Dead Famous

In life, the famous are generally untouchable.
In death, everyone is equal – there is no such thing as a “celebrity graveyard”…


Amedeo Modigliani, Pere Lachaise, Paris

© 1993 A. Slack

L’Amour Fou

The trouble with Pere Lachaise is that it is so jam-packed with famous graves that you tend to flit from one to the other without much time to pause and contemplate each one. So it was with Modigliani – I was aware of the artist and his style of work, but I knew nothing of his life. I didn’t take much notice of his unremarkable stone slab – I just took a shot and moved on.
It was not until I later developed the film that I noticed that there was someone else buried with him. But who was this mysterious 22-year-old female who died the day after him? And how did they die? Did they both succumb to some contagious disease that claimed them both within a matter of hours?
The truth, it turned out, was far more tragic, and there are in fact 3 souls buried under that slab…
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William Blake: Bunhill Fields, London

© 1992 A. Slack

Tyger, Tyger

Bunhill Fields is an extraordinary place. Nestled amongst the modern buildings in the centre of the city of London, lies a small courtyard, surrounded by iron railings and crowded with old gravestones standing shoulder to shoulder, amongst them Daniel Defoe, John Bunyan, and William Blake…
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Jim Morrison, Pere Lachaise, Paris

Jim Morrison
© 1993 A. Slack

An American in Paris

One thing that immediately struck me about Pere Lachaise is the amount of graffiti – I have visited many cemeteries over the years, and although people often leave flowers and little paper messages at many famous graves, it is very rare to find them defaced.

Definitely the most shocking was that of Jim Morrison, where the graffiti covers not only his monument, but all the neighbouring graves as well. Are the perpetrators not aware of the disrespect they are showing the other deceased and the distress this must cause their living loved ones?
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Edith Piaf, Pere Lachaise, Paris

Edith Piaf
© 1993 A. Slack

“Kid Sparrow”

I’m not sure what I was expecting of Edith Piaf’s grave, given that she was such a Parisian legend, but somehow I was surprised to eventually track down a very unprepossessing tomb with a number of unfamiliar names: “Anita Maillard” (her mother), “Louis Gassion” (her father), “Marcelle Dupont” (her infant daughter), “Theo Lamboukas” (her last husband), and “Madame Lamboukas”, the little sparrow herself…
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William Makepeace Thackeray, Kensal Green Cemetary, London

William Makepeace Thackeray
© 1992 A. Slack

Vanity Fair

I knew roughly where W.M. Thackeray was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, but it took me ages to find the actual grave as I was looking for something rather grand. In fact I walked past the unassuming plain tombstone with its tatty plastic container a couple of times before I noticed it and had to double-check that I had indeed found the right place.

I should have known better, as by then I had become accustomed to the law that seemed to state that the greater the person’s fame, the simpler the tombstone – but this really pushed my theory to the limit! I have no idea who had decided that the simple inscription “WMT”, engraved on the side of the tomb, needed to be embellished, and find their attempt rather touching – a plain brown plastic window box as found in any garden centre, with the full name and dates scribbled on the side in black marker pen. I presume that when first placed on the tomb it must have been planted with flowers, but these had long died and all that was left was a crowd of weeds and grasses.

A rather poignant epitaph to someone who was regarded as a bit of a “snob” in his time…
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Oscar Wilde, Pere Lachaise, Paris

© 1993 A. Slack

“Weird Lover Wilde”

I had already seen pictures of Jacob Epstein’s memorial to Oscar Wilde – a 10-ton male angel “flying” over Oscar’s grave. It was paid for by an “anonymous lady in admiration of the poet”. When first erected in 1909 it caused quite an uproar due to its rather large member, which the cemetery authorities soon covered with a discreet plaque in the shape of a fig-leaf. In 1922, it was hacked off – probably by students, although there is a rumour that the cemetery director uses it as a paperweight…

I duly stood at the front and took my own unremarkable version of the image that has been reproduced so many times. On wandering round to the back of the monument though, I was surprised to find the step littered with flowers and little messages to Oscar, some scribbled on old metro tickets and cigarette packets, weighted down with stones. There was also a large plaque completely covered in graffiti. What I found even more fascinating was the fact that most of this graffiti was dated July & August 1993 – within the two months prior to my visit. Do the cemetery authorities perform a “clean-up” every few months, only for people to start over again? Very strange…
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