Having read some of the fitting and beautiful tributes to Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin who sadly died on the 16th August 2018 aged 76; it made me think about other famous celebrities who will be remembered in some way for their funeral as well as their achievements.
Aretha Franklin was a true inspiration and leading light for many artists over the years and her music will undoubtedly live on, so it’s not surprising that her funeral and the send off they gave her was truly was fit for a queen. A seven hour celebration of her life featuring a whole host of celebrities there to show their last respects (or should I say R-E-S-P-E-C-T), including Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan and Ariana Grande to name but a few.
But in a day and age where people are becoming more choosy and creative about the type of send off they want, how does what has to be one of the longest memorial services for Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin compare to other celebrity funerals?
In my lifetime, the death and funeral of Princess Diana and how it affected the nation has to be at the forefront of all funerals.
Although not a state funeral, the procession of the flower draped coffin carrying Princess Diana through the crammed and silent streets of London attracted 2,000 to Westminster Abbey however a further 32 million viewers watched, transfixed to their tvs and 2 billion traced the event worldwide.
It didn’t matter where you were or who you were, you knew about Princess Diana’s funeral.
You can’t talk about the funeral arrangements of both a queen and a princess without mentioning the funeral plans of a king; namely the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley. It’s reported that 80,000 fans watched the Memphis funeral procession before Elvis was laid to rest next to his mother in Forest Hill Cemetery. That being said, Elvis’ actual funeral service prior to the procession was quite a modest affair, held in Graceland’s living room.
Elvis and his mum were moved from their resting place back to Graceland later that year after a thief attempted to steal his body. For some of course, talk of Elvis’ death is just an illusion as they believe he is still alive - although if this were the case, he would now be the grand old age of 83, so surely this myth has got to die soon?
Apparently boxing legend and civil rights campaigner Muhammad Ali and his family had planned his funeral for the last 10 years, as they wanted to ensure that it would be an open invitation, honour his Muslim faith and meet the demands of the western media-driven culture.
Thousands came to pay their respects as the Ali’s coffin was paraded through his home town of Louisville, Kentucky before the interfaith memorial service attended by an estimated 14,000 people.
Muhammad Ali was then finally laid to rest at Cave Hill cemetery in a private ceremony with actor Will Smith and ex-boxer Lennox Lewis among the pallbearers.
The funeral service that makes me smile the most when I think of it is Jim Henson’s, the creator of the Muppets. Having grown up loving the Muppets (lets face it, who doesn’t love the Muppets), I am pleased to say that the beloved characters also played a major part at the funeral.
There were actually two funeral ceremonies for Jim Henson, one in St Pauls Cathedral, London and the other in New York’s Cathedral of St John the Divine.
He insisted that no one wore black at his funeral, which was adhered by mourners and Muppets alike.
The funeral service began with the theme tune from Sesame Street; Big Bird sang a solo and the guests were given Muppet butterflies on sticks to wave in time to the music. Further songs followed including the chickens singing ‘Baby Face’ and Elmo singing ‘Lydia the tattooed lady’ before the grand finale.
The only intriguing point in what has to be one of the most bizarre and wonderful of funerals is that Kermit the frog and Miss Piggy did not attend.
John Lennon (David Bowie / Prince)
As well as being remembered for his music, Beetles legend John Lennon will also be remembered for his funeral; more specifically the fact that he didn’t have a funeral. Instead his wife Yoko arranged the cremation with no funeral and scattered his ashes in Central Park.
Although a memorial has been put in place in Central Park, to this day only her and her son know the true location of John Lennon’s’ ashes.
Ahead of his time for many reasons, Lennon was also a trail blazer for direct cremation, which has only really become an option for those planning a funeral in the UK within the last 3 years.
Wanting to be remembered for his music rather than the funeral, John Lennon’s decision to have a cremation without a funeral has more recently been replicated by David Bowie and Prince. The ironic thing is that although all three chose what they thought was the most simple funeral, the fact that it was a direct cremation is still widely reported on today.
In fact we get many enquiries for people wanting a direct funeral, just ‘like the one David Bowie had’.
Godfather of punk Malcolm McLaren’s funeral was the perfect example of how a send off can be tailored to suit the person’s life. Never one to go out without a bang, his horse drawn carriage held a black coffin emblazoned with the words ‘too fast to live, too young to die’, whilst a green double decker bus containing mourners belting out the sex pistols version of the Sinatra classic ‘I did it my way’ followed behind.
Incidentally the original version of ‘I did it my way’ by crooner of all crooners Mr Frank Sinatra is still one of the most popular pieces of funeral music today.
The final mention has to be for the funeral of star trek’s James Doohen, AKA Scotty. In true star trek style, for his funeral plan, Scotty wanted his ashes rocketed into space, which unfortunately isn’t quite what happened. After two failed attempts, the second seeing his ashes recovered from a hill side in New Mexico, the cult star trek icon’s ashes made a third attempt to be sent orbit bound, only to see the rocket explode five minutes after takeoff.
Not quite so ‘beam me up Scotty’ after all.