janis' siblings control her estate equally, as per the New Yorker, where they oversee royalty statements and green-light special projects. Janis' music has continued to make money over the decades — considerably more than Joplin earned in her short life and career. They held onto her Porsche, referenced in the song "Mercedes Benz," until it sold at auction in 2015 for $1.76 million to a woman Michigan, as per WBCK.

George Harrison

Former Beatle George Harrison had built a successful solo career after the disintegration of the Fab Four, which meant that when he died of cancer in 2001 at the age of 58, his fortune, according to Celebrity Net Worth, totaled $400 million. His estate was left in full to his wife Olivia Harrison and their son Dhani Harrison, who is also a musician.

Alongside music George Harrison was deeply involved in Hindu spirituality and charity work and had bequeathed the royalties in perpetuity from his 1973 album "Living in the Material World" to the Material World Charitable Foundation. The foundation, according to its website, aims to "encourage the exploration of alternate and diverse forms of artistic expression, life views and philosophies" and to "support established charities and people with special needs."

George's widow and son have continued expanding the charity's reach. Rolling Stone reports that they have donated money to Save the Children, Doctors Without Borders, and recently to the MusiCares Covid-19 Foundation.

Bob Marley

The Jamaican reggae legend died from cancer in 1981 at the age of 36 after refusing to have a cancerous toe amputated, a procedure he saw as being in conflict with his Rastafarian beliefs (via NME). He was married to Rita Anderson, but as outlined by GQ, the two had numerous extramarital affairs, resulting in him having 11 children from multiple partners.

Bob Marley left no will, and so when he died his estate was divided up between his wife and children — which according to USA Today meant that Anderson, the mother of four of his children, only received 10% of the singer's assets. After fighting for a larger share of Marley's money and possessions, a court settlement eventually granted her and her children the sole use of Marley's name and image.

Since then the Marley family have guarded closely the singer's name and legacy, to the point where Bob's half-brother, Richard Booker, was recently sued by the family for using his brother's name while touring and organizing music festivals.

Elvis Presley

The financial affairs of the rock and roll superstar were in a shambolic state upon his death from a heart attack in 1977. The website Marketplace states that Elvis Presley's declining music and film career combined with years of fiscal mismanagement and poor business dealings by his manager Col. Tom Parker (who was eventually dismissed by the singer) meant that he accrued a mountain of debt. It would be left to the family members named in his will — his father Vernon Presley, his grandmother Minnie Mae Presley, and his daughter Lisa Marie Presley — to manage his complicated estate.

Although in 1973 Elvis had sold off the rights to future royalties to the songs he had recorded up until then, by the time of his death four years later he had numerous published songs that remained within his control. They continued to generate posthumous revenue for the Presley estate. Lisa Marie sold 85% of her stake in her father's assets to the media company CKX. She and her mother Priscilla Presley, Elvis' ex-wife, continue to own and manage Graceland, the rock icon's former residence. According to Forbes (via the Express), Elvis' estate is worth a reported $23 million. 

Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash died in 2003 from numerous health complications. It was the end of a career that straddled six decades and multiple musical genres. His personal fortune, according to Contact Music, was worth up to $100 million at the time of his death. However he left most of it to John Carter Cash, his son by his second wife, June Carter. This caused considerable friction between John and his four half-sisters from his father's marriage to Vivian Liberto, who included the singer Rosanne Cash.

Johnny Cash's daughters only received $1 million each according to the terms of their father's will. They vowed as a result to fight a legal battle with their half-brother to receive a larger share of their father's estate. This included trying to acquire royalties from the hit song "Ring of Fire," the rights to which were also left solely with John. In 2007 it was reported by the New York Daily News that the Cash sisters had lost their case.

Jim Morrison

The hugely popular lead singer of the psychedelic '60s rock band The Doors joined the "27 Club" when he died of a drug overdose in 1971 at the age of 27, as per Biography. Unlike fellow rock icon Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison left a will, even if it was a brief one. Over two pages he stated that his assets and a 25% stake in The Doors were to be left to his girlfriend Pamela Courson, as explained by Tower Street Finance. Morrison's parents were alive, but they had a difficult relationship with their son, and he was no longer on speaking terms with them, as Far Out Magazine details.

Morrison had also stated that upon Courson's death, her claim to his estate would pass on to his brother and sister. Yet when Courson died three years after him she left no will. The result was that her possessions, including what she was gifted by Morrison, went to her parents.

The rock singer's family argued that their son had been compromised by years of drug and alcohol abuse and had not been of sound mind when he wrote his will, arguing for the right to a share of his estate, which went on to be worth millions in terms of royalties generated by The Doors' music. Courson's parents agreed to an out-of-court settlement, despite the dispute falling in their favor, and agreed to give an equal share to the Morrison family.