Some may say that walking around a cemetery is macabre but I have always found a cemetery to be a place of quiet contemplation. Cemeteries oftentimes reflect a city’s outlook on itself and its culture. Attitudes to death vary wildly according to geographical and cultural reasons.
In India death is classed as a steeping stone to the afterlife and open cremations alongside the sacred River Ganges is a daily thing. La Recoletta Cemetery in Buenos Aires draws thousands of tourists yearly to look at massive mausoleums, their occupiers enjoying death as they lived. The bigger the mausoleum, the bigger the status of the dearly departed interred within.
The City Of Angels has more than its fair share of once famous faces that have popped off this mortal coil. Stars of the golden age of Hollywood as well as more than a few musicians, directors and producers can be found in the peaceful surroundings of Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery, better known today as Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Opening originally on a 100 acre plot of land in 1899.
Where Is Hollywood Forever Cemetery?
The only cemetery actually situated in Hollywood, Hollywood Forever sits in what is now 62 peaceful acres of well maintained gardens abutting Paramount Studios. The entrance to the cemetery is at 6000 Santa Monica Boulevard.
In 1917, 40 unused acres were sold to Peralta And Brunton Studios. Paramount brought the studios in 1926 and has remained ever since making them the only studio company to still be situated actually in Hollywood. If you are visiting Paramount Studios for their fascinating tour then a visit to Hollywood Forever is only 20 minutes walk from the exit of the Paramount Studio Tour.
Visiting Hollywood Forever Cemetery
The cemetery is generally open from 0830 until 1700 or 1730 depending on the time of the year. Entrance is free but a map showing locations of notable grave sites costs $5 from the flower store on the right hand side of the entrance. Alternatively, running mainly on weekends, you can book a guided 2.5 hour walking tour through the Cemetery Tours website.
Like Paramount Studios, it is far from the reaches of the anaemic Los Angeles Metro rail system. Getting here is easiest if you drive although parking can be a bit of a nightmare in the local area. Local transport options will usually entail a bus ore two and a few minutes walking. If you don’t want to drive, getting here will be much less hassle using Uber or Lyft, two most popular ride sharing apps around. With LA so spread out and no shortage of people looking to get around, using either Uber or Lyft in this city is actually quite cost effective if you can get a local sharing option which should only take 5 or so minutes more than a private ride.
Peace & Serenity In Hollywood Forever Cemetery
A great many people interred here you will not recognise. Wandering around the immaculately kept lawns you will be taken with how quiet and peaceful it is here. In the centre of Hollywood, next door to one of the World’s most iconic movie studios is 60+ acres of perfectly manicured lawns framed by giant marble mausoleums. It’s such a contrast to the world outside the gates, yet strolling along the tarmac roads that criss cross the site its easy to see why so many of Hollywood’s elite choose the spend eternity here.
After years of neglect and nearing bankruptcy in the mid 1990’s, Hollywood Forever was purchased by its current owners in 1998. After a multi year, multi million dollar renovation and refurbishment the cemetery is once again open to the public.
Stepping through the gates and into the world of the dead, the change in background noise is almost eerily instant. Tombstones and mausoleums of all shapes and sizes radiate out in all directions from the entrance. Initially finding your bearings is a little hazy. Most big names, with the exception of 1 true superstar, are located at the far left end, in or near ‘Section 8’. Time seems to zip by just strolling around the impossibly green lawns admiring the intricate work on some of the tombstones.
If you have come here for a specific person instead of “just because”, then you will definitely either want to do your homework in advance so you know where to head or purchase the recently updated map that shows the locations of all major celebrities. By making a beeline for just one person, you are missing the point of the cemetery. It was designed as a lawn park. Spacious and simple complemented by monuments and markers, the park like setting was revolutionary at the time of it’s opening. The point of Hollywood Forever is to come, wander and lose yourself in the setting.
