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Where Are They Buried?
How Did They Die? Fitting Ends and Final Resting Places of the Famous, Infamous, and Noteworthy
By Tod Benoit
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Format:ebook (Revised) $12.99 $16.99 CAD
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For their invaluable contributions, the author is sincerely grateful to the following folks: Brian Benoit for joining in the epic Seattle–to–San Diego run of 1996; Meryl Brodsky for her labors as research librarian extraordinaire; Becky Koh for all of her generosities, including introducing my work to Black Dog & Leventhal; Laura Ross and Lisa Tenaglia, the discerning editors whose unflagging enthusiasm provided light at the end of the tunnel; Sid Roberts for mountaintop lodging; Art Dol for accommodations Down Under; and Chris Shepherd for his enthusiastic and tireless shilling of the finished product.
I’m also indebted to J.P. Leventhal and the staff and freelancers of Black Dog & Leventhal, including Cindy LaBreacht, Kylie Foxx, Michael Driscoll, Sara Cameron, Dara Lazar, Gregory Hurcomb, and True Sims. Their combined efforts have lent a quality to this work that I never could have envisioned.
Finally, kudos to all of the nameless hundreds of people, from town clerks and funeral home directors to cemetery staff and priests, who’ve gone well out of their way to help this cause.
Tomorrow is the most important thing in life.
Comes into us at midnight very clean.
It’s perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands.
It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday.
—JOHN WAYNE’S EPITAPH
AS I RECALL, the seasonably cool morning of December 9, 1980, became bitterly cold, for me anyway, right around ten o’clock. I think that’s when all this started, more or less.
I took my seat in an English class, nothing new there, and when the bell rang moments later, Chris Lozier bounced to her place directly in front of me. She was bright and cheerful, and in those days her arrival was a highlight.
“Can you believe that about John Lennon?” she asked.
“What, did he make a disco record or something?”
“No, he’s dead. Someone shot him last night.”
And so it was. The quick flash of a gun had claimed another victim. John Lennon hadn’t been the first popular figure to pass on, and he wouldn’t be the last, but the senselessness of his death, and the starkness of its brutality against the kindhearted way of his life, struck a particularly heartfelt chord. While a generation that had been raised to a Beatles soundtrack contemplated its own mortality, the world mourned. At school a few months later we were treated to a rendition of Lennon’s “Imagine” by a most unlikely singer, a fellow student named John Wood. He sang it during an assembly and when he finished, the student body clapped reverentially. Though the pall of Lennon’s death lingered, the pieces were picked up and everyone got over it. There was nothing else to be done.
During the mid-1980s, I attended university in Lowell, Massachusetts, swallowing whole the indoctrinations of the town’s famous literary son, Jack Kerouac, an exhilarating drunk whose ruminating mind tended toward the exploration of society’s underbelly. In an untimely fashion in 1969, Jack drank himself to death, and the buzz in some circles was that he was buried in a nearby cemetery. As friends and I had frequented his old barroom haunts, a pilgrimage to his grave seemed fitting.
The visit proved to be more complicated than I had anticipated. There are numerous cemeteries in Lowell and nobody seemed to know in which one Jack was buried. I finally learned the name of the cemetery by tracking down his obituary, but then had to figure out how to get there. Upon our arrival, my plan was again confounded: The office was closed, there was no directory, and Jack’s grave could be anywhere among the thousands of stones. After wandering the cemetery’s rows for a few hours I gave up the search, but returned a few weeks later with John Macolini, a college roommate and fellow Kerouac devotee. Together we eventually located Jack’s grave, but I knew there had to be an easier way to find such landmarks.
The locations of famous graves, and especially the puzzle of exactly how to find them, appealed to me as a kind of offbeat treasure hunt, but responsibilities beckoned and I put the matter on the back burner. Then, in 1992, the death of Sam Kinison, a sublimely deranged comedian, prompted me to pursue a quirky mental exercise: I began to compile a list of the famous deceased who mattered to me, or who might matter to someone else. Personalities like Babe Ruth and James Dean came to mind quickly and, once the most obvious individuals had been collected, I ferreted out additional notable folks from library reference sources. “Year in Review” issues of magazines were especially useful, and they yielded many more obscure and/or unconventional famous people, such as Dian Fossey, Jim Fixx, and Oskar Schindler. After compiling a list of several hundred famous deceased, I was the proud owner of an apparently worthless pile of information. Filing it away, I moved on.
