For Gary Coleman, fame was a burden. After the once well-known child actor died of a brain hemorrhage last month, his final wishes surfaced.
They stipulated that his funeral only be attended by, “those who have no financial ties to me and who can look each other in the eyes and say they really cared personally for Gary Coleman.” He also barred press from attending. Coleman’s death was followed by a three week-long feud between his ex-wife and an ex-girlfriend over who would get the measly savings he had left, a Utah house worth $315,000. In the end, with the hullaballoo dragging on, Coleman’s lawyer announced there would be no funeral at all.
Superstars have long tried to run from their fame, and at few times is this inclination stronger than in death. Some celebrity funerals go haywire, explaining why Coleman and others choose a quiet good bye. But some celeb funerals go off with only minor hitches, and some inspire the divine.
Rudolph Valentino was the suave Italian star from the silent film The Sheik, which detailed the romantic misadventures of a western woman and a rich sheik in the Arabian Desert. On August 15, 1926, Valentino collapsed unexpectedly in the Hotel Ambassador, in New York City. He underwent an emergency appendectomy and initially it appeared as if he would be fine. But several days later he developed severe pleuritis in his left lung. On August 23, at the age of 31, he died. Chaos followed. Upon hearing the news, several fans were so overcome with grief they killed themselves. A memorial service was held in New York City that attracted nearly 100,000 mourners. They formed a crowd that stretched for 11 blocks. The man in charge of organizing the funeral hired four actors to impersonate Fascist Blackshirt honor guards and spread a rumor that the men had been sent by Mussolini himself. At the viewing, a Polish actress named Pola Negri claimed to be Valentino’s fiancé and later collapsed in hysterics over the coffin. According to some media reports, the body exhibited was not Valentino’s but a decoy.
In 1994, a young Brooklyn rapper and former drug dealer named Christopher Biggie Wallace released his debut album, Ready to Die. It blew up, spotlighting the lesser known New York hip hop scene at a time when West Coast rappers like Tupac Shakur, Snoop Doggy Dogg and Ice Cube were household names. Already brewing tensions between East and West blossomed and on March 9, 1997, the rising Biggie was gunned down in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles. Sean Diddy Combs, Queen Latifah, Flava Flav, Mary J. Blige, Run-DMC and Busta Rhymes all showed up for his funeral. His coffin was placed in a hearse and paraded in a funeral procession alongside a phalanx of limousines through the streets of Brooklyn. Thousands of fans lined the sidewalk, clad in Biggie T shirts and solemnly holding handmade signs. All went well until a handful of onlookers climbed atop cars to get a better view and policed told them to get down. A scuffle ensued and six people were arrested, including a New York Times reporter.
The Beatles’ John Lennon was shot and killed by Mark David Chapman outside Lennon’s New York City apartment building on the night of December 8, 1980. Earlier that evening, Lennon had autographed a copy of his comeback album Double Fantasy for Chapman. “There is no funeral for John,” said Lennon’s wife, Yoko Ono. “John loved and prayed for the human race. Please pray the same for him.” On December 14, fans gathered in public squares around the world and at 2 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, the mourners observed a ten minutes’ silence. In New York City, more than 100,000 people assembled in Central Park. Expecting trouble, the city assigned 300 police officers to the event but it went off without a hitch.
Babe Ruth died of throat cancer on August 16, 1948. His body was set out for viewing in Yankee Stadium, which had been nicknamed, The house that Ruth built. Despite persistent rains, 75,000 fans showed up. Some viewed the rain as a sign from the Gods. “Even the skies wept for the Babe,” reported the New York Times.