Stars Of Hollywood Forever
(Map Reference 205)
Originally buried in Ferncliff Cemetery in New York following her untimely death in 1969 by her third husband, Mickey Deans. On the anniversary year of what would be her 95th birthday In June 2017, her remains were transferred 2,800miles “home to Hollywood” by her surviving children, Liza Minelli, Lorna Luft and Joe Luft. You can pay your respects in the family Pavilion named after her. Turn right once you hit Bob and Carol Trierweiler Way. It’s just to the left of the Abbey Of Psalms Pavilion entrance.
(Map Reference 104)
If you are of a certain age, Estelle Getty will forever be remembered as Sophia Petrillo, the gag laden octogenarian in hit 1980’s sitcom The Golden Girls. The Emmy and Golden Globe wining actress also appeared as a guest star in many television shows. She died just 3 days short of her 85th birthday in July 2008 of DLB (Dementia with Lewy Bodies), a neurodegenerative disease.
(Map Reference 84)
Beginning his long running career in radio, Mel Blanc will be remembered for his voice talents in many of the popular Warner Brothers produced Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons as well as Hanna Barbera in later years. He was the voice of all of Warner Brothers most endearing male cartoon characters including Bug Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Sylvester the Cat, Tweety and Yosemite Sam to name a few. His voice talents for Hanna Barbera may not be as numerous, they have still had a long lasting effect on popular culture. Captain Caveman, Barney Rubble from The Flintstones and Cosmo Spacely from The Jetsons. He also provided his voice talents to the endearing Tom & Jerry cartoon series. A life long smoker, he died of emphysema suddenly at the age of 81 in 1989.
Douglas Fairbanks & Douglas Fairbanks Jr
(Map Reference 73 & 74)
Hollywood Royalty, Douglas Fairbanks was a co-founder of the Motion Picture Academy and hosted the first Oscar ceremony on 1929. He is best remembered for his starring roles in silent films of the 1920’s including Robin Hood, The Mark Of Zorro and The Thief Of Baghdad. When “talkies” came around in the 1930’s his popularity declined. In 1919, along with his future wife, Mary Pickford and best friend, Charlie Chaplin, he set up United Artists to protect their independence from the studio system of early Hollywood. He died of a heart attack at the age of just 56 in 1939, 5 years after he made his final film.
Fairbanks Junior meanwhile also starred in many Hollywood and British produced productions. He was enlisted to US Navy in 1941 with the advent of World War II. He won many medals for his bravery and dedication, ultimately retiring with the rank of Captain. He joined his father in May 2000 after he died of a heart attack at the grand age of 90. Their shared marble monument sits at the end of a long rectangular reflecting pool commissioned by Fairbanks Senior’s wife in 1941. Two years after his death, Fairbanks Senior was moved from Forest Lawn Memorial Park just over 5 miles north of Hollywood Forever in Glendale. In the summer this area hosts Cinespia, a gathering with films projected onto the white marble wall of the Cathedral Mausoleum. The cemetery also hosts music shows.
Griffith J Griffith
(Map Reference 5)
A wealthy philanthropist, welsh born Griffith Jenkins Griffith donated 3015 acres of land to the city of Los Angeles with the expressed intention that it be used as a public space. He also left the city the funds to build the Greek Amphitheatre (1929) and world famous Griffith Observatory (1939). Griffith Observatory is the best place to see the sun set over the City Of Angels as well as the equally famous Hollywood sign on nearby Mount Lee. A secret alcoholic, his generous donations to Los Angeles were marred by the intentional shooting of his wife in 1903. She survived but was left disfigured and lost her right eye. He served 2 years in San Quentin Penitentiary for a reduced charge of ‘assault with a deadly weapon’. He died of liver failure in 1919. An obelisk marks his final resting place at the north end of Section 7, also known as Griffith Lawn.
(Map Reference 58)
Hollywoods original sex symbol, young Rudolph Valentino was adored by millions of people discovering the delights of silent cinema. Upon his tragic death aged just 31 in 1926 of peritonitis brought on by surgery for appendicitis and gastric ulcers, an estimated 100,000 people lined streets to pay their respects.
