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Marley Estate Plans Aggressive Expansion

Inside the Marley family’s plans for a vast array of new ventures


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As business meetings go, the one at Cedella Marley’s house in Miami last fall was far from routine. James Salter, CEO for the retail branding company Hilco – which works with The Sharper Image and Linens ’n Things – took the trip to meet with Cedella, daughter of Bob, and other members of the Marley family. With jerk chicken on the grill, Rohan, one of Bob’s sons, tossed Salter a football, and before long, the two were throwing passes. “I was really nervous when I went to that first meeting,” Salter says. “They made me feel relaxed.”

Hilco announced in early February that it had partnered with the estate to form House of Marley, which plans to use Marley’s name or image on a vast array of products, from Marley Coffee (the slogan: “Stir It Up”) to soccer balls, bedsheets and a Grand Theft Auto-ish video game. “He worked out,” Cedella says. “Great abs. He would make a great action hero.”

Over the past decade, income from the Marley estate has dipped from $10 million to less than $4 million a year, a result of bootlegged apparel and CDs, and a decline in legal CD sales. “At one point, people were saying the bootleg business was 10 times what the official business was,” says Hooman Majd, a former executive at Marley’s label, Island Records. Salter and Cedella deny reports that Hilco invested $20 million in House of Marley, but few doubt the potential income the name could generate. “It’s one of the most important licenses in the world: Every corner of the Earth knows his music,” says David Pullman of the Pullman Group, which assesses the value of entertainment companies – and pegs the Marley estate at more than $100 million. (Income from the deal will be divided among Bob’s widow, Rita, and his 11 children.)

Unsurprisingly, the deal has raised a few eyebrows. “Classic T-shirts are cool,” says the manager of one deceased rock legend. “Pillowcases? Not cool under any circumstances.” Cedella is sensitive to such criticism. “Today, this guy asked me about skis,” she says. “I don’t see Bob Marley when I think about snow.” And for her father’s legacy, Cedella says, “He wanted simple things: Love, unity, read the Bible, fresh water to drink, eat when you’re hungry.” And when it comes to another of her father’s favourite things, the family is taking a wait-and-see approach. “We’re not growing any pot unless they legalise it,” she says with a laugh. “If they do, we’ll beat [the competition] to the punch.”

By the Numbers: The Top-Earning Estates

With everything from Marley-branded coffee to video games, the reggae giant’s estate is making a major push. Here’s how he stacked up against the other top moneymaking deceased music stars in ’08.

Elvis Presley

$52 million

John Lennon

$9 million

Tupac

$15 million

Jimi Hendrix

$5 million

Jim Morrison

$10 million

Bob Marley

$3 million

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