While we rarely know them personally, we often feel profound sadness when a celebrity dies. Grief experts say this sorrow is often tied to the influence these famous people can have on us, a connection to our memories of the past, or pervasive media coverage. These are people whose activities, opinions, and actions often spilled into our own lives, and we feel the loss when they are gone.
Celebrities also exert an influence through death. Many in the industry believe that David Bowie changed the course of U.K. funeral tradition by choosing direct cremation, demonstrating that it can be a challenge for death care professionals to encourage families to memorialize when their favorite stars don’t. And yet, people seem to know instinctively that memorials are important. Although many celebrities insist they want “no fuss” when they die, post-cremation memorial services in their honor are common. The fans themselves refuse to let the famous person’s death pass unmarked, often sharing meaningful tributes online or spontaneously leaving a mass of flowers in a location that has a particular connection to the person who died.
For this end-of-year post, we decided to look at a few notable celebrities who died this year and chose cremation for their disposition.
January 31, 1921 – January 15, 2019
As a performer, Carol Channing is difficult to classify. She experienced 70-plus years of celebrity, and the description “entertainer” comes the closest to encompassing her decades of work as an actress on stage and screen, a singer, a book subject, a comedienne, and more. Carol had many ideas for her final resting place and envisioned a service as large as the life she lived. She wanted to be buried between the Curran and Geary theaters in San Francisco, with a “full-scale parade down Geary Street.” She was cremated and returned to her loved ones, perhaps to be scattered from the Golden Gate Bridge (another idea of hers).
photo source HuffPost: "Carol Channing's Colorful Life"
September 10, 1935 – January 17, 2019
Mary Oliver was named “this country's best-selling poet” by The New York Times. Winner of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, many people marked her death earlier this year by sharing Mary’s poetry on life, love, grief, and nature. While we are unable to provide details on her exact form of disposition, in 2005 Mary herself scattered the cremated remains of her longtime partner, Molly Malone Cook, mixed with leaves and petals. Her poem “Prayer” suggests she would prefer a similar experience for herself:
May I never not be frisky,
May I never not be risque.
May my ashes, when you have them, friend,
and give them to the ocean
leap in the froth of the waves,
still loving movement,
still ready, beyond all else,
to dance for the world.
Evidence: Poems by Mary Oliver
photo source TIME: "The Captivating World of Mary Oliver"
September 10, 1933 – February 19, 2019
Karl Lagerfeld held the creative reins of the French luxury fashion houses Chanel and Fendi, as well as his own clothing label. Revered for his style and vision, one might assume that the pomp of the fashion world would permeate his funeral service. On the contrary, he told an interviewer that he’d “rather die than be buried,” and asked for no public funeral. However, his stores were given instructions on how he wanted to be remembered: white roses with 120 cm stems in a transparent or white vase.
His cremation took place as a private ceremony among his nearest loved ones, and his cremated remains are believed to have been combined and scattered with those of his mother, Elisabeth, his cat, Choupette, and his longtime partner, Jacques de Bascher. The fashion world honored his life and career with a memorial event titled "Karl For Ever” as part of Paris Men’s Fashion Week in summer 2019 with an invite-only guest list of 2,500.
photo source People Magazine: "Karl Lagerfeld Cremation Ceremony"
April 3, 1922 – May 13, 2019
Doris Day was a beloved popular singer and the star of many films in the 1950s and 60s. She had her own television variety show and spent her decades-long retirement active in the Doris Day Animal Foundation. She performed with the likes of Cary Grant, Rock Hudson, and David Niven, which might lead one to think that she would choose a place of rest among the stars in some of the most famous California cemeteries. Instead, when she died this year at the age of 97, she left instructions to be buried with no funeral, no memorial, and no grave marker. To honor her wishes, her cremated remains were scattered in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, her home for many years. Her estate was announced to be auctioned off in support of her foundation in April 2020.