(Map Reference 50)
One half founder of punk rock band The Ramones, Johnny’s life was cut short after a 5 year battle with prostate cancer in September 2004 aged 54. His remains were cremated after his death with his wife Linda retaining them. An 8ft tall bronze statue In the Garden Of Legends Section gives fans a place to pay their respects and still attracts many people daily.
(Map Reference 203)
Another tragic loss of life at such a young age. Anton Yelcin’s career was just starting to gain traction after he was cast as Pavel Chekov in the 2009 Star Trek reboot and two of its sequels. The 27 year old had already starred or guest starred in many films and television series. In June 2016, in a “freak accident” his body was discovered by friends pinned between his car, which had rolled back, a pillar and security fence on his steep driveway outside his home in Studio City. The official cause of death is listed as blunt traumatic asphyxia. His lungs were crushed by his Jeep and it is estimated that he died within a minute of it happening.
(Map Reference 195)
World famous director and producer Tony Scott, younger brother of Ridley Scott, brought us countless iconic moments through his movies. Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop II, Days Of Thunder, True Romance, Enemy Of the State, The Last Boy Scout. The list goes on. Just 2 days before his death he was scouting locations with Tom Cruise for a Top Gun sequel. Just after midday on 19th August 2012, Tony Scott jumped to his death from the Vincent Thomas Bridge. Contradicting the LA County Coroner’s report, Ridley Scott publicly stated that his younger brother was fighting a private battle with cancer when the coroner’s report stated that none could be found.
(Map Reference 208)
Troubled singer/songwriter Chris Cornell is Hollywood Forever’s newest resident in perpetuity. One early morning in mid may 2017 he was found dead in his room at the MGM Grand in Detroit just hours after playing a gig with Soundgarden. The 52 year old was found on the bathroom floor with an exercise cord around his neck and blood in his mouth. Only prescription medications were found in his system. He had talked several times throughout his meteoric career about suicidal thoughts and an almost constant battle with depression. Hopefully he can find some semblance of peace in death that he so craved in life.
Other Notable Entries
There are simply too many people laid to rest here to list. Some others that may interest you include Cecile B Demille (Map Ref 33), arguably one of the greatest directors Hollywood has ever known. His list of credits include the Ten Commandments (1923 & 1956), Cleopatra (1934) and The Greatest Show On Earth (1952). Another Cinema Great, John Huston (Map Ref 43), father of Angelica Huston and director of Moby Dick (1956) and The Maltese Falcon (1941).
Unlike his brother, Dee Dee Ramone (Map Ref 51) is actually buried here, not far from his brother’s statue following a heroin overdose in 2002. Fay Wray (Map Ref 55), the damsel in distress in the original King Kong and star of 100 films in her career has a peaceful plot. A star on both stage and screen, Peter Lorre (Map Ref 66) is perhaps most well remembered for his roles in Casablanca (1942) and The Maltese Falcon (1941).
Legendary voice-over artist Don LaFontaine (Map Ref 85) voiced more than 5000 movie trailers spanning 30 years. You may not know his face but you certainly will know his voice. Founding member of Murder, Inc. and legendary 1920’s mobster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel (map Ref 98) is interred in the Hall Of Solomon that backs onto Paramount Studios. Lana Clarkson (Map Ref 166) has gained a cult following since her life ended tragically after being on the wrong end of a gun barrel in 2003. In a court case that gripped America, Phil Spector was convicted of her murder in 2009.
Hollywood Forever isn’t going to be for everyone. It’s not particularly easy to get to or central to most other sights but visitors are rewarded with a little bit of peace in Hollywood surrounded by some of Hollywood’s elite. It’s somewhat poetic that in death so many of the people interred here have a view out to the world famous Hollywood sign while still being so close to a studio that was instrumental to their lives. Strolling around the quiet gardens and mausoleums there is an air of calm that simply can’t be found anywhere else in the crowded city of Los Angeles and that makes Hollywood Forever Cemetery unique.