There are many reasons to have an open casket funeral. Although the practice can make some people uncomfortable, saying goodbye to a loved one’s earthly remains can also help to give mourners the closure they need to go on with their lives.
Celebrities often have additional reasons for being displayed publicly. Open casket memorials are the ultimate way to honor their fans by giving them one last chance to pay their respects. And more gruesomely, some open casket funerals are done to prevent inaccurate death rumors from spreading.
The famous people on this list all held very different positions in the public eye, but they shared one common grand finale: open casket funerals.
James Brown, the “Godfather of Soul”, died on Christmas day in 2006. There were three separate memorial services that included a public viewing of his body.
This photo shows Michael Jackson kissing Brown’s body in the open casket.
A Number Of Celebrities Attended His Funeral
Other celebrities to pay respect to the Godfather included Al Sharpton, 50 Cent, Joe Frazier, MC Hammer, Prince, Buddy Guy, Ice Cube, Ludacris, Dr. Dre, Little Richard, Dick Gregory, Jesse Jackson, Ice-T, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bootsy Collins, LL Cool J, Lil Wayne, Lenny Kravitz, Stevie Wonder, Todd Williams and Don King.
Mother Teresa, also known as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, died in 1997, at the age of 87.
After Mother Teresa’s death, her body lay in repose in St Thomas, Calcutta (India) for one week.
Leaving A Lasting Impression
She was mourned by millions worldwide, and she is set to be canonized (declared a Saint) in 2016.
Bruce Lee, the martial arts superstar, died of a cerebral edema while filming Enter the Dragon in Hong Kong, China (1973).
One Last Look For The Fans
Before Bruce’s body was flown back to Seattle to be buried, a public open-casket memorial was held for his fans. The service was attended by 25,000 people.
Although the legendary blonde bombshell did have an open casket funeral, there are no photos of that event in existence. However, one artist created an amazing sculpture of the event.
This Picture Is The Closest Thing To It
It shows a sculpture of Monroe in her casket after her 1962 death from an accidental overdose. The sculpture was created by an Italian artist and was based on descriptions of the green Pucci dress, veil, and makeup Monroe wore for her burial.
After Stand by Me actor River Phoenix (big brother of Joaquin) died of a drug overdose in 1993, his body was displayed in an open casket private ceremony intended only for his closest friends and family.
Unfortunately, though, an unscrupulous photographer broke into the funeral home that was holding his body, took a photo of him in his casket, and sold it to (guess who) The National Enquirer for $5,000.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Iconic civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was gunned down in 1968.
After his death, King’s body was displayed in an open bronze casket in Memphis. The wound in King’s neck was still visible, and many mourners kissed the glass over his face.
I Have A Dream
He was interred in Atlanta, at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site. His wife Coretta Scott King is also buried there.
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
After the former Beatle’s tragic murder at the hands of a deranged fan, his widow Yoko Ono opted not to have a funeral.
Instead, she asked his fans for 10 minutes of silence in remembrance of Lennon.
Central Park Gathering
This photo depicts Lennon’s corpse in a body bag at an NYC morgue.
Over 100,000 people gathered at Central Park to mourn the beloved musician.
Rising Mexican-American pop star Selena Quintanilla-Perez’s family decided to have a public open-casket funeral to dispel rumors that the singer’s body was not in the casket.
One Crazy Fan
Selena was murdered by her agent, who had become obsessed with the singer, in 1995.
As of 2012, Selena had sold over 60 million albums worldwide.
The original rock shocker, GG Allin died of an accidental heroin overdose in 1993.
His corpse was unpreserved, and was dressed in his signature leather jacket and jockstrap. He was buried with a microphone, a bottle of Jim Beam, and a portable cassette player holding his album “The Suicide Sessions. “
The entire funeral was recorded, and is available for viewing online if you’re into that sort of thing.
Comedic actor Mickey Rooney (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Pete’s Dragon, Night at the Museum, and more than 300 others) died 2014, when he was 93 years old. He’d had a nine-decade run in the film industry.
One Final Photo
Rooney’s sad final photo was taken in a casket at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
When blues and R&B musician Etta James died in 2012, her body was displayed publicly. This displeased many of her lifelong fans, who loudly complained online.
Journalist Anne Cusack, assigned to cover the “At Last” singer’s funeral, said she even set down her camera once a no-photo request was made.
Eccentric “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” musician Tiny Tim was perhaps the world’s most famous ukulele player.
Buried With His Ukulele
Tiny Tim died after suffering a heart attack, while onstage, at a concert in 1996. His public, open casket funeral was attended by an array of celebrities from Elton John to Howard Stern.
