How Celebrity Funerals Influence the Traditional Funeral

Alternative Funeral Extraordinaire, Ellie Farrell reflects on the recent loss of two timeless icons, Lemmy & Bowie. The music world is in mourning but their influence remains strong. Gone but never forgotten. It cannot be denied these two legends are still trend setting in death.

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– Ellie Farrell –

EllieFarrell

Ellie lives in Birmingham West Midlands, but travels all over the UK performing ceremonies. She has always been interested in wedding customs and worked within the weddings and celebrations industry long before she became a celebrant. Ellie sees ceremony as a rite of passage. One that should be memorable, fun, happy, poignant, reflective and personal. Ellie won ‘Celebrant of the Year’ from United Kingdom Society of Celebrants in 2014.

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The world of music is in mourning after the deaths of two of its icons within two weeks of each other. On December 28th 2015, Motorhead’s Lemmy died aged 70. On January 10th 2016, David Bowie died aged 69. Sadly, both of these legendary icons of music lost their lives to cancer.

Due to social media, fans were able to connect with each other on a global basis to join together in their admiration, memories and grief for their lost heroes. Like so many hundreds of thousands of people, I watched the live streaming of Lemmy’s memorial online.

As a funeral Celebrant, I was intrigued to see what kind of send off one of Stoke’s famous sons would be given at Forest Lawn Cemetery Hollywood. The final resting place to many a celebrity and a cemetery known for its security and privacy of its residents.

Lemmy’s body had been cremated prior to the star studded memorial ceremony. At the front where mourners usually sit and face the coffin, were a pair of Lemmy’s boots, a picture of Motorhead back in the day, a bottle of his beloved Jack Daniels and a specially commissioned urn with Lemmy’s trademark hat on the top of it.

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Lemmy’s funeral was taking place at the Forest Lawn Memorial Cemetery in Los Angeles (|YouTube/PA)


Since Saturday, I have lost count of the number of times I have heard people talking about the memorial in relation to their own funeral plans. As a society, death was a taboo subject and rarely talked about. The death of a celebrity, and the openly viewed memorial has encouraged people to think about their own mortality, and in turn, their funerals.

Personalised urns and coffins have been around for a long time, but are rarely seen in public. When Visage’s front man and a pioneer of the New Romantic era Steve Strange died in February 2015, his coffin was decorated with images of his life and career and carried by friends. Punk Svengalis Malcolm McLaren also had a personalised coffin, complete with a slogan associated with his ideology.

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Just like the wedding industry is influenced by celebrity weddings, the funeral industry is also showing signs of celebrity emulated funerals. One such example is the rise in requests for wicker coffins as comedian Rik Mayall had in 2014. These coffins have been in use for quite a while among people wanting green funerals, but became more mainstream after Rik’s funeral was reported on.

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The death of a celebrity draws our attention to their funeral and in turn encourages us to think of how our send off would be. Gone are the days of sombre religious funeral.  We are now embracing life centred ceremonies, with personalised eulogies, laughter, personalised coffins and urns, and gone is the traditional black clothing for most mourners.

As an Alternative Funeral Celebrant, I perform life centred ceremonies and memorials where the focus of the ceremony is on the deceased person.  There is a now a demand for direct cremation excluding the want or need for a funeral. This is followed, as Lemmy’s was, with a memorial service where the atmosphere is so different to that of a funeral. Memorials revoke a lot happier memories, laughter and see more guests willing and able to speak. Memorials can be held anywhere and last as long as required. A huge contrast to the sterility of a crematorium chapel for twenty to thirty minutes as most people settled for.

Lemmy Urn
As news reports informed us David Bowie’s body had been privately and directly cremated, his choices may influence his fans to do the same. Bowie was an inspiration to many and media reporting on direct cremation brings it into public knowledge, and gives them an alternative choice to the traditional funeral ceremony. Proving Bowie still continues to influence his fans in death as he did in life.

What better way to show a lifelong commitment to a musical or celebrity hero of yours than to go out in the same way your hero did?