Things Rock Stars Were Buried With

While people like to think that, deep down, the rich and famous are – as the tabloid puts it – just like us, in reality, their lives are so very, very different. Living as, say, a rock star even for one day would blow a regular Joe's mind, what with all the fan adoration, the ability to buy anything they want, and the strange job requirements. No human can be really normal after living like that for very long.

So it should come as no surprise that, considering how bizarre their lives are, the deaths of rock stars are often just as strange. Sure, many of them die in sudden or tragic ways, but after their loved ones get the news and things calm down, even then the late rockers can still manage to be so weird. Take their funerals, for instance. They might need walls of security guards, or be attended by thousands of fans, or even be broadcast live.

The trend continues even into those things that go into the ground with rock stars' bodies. When you have tons of money, priceless items, famous friends, and an odd personality molded from years of being way too famous, the resulting decisions of what a rock star is buried with can be eyebrow-raising. While some of the famous musicians on this list chose to be buried with keepsakes anyone could understand not wanting to leave behind, others decided they were going to go a much more rock-star route, even in death.

Ronnie Van Zant

Frontman of the iconic rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd saw plenty of excitement in life, but his death – and, weirdly, his afterlife – have been even more chaotic. According to Britannica, after their first two albums resulted in the hits "Free Bird" and "Sweet Home Alabama," things went horribly wrong. In 1977, a plane carrying the band and others crashed. Ronnie Van Zant was among the casualties.

In an interview with News 4 Jax in 2022, Ronnie's widow Judy Van Zant explained how difficult his sudden and unexpected death made planning the funeral: "emotions were high and decisions had to be made quickly." However, one decision that was apparently easy to make was burying Ronnie with his favorite fishing pole, per History 101. Louder Sound records that while this was a lovely touch and made sense since Ronnie loved to fish, people had to make it weird, claiming they have seen his ghost carrying the pole walking to Lake Delancy.

One thing Ronnie Van Zant was almost certainly not buried with was a Neil Young t-shirt. This urban legend, which even got a mention in Rolling Stone, probably started because after Neil Young's song "Southern Man" and Lynyrd Skynyrd's response with "Sweet Home Alabama," many fans thought the two were feuding. Ronnie decided to start wearing Neil Young t-shirts on tour, to mess with that idea. The blog Report From the Florida Zone notes that when Ronnie Van Zant's grave was vandalized in 2000, people speculated those responsible were trying to find out if the legend was true or not.

Dimebag Darrell Abbott

"Dimebag" Darrell Abbott of the band Pantera was, like many people, a massive fan of Van Halen. According to Van Halen News Desk, even as Pantera became an iconic band in their own right, with Dimebag Darrell in the thick of it for two decades, he still talked constantly in interviews about how much he loved, respected, and was inspired by the other band.

Dimebag Darrell was tragically killed while performing in 2004. On December 8, he was on stage at a venue in Ohio, headbanging and "doing his thing" according to a witness (via Rolling Stone), when a "deranged fan" jumped on the stage, pulled a gun, and shot him dead. The gunman killed three others before being shot by a police officer.

Eddie Van Halen had only met Dimebag Darrell once, a few weeks before the latter died. But when the late singer's brother asked for a copy of the iconic yellow and black "Bumblebee" guitar Van Halen made famous to put in the coffin with Dimebag Darrell, the rocker did one better. When Van Halen arrived for the memorial, he was carrying his actual guitar from the 1970s. His reasoning? "An original should have an original." Van Halen didn't place the guitar in the casket himself, saying he preferred to remember Dimebag Darrell as he was in life, the one time they met.

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Vinnie Paul Abbott

The members of KISS knew their fans would want to trumpet their membership in the KISS Army even unto death. So the band did the logical thing and licensed a KISS coffin. "This is the ultimate Kiss collectible," Gene Simmons said when he unveiled the coffin in 2001, per Ultimate Classic Rock. "I love living, but this makes the alternative look pretty damn good."

When he died in 2018, Vinnie Paul Abbott of the band Pantera was buried in one of these coffins. Even more meaningfully for the drummer and massive KISS fan, the coffin was a gift from Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, according to Blabbermouth. Nor was he the first member of Pantera, or even the Abbott family, to be buried in one of them. In 2004, Vinnie Paul's brother Dimebag Darrell was also laid to rest in a KISS coffin.

KISS guitarist Ace Frehley was not part of the coffin donation, and it came as quite a shock to him – especially since he was a participant in the funeral ceremony. Frehley told the Not Never Funny podcast (via Rock and Roll Garage), "It was crazy, because I had a speech planned, and it went over perfectly. In the church, I'm at the podium, and I spoke for about 10, 12 minutes. And then we get out to the cemetery, and he's in a KISS casket. Vinnie Paul got buried in a KISS casket, and I see my face on the casket, and it weirded me out."

Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll, was a phenomenon. However, people commented on his physical appearance in his last years, which betrayed the fact he was unwell. Still, his death in 1977 at the age of just 42 was a shock.

It was also an event. Elvis in death was almost bigger than Elvis in life. According to The Express, by the time Elvis' body was returned to his Graceland Estate from the hospital, thousands of people were already surrounding his home. His father decided the public would be allowed to walk past Elvis' coffin. This meant he had to look his best. A BBC reporter was allowed in to see the body before everyone else, and decades later, he wrote in The Daily Mail that the rock star was dressed in a black suit and white cravat. The official fan club Elvis Australia records he was also wearing one of his famous "TCB" (Taking Care of Business) lightning bolt rings (a different one is pictured above).

The funeral director, Robert Kendall, later told the poignant story (via The Express) of how Elvis' daughter, the 9-year-old Lisa Marie, put something personal in her father's coffin. Approaching him with a thin bracelet, she asked, "Mister Kendall, can I give this to my daddy?" He agreed, and put it on Elvis' right wrist, as instructed by Lisa Marie, although he made sure to hide it under the rocker's sleeve cuff so none of the thousands of fans who were about to walk past would be tempted to grab a memento to take home.

Bob Marley

Bob Marley wasn't just an amazing musician, Biography says he was the first international superstar from a developing country. He and his band, the Wailers, sold tens of millions of albums and introduced reggae to the wider world. Exposure to Marley's music was also the first time many people learned about the Rastafarian religion.

In 1977, doctors discovered a cancerous growth on Marley's toe. It was serious enough that they wanted to remove the toe in order to stop the cancer from spreading. But since Rastafarianism doesn't allow amputation, Marley decided not to follow medical advice. Sadly, the cancer did spread, and he died in 1981 at the age of 36.

A music journalist who attended (along with 30,000 other people) wrote decades later in The Guardian that Bob Marley's state funeral in Jamaica was often more like a concert. Many people and groups performed, including the Wailers. He also records that in the coffin with Marley were a Bible and his guitar. During the funeral, his widow also placed a cannabis stalk on Marley. While to many the association is just a cliché, the Rastafarian religion believes the Bible commands them to smoke "ganja," and uses marijuana in other religious rituals, including burning it as an offering, per U.S. News and World Report. Some other sources, including the Zambian Telegraph, record there was also a soccer ball in Marley's coffin, and that he was wearing a lion ring given to him by an Ethiopian prince.

GG Allin

Kevin Michael "GG" Allin, frontman of the Murder Junkies, was ... unique, to say the least. Kerrang! explained how Allin was the punkiest of punk rockers, a "poop-smeared man from New Hampshire" who would "slice open his skull with a broken bottle" on stage during a performance, and top it off by eating a women's sanitary product. That wasn't something he did once and it became infamous, either. That was every show. Or at least, the quieter ones.

Allin's life offstage was no less terrifying. As a boy, his father used to dig pits in the basement and threaten the family by saying that's where he would bury them. Allin escaped, at least mentally, by abusing drugs and alcohol. This eventually culminated in an overdose in 1993, when Allin was 36.

The funeral for GG Allin was never going to be normal. According to "Death and the Rock Star," Allin went to the grave as he had requested, with his body unwashed or cleaned in any way after he died. Mourners fed the five-days old corpse — displayed in an open casket — drugs and alcohol, added stickers to his coffin, and drew on the body in marker. Allin went to the grave in a jockstrap, leather jacket, and wearing headphones connected to a Walkman playing one of his albums. (He would have brought a bottle of whiskey as well, but the mourners took it out of the coffin and drank it.)

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Chuck Berry

While the families of many celebrities go to great lengths to keep the funeral of their famous loved one private, this was not the case with Chuck Berry. If you ever find yourself googling his name, you will almost certainly be presented with images of the iconic musician in his coffin at his funeral in 2017. The major event saw 1,000 mourners attend, according to The New York Times, and seemingly all of them took photos and put them online.

However, this does make it very easy to confirm that Berry's coffin was modified to hold one of his Gibson guitars. Attached to the interior of the coffin lid, the head of the red guitar pointed towards Berry's feet, and the lid was deep enough that the coffin could close with the guitar in it. As U Discover Music notes, Berry was also wearing a sailor hat and a sparkly purple shirt.

At least some guitar fans were appalled that Berry was subsequently buried with the guitar. In a 2017 thread in The Les Paul Forums, one poster asked, "Why bury him with a guitar at all? Any guitar associated with him for any extended time would fetch a nice premium at auction." When another poster opined that it was just "for show," they were happy to believe this without proof: "Well THAT is a relief ... what a waste of a perfectly good guitar, otherwise! Seriously, put it in a museum or something." Sorry, y'all.

