Michael Jackson's fans have placed him in a very exclusive club. The "King of Pop" is only the 13th artist to have the top-selling album in the U.S. posthumously since 1945, when Billboard introduced its album chart. Jackson's Number Ones has been the country's best-selling album for the past two weeks, according to Nielsen/SoundScan. (It's not listed on The Billboard 200 because the 2003 release is classified as a catalog album. Instead, it tops the Catalog Albums chart for the second week.)
Big band leader Glenn Miller and rap icons 2Pac and the Notorious B.I.G. each had three posthumous chart-toppers. Kurt Cobain had two with Nirvana.
The list is sobering. Six of the 13 artists were in their 20s when they died. Three (Aaliyah, Selena and the Notorious B.I.G.) were under 25. Three of the artists died in plane crashes. Five were shot to death (counting Kurt Cobain, who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.)
Aaliyah Haughton, Selena Quintanilla and Tupac Shakur all became famous using just their first names. Christopher Wallace hit the top using a stage name, The Notorious B.I.G.
Biggie's Life After Death had the greatest posthumous sales week of any album in the Nielsen/SoundScan era. It sold 690,000 copies in the last week of March 1997. Life After Death is also the only posthumous #1 album to spawn two #1 singles: "Hypnotize" and "Mo Money Mo Problems" (featuring Puff Daddy and Mase).
Five of these artists were memorialized in major theatrical films. Jimmy Stewart played Glenn Miller in The Glenn Miller Story. Jennifer Lopez played Selena in Selena. Jamie Foxx won an Oscar for playing Ray Charles in Ray. Joaquin Phoenix was nominated for playing Johnny Cash in Walk The Line. Jamal Woolard played The Notorious B.I.G. in Notorious.
Six of these 13 artists have received Grammy Lifetime Achievement Awards. Elvis Presley, Ray Charles and Johnny Cash were voted the honor before their deaths. Glenn Miller, John Lennon and Janis Joplin were granted it posthumously. The other seven artists have yet to receive that recognition, though Michael Jackson received the less clearly defined Grammy Legend Award.
Here's a recap of all artists who have had the best-selling album in the U.S. after their deaths. They're listed in reverse chronological order, by the date of the artist's death.
Michael Jackson. Jackson's 2003 greatest hits set, Number Ones, was the best-selling album in the country in the week after his death on June 25. Jackson also had the second and third best-selling albums that week, The Essential Michael Jackson and Thriller. Jackson was 50 when he suffered cardiac arrest.
Ray Charles. Genius Loves Company hit #1 in February 2005, in the wake of its Grammy victory as Album of the Year. The collection of duets was released in September 2004, a few months after Charles died of liver disease on June 10, 2004. The R&B great was 73.
Johnny Cash. The country legend debuted at #1 in July 2006 with American V: A Hundred Highways, his last in a series of collaborations with producer Rick Rubin. Cash died of diabetes on Sept. 12, 2003 at age 71.
Aaliyah. The R&B star's eponymous third album was released shortly before her death on Aug. 25, 2001, and climbed to #1 shortly afterwards. The album spawned three top 30 hits, including "Rock The Boat" and "I Care 4 U." Aaliyah was just 22 (younger than any other artist on this list) when she died in a plane crash in the Bahamas.
The Notorious B.I.G. Biggie's sophomore album, Life After Death, released just days after his death in March 1997, vaulted from #176 to #1 in its second week. It remained on top for four weeks. The rapper also debuted at #1 with Born Again in December 1999 and Greatest Hits in March 2007. Biggie was just 24 when he was shot to death on March 9, 1997 in Los Angeles.
2Pac. 2Pac was billed as Makaveli on the first album released after his death, The Don Killuminati-The 7 Day Theory. It debuted at #1 in November 1996. 2Pac also debuted at #1 with Until The End Of Time in April 2001 and Loyal To The Game in December 2004. The rapper was 25 when he died on Sept. 13, 1996 of wounds he had suffered six days earlier in a shooting in Las Vegas.
Selena. The budding Tejano star's English language debut album, Dreaming Of You, bowed at #1 in July 1995. It spawned two hits, the title song and "I Could Fall In Love." Selena was shot to death by the founder of her fan club on March 31, 1995. She was just 23.
Kurt Cobain. Nirvana debuted at #1 with two live albums following Kurt Cobain's death: MTV Unplugged In New York in November 1994 and From The Muddy Banks Of The Wishkah in October 1996. Cobain died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on April 8, 1994. He was 27.
John Lennon. Double Fantasy, Lennon's collaboration with Yoko Ono, was released just days before he was shot to death by a deranged fan on Dec. 8, 1980. He was 40. The album hit #1 on Dec. 27. It remained on top for eight weeks and spawned three top 10 hits, including the #1 "(Just Like) Starting Over." It later won a Grammy for Album of the Year.
Elvis Presley. Elv1s: 30 #1 Hits debuted at #1 in October 2002. It stayed on top for three weeks. The album hit #1 more than 25 years after Presley's death, which is the longest interval between an artist's death and landing a #1 album in history, which shows the enduring hold that Presley has on American pop culture. Presley died on Aug. 16, 1977 of heart failure caused by prescription drug abuse. He was 42.
Jim Croce. The singer-songwriter's 1972 debut album, You Don't Mess Around With Jim, finally reached #1 in January 1974, four months after Croce died in a plane crash on Sept. 20, 1973. He was 30. The album remained on top for five weeks. For two of those weeks, Croce also had the #2 album, I Got A Name. You Don't Mess Around With Jim spawned a #1 single, the philosophical "Time In A Bottle."
Janis Joplin. The rock firebrand's second solo album, Pearl, hit #1 in February 1971. It remained there for nine weeks, the longest posthumous stay of any album in the rock era. Pearl also spawned a #1 single, Joplin's version of the Fred Foster/Kris Kristofferson classic "Me And Bobby McGee." Joplin died of a heroin overdose on Oct. 4, 1970. She was 27.
Glenn Miller. The bandleader's three posthumous #1 albums logged total of 33 weeks at #1, the most by far of any artist on this list. They are: Glenn Miller (16 weeks on top from 1945-1947), Glenn Miller Masterpieces (six weeks on top in 1947-1948) and Glenn Miller Plays Selections From The Film 'The Glenn Miller Story' (11 weeks in 1954). Miller disappeared on a flight over the English Channel on Dec. 15, 1944. He was 40.
The Fine Print: 2Pac's movie Gridlock'd generated a #1 soundtrack in February 1997. But it was marketed as a Various Artists soundtrack, not a 2Pac album. The soundtrack to The Glenn Miller Story topped the chart for 10 weeks in 1954. But it featured new recordings of Miller's classics, not the original Miller recordings.