Kelly, half of the rap duo Kriss Kross, died of an overdose of heroin and cocaine in Atlanta, Georgia, in 2013. He was only 34 years old when the tragedy happened.
His body was displayed in an open casket during a Baptist service. Afterward, Kelly was interred in Westview Cemetery.
The 16th President of The United States was famously assassinated in 1865 by John Wilkes Booth.
The Lincoln Special
After his death, Lincoln’s body was carried by a train called “The Lincoln Special” through 180 cities on its journey back to his home state of Illinois. At each stop, the coffin was taken off the train and his body displayed to the public.
Country legend Hank Williams died of a heart attack from a mixture of alcohol and morphine in 1953.
The “Hey, Good Lookin’” performer was honored in Montgomery, Alabama, in front of over 2,000 mourners.
Hey, Good Lookin
His body was displayed first at his mother’s house, and then later moved to the Montgomery Auditorium before being buried in the Oakwood Cemetery Annex.
When the “King of Rock and Roll” died in 1977, a photo from his open casket funeral appeared on the cover of The National Enquirer.
Story goes that The Enquirer bribed a photographer (for $18,000) to take the photo with an Arco Flex spy camera. The snapshot is now rumored to be worth $1 million.
Iconic American actress and future Princess of Monaco was killed in 1982, in a car accident as a result of a stroke she suffered while driving.
Huge TV Audience
Close to 100 million television viewers, as well as heads of state, celebrities, and fellow royals watched Kelly’s funeral on live television. She was interred in the same cathedral in which she had her fairy-tale wedding to Prince Rainier in 1956.
Sultry “Let’s Get It On” crooner Marvin Gaye was murdered by his own father on April 1st, 1984.
After a fight with his dad, Marvin told his mother, “I’m going to get my things and get out of this house. Father hates me and I’m never coming back.” His dad shot and killed him moments later.
Let’s Get It On
His body was displayed at the Forrest Lawn Memorial Park before eventually being cremated.
Pop artist Warhol died in 1987, from complications from a routine gallbladder surgery at age 59.
His body was returned to Pittsburgh for its burial. One of Warhol’s cousins took a photo of the body in his casket, putting it on sale for $900,000.
No Trademark Sunglasses
The cousin also removed Warhol’s trademark sunglasses for the shot. This watermarked copy is the only known print.
Warhol, who once said “I always thought I’d like my own tombstone to be blank. No epitaph and no name. Well, actually, I’d like it to say ‘figment'” was buried in Bethel Park, Pennsylvania.
Blues legend B.B. King died in 2015, at the age of 89.
His fans lined up to view his open casket at the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center. King was dressed in a purple satin shirt and a floral tuxedo jacket, with two black Gibson guitars by his side.
A Letter From The President
President Obama honored King in a letter: “B.B. may be gone but that thrill will be with us forever. And there’s going to be one killer blues session in heaven tonight.”
Legendary horror actor Lugosi died in his sleep in 1956, and the body was discovered by his 5th wife, Hope. He was buried in his Dracula costume, per the request of his ex-wife Lillian and son Bela Lugosi Jr.
This post-mortem photo was taken by a close family friend, David Katzman.
In perhaps one of the most egregious photo leaks in recent celebrity history, The National Enquirer published a photo of Whitney Houston in her casket on the front cover.
The photo was provided (illicitly) from one of the funeral staff. Although there was much public outcry over the publication’s decision to run the photo, that issue was one of the Enquirer’s bestselling ever.
The Last Photo
Eerily, this same tragic situation was repeated just 3 years later, when Houston’s daughter Bobbi Kristina was found unresponsive in a bathtub. After six months in an unresponsive state, Bobbi Kristina died, and a photo of her lying inside her casket was shopped to tabloids the day before her funeral. Though the photo was purchased (by an unknown party) for $100,000, it was never published.
Elvis Presley is one of the most famous musicians of all time. Born in Tupelo, Mississippi he was catapulted to superstardom with his smooth voice and swiveling hips. He died at the age of 42 from a heart attack, after a decades-long career.
He had an open casket funeral in 1977. There is a legend surrounding the photo of Elvis taken in his casket which appeared on the cover of The National Enquirer.
Bribe The Mann
According to the story, the editor of The National Enquirer, Ian Calder, bribed Elvis’ cousin, Bobby Mann in order to take the now-famous portrait. Bobby Mann was reportedly paid $18,000 for the picture which was taken on an Arco Flex spy camera.
The story of Emmett Till is a heartbreaking one. He was just 14 years old when he became the victim of racism, which ultimately lead to his death. He had allegedly flirted with a white woman, which led a group of white men to lynch him. Emmett’s bereaved mother insisted on displaying her son’s mutilated body in an open casket funeral, in order to show the world the dangers of racism.
