When people pass away, most families approach the closing ceremonies with reverence and respect, regardless of the dearly departed’s real lifestyle, list of transgressions or level of popularity among friends and family. But when celebrities move on to the great beyond, the fanfare that surrounds the events is often tantamount to a milestone birthday celebration, landmark anniversary party, or lavish wedding reception.
Outstanding celebrity funerals seem to get more outlandish every day but almost every generation since the turn of the 20th century has spawned at least one interment that made headlines and had people talking. No doubt the future holds even more creative ways to mark the passing of beloved celebrities.
Michael Jackson: August 29, 1958 – June 25, 2009
More bona fide celebrities probably attended pop king Michael Jackson‘s memorial service than any other in the past few decades and the fans that paid tribute to the dead icon numbered in the several millions. The funeral service included tributes and performances by Lionel Richie, Mariah Carey, Stevie Wonder, Usher and many more. As an additional tribute, seven horses and eleven Asian elephants from the Barnum & Bailey circus, passed by the Staples Center while the ceremony was being held.
With enough talent and promise to keep him at the top of the charts for what should have been a long life, Jackson’s untimely death at age 50 drew such a crowd that his mourners spilled into the streets surrounding Staples Center in Los Angeles where Jackson was laid out in a gold-plated casket worthy of his royal status in the music world.
Jimmy Dean: August 10, 1928 – June 13, 2010
Long before Jimmy Dean became famous for the sausage products that bear his name, he was best known as a pop country star. Always a charismatic showman, Dean lived to be 81, so he had plenty of time to plan a weird funeral for himself that was executed without a hitch. His remains were interred in a 9-foot long granite piano that stands on the banks of the James River in Virginia with Dean’s epigraph of choice “Here lies one hell of a man.”
Willie McCoy: Died Sept 8, 2012
The name might not ring a loud bell of recognition but when you find the Chili’s Baby Back Ribs jingle stuck in your head, that deep, memorable voice was that of singer Willie McCoy. The bass voice that gained him international fame and made Chili’s barbecue ribs famous was appropriately honoured by McCoy’s choice of a custom-designed coffin shaped like a meat smoker, live pigs running around at the memorial ceremony, and a pastor sporting a chef’s hat while he delivered the eulogy. The funeral also included a prop of fake baby back ribs, and a barbecue sauce fountain for dipping the ribs, all as tribute to the late jingle singer.
Princess Diana: July 1961 – 31 August 1997
While no celebrity event will likely ever surpass the wedding of Princess Diana, her funeral may run a close second. When she was killed in a fiery car crash in 1997, the world wept. More than a million mourners stood along London streets to view the funeral procession and millions of people watched from around the world. This funeral service is still one of the most watched television broadcasts of all time. Unforgettable for many is when singer Elton John crooned a version of “Candle in the Wind” he rewrote in honor of his departed friend Diana as the beloved lady was laid to rest at Westminster Abbey.
Ronald Reagan: February 6, 1911 – June 5, 2004
As Reagan travelled the road from movie actor to California Governor to US President, he gathered millions of fans as well as a considerable number of critics. But when he passed away in 2004, his funeral and memorial seemed to be endless, extending over a period of 7 days, including a viewing in the nation’s capital. The event cost the US about $400 millions dollars when President Bush gave all Federal employees a paid day off on his self-declared National Day of Mourning on June 11.
Hunter S. Thompson: July 18, 1937 – February 20, 2005
No argument that famous shock journalist Hunter S. Thompson was a wild child whose irreverent style of living and writing kept him in the spotlight for many years. Known as the inventor of “gonzo journalism,” a style that focuses on entertainment rather than cold, hard facts, Thompson committed suicide. Before his death, Thompson drew up plans for a 153 foot high tower for his estate in the shape of a fist clutching a peyote button. Johnny Depp ended up paying for the construction of the tower post mortem.
Frank Sinatra: December 12, 1915 – May 14, 1998
Known for a myriad of things from a silky voice and alluring blue eyes to underworld crime connections and beating his kids, Sinatra somehow rose above it all most of his life and garnered the love of hundreds of thousands of fans. His funeral started out with conventional eulogies and heartfelt remembrances but by the end, his buddies were making sure Frank wanted for nothing in the afterlife. They loaded his casket with a Zippo lighter, a bottle of good whiskey, and ten dimes just in case he needed to phone home, apparently from a destination from decades ago.
James Brown: May 3, 1933 – December 25, 2006
Calling himself the “Hardest Working Man in Show Business,” James Brown was a flamboyant music icon to the bitter end when he died at the age of 73 in 2006. Known for many showy gestures including frequent costume changes, he wore three different outfits at three different funerals. His first appearance was in a Promethean casket at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre, the second was at the James Brown Arena in Augusta, Georgia, complete with catered food and live bands, and the final showing was a private service in South Carolina for family and close friends.
Elvis Presley: January 8, 1935 – August 16, 1977
Always a gentleman and loved by fans of all ages worldwide, Elvis‘ shocking death at the age of 42 rocked the world harder than the King ever rocked a melody. Although his death occurred long before electronic media and paparazzi travelled in packs like wolves, over 25,000 fans flooded the grounds of Presley’s Graceland mansion in less than 2 days. Although the funeral was private, the National Enquirer tabloid managed to get a snapshot of the star’s swollen, ashen face taken by his cousin standing over the casket for a fee of $18,000. The shocking photo sold more than 6.5 million copies of the gossip mag, making it one of the most profitable pictures ever taken.
Tupac Shakur: June 16, 1971 – September 13, 1996
Tupac was a gifted rapper with an original voice for his time that revealed a life of coping in a violent environment. That same brutal atmosphere surrounded Tupac to the end when he was gunned down in a car in Las Vegas and died 6 days later. Instead of spreading his ashes at sea, packing them into an urn to sit on the family bookcase, or burying them in a conventional cemetery plot, his friends, including members of Outlaw Immortalz, which Tupac founded, decided on a more appropriate way to honor Tupac’s passing. They mixed some of his ashes with marijuana and each toked a final toast to a fallen legend. Those who partook in smoking the ashes claim they did what was asked of them, according to TuPac’s song ‘Black Jesus’ in which he says, ‘last wishes, n—-s smoke my ashes,’ evidently the group took that seriously.