He called himself the messiah. He was imprisoned in North Korea. He became famous for conducting mass weddings, including one in 1982 at New York City’s Madison Square Garden and another in South Korea in which he wed 360,000 couples.
He commanded a business empire that included chemical companies, arms manufacturers, pharmaceuticals, universities and newspapers. He said he had spoken to the spirits of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, and that both men then decided to mend their ways. He served a federal prison term for tax evasion. And earlier this month, he died at the age of 92, after complications from pneumonia.
Who am I talking about? None other than Reverend Sun Myung Moon, controversial founder of the Unification Church, also known as the Moonies. More than 30,000 people attended his funeral, held amidst an ocean of flowers at the Cheongshim Peace World Center in Gapyeong, South Korea. There were pallbearers in military-style uniforms, angelic mourners dressed in glowing white robes and a three story portrait of Moon, framed in gold. His youngest son and successor, Reverend Hyung Jin Moon, issued a teary eulogy: “We have gathered here today to send off…the messiah that God has sent to this world to save corrupt humanity.” Then Moon’s body was driven away in a hearse completely cloaked in gold and white flowers. It’s destination was a private interment on Mount Cheonseong, the Unification Church’s holy land.
Other Great Reads: How to write a meaningful eulogy
The whole event was extraordinarily lavish for a cult leader, as many considered Moon to be, but then again, the deaths of most cult leaders aren’t so PR-friendly. Below are some of the more horrendous examples…
Joseph Di Mambro, The Order of the Solar Temple – Di Mambro was born in France in 1924, little is known about his childhood. During the late 1950s he became involved with the Ancient and Mystical Order Rosae Crucis, a philosophical organization dedicated to “the study of the elusive mysteries of life and the universe.” In 1978, Di Mambro established his own group, the Golden Way, based largely on medieval mysticism. In 1984, he met a charming homeopathic doctor named Luc Jouret and together they formed the Order of the Solar Temple.
The group was based in Quebec and attracted a largely middle and upper class crowd. Jouret harped on environmental issues and the end of the world while Di Mambro led elaborate meditation ceremonies. He claimed his son Elie was the child of gods and his daughter Emmanuelle the product of immaculate conception. In 1994, the infant son of a member named Tony Dutoit was stabbed to death repeatedly with a wooden stake. It’s believed Di Mambro ordered the murder because he thought the baby was the Anti-Christ. A few days later, Di Mambro and more than 50 followers committed suicide. Fifteen killed themselves with poison, 30 were shot in the head or smothered and eight died from other causes. Toxicology reports revealed many of the bodies had been drugged.
David Koresh, The Branch Davidians – Koresh was born in Houston in 1959, his mother was 14, he never met his father. He was a poor student and diagnosed with dyslexia, kids at school nicknamed him “Mister Retardo”. In his junior year of high school he dropped out. He briefly joined a Seventh-day Adventist Church but got thrown out for trying to sleep with the pastor’s daughter. At the age of 22, Koresh moved to Waco and joined the Branch Davidians. Their headquarters were a ranch ten miles outside of town called Mount Carmel. Koresh reportedly had a sexual relationship with Lois Roden, a 76 year old prophetess and one of the leaders of the group. He claimed to be a prophet himself and left Carmel, setting up camp with 25 of his own followers about 90 miles from Waco, in Palestine, Texas. After then leader George Roden murdered a fellow Davidian with an axe blow to the skull Koresh returned to Carmel and became leader.
He took several brides, including a 13 year old named Michelle. Some group members claimed he physically abused children. He was also illegally stockpiling weapons. On February 28, 1993, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms raided Carmel. Six Davidians and four agents were killed. Shortly thereafter a 51 day siege commenced. On April 19, FBI agents released tear gas into the compound. Fires broke out and spread quickly through the facility. Some 79 Branch Davidians were killed, David Koresh was among them, along with 21 children. Autopsies confirmed that Koresh died of a single gunshot wound to the head.