But in 1994, I chanced upon a newspaper article concerning John Lennon’s slaying. Across the street from the Dakota apartment building in New York City where he was shot, a section of Central Park had been dedicated to his memory and named “Strawberry Fields.” More than a dozen years after John’s death, a steady stream of visitors continued to arrive there in order to commune with John’s spirit, their captivation showing no sign of abating. The article was a concise digest of this curious phenomenon, though, at its most fundamental level, the reporter didn’t quite understand it. But I did.
Humans are unique in the cognizance of their own mortality. Though some may cling optimistically to the concept of a joyous hereafter, most acknowledge our granular contribution to the infinite beach of time and, by default, concede that the ultimate substance of our individual lives is largely irrelevant. But while we accept that all things must pass and nobody lives forever, we still strive to achieve a singularity, a legacy by which we might be remembered. This very human desire to “live on” is affirmed by the importance and elaborateness of our cemeteries, our penchant for visiting and caring for them, and the universally accepted notion of “respect for the dead.” Every tombstone, a kind of waypoint between life and death, confirms individuality. “I was somebody,” they seem to say.
Nearly 7,000 “somebodies” die in the United States every day, their passing mourned by survivors who keep the flame of their memory burning until joining them in ashes and dust. Though most passings are recognized by relatively small circles of family and friends, some deaths are more publicly mourned because, for better or worse, these people made a lasting imprint on the fabric of our society’s culture. That culture includes all of us, and when John Lennon, or any famous or infamous person, is raised in memory, it’s for the purpose of acknowledging and celebrating his or her unique and lasting stamp on our lives.
In the fall of 1994 I retrieved my list of famous deceased and the next step became obvious: It was time to find and document the resting places of our cultural heroes—and I was just the guy to do it. The project was ideally suited to my interests in history, travel, and research and, furthermore, I saw it as an opportunity to make the world just a little bit more fair. It somehow didn’t seem equitable that some of our national icons, like John F. Kennedy and Elvis Presley, basked in the adoration of those who made the journey to the location of their well-documented monuments, while other worthy folks were relegated to the margins, cast off and all but forgotten.
I’ve since cataloged the locations of more than 1,000 famous graves, over 500 of which are described in this book, and believe me, it’s been an enormous undertaking. There were multiple frustrations in locating many of the graves, and I pursued countless dead ends (no pun intended). However, that which did not kill me made me stronger, and I’m now grateful for my original ignorance: Had I comprehended the scheme’s ultimate dimensions, I most certainly would have come up with a different hobby, and you’d be channel surfing right now.
Nonetheless, though there were innumerable disappointments and setbacks, it seemed that I was always rewarded for my persistence. Every blundering pitfall was supplanted by an equally elevating triumph. At a California cemetery, I suffered the wrath of some wasps whose nest I had inadvertently disturbed, but that misadventure resulted in a friendship with the groundskeeper. Later, I tapped out parts of this manuscript at his lofty Sierra Nevada mountain retreat. There were problems with rental cars: One particularly unlucky Taurus suffered a late-night collision with a near-sighted owl and, 20 minutes later, while I peeked through the new pattern of cracks in the windshield as we glided along a foggy stretch of Wisconsin blacktop, a suicidal skunk ambled into the car’s path. The skunk never knew what hit him, but I’ll bet the friendly Hertz staff in Minneapolis still cringes at the memory of that car’s return. At another point, I accidentally deposited my vehicle’s keys into a Long Island mailbox, but my idiocy was rewarded when it turned out that the mailman who arrived to retrieve them had known Mario Puzo personally. The helpful public servant showed me Mario’s current digs and, with lukewarm Bud Lights retrieved from under the seat of his government-issue jeep, we saluted the progenitor of the fictitious Corleone crime family. In Texas, I lost a few pages of notes during a horrific windstorm but, a few days later in the lonely outpost of Picacho, New Mexico, I felt compensated when I was asked to serve as a sort of impromptu pallbearer for a forgotten pauper. I never knew what might be around the next bend in the road, and for that I’m thankful. It was an adventure.
I have one last anecdote to share. It’s a little lengthy, but it’s interesting, it’s true, and it swings us full circle.
