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LONDON, England - Like sex and drugs, death has always played a crucial part in the cliched iconography of rock and roll.[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/SHOWBIZ/Music/10/12/michael.jackson.song/art.this.is.it.afp.gi.jpg caption="Michael Jackson's "This Is It" film opens in cinemas later this month."]
From the fatal accidents that killed Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran in 1959 and 1960, through the 60s excess epitomized by Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison and on to Elvis Presley’s bloated demise, John Lennon’s shocking murder, the tragic suicide of Kurt Cobain, the tit-for-tat killings of Tupac Shakur and Notorious BIG and the premature deaths of stars such as Freddie Mercury and Michael Jackson, the music industry has always indulged the romanticized notion of the tragic performer cut down in their prime.
In purely economic terms though, the old mantra that “death sells records” has never been more true. Kurt Cobain may have been haunted by Nirvana’s commercial succcess while he was alive but in death the grunge icon has become a bigger-selling star even than Elvis Presley.
Michael Jackson’s death four months ago prompted an immediate surge in sales of his back catalogue as well as an instant memorabilia industry in tickets and merchandise already sold for his anticipated shows in London.
Now the release of a new song, “This Is It,” tagged onto a greatest hits collection, means those with a financial interest in Jackson’s musical estate are set for another bumper payday.
Similarly, this weekend’s death of Boyzone singer Stephen Gately, aged just 33, will undoubtedly prompt resurgent interest in both the Irish boy band’s back catalogue and, with tragic irony, their comeback plans.
Are rock and pop stars exploited in death as some claim? Or are repackaged greatest hits and posthumous compilations of previously-unreleased material fitting tributes serving the needs of loyal fans?
Let us know what you think in the comments box below and we’ll feature a selection in Monday’s show.