Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Original Hollywood Celebrity Death

In a year where celebrity deaths have garnered their fair share of the headlines – most notably with Michael Jackson but also including Farrah Fawcett, Ed McMahon, Walter Cronkite, David Carradine, Karl Malden, Dom DeLuise, Patrick McGoohan, John Hughes, and many more – it is worth taking a look back at the fascination and phenomenon of celebrity deaths. Before there ever was a Michael Jackson (and a CNN that still devotes quite a bit of coverage to his death) or an Elvis Presley, there was an Italian actor known as the "Latin Lover," Rudolph Valentino.

The death of Valentino at the young age of 31 following complications of appendicitis was a devastating blow to the film industry and his countless fans. It has been said that there was a growing false sense of security that actors that graced the silver screen were somehow invincible and larger than life. That illusion came crashing down on August 23, 1926 when Valentino passed away in a hospital in New York. His subsequent funeral in that state drew over 100,000 mourners, which caught the organizers completely off guard and unprepared. While the Los Angeles Times ran with the headline, "Scores in Battle to See Valentino Body," the Chicago Tribune perhaps described it best with their headline, "Riot to See Dead Valentino." The NYPD was forced to deploy a large show of force to disrupt the unruly crowds who were unsatisfied with a two-second glimpse at the dead icon.

Things ran smoother when Valentino's body was returned to Los Angeles, California and he was laid to rest in the then-Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery (now known as Hollywood Forever Cemetery). Another crowd of 80,000 mourners witnessed his casket being carried into the Cathedral Mausoleum where he was ultimately interred. The story of Valentino's legacy did not end there though. In fact, the crypt was only meant to be a temporary home, but the plans went awry. Within years, stories of a woman mourner dressed entirely in black making annual visits to his tomb caught on with the press and began the mystery of the "Lady in Black." In fact, the mystery even served as an inspiration to the famous folk tune, The Long Black Veil, which has been popularized by such names as Johnny Cash and The Band.

Read about it and other stories of Hollywood Forever at Dark Destinations.

-Casey H.

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