In October 1997 I was visiting famous graves in the Deep South, cutting a swath from Nashville to New Orleans when, on a dark stretch of Mississippi pavement, I came upon a traffic jam. There had been an accident and the road was temporarily closed to traffic in both directions. The midnight air was chilly so most people stayed in their idling vehicles, but I pulled to the side, slipped on my coat, and walked up to the crash site. It was gruesome—a pickup truck had clocked a bridge, and a dozen solemn bystanders gave the rescue team plenty of room. Unbelievably, I recognized the man who stood next to me in a dungaree shirt and cream-colored, flat-brimmed hat. I had to look twice, not quite trusting my eyes, but—sure enough—it was Bob Dylan. An hour earlier he had performed in concert at Mississippi State University, but he now stood anonymously in the shadows, exchanging short remarks with his personal bodyguard, a tough-looking Asian man nearly as thick as he was tall.
I casually sidled up to Dylan and offered commentary on the crash, but he was wary. His rugged sidekick eyed me suspiciously, no doubt concerned that his boss might end up like his old friend John Lennon. My mind working at hyperspeed, I desperately sought a dialogue a notch above the typical tongue-tied, starstruck blather that Dylan most certainly detested. Knowing that he was a fan of boxing, I ventured to share a chuckle with him over the recent Mike Tyson ear-biting debacle, but the conversation quickly stalled. I dug deep. The previous day, in Montgomery, Alabama, I had visited the grave of Hank Williams and it just so happened that I knew that Dylan was a dyed-in-the-wool Hank fan. So I told him about it. And remarkably, he listened. For the first time, he looked at me while I spoke. There was something to this grave stuff after all.
The accident scene was almost cleared and the drivers that had been delayed grew anxious. Bystanders were now murmuring and pointing their fingers; Dylan had been recognized, and a state trooper interrupted us, asking for an autograph. The trooper went away satisfied, but the escort indicated that they should be returning to the tour bus. Dylan turned to leave and then paused. He asked me, “What was the name of that cemetery?”
I don’t know that Bob Dylan ever paid a call to Hank Williams’ grave, but I like to think that he did. In 1975 he had visited Jack Kerouac’s grave in Lowell and, sitting cross-legged while Allen Ginsberg chanted along in double time, he strummed a guitar for the amusement of Jack’s ghost. That was a fitting homage; such humble alms are precisely suited to the occasion of visiting a person’s resting place, whether it’s of someone famous or otherwise. My sojourns were never about being photographed in the presence of their notoriety or checking graves off in the style of a grocery list. I’ve conscientiously maintained a model of decorum and, should you choose to visit any of these sites, I trust you’ll preserve the tradition.
In the grand scheme of things, I don’t suppose that all of this talk about the deceased and their graves amounts to a hill of beans. Still, I choose to believe that keeping a flame of memory burning for them matters somehow, even if it’s in some mystical way that we cannot fully grasp. For that reason, I uphold my end of that unspoken accord. Maybe now you will join me.
JULY 29, 1933–OCTOBER 14, 2009
COLORFUL AND KOOKY, crazed and charismatic, “Captain” Lou Albano was a larger-than-life pro-wrestling icon who helped turn what was once a fringe, low-rent sport into a pop culture phenomenon.
After a short stint in the Army ended in 1951, Lou’s father had nearly convinced his hard-to-handle son to open an insurance agency with him, but after a chance meeting with a distant cousin Lou was persuaded that his fortune lay in the fledgling business of wrestling instead. Following a lackluster start as “Leaping Lou,” Albano teamed up with Tony Altomare to form “The Sicilians,” and the duo played up a sort of half-assed stereotypical Italian mobster shtick all the way to a WWF (then the World Wrestling Federation) United States Tag Team title.
Moving on to managing wrestlers beginning in the 1970s, he compiled a stable of some of the toughest and meanest heels in the business and, along the way, developed a unique persona as a ranting, hoarse-voiced blowhard. Under an unkempt mane he delighted in half-open Hawaiian shirts that revealed a generous portion of his flabby 310-pound physique, and he sported three rubber bands dangling from a pin on one cheek, a few others hanging from an ear, and yet another wrapped tightly around his wildly curly goatee. Portraying a streetwise bully, he challenged his rivals’ manhood and hurled politically incorrect epithets at the gathered crowds. He was a jerk and a weasel, a guy willing to talk big who remained safely situated behind his various protégés. But while his cowardice infuriated the crowd, Lou saw himself otherwise: “Sure, I yell and holler a lot, but in real life? I’m a regular guy just trying to make a living.”
