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Cosby Tops Forbes List of Richest Entertainers

September 6, 1987 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ The richest captain of the entertainment industry still smokes a big cigar.

Comedian Bill Cosby is the world’s highest paid entertainer with estimated earnings of at least $84 million in 1986 and 1987, according to Forbes magazine.

The stogie-chomping Cosby - television star, best-selling author and ubiquitous commercial pitchman - is a one-man growth industry, the magazine says in its Sept. 21 issue.

Cosby’s earnings will jump from $27 million in 1986 to at least $57 million this year, Forbes says.

And that doesn’t count the syndication value of this year’s episodes of his hit TV series, ″The Cosby Show,″ or his investment in such enterprises as a Florida television station and a Coca-Cola bottler in New York.

If Cosby got paid today for the rerun value of this year’s 28 shows, the comedian’s income could swell to almost $100 million in 1987, the magazine predicts.

″If Cosby continues to rack up earnings like this,″ the magazine said, ″he is all but certain to be the first entertainer to become a billionaire.″

By comparison, America’s top-grossing executive, Chrysler Corp.’s Lee Iacocca, collected a measly $32 million over 1985 and 1986, the most recent two-year period for which Forbes has kept executive pay records.

Cosby heads a glittering list of show-business notables who rake in millions of dollars per year, according to Forbes.

The top 10 for 1986 and 1987, in addition to Cosby, are:

-Sylvester Stallone, ″Rocky″ and ″Rambo″ star, $74 million.

-Bruce Springsteen, rock singer, $56 million.

-Charles M. Schulz, Peanuts cartoonist, $55 million.

-Eddie Murphy, comedian and actor, $50 million.

-Steven Spielberg, movie maker, $50 million.

-Madonna, singer and actress, $47 million.

-Whitney Houston, recording artist, $44 million.

-Michael Jackson, pop singer, $43 million.

-Johnny Carson, star of the ″Tonight″ show, $40 million.

The magazine notes that the top 10 averaged at least $20 million for the last two years. Iacocca is the only chief executive who approaches that income level.

The Forbes ranking also contains another 30 entertainers, the lowliest of whom - TV talk show host Oprah Winfrey - earned $10 million over 1986 and 1987.


Eighteen of the 40 made their fortunes in the music business, and five of the 40 are women.

In addition to Madonna, Houston and Winfrey, the other women on the list are Jane Fonda and Barbra Streisand.

You think ″show biz″ doesn’t contribute to the gross national product? To the contrary, Forbes says. Entertainers create wealth by increasing attendance at concerts and movies, pushing up sales of records and tapes and boosting the ratings of TV shows.

″So, the entertainer who can increase the draw is worth in an economic sense every penny he or she earns, because the marginal money is almost all profit to the producer,″ the Forbes story said.

Cosby’s show, for example, could push the NBC network’s earnings over $400 million this year, up from $156 million the year before the show was introduced in 1984.

Best of all, the story notes, the stars don’t run a trade deficit.

In Japan, sales of products bearing the likenesses of Schulz’s Peanuts characters amounted to $350 million last year, at least 10 times as much business as General Motors Corp. did in that country.

Entertainment ranks second behind the aircraft industry in generating trade surpluses. It ″earned us a $4.9 billion surplus last year and may do $5.5 billion this year,″ said Forbes.