Gravesite Tourism: Dead Celebrities Still Draw Crowds

Halloween only happens on Oct. 31, but dead celebrities draw crowds all year round.

Long after the rich and famous depart this mortal plain, their larger-than-life personalities live on, thanks to gravesite tourism.

Each year, thousands of Americans make pilgrimages to cemeteries from coast to coast, paying their respects to stars whose names have made the eternal leap from flashing lights to ornate stone. And in death, as in life, there's a difference between the A-list and the D.

Sidebar: Dead Celebs and Where to Find Them

"Everyone has a different opinion of what fame means," said Jim Tipton, the founder of the Web site, which catalogs more than 12 million gravesites around the world. "We have about 50,000 flagged as famous or notable, and it's a contentious issue of who makes the list, but we try to be accommodating."

The most popular graves are those of celebs who were the most iconic, Tipton said. It's an elite group that includes Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Bruce Lee and Jim Morrison.

"Certainly there's that fascination with those people who die ahead of schedule," Tipton said.

So fans flock to Cimetiere du Pere-Lachaise in Paris to commune with Morrison, the former lead singer of the Doors, or brave the throngs at Pierce Brothers Westwood Cemetery, where Marilyn rests for all eternity.

"It's something that people have been doing as long as they've been traveling, really — to go and honor and pay respects to some figure who's been really, really important in your life for one reason or another," said Don George, global travel editor for Lonely Planet.

"It just takes a kind of a bizarre twist in a place like Hollywood, where the magnificence and the extravagance of the lives of these people is carried on into death," he added.

Hollywood offers hundreds of dead celebrities for those who have the time. Natalie Wood, Walter Matthau and Truman Capote are a few of the 213 famous interments near Monroe's at Pierce Brothers Westwood, according to

While Joe DiMaggio may have had fresh roses delivered each week to his ex-wife Marilyn's crypt, it's Hugh Hefner who is rumored to have reserved an eternal rest next to the bombshell.

"He's ready to move in next to Marilyn when the time comes," George said.

Greg Bolton, a spokesman for the cemetery, refused to comment on who resides at Westwood.

"We're very protective of that place and the families we assist," Bolton said. "There are some who just would prefer that we don't say a lot about a particular celebrity who is buried there."

Along with Westwood, celebrity visitors stop by Forest Lawn Memorial-Park in Glendale, Calif., known as the "Country Club for the Dead," George said. Its eternal inhabitants include Clark Gable and Jean Harlow.

Its sister park, in the Hollywood Hills, holds the remains of Lucille Ball and Bette Davis. Another park, Hollywood Forever, completes the Tinseltown grave tour.

But celebrity grave sightseeing is not just a Hollywood phenomenon. Big names can be found in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. (former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis), St. Mary's Cemetery in Rockville, Md. (author F. Scott Fitzgerald), Graceland in Memphis, Tenn. (Elvis Presley) and Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, N.Y. (artist Jean Michel Basquiat).

At Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira, N.Y., road signs direct visitors to the popular graves. Superintendent Thomas Henegar estimates 2,000 to 3,000 people a year drop in to visit Mark Twain's burial site alone.

Fans come every day to the Lake View Cemetery in Seattle to see the graves of Bruce Lee and his son, Brandon Bruce Lee, said Joanne Boschee, bookkeeper for the cemetery. The cemetery offers maps of the pioneers of Seattle buried in the cemetery, founded in 1872.

Visiting the stars in their final resting places also gives a unique look into the way they hoped to be remembered.

Bank robber Bonnie Parker (of Bonnie and Clyde fame), for example, gives a revisionist history of sorts with her epitaph at her Dallas burial site at Crown Hill Memorial Park: "As the flowers are all made sweeter by the sunshine and the dew, so this old world is made brighter by the lives of folks like you."

Rodney Dangerfield's headstone declares, "There goes the neighborhood," while actress Joan Hackett's plaque says "Go away — I'm asleep."

The star of the first "talkie," Al Jolson, may be the most outlandish of all the dead celebrities, Tipton said, choosing to be remembered with a tiered marble waterfall and tiled rotunda. Not as flashy as the great pyramids or the Taj Mahal, but by Hollywood standards, close.

"What's more surprising to me often is the lack of outstandingness in certain celebrities' graves," Tipton said, adding Lucille Ball's simple plaque makes her appear just like the rest of us.

A rise in celebrity cremation is making recently deceased celebrities, such as Kurt Cobain and Jerry Garcia, harder to find, Tipton said. His Web site carries listings for where celebrity ashes might have been scattered. The ashes of advice guru Ann Landers, for example, were released over Lake Michigan.

Still, people love to flock to a celebrity's final resting place, some paying tribute with more than just their presence.

"Often we'll find a cigar at Mark Twain's grave. On occasions we have found a bottle of booze of some sort or other there. Sometimes we even find CDs or music that someone will leave there," Henegar said, adding with a laugh: "I enjoy all three."