Albano’s career continued along this crowd-displeasing path until 1983 when he met then-hot pop star Cyndi Lauper on a flight to Puerto Rico. Perhaps seeing a kindred spirit in one another, the unlikely duo teamed up in her new video for “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” with Albano playing her domineering father. Soon he appeared in a string of her music videos and even briefly lured her into the wrestling world and, though the whole thing was just a logical business decision for Lou, the campaign pushed wrestling toward the mainstream. In short order there were wrestlers on talk shows and in commercials seemingly everywhere. Wrestling had been lurking in the shadows all along, but the Rock ’n’ Wrestling movement made it inescapable and Lou, a sort of patron saint of the WWF, became its main benefactor as he was vaulted to show business fame.
But after just a few years, Lou’s star was shadowed by younger personalities such as Hulk Hogan, though Lou seemed not to mind. “I’ve been married to the same woman for 32 years, and I’ve got four wonderful grown kids. Cyndi and I are lifetime honorary chairpersons for multiple sclerosis, and when I started doing charity work, for the first time people said, ‘Hey, fat guy, you’re not so bad after all.’”
At 76, Lou died in his sleep of a heart attack and was buried at Rose Hills Memorial Park in Putnam Valley, New York.
GRAVE DIRECTIONS: At 101 Mill Street, drive past the office and up the winding hill, staying straight at the four-way intersection. Head for and drive between the mausoleums at the top, parking at the end of the drive on the left. Walk into and through that mausoleum and then turn right. You’ll find the Captain near the end of this outside walkway in the third row from the bottom.
JANUARY 17, 1942–JUNE 3, 2016
AFTER HIS BICYCLE was stolen off a Louisville street, 12-year-old Cassius Clay Jr. began boxing in order to exact revenge on the thief. Though that day of retribution never materialized, eight Golden Gloves titles and an amateur record of 100-5 did, and in 1960 the talkative teenager returned from Rome an Olympic gold medalist, as well as a professional contender.
Vanquishing one opponent after another, and often even predicting in rhyming and comical verse how and when he’d send an opponent to the mat, boxing’s new wonder boy soon developed a mass following. Courted by the most eminent promoters and agents, whom he quickly rejected, he found his direction in the Nation of Islam, a Muslim sect that rejected the pacifism of typical civil rights activism, and he secretly converted in 1963. After pummeling heavyweight champion Sonny Liston the following year, the vainglorious new champion renounced his Cassius Clay “slave name” and said he would be known from then on as Muhammad Ali.
In rejecting his birth name and adopting a seemingly subversive one, Ali came to represent a new kind of athlete, someone who created his own style in defiance of past traditions. Seemingly overnight, he went from a bubbly, boyish champion with a gift of gab to a quasi-revolutionary. Nonetheless, casual and unpredictable, Ali was perfectly suited to television and became a talk-show and sports program fixture.
Despite the seeming contradiction of a boxer advocating nonviolence, in 1967 Ali refused military induction and was condemned as a draft dodger. “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam, after so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?” he asked. His boxing license and heavyweight crown stripped, convicted of draft evasion and sentenced to five years in prison, Ali still refused to serve and held firm to his principle of pacifism, maintaining that his Muslim beliefs forbade him from participating in the killing of others. His pronouncement outraged much of middle America, but as the war dragged on and the cultures of youth and black America surged, the national conscience stirred. Ultimately, the episode elevated Ali as an emblem of conscience and courage.
Though he never actually had to serve any prison time, as the conviction was reversed on appeal and his boxing license restored in 1970, Ali lost three years of his athletic prime. After two tune-up fights, the 29-year-old sought to regain his heavyweight title from the new champion, Joe Frazier, in a highly touted bout guaranteeing each man at least $2.5 million, the highest payday for any athlete up to that time. Frazier won the match by unanimous decision, and Ali suffered his first professional defeat.
Their slugfest ignited a decade-long golden era for heavyweight boxing. To the cadence of inimitable Howard Cosell commentary, Ali, Frazier, George Foreman, and Leon Spinks beat one another mercilessly in a series of celebrated international spectacles with names such as “Rumble in the Jungle” and “Thrilla in Manila.” Ali regained the title in 1974, lost and then won it back again in 1978, and then, finally, after losing the title yet again in 1980, he retired.
Even before retirement, Ali was showing signs of slurred speech and general sluggishness, but in 1982 he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a condition that slowly robbed him of both his verbal grace and his physical dexterity. As his health gradually declined, Ali threw himself into humanitarian work and was admired not just as a supreme athlete but as a symbol of understanding and hope. With his push for philanthropic causes and incessant crisscrossing of the globe, whoever he met with—heads of state, royalty, or the Pope—agreed that Ali was always the most famous person in the room.