Only Identifiable By The Ring
His body was badly swollen and scarred, only identifiable by the ring he was wearing. The photo of Emmett Till’s body made international headlines. It is thought that the pictures and his story helped to ignite the Civil Rights Movement.
Soul singer Sam Cooke was shot in the chest at the young age of 33. He was attacked at the Hacienda Motel in Los Angeles in 1964 and died from his wounds. The young entrepreneur and singer-songwriter was buried after an open casket funeral.
Attended By Thousands
Despite Cooke’s young age at the time of his death, he was already wildly popular and his career was on the rise. He had a funeral service in Chicago which was attended by thousands of his fans. Cooke had 30 U.S. Top 40 hits before his death, and three more after. He is considered to be one of the pioneers of soul music.
Bill “Bojangles” Robinson
Bill Robinson was one of the most famous African American performers of the early 20th century. He was the first African-American vaudeville star to perform on stage without wearing blackface, as well as the first African-American to headline a mixed race show on Broadway. He is also well known for his many performances in Shirley Temple where his dancing abilities were prominently featured.
When he died of heart failure at the age of 71, he was so well known and respected that Ed Sullivan made the funeral arrangements. Thousands of people walked past his casket in order to pay their final respects.
Notorious outlaw Bonnie Parker, of Bonnie and Clyde fame, died at the young age of 24. Bonnie and Clyde roamed the central United States during the Great Depression, robbing people of their money and valuables, until they were ambushed in 1934 and killed by members of law enforcement.
Buried One Day After Clyde
Their crime spree was so notorious that newspapers bearing tales of their exploits made a lot of money. Bonnie was buried just one day after Clyde, and many people sent flowers to the funeral which was held in Dallas, Texas. One of the largest wreaths sent was from the paper boys of Dallas who were grateful for the good business Bonnie and Clyde brought them.
Former South African President Nelson Mandela passed away in 2013, though many people mistakenly think he died while in prison for his role as an anti-apartheid revolutionary. He was the country’s first black head of state and was the first head of state to be elected in a democratic election.
An International Hero
Mourners at his funeral included dignitaries, presidents, as well as his many admirers. Thousands of people gathered to pay their respects to the man who helped to end apartheid. Today, Nelson Mandela is remembered as an international hero. His body was guarded at his funeral by members of the military.
The Argentinian singer turned politician was one of the most beloved first ladies in Argentinian history. The story of her life inspired the Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Weber musical, Evita, which featured the hit song “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” and starred Madonna in the title role.
Body Was Stored For 20 Years
After Eva Peron’s death in 1952, millions of Argentinians paid their respects to the beloved first lady, after which her body was stored in hiding for 20 years. Her body was once again placed on display for people to see in the 1970s, before finally being laid to rest in her family’s mausoleum.
Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chris Henry had a promising career which was tragically cut short at the young age of 26. The athlete had fallen out of a pickup truck which his fiancee was driving. during a domestic dispute. He had previously experienced legal troubles including drug possession, driving without a license, and multiple gun charges.
Another Victim Of CTE
It was later revealed that Chris Henry had a brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy resulting from multiple hits to the head during his football career. His organs were donated for transplant by his mother and his corneas, lungs, kidneys, heart, pancreas, and liver were transplanted. The lives of four people were saved.
Jesse James is one of the most notorious outlaws of all times. While the number of people he robbed might suggest a long criminal career, he was murdered in 1882 at the young age of 35, although many rumors at the time claimed that James somehow faked his own death.
Packed In Ice
Perhaps to disprove such rumors, Jesse James’ body was packed in ice and displayed in Saint Joseph, a town in his home state of Missouri, where people lined up to take pictures with him. It was widely circulated that his mother made a living by charging people a quarter each to take a penny from his grave as a memento.
Soul singer Rick James was a Motown artist who released his debut in album in 1978, selling two million copies and launching his career. He is perhaps best known for writing the MC Hammer hit “U Can’t Touch This.” He had to sue Hammer to be credited on the wildly popular song.
Can’t Touch This
While he had a moderately successful career, it was severely damaged by an addiction to cocaine and legal troubles. He spent three years in prison for kidnapping two women.
Rick James died at the age of 56 from heart failure. While he lost fans due to his criminal career, people still came to his open casket funeral.
William S. Burroughs
William S. Burroughs was a prolific and internationally celebrated writer known for such famous works as Naked Lunch and Junkie. The great American novelist was one of the most iconic members of the Beat Generation who also wrote under the pen name of William Lee.