Chris Bell

Chris Bell's name might not ring a bell to most people, but his band Big Star has achieved cult status, according to Memphis news site Commercial Appeal. However, at the time, it wasn't clear they would ever make it big. After being signed to a small local label and releasing their first LP, the cockily named "#1 Album," to rave reviews, their success was hampered by distribution issues, a drug arrest that ended their tour, and limited radio play.

While he would go on to release a brilliant solo album as well, Chris was deeply hurt by what seemed like the failure of his band. "Depression can come on very strongly at a time of loss," his older brother David Bell told the website. "And it was almost my sense that he had put such an enormous amount of effort into this project, that ["#1 Album's"] failure was a crushing blow."

In 1978, things were finally looking up and the album was being rediscovered. It was even rereleased by a British record company. "[Chris] was over the moon about that," David said. "Because the LP had imprinted on the back 'EMI Records: Hayes, Middlesex, England' — just like all Beatles albums." But just after Christmas, Chris was in a single-car accident and died on impact. He was 27. At his funeral, his love for the music he'd worked so hard on was memorialized: His sister Sarah made sure someone brought a vinyl copy of "#1 Album" to put in the coffin and bury with Chris.

Jim Morrison

Jim Morrison was the controversial frontman for The Doors, whose looks, talent, and gift for performance helped rocket them to fame. But it wasn't all good. According to Biography, after a difficult few years with numerous arrests, as well as an increasingly concerning drug problem, Morrison moved to Paris with his common-law wife Paula Courson to try and get his life together. Sadly, he would meet his death there. Infamously a member of The 27 Club, Morrison died suddenly in his apartment in 1971. While his official cause of death was recorded as heart failure, there was no autopsy and it's widely accepted his drug use was the underlying cause.

"Jim Morrison: Life, Death, Legend" records that the rock star's unexpected death in a foreign country meant his burial was rushed and chaotic. While his gravesite in Paris' Pere Lachaise Cemetery seems like a fancy, exclusive location today, at the time, the only good thing about it was that it was available. Jim was dressed in a baggy suit and laid out in the cheapest coffin available, even though it was too small. Before the coffin was closed forever, Courson says she found every photo of her and Morrison she had in their apartment and put them in with him.

These days, Morrison's gravesite is one of the most visited in Pere Lachaise.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

James Brown and Michael Jackson

For two musical icons like James Brown and Michael Jackson, who lived lives as big as the performances they gave on stage, it's no surprise that they both went out the same way, with massive funerals that were just as much a show.

Brown was the first of the two to die, passing away in 2006. According to Yahoo! Entertainment, his funeral took place in the famous Apollo Theater in New York City and saw thousands of mourners attend. This means Brown is another one of those celebrities whose corpses are plastered across the internet. The most shocking thing about those photos, however, might be the coffin his body was in. It even has a name: The Promethean. Costing up to $30,000 in 2006 money, it was solid bronze and plated in 24-carat gold. 

One of the many celebrities who got to spend time with Brown's body before the larger ceremony was Michael Jackson. He was obviously transfixed. "He stood there, I guess, an hour or so just looking," funeral director Charles Reid told the New York Daily News (via Yahoo! Entertainment). "He asked who requested the gold-plated casket. I said, 'Well, it's the family's decision.' He asked if that's something Mr. Brown wanted. I said, 'Entertainers, they always say solid gold.'"

Jackson must have taken this to heart. When he died in 2009, he too was buried in The Promethean (pictured), per TMZ.

Michael Hutchence

As the frontman for INXS, Michael Hutchence was a major sex symbol and world-famous. Before his sudden death in 1997 at age 37, he had released a solo album, and had a child with Paula Yates. From the outside, things looked really good for him.

In 2004, Michael's brother Rhett released the memoir "Total XS," which was excerpted in The Sydney Morning Herald. He wrote at length about the difficulty finding out what had happened to Michael when rumors were swirling that he had died. Everyone Rhett contacted was evasive. Finally, he was told his brother had died by suicide in an Australian hotel room.

Michael Hutchence was cremated (which Rhett says was a controversy in the family), but before that, he did have a viewing in a coffin. Rhett remembers watching his mother clip some locks of Michael's hair, and take some buttons off his suit. Rhett, however, placed items in the coffin. Michael wouldn't have been cremated with them later, but they still symbolically meant a lot. Rhett writes that "[I] placed a Marlboro Light in his inside jacket pocket. It was a personal thing: he was always asking me for a ciggie. I also placed a photo of [my wife] Mandy and me." However, Michael's partner had a more concerning memento for his coffin: "Paula [Yates] later told me she put a gram of smack in his pocket."

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