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This year, it’s hip to be dead.

The deaths of so many celebrities in recent months have highlighted the continued public fascination with stars — even beyond the grave — and the booming industry surrounding dead celebs.

“It’s been a crazy year,” said Scott Michaels, who runs, a site devoted to tales of dead celebrities, as well as the “Dearly Departed Tour” in Los Angeles, California, where enthusiasts can visit sites of some of the city’s most notorious deaths.

“It’s weird because even [stars], who are already dead, like Anna Nicole Smith, are back in the news. Death has become trendy.”

It’s also a gold mine.

Mark Roesler, chief executive officer and chairman of CMG Worldwide — which markets and manages several deceased celebrities (some more easily managed dead than alive) — said fans often feel connected to stars long after they are gone.

“I think that with celebrities, we feel like we own a piece of them,” he said. “It’s almost like being part of the family.”

That family expanded during what some have dubbed the “summer of death.”

From May to September, Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, David Carradine, Walter Cronkite and Patrick Swayze all died. The fascination with such celebrities can mean big bucks for their estates.

With the release of the documentary “Michael Jackson’s This Is It,” and a companion double CD, the legendary pop icon’s estate stands to add millions to its coffers. Jackson will join the realm of Elvis Presley, Heath Ledger and John Lennon who rake in the cash and keep fans enthralled even from the grave.

At the end of October, Forbes releases its list of “top-earning dead celebrities.” Last year’s top 13 — Elvis Presley, Charles M. Schulz, Heath Ledger, Albert Einstein, Aaron Spelling, Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel), John Lennon, Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe, Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, James Dean, and Marvin Gaye — earned a combined $194 million in 2008, according to the magazine.

Roesler, who declined to comment on whether he or his company is working with the Jackson estate, said dead celebrities are often less risky for companies to use in marketing campaigns.

“The fact that they are deceased, it’s not possible to have any more scandals. And in today’s day and age, companies are becoming less of a risk taker,” Roesler said. “Even for someone like Michael Jackson, people have thrown a lot of dirt around Michael Jackson and we all know what that landscape is … and it’s unlikely that anyone is going to bring up anything that would derail any type of major promotional effort.”

“Stars’ lives are pretty spectacular and we followed their careers,” said Michaels. “So it makes sense that we follow their deaths.”

Why the attraction? Well, death is the great equalizer, said Alan W. Petrucelli, author of “Morbid Curiosity: The Disturbing Demises of the Famous and Infamous.”

“It reminds us that despite all of the money, glamour and fame, [celebrities] are going to die just like we all are going to die.”

Karen Bard, eBay’s pop culture expert, said the site sees an uptick in items related to a celebrity after their death.

Bard said the star doesn’t have to be someone who is popular at the moment. While her site was flooded with Michael Jackson memorabilia after his recent death, Bard said there has also been a great deal of interest generated by the sale of the crypt above the final resting place of Marilyn Monroe, who died almost 50 years ago.

“[A death] clearly incites a buying and selling cycle in an accelerated fashion,” Bard said. “We see unique things pop up that are always capturing the public’s attention and there are people out there willing to buy them.”