Asked to share his personal philosophy near the end of his life, Ali’s wife read what he’d written: “I never thought of the possibility of failing, only of the fame and glory I was going to get when I won.… When I proclaimed that I was the greatest of all time, I believed in myself, and I still do.”
After being hospitalized for a respiratory illness, Ali died at 74 of septic shock “due to unspecified natural causes” and was buried at Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky.
GRAVE DIRECTIONS: Enter the cemetery at 701 Baxter Avenue and follow the green line that’s painted in the road to Ali’s grave.
ANDRE THE GIANT
MAY 19, 1946–JANUARY 27, 1993
ANDRE RENE ROUSSIMOFF, of French heritage and better known as Andre the Giant, was a professional wrestler afflicted with a genetic disorder resulting in gigantism. In 1973 he made his American debut at Madison Square Garden and, proving fantastically successful, wrestled more than 300 days a year for the next 16-odd years, becoming one of the world’s most famous professional athletes.
Though he was advertised as 7-foot-4, he was probably just under seven feet and tipped the scales at around 500 pounds. Andre’s immense appetites for food and alcohol were legendary, and it was estimated he consumed 7,000 calories a day in alcohol alone.
In 1987, he played Fezzik, the gentle giant in the movie The Princess Bride, a role for which he was suited in both dimension and disposition, and it remained one of his most cherished achievements—he carried a video of the film with him when he traveled and held frequent screenings.
Unfortunately, as he grew older his size caused him frequent health problems and he became increasingly overweight and immobile.
In Paris, Andre attended his father’s funeral and the following day died of a heart attack in a room at the Hôtel de la Trémoille. Just 46, he was cremated and his ashes scattered at his horse ranch in Ellerbe, North Carolina.
JULY 10, 1943–FEBRUARY 6, 1993
ARTHUR ASHE WAS the first African American man to win tennis’ most prestigious tournaments: the U.S. Open and Wimbledon. He first learned to play tennis on a segregated playground, then parlayed that into a 12-year career that included 33 singles and 18 doubles titles. He later became president of the Association of Tennis Professionals and captain of the Davis Cup team, which won two championships under his direction.
Though the titles and ensuing endorsement contracts made Arthur a millionaire, wealth didn’t distract him from the social issues of the day. He became a civil rights activist, fighting for all minorities that were victims of exclusionary practices. He also served as the national campaign chairman for the American Heart Association, edited several books, and contributed generously to African American programs everywhere.
After Arthur disclosed that he had AIDS in 1992, he devoted himself to becoming a role model in the fight against the disease, and began a $5 million fund-raising effort on behalf of his namesake foundation.
At 49 Ashe died of pneumonia, a complication brought on by AIDS, and was buried at Woodland Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia.
GRAVE DIRECTIONS: Enter the cemetery at 2300 Magnolia Road, turn at the first left, and proceed for 100 yards. Arthur’s grave is on the left.
Fans of Arthur’s will also want to view the statue crafted in his honor on Monument Avenue. As a child, Arthur had not been allowed to play on Richmond’s segregated tennis courts, but today his memorial stands tall in the heart of the Confederacy’s capital city.
SEPTEMBER 20, 1917–OCTOBER 28, 2006
AFTER LEAVING THE Navy in 1946 where he’d directed the sports program at Norfolk Naval Base, basketball legend Red Auerbach signed on as coach for the Washington Capitols during the Basketball Association of America’s first season. Four years later, Red moved over to the fledgling Boston Celtics franchise even though the future of the team and the entire NBA was hardly secure—by 1955 seven of the league’s franchises had gone belly-up and more than once Red paid the Celtics travel costs out of his own pocket.
But six winning seasons drove Celtics ticket sales up and in 1956, through shrewd maneuverings, Red secured the services of gifted defensive center Bill Russell and that acquisition began the greatest basketball dynasty the country has ever seen. By the end of Red’s 39-year coaching and general manager career—a tenure marked by him berating referees and pacing the sidelines with a rolled-up program in his clenched fist—the stocky and cantankerous Red had led the Celtics to 16 championships including a sure-to-be-unequaled eight straight from 1959 through 1966.
Defining his secret to coaching in his 2004 biography, Let Me Tell You a Story, Red said: “I teach my players not to accept the philosophy that being a sore loser is a bad thing. Only losers accept losing.”
- On Sale
- Mar 26, 2019
- Page Count
- 576 pages
- Black Dog & Leventhal