Whitney Houston’s career is getting a post-mortem boost, but it isn’t likely to be as big as the one that enriched the King of Pop’s estate after his death.
Like the late Michael Jackson, Houston was in the midst of an attempted career revival. She was found dead at age 48 on Saturday in her Los Angeles hotel room on the eve of the Grammys, a stage she once ruled.
It could be weeks before the coroner’s office completes toxicology tests that could establish the cause of death.
In an outpouring of grief — and a desire to remember her soaring voice and upbeat personality — Houston’s fans have propelled her decades-old recordings to the top of sales charts on iTunes and Amazon.com. Twitter recorded more than 2.5 million Tweets about her within two hours of her death.
In the day and a half after she died, U.S. sales of Houston’s albums skyrocketed. Weekly sales through Sunday jumped nearly 60 times the previous week’s level to 101,000, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Radio airplay soared and her best-selling single, “I Will Always Love You,” jumped to 195,000 downloads in the week through Sunday, up from just 3,000 the week prior. Online music service Spotify said Houston’s songs were streamed 2.4 million times between Saturday and Sunday alone.
Not unlike Jackson’s posthumous star turn in the movie “This Is It,” Houston will star in a film that is set for release this fall. In addition, dozens of the six-time Grammy-winner’s unreleased recordings may someday be released to a public grieving her loss.
“It really is a finite universe of celebrities that are able to transcend their own death to create commercial opportunities,” said David Reeder, vice president at GreenLight, a subsidiary of Corbis Images that helps license the images and work of late icons such as Albert Einstein and Johnny Cash. “People want to remember her back in 1986 at her peak, when nobody was doing it better than she was.”
As a former model who crossed racial barriers, Houston’s image might find a home with a fashion brand, much like Elizabeth Taylor, who continues to grace fragrances, or Audrey Hepburn, who has been given numerous tributes by clothing companies long after her passing.
If Houston breaks into Forbes’ list of top-earning dead celebrities in 2012, she will likely get in “towards the bottom end” with single-digit millions of dollars, Reeder said. Michael Jackson dominated the list in 2010 and 2011, after his death three years ago.
Mark Roesler, chief executive of CMG Worldwide, a company that collects licensing revenue for the estates of Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and others, said fans will be looking to fill the hole Houston left behind on the eve of music’s biggest night.