Stars often find headaches and unease during their rise to fame, but some notable names have also managed to discover unrest even in death — with controversy surrounding burial sites and memorials.
1. Elliott Smith
When Elliott Smith died in 2003, fans set up an impromptu memorial outside Sound Solutions studio in Los Angeles. The mural outside the studio had been the backdrop to the cover of Smith’s album Figure 8, and after the singer-songwriter’s death the wall essentially became the “Elliott Smith wall,” adorned with gifts and messages to the late singer. The wall has been the subject of a tug-of-war both in the Silverlake community where the mural is located and within Elliott’s devoted fanbase over how the musician will be remembered and who, exactly, is responsible for maintaining the public memorial that is on private property.
The messages on the wall have been painted over several times causing discord in the fan community from those who would have liked the tributes to stay put. In 2010, former Pink Floyd member Roger Waters plastered his own promotional posters over the mural and was forced to have them removed after vocal outrage from Smith’s fans, and in 2012, an artist collective was criticized by some and praised by others for covertly re-stenciling and adding a likeness of Smith to the mural in the early hours of what would have been the musician’s forty-second birthday.
2. Jim Morrison
The Lizard King was buried in Paris’ Pere Lachaise Cemetery following his death at 27 and in the intervening decades the gravesite has become one of the most visited and iconic memorials in pop culture. It’s such a popular pilgrimage spot that the grave has it’s own gendarme assigned to keep watch over the tourists. Like the Elliott Smith wall, Morrison’s burial site has seen a lot of vandalism – or tributes, depending on how you see it. The grave marker has been stolen at least once, as has a bust of Morrison by the sculptor Mladen Mikulin.
Paris Mojo has put together a visual history of the gravesite here that is definitely worth a look.
3. Princess Diana
The sudden death of Princess Diana in 1997 caused several crisis in the House of Windsor. When she died in a car accident in Paris, there were questions as to whether her funeral should be a public or private event – she had given up her title of “Her Royal Highness” upon her divorce from Prince Charles, but she was still the mother of the future King. The public outpouring of grief following her death practically demanded that the funeral be public. In the end, the funeral was a public, though not a state, occasion, and she was buried on the grounds of her family’s ancestral home at Althorp.
Despite having passed away 18 years ago, there are still squabbles over Diana’s death and her legacy – most recently, her brother has been under fire for allegedly neglecting her gravesite:
4. John Belushi
Actor and SNL legend John Belushi may have died in Los Angeles (the result of an overdose of cocaine and heroin at the age of 33) but he was taken to Martha’s Vineyard to be laid to rest. Belushi owned a home on the Cape Cod island and was a familiar figure around town, but locals worried that overzealous fans would overrun the gravesite much like Jim Morrison’s grave in Paris, and so the comedian’s body was moved to an undisclosed location. Belushi likely now rests in an unmarked grave in the back of Abel’s Hill cemetery in Chilmark, though there are rumors that he could possibly be buried near his parent’s in the Chicago suburbs. Either way, Belushi’s original gravestone still stands near the front of the Martha’s Vineyard cemetery, bearing the memorable epitaph “I may be gone, but Rock and Roll lives on.”
5. Joe Paterno
Paterno spent decades as the beloved coach of the Penn State football team until the Jerry Sandusky scandal cost him his job and tarnished his reputation as one of the winningest coaches in college sports. He succumbed to lung cancer in 2012, just two months after stepping down from the coaching staff.
A statue to Paterno was raised outside of Beaver Stadium back in 2001. When the scandal hit, the site of the statue became a focal point and gathering space for both supporters and critics of Paterno and the Penn State leadership. After Paterno’s death, many called for the removal of the statue, even hiring a plane to fly over carrying a sign that said “Take the statue down or we will.” The university eventually removed the statue, saying that it was an “obstacle to healing” in the community.
Watch the NYT Op-Doc We are Penn State: Standoff at Joe Paterno’s Statue