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George Clooney hasn't starred in a movie since 2016—here's why he's still the highest-paid actor on earth

George Clooney 
Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images
George Clooney 

George Clooney is the highest-paid actor in the world, having earned $239 million between June 1, 2017 and June 1, 2018. According to Forbes, Clooney made roughly twice as much as Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, the second highest-paid actor, during this time period.

But while Johnson made $124 million for starring in crowd-pleasing films like "Baywatch" and "Jumanji," Clooney didn't appear on a single silver screen this past year.

In fact, Clooney hasn't starred in a film since 2016. The actor's last leading role was as Lee Gates in the crime thriller "Money Monster." The movie business is no longer where the actor's riches are coming from. Clooney made it to the top of the list thanks to the sale of his tequila business.

In June of 2017, Clooney's tequila company, Casamigos, announced that Diageo had agreed to pay as much as $1 billion for the brand.

"If you asked us four years ago if we had a billion-dollar company, I don't think we would have said yes," Clooney told CNBC via email. "This reflects Diageo's belief in our company and our belief in Diageo. But we're not going anywhere. We'll still be very much a part of Casamigos. Starting with a shot tonight. Maybe two."

The actor and his business partner, nightlife entrepreneur and long-time friend Rande Gerber, say that building Casamigos was an accident. The pair were building side-by-side vacation homes in Cabo San Lucas when they decided they wanted to make their own tequila.

"As you do when you're in Mexico, you drink a lot of tequila," Gerber told CNBC Make It in 2016. "After a couple of months trying a lot of different tequilas, George turned to me and said, 'Why don't we just make our own? One that's perfect for us to drink?'"

Clooney and Gerber found a distiller in Jalisco, Mexico that tailored a tequila to their tastes, and the friends enjoyed it for years.

Mike Meldman, George Clooney and Rande Gerber at the Casamigos House of Friends Dinner on June 8, 2018 in Hollywood, California. 
Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images
Mike Meldman, George Clooney and Rande Gerber at the Casamigos House of Friends Dinner on June 8, 2018 in Hollywood, California. 

"It was just for us," Gerber says. "We didn't really want to be in the business. We figured, George is an actor and a director. I own restaurants and bars and wasn't looking to get in another business.

"But then the distiller called and said, 'Hey guys, we have a little problem: In the past two years, we've been sending you about a thousand bottles a year. Either you're selling it or you're drinking way too much — either way, we can't keep calling it samples. You guys have to get licensed and do this right.'"

In order to continue drinking the tequila they had grown to love, Clooney and Gerber turned their personal concoction into a business alongside real estate tycoon Michael Meldman. Forbes reports that the trio invested $600,000 apiece in equal stakes in the company, leading to a $233 million payday for Clooney when the brand was purchased.

That means no more than $6 million of Clooney's 2018 earnings came from acting.

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