Greatest Satirical Writer Since Jonathan Swift
Fellow Beat writer Jack Kerouac considered William S. Burroughs to be the “greatest satirical writer since Jonathan Swift.” Burroughs passed away in 1997, at the age of 83, following a heart attack. William S. Burroughs had an open casket funeral and was then interred in his family’s plot at Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri.
June Carter Cash
June Carter Cash, a member of the performing group the Carter Sisters. She was married to country music sensation Johnny Cash. She passed away in 2003 following complications after a heart valve replacement surgery. Her husband, Johnny Cash, passed away just four months after his wife. Tragically, June’s daughter Rosie (from her second marriage) died not long after.
Buried With Johnny
Both June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash were buried at Hendersonville Memory Gardens in Tennessee. June had an open casket funeral which was open to the public so that her adoring fans could gather to pay their respects to the beloved singer-songwriter, author, and actress.
Civil rights activist and leader Malcolm X is one of the most iconic and influential figures in African American history. A contemporary of Martin Luther King Jr., he advocated for a more assertive approach to civil rights in contrast to King’s pacifism.
Assassinated at 39
He was assassinated in 1965, at the age of 39, when gunmen from the Nation of Islam fired 21 shots into his body. His funeral was held at Unity Funeral Home in Harlem, New York City, and 30,000 mourners came to pay their final respects to a man who had committed his life to advocated for the rights of black Americans.
The Russian political theorist and communist revolutionary was head of the Russian Republic, and later the head of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, and eventually the Soviet Union. He developed the political theories which are now known as Leninism.
Body Still On Display
Lenin not only had an open casket funeral, but his body is still on display at the Lenin Mausoleum. There is some discussion of removing his body from display in recent years, particularly since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. While Lenin was once regarded as a national hero, his popularity has diminished following the collapse of the Soviet Union and his theories are now regarded as controversial and divisive.
Born Bernard Jeffrey McCullough, Emmy-winning comedian Bernie Mac was the star of the self-titled Bernie Mac Show and had roles in several films including Ocean’s Eleven and Mr.3000. He had many health problems, publicly revealing his battle with sarcoidosis in the last three years of his life.
A King Of Comedy
Bernie Mac went into cardiac arrest in 2008, and died a week later after complications from pneumonia. He had a public funeral at House of Hope Church. Nearly 7,000 people came to mourn the actor and comedian. Notable guests at the open-casket service include Chris Rock, Samuel L. Jackson, Ashton Kutcher, Cedric the Entertainer, and Steve Harvey.
Boris Yeltsin, the first president of the Russian Federation, passed away from congestive heart failure in 2007 at the age of 76. He was the first Russian head of state to be buried in a church ceremony in 113 years, as the Soviet government did not support organized religion. His funeral was declared a national day of mourning, and mourners gathered to pay their respects to the former head of state.
A Message From Gorbachev
Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said, “I express my profoundest condolences to the family of the deceased, who had major deeds for the good of the country as well as serious mistakes behind him. It was a tragic destiny.”
Legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday died at the young age of 44 from pulmonary edema and heart failure caused by cirrhosis of the liver. As she was dying, she was arrested and handcuffed in her hospital bed for drug possession and police guard.
Transformed The Music Industry
In her thirty-year career she transformed the music industry and contributed many songs which are now considered to be jazz standards.
Her funeral was held at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle in Manhattan. People lined up to pay their respects at her open-casket funeral mass. Billie was later buried in the Bronx at Saint Raymond’s Cemetery.
One of the most famous female singers of the 20th century, Dinah Washington was the most popular African-American artist of the 1950s. Her most iconic songs include classics such as “Baby (You’ve Got What It Takes) and “Mad About the Boy.”
She accidentally ingested a lethal dose of sedatives at the young age of 39, an overdose which led to her death. She had an open casket funeral, and fans and admirers gathered to pay their respects to the singer who was displayed wearing a chiffon evening dress, white mink stole, opera gloves, and a diamond tiara in a solid bronze casket.
Another great jazz performer, Louis Armstrong, also had an open casket funeral. Armstrong was one of the most influential and celebrated musicians of the twentieth century, not to mention one of the most beloved. The trumpeter, composer, and singer, passed away at the age of 69 after a heart attack. He died after playing two weeks of back-to-back performances—no simple feat for a man of his age.
His pallbearers consisted of many of the most legendary performers of his time. Present at his open casket funeral were many entertainers including Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Frank Sinatra, Ed Sullivan, and Johnny Carson.
