Non-traditional funerals of the rich and famous

A painting of John Lennon.

Not every famous person wants a traditional funeral service. Here are some famous celebrity funerals that took a different approach.

Famous people who had unique funerals

These celebrities had expensive, elaborate send-offs – but not in the way you might expect.

Hunter S. Thompson

The journalist Hunter S. Thompson had some very unique final wishes. He wanted his ashes shot out of a cannon shaped like a giant fist. This happened on 20 August 2005 in a private ceremony at Thompson’s home.

Reports say the funeral cost $3 million. It was paid for by the actor Johnny Depp.

Jimmy Dean

Jimmy Dean was a busy and multi-talented man. In his 81 years, he worked as an actor, TV host, businessman and Grammy Award-winning country singer. It seems that music was his first love, though, because he asked to be buried in a piano-shaped tomb at his home in Virginia.

The tomb was reportedly inscribed with a lyric from ‘Big Bad John’, one of Dean’s most famous songs: ‘here lies one hell of a man’.

Jim Henson

Jim Henson is best known for creating The Muppets, the famous puppet troupe that includes characters like Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy. When Henson died in 1990, The Muppets were the star performers at his memorial service. They featured in several performances, including one where Big Bird sang the fan-favourite song ‘Bein’ Green’.

Life magazine described Henson’s memorial service as ‘an epic and almost unbearably moving event’.

Famous people who had green funerals

More and more people are choosing green funerals as a way to help the environment. Here are some funerals of celebrities who wanted an eco-friendly send-off.

Peter Stringfellow

Peter Stringfellow was famous for owning nightclubs, so you might expect his funeral to have been like a big party. However, it was quite the opposite. Stringfellow wanted a natural burial. So when he died in 2018, he was buried in a quiet woodland burial ground close to the Chiltern Hills nature reserve.

Luke Perry

Luke Perry chose a very rare type of burial before his death in 2019. The Beverly Hills 90210 actor was buried in a ‘mushroom suit’, a type of eco-friendly shroud invented by South Korean artist Jae Rhim Lee.

The mushroom suit, or ‘Infinity Burial Suit’, is made of biodegradable organic cotton mixed with mushroom spores. As the mushrooms grow, they help to break down the person’s body while releasing nutrients that help other plants grow. Lee also claims the suit can help get rid of toxins that are present in our bodies.

Another green burial option with similar goals is the mushroom coffin. Unlike the mushroom suit, mushroom coffins are similar in shape to traditional coffins. However, they’re made entirely out of mushroom root fibres.

Desmond Tutu

Desmond Tutu was a Christian bishop and activist who died in 2021. Before his death, he asked for a simple service and a plain wooden coffin – ‘the cheapest available’. He also asked for a water cremation, rather than a traditional burial or cremation.

Water cremation is a technique that turns a person’s body into ash using a mixture of water, chemicals and heat. Tutu was passionate about looking after the environment, so he may have chosen chose water cremation because it’s a more sustainable option. One water cremation company claims that the technique uses just 20% of the energy used in a typical cremation.

Famous people who didn’t have a funeral service

We often associate the funerals of famous people with glitz and glamour. But these celebrities took a different approach entirely – they didn’t have a funeral service at all.

John Lennon

When Beatles star John Lennon was murdered in 1980, many expected that he’d have an extravagant funeral service. After all, Lennon was one of the world’s most famous musicians, with millions of fans who were keen to pay their respects.

However, Lennon’s wife Yoko Ono didn’t want a formal funeral. Instead, she had Lennon’s body secretly cremated without a funeral ceremony. This was an early example of a direct cremation – a type of simple funeral where the body is cremated without a service. Direct cremations are becoming more popular now but were almost unheard of in 1980.

Ono later arranged a 10-minute silent vigil for people to pay their respects. This vigil happened at the same time all around the world. Lennon’s fans continue to hold a vigil every year on the same date – 14 December.

David Bowie

David Bowie is another popular musician who didn’t have a conventional funeral. Like Lennon, Bowie had a direct cremation with no formal funeral service. Bowie arranged a direct cremation before his death because – in his words – he wanted to ‘go without any fuss’.

Bowie’s ashes weren’t buried in a grave. He asked for them to be scattered in Bali, Indonesia.

Anita Brookner

Anita Brookner wrote many famous novels, including the Booker Prize-winning Hotel du Lac. When she died in 2016 aged 87, she had a direct cremation instead of a traditional funeral service.

This was her choice. As her death notice said, ‘at Anita’s request there will be no funeral’.

Doris Day

The actor Doris Day died in 2019, aged 97. As she requested, there was no funeral service, memorial service or even a headstone. Her manager, Bob Bashara, said he wasn’t sure why she didn’t want a send-off but guessed it might be ‘because she was a very shy person’.

After her death, fans were asked to donate to her animal charity if they wanted to pay their respects.

The Funeral Choice search tool helps you choose the right funeral director from thousands of options across the UK. To learn more about different kinds of funerals, visit our funeral planning advice centre.


Last updated: 06/12/2022