We may not know where our favorite stars go after the final curtain falls. But thanks to Dearly Departed Tours, we can see where some of them were when they took their final bow. Founded in 2005 by Scott Michaels, who has been interested in death since attending a funeral at the age of three, Dearly Departed delivers. In two-and-a-half information-packed hours you’ll see where some shining stars twinkled away, and where others got taken away. I recently hopped on one of the tours and had a great time.
One thing was clear from the start. Richard wasn’t one of those part-time tour guides who blankly recite a canned speech while waiting for their “big break.” His movie knowledge was impressive, he had a passion for Hollywood history and was an entertaining speaker.
One of the tour’s first stops was the Knickerbocker Hotel. It’s where William Frawley, who played Fred Mertz in the 1950s TV show I Love Lucy, expired. He had actually collapsed from a heart attack on the sidewalk outside, and was then carried into the hotel’s lobby. We paused in silence for a moment in front of the hotel, and then (like Frawley I hope) moved on.
Under bright and cheery Spring skies, our dark tour continued, turning and twisting through quiet, wealthy neighborhoods that secreted the uneasy allure of celebrity death. We paid our respects to the last residence of Michael Jackson. Stopping near the gate of the $100,000 a month rental in Holmby Hills, Richard played a recording of the actual 9-1-1 call for us.
After that, we swung up and around the Chateau Marmont. Passing its entrance, we stopped along a long wooden fence that hid the hotel’s property. To our right was a little gate and a metal number 3. “Past this gate in Bungalow 3 is where John Belushi overdosed,” Richard announced. He then held up a dated photo. In it a van marked “Coroner,” surrounded by paparazzi, was in the same spot we were now.
As our tour continued, so did the death toll. It began to seem like every building, every corner was growing darker. Was it the shadows of mortality mixing with the bright April sunshine? Or maybe it was just getting later in the day. At any rate, I began to think that Hollywood was a dangerous place for celebrities, a Bermuda Triangle for the cinematically charismatic.
For years, Hollywood had been a factory town, producing dreams, escapism and hope for the world. And it also rocketed otherwise ordinary people into mythical gods and goddesses. Although some of these celebrities simply faded away, others exploded like starbursts. And Dearly Departed Tours does a great job of keeping those echoes alive.