Gospel singer and civil rights activist Mahalia Jackson was so beloved at the time of her death that tens of thousands of people came to pay their final respects at her funeral. She was displayed in a glass-domed coffin in Chicago’s Greater Salem Baptist Church.
Queen Of Gospel
Known as the “Queen of Gospel,’ Mahalia Jackson was one of the most influential gospel singers of all time. She was described by fellow entertainer Harry Belafonte as “the single most powerful black woman in the United States.” She recorded at least 30 albums in her lifetime for which she received local and international acclaim.
Hector “Macho” Camacho
Hector Camacho was a very popular Puerto Rican boxer who competed for three decades and became a three-weight world champion. With fights against Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, and Oscar De La Hoya, Camacho put together an impressive career in the ring.
Shot Outside The Bar
On November 20, 2012, Camacho was shot and seriously wondered while sitting in a car outside a bar, and died four days later.
Valentino was a star of the 1920’s and considered an early pop icon, starring in several silent films such as The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, The Sheik, and Blood and Sand. Valentino was hospitalized and diagnosed with appendicitis and gastric ulcers, and after surgery, he developed peritonitis. His condition would worsen and he slipped into a coma.
His death at the age of 31 caused hysteria amongst his fans, and an estimated 100,000 people attended his Manhattan funeral. This would lead to a number of incidents, with windows being smashed by fans trying to get in and an all-day riot, resulting in 100 mounted police officers being deployed.
A New York Yankees icon, Lou Gehrig is regarded as one of the finest baseball players to every play. He played his entire 17-year career for the Yankees, winning two American League MVPs and six World Series championships. He had a career .340 batting average, and was the first MLB player to have his uniform number retired by a team.
Lou Gehrig’s Disease
Gehrig was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and would end his career with his famous “The luckiest man on the face of. the Eart” speech. Gehrig’s teammate, Babe Ruth, is pictured attending his open casket funeral after his death on June 2, 1941.
Mahatma Gandhi was the leader of. the Indian independence movement against British rule, and would lead India to independence through nonviolent acts of civil disobedience. Gandhi would challenge the British-imposed salt tax with a 250 mile Dandi Salt March, and would frequently be imprisoned for his acts of protest.
Three Bullets To The Chest
Britain would eventually grant India its independence, but with a Hindu-majority India and a Muslim-majority Pakistan, religious violence broke out. Gandhi was assassinated on January 30, 1948, why Hindu nationalist Nathuram Godse fired three bullets into his chest. Godse made no attempt to escape, and would be tried and executed in 1949.
Goering was one of the most powerful figures in Hitler’s Nazi Party. Serving as his second in command, and was named Hitler’s successor and deputy in all his offices. His standing in the. Nazi Party would decline, and after requesting permission to assume control of the Reich, Hitler removed Goring from all his positions and ordered his arrest.
Crimes Against Humanity
Goring was convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg trials, and was sentenced to death by hanging. He committed suicide by ingesting cyanide the night before he was sentenced to hang. Goring’s body was displayed at the execution ground for the witnesses of the executions.
Edgar Allan Poe
Poe was best known for his poetry and short stories, and is regarded as a central figure in American literature as one of the first to write in the detective fiction genre, as well as early adaptations of science fiction. Being a writer was an obvious financial strain, so he enlisted in the Army. In 1845, he published “The Raven” to instant success.
Cause Of Death Unknown
He planned on producing his own journal The Stylus, but died before it could be produced. At the age of 40, the cause of Poe’s death is unknown, but alcohol, brain congestion, drugs, heart disease, and tuberculosis are all possible attributes.
The King Of Pop was the best-selling music artist at the time of his death, and is considered to be one of the most popular entertainers of all time. Starting with his family and the Jackson 5, Jackson was instrumental in the growth of music videos, particularly with the songs “Beat It”, “Billie Jean”, and “Thriller”, which helped break racial barriers in music videos.
The King Of Pop
Thriller is the best-selling album of all time, and it’s estimated that he’s sold over 350 million records worldwide. While not without controversy during his life, Forbes ranked Jackson the top-earning dead celebrity in 2016, with earnings of. $835 million. Jackson stopped breathing while attempting to sleep, and attempts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful.
James Dean was an American actor and cultural icon thanks to his portrayal of troubled teenager Jim Stark in Rebel Without A Cause. The American Film Institute ranked him the 18th best male movie star of Golden Age Hollywood on their 100 Years… 100 Stars list.
A Love For Autoracing
Dean would become interested in developing an auto racing career, and would compete in a few professional bouts. His movie career would force him to put his racing career on hold while shooting. Dean would die in a car accident on September 30, 1955. While Dean would not have an open casket funeral, he did pose in a casket just months earlier.