photo source: The Doris Day Animal Foundation
(aka Grumpy Cat)
April 4, 2012 – May 14, 2019
Tardar Sauce was a cat who took the world by storm under the name “Grumpy Cat.” A sweet family cat, it was her trademark frown that made her famous. May 14 was a day considered “grumpier than others” when she died at the age of seven. In August, the Cat Video Festival hosted her family for a “special tribute to Grumpy Cat, who meant SO much to cat video fans."
photo source @RealGrumpyCat
October 29, 1967 - June 26, 2019
Beth Chapman co-starred alongside her husband in the popular "Dog The Bounty Hunter" reality television series. After a long battle with cancer, Beth died with her family at her bedside. She was cremated and her remains divided to facilitate two separate memorials, both of which were open to the public per her wishes.
During the Hawaiian paddle out in June, some of her remains were scattered in the Pacific Ocean. The Aurora, Colorado service was packed with family and fans alike, but Beth’s husband wasn’t able bring himself to scatter the rest: "I looked at it and I thought, 'I'm not gonna throw you, like, away... and start over... I can't do that."
Her daughter has addressed fans: “Please don't ask me for my mother's ashes. Ashes are for family, no one else. No exceptions.”
photo source Taste of Country: "'Dog the Bounty Hunter' Star Beth Chapman Laid to Rest in Colorado Funeral"
May 28, 1999 - July 6, 2019
Cameron Boyce was already an established Disney star before his death at the young age of twenty from complications from epilepsy. He was cremated and his remains returned to his family. No funeral or memorial information was made public, his parents calling the process agonizing. Instead, his father entreated: “Let’s not talk about it, let’s BE about it! Let’s do good as Cameron would. Let’s keep his legacy alive!” They formed a charity in Cameron’s honor and celebrated the public service he performed during his life. When his final film, Disney's Descendants 3, was released, it included a special tribute in his memory.
photo source @theVictorBoyce
February 23, 1940 – August 16, 2019
Working on Broadway by the age of 21, Peter Fonda continued his acting career until his death this year. Perhaps best known as the producer, co-writer, and star of Easy Rider, Fonda was a member of Hollywood royalty. He followed his family’s tradition “to be cremated without fuss or funeral.” His father, Henry Fonda, died in 1982 and also acted until his death (his final film earned him his first Academy Award, but he was too ill to attend the ceremony). Henry Fonda was cremated “within hours of his death” and had specified that he wanted his “ashes thrown out with the trash.” Fortunately, his family hated that idea and scattered his cremated remains in a meaningful place. Presumably, they will do the same with Peter Fonda.
photo source People Magazine "Peter Fonda on the Pain of Losing His Mom to Suicide — and How He Reconciled with His Dad Henry"
December 27, 1943 – September 17, 2019
A trailblazer for women in broadcast journalism, Cokie Roberts was considered a “Founding Mother” of National Public Radio. During her forty years in the profession, she anchored television programs, wrote news articles and bestselling books, and earned countless awards. Her cremation was followed by a series of memorials held for her colleagues, family, and the public. Her funeral Mass was held at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, D.C. and live-streamed on several networks. Her cremated remains are interred in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
photo source C-SPAN: "Funeral Mass for Cokie Roberts"
January 13, 1935 - October 6, 2019
Rip Taylor was famous for his larger-than-life personality as a comedian, actor, and television host. His memorial service in November was not short of confetti as he himself, dubbed the King of Confetti, would have wanted it. His longtime partner, Robert Fortney, and other loved ones plan to scatter his remains off the coast of Hawaii in January 2020.
photo source @greginhollywood
Celebrity funerals in 2019 reflect the personalization trends we see across society. The funerals of Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin and U.S. Senator John McCain followed a more traditional model – and certainly a funeral director played a more obvious role – but the celebrities in this blog reflect an important finding in CANA's recent research regarding memorialization: People are interested in focusing on the person and the life they lived versus the body.
This post only captures a few of the many people we've loved and lost this year. For a list of celebrities and notable peoples' deaths and dispositions, we suggest FindAGrave.com.