HOLLYWOOD FOREVER CEMETERY
As a longtime taphophile, I'm always on the lookout for interesting cemeteries and graveyards, so my trip to L.A. wouldn't have been complete without a visit to Hollywood Forever whose beautifully landscaped lawns hold the remains of some big names from Hollywood history.
Producers, directors, actors, musicians, and other notable figures have been laid to rest in the grounds which house a variety of huge mausoleums, family crypts and individual grave-sites. In addition to its traditional function as a burial ground, Hollywood Forever also hosts a variety of concerts and events, leading it to be referred to as 'The Disneyland of Cemeteries'. The Flaming Lips played a two-night gig here billed as "Everyone You Know Someday Will Die'', a lyric from their song "Do You Realize??", while Gary Numan recorded a live album at the cemetery during his Splinter World Tour. Every summer since 2002, the Fairbanks Lawn has been transformed into an outdoor Cinema, with movies being screened onto the white marble wall of the Cathedral Mausoleum and attendees lounging on blankets on the grass with their popcorn and drinks. Throughout the year, various companies offer tours of the cemetery with a guide who will point out noteworthy grave sites and provide information about their inhabitants or, for those who'd rather take their own tour, maps are available at the small shop within the cemetery grounds.
With a whole afternoon free, I decided to slowly make my own way around the cemetery without a map, just to see what interesting sites I might come across. Upon entering the gates, I turned right and passed a sleek black Hollywood Forever hearse parked outside the chapel, before arriving at a beautiful little stupa garden containing colourful monuments and burial sites of people who follow the Buddhist faith. Further along was The Judy Garland Pavilion which holds the remains of the legendary singer and actress. Having died in 1969, she was originally buried at New York's Ferncliff Cemetery but, on what would have been her 95th birthday, her body was interred in the Pavilion at the request of her children. There are also small glass sections in the wall of the crypt where ashes can be stored - giving those who can afford it the option to become Judy Garland's neighbour after they die.
As I left the pavilion and followed the main path, I spotted a massive grave-stone with music notes and an inscription stating 'I did it my way' next to a spectacular grand piano-shaped monument. Despite the song reference, this was not the grave of Frank Sinatra (who is buried at Desert Memorial Park), but is, in fact, the final resting place of a musician called Pete Stanley aka 'The Piano Man'.
Wandering through the tall palm trees and into the Jewish section of the cemetery, I made a visit to the grave of Estelle Getty who played Sophia, the white-haired Queen of sarcasm and one-liners, in one of my favourite childhood sitcoms, Golden Girls. As well as a household name for her acting, Estelle was also a big advocate for gay rights and raised funds for AIDS charities in a time when it was not so socially acceptable to do so.
Another notable stop was the memorial to Hattie McDaniel. Although probably most well known for playing Mammy in Gone with the Wind, she was also an accomplished blues singer - and the first black woman to sing on radio in the United States. When she died, her final wish was to be buried in Hollywood Forever Cemetery but, because of segregation laws at the time, she was denied the right and had to be buried in Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery. Although she never got her wish to be buried here, there is now a cenotaph honouring her and her achievements.
A popular attraction for visitors - and my favourite section - is 'The Garden of Legends' which contains the memorials of several actors and musicians, including two members of the Ramones. Johnny Ramone died from prostate cancer on September 15, 2004 and was cremated. Although his ashes stayed with his wife, Linda, an impressive memorial statue of him playing his guitar was unveiled at the Hollywood Forever a few months after his death. Since Johnny was an avid horror movie fan, Linda teamed up with the Cinespia movie project to put on the annual Johnny Ramone Tribute celebration in the cemetery. Featuring cult movies, art and food, the event raises money for the Johnny and Linda Ramone Foundation, which funds cancer research. Not far from Johnny's memorial is the grave site of his bandmate, Dee Dee Ramone, who was found dead from a heroin overdose at his apartment on June 5, 2002. His grave is a more subtle affair with a conventionally shaped headstone, however the imprint of the Ramones logo - and the plectrums and bottles of whisky left by fans - hint at the resident's punk rock background. At the base of his stone is the line 'O.K...I gotta go now'.
Nearby is the memorial stone and ashes of musician Chris Cornell, lead vocalist and guitarist for the rock bands Soundgarden and Audioslave. Cornell died from suicide in the early hours of May 18, 2017 just after performing a concert and his funeral took place at the Hollywood Forever on May 26, 2017. In addition to friends and family, the ceremony was attended by many notable musicians including current and former members of Soundgarden and Audioslave, with Linkin Park's Chester Bennington and Brad Delson performing a live version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah". Less than two months after that performance, Chester Benington was himself being mourned after dying by suicide at the age of 41. Although his family had the option of taking the plot next to Chris Cornell, they elected to bury him at a different cemetery - the South Coast Botanic Garden - as it was closer to their home. Also interred at Hollywood Forever is former Stone Temple Pilots singer, Scott Weiland who was found dead on his tour bus in December 2015. His body was cremated and a quiet funeral was held for him on December 11 2015, attended by musicians including members of Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver.
Although well looked after now, the cemetery has not always been so pristine. Several past owners left it to fall into disrepair and when current owners purchased the land for $375,000 in 1998, it was on the verge of closure during a bankruptcy proceeding. They invested millions, completely revitalised the grounds and introduced a variety of events to bring people in to visit the cemetery. As a result, Hollywood Forever is now more than just a cemetery. It's a cultural hub, a place of public mourning and, with it's lush greenery, beautiful lake and on-site wandering peacocks, it's a little oasis of calm in the surrounding hustle and bustle of Los Angeles.
Hollywood Forever is located at 6000 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles. More info here.