The most epic funerals of all time

Everyone dies, and it's up to those who are still living to figure out what to do with their remains. Sometimes, the dead leave elaborate instructions. Other times, the families of the deceased come up with a grand, final send-off for their loved ones.

Funerals can be meant to show off the deceased's wealth or power, with huge ceremonies making sure that the dead leave just as much of a mark on the world as they did in life. Sometimes, a relatively humble person is so beloved that their funeral becomes something great.

Some funerals are so big that they become a cultural event unto themselves. The memorial not only serves as a reminder of a person who died, but also that all humans, no matter how remarkable, will eventually pass away as well. These epic funerals are, in a way, a comforting reminder that death comes for us all.

Alexander the Great had the most expensive funeral in history

Alexander the Great was one of the original empire builders. A Macedonian king, Alexander was undefeated in his military exploits, conquering a huge portion of the globe in just a few years. Alexander died at the young age of 32 while visiting Babylon in approximately 323 BCE. Contemporary reports say he took ill and died over the course of several days. Historians suspect he was poisoned or caught malaria.

Regardless, according to historian Diodoris, Alexander was said to have been placed in a solid gold sarcophagus, which was then placed into a solid gold casket, which was carried by a solid gold carriage pulled by 64 mules — who were not made of gold — from Babylon all the way back to Greece, where a specially built tomb awaited. Some modern sources estimate the cost of the funeral to have been about $600 million in today's money, but that's really more a guess than a hard fact. The point is, it was incredibly expensive. 

Alexander's corpse never even made it where it was meant to go, according to Tour Egypt. His friend Ptolemy intercepted the procession and stole Alexander's sarcophagus because of a prophecy of great wealth that would befall the country where Alexander was buried. Ptolemy, who had much influence in Egypt, interred the body in Memphis. After this, the sarcophagus traded hands a number of times before disappearing. To this day, the locations of the sarcophagus and Alexander's tomb are lost.

James Doohan entered the final frontier

When you think of pop culture set in space, it's very likely that Star Trek is one of the first things to pop into your head. Over numerous TV shows and movies, the franchise has established itself as one of the greatest sci-fi series to date. So when Celestis, a company that will launch a portion of a person's ashes into space on a private rocket, debuted, it made sense that people associated with the show would want to be included. Creator Gene Roddenberry and Majel Barrett Roddenberry, for example, have both had some of their remains taken into orbit, according to Space.com.

James Doohan, who played Montgomery "Scotty" Scott in the original series, also had his ashes shot into space by Celestis in 2008. Just one problem: his ashes, and those of over 200 others, didn't make it there. The rocket carrying the ashes failed to break from Earth's gravity. According to Reuters, the ashes were actually lost for about three weeks before they were finally located. 

In 2012, Celestis took another shot and this time successfully got Doohan's ashes into Earth's orbit via an unmanned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. As planned, the ashes orbited for about a year before gravity pulled them back into the atmosphere and they burned up on re-entry. A fitting end for one of the people who brought space into our living rooms for decades.

Princess Diana's funeral was watched by billions

Diana, Princess of Wales, was only 20 when she married Prince Charles and instantly thrust into the limelight. She became an icon through the 80s and 90s, spending her time working with charities focused on land mine removal and AIDS treatment. Even after her divorce from Prince Charles, she was still wildly popular around the world. So, it was a shock when she died in a car accident in 1997 at only 36.

Diana's funeral was massive, with people lining the streets of London to mourn. In a move that was still unusual at the time, the event was also broadcast live all over the world. In the end, around 2.5 billion people watched, according to History. That was nearly half of the world's population in 1997, meaning about 1 in every 2.35 people watched the memorial. It was a phenomenon, with sights like Princes William and Harry (then very young) walking behind her casket becoming cultural touchstones.

Then there was Elton John's reimagining of "Candle in the Wind," originally written with Bernie Taupin about Marilyn Monroe. It has been performed live exactly once, at the funeral, but was also released as a studio single. To date, it remains the best-selling single to ever hit the charts according to Forbes, and it's likely to keep that title now that singles are in decline.

Genghis Khan's funeral inspired a lot of murder

Genghis Khan, Mongolian warlord who conquered much of Asia throughout his life, was almost as deadly in death. After dying in 1277 — due to wounds sustained in battle, illness, or falling off his horse, depending on who you ask — Genghis Khan had what could be described as the most violent funeral of all time. Genghis Khan had left instructions for his burial, requesting that he be laid to rest in the tradition of his tribe, according to The Vintage News. This meant being buried in an unmarked grave in his homeland, near the Onon River.

According to History, Khan's body was given a funeral procession of 800 soldiers. The soldiers are said to have killed everyone who attended the funeral as well as everyone they encountered along the way to Khan's homeland to protect the location of his burial and prevent enemies from desecrating his remains. They reached the Onon River, buried Khan with no marker, and then were either killed by another group of soldiers upon their return or committed mass suicide, so that everyone who could have known where Khan was buried was now also dead.

It's also said that the soldiers trampled the dirt over Khan's grave with their horses to disguise that a burial had occurred there. Some legends even assert that the soldiers diverted the flow of the Onon River to cover Khan's grave, thus ensuring that his remains stayed at rest.

Tupac Shakur went up in smoke

After his death at the age of 25, groundbreaking musician Tupac Shakur didn't have a public funeral. His mother, Afeni Shakur, opted to instead have a private ceremony in which Tupac was cremated. That would have been the end of things, but Tupac's frequent collaborators, The Outlawz, somehow managed to get their hands on some of his ashes.

According to NME, the group went to an LA beach, rolled up a joint, and sprinkled the ashes inside. They then smoked the ashes of Tupac Shakur. They say they got the idea from Tupac's song, "Black Jesus," which includes the line, "Last wishes, n****s smoke my ashes." Afterwards, they reportedly threw some of Tupac's favorite things into the ocean, like chicken wings and orange soda, in addition to some more weed. 

The Outlawz claim that Afeni Shakur was present and joined in. Afeni Shakur and the rest of Tupac's family deny this. According to BET, Afeni has stated she would have never agreed to that, and said The Outlawz could only have done this by stealing some of Tupac's ashes. It's unclear who's telling the whole story here, and it even sounds like it's possible it didn't happen at all. Like so many things about Tupac's death, we'll likely never know.

Kim Jong-il's memorial statue cost more than most celebrity funerals

Kim Jong-il took over leadership of North Korea when his father, Kim Il-sung, passed away in 1994. North Korean government is structured around its Supreme Leader, thus making Kim Jong-il effectively dictator of North Korea. A major part of this includes being the focus of a cult of personality that the North Korean government has created around its leaders. Kim Il-sung's funeral had been a massive state event, so when Kim Jong-il passed in 2011, the North Koreans wanted to do something similarly huge for him.

Kim Il-sung had a 20-meter-tall bronze statue dedicated to him in 1972 atop Mansu Hill in Pyongyang. After Kim Jong-il's death, a similar one was made of him. The thing is that a 20-meter-tall bronze statue in 2011 is a lot more expensive than one created in 1972. In fact, Kim Jong-il's statue cost approximately $10 million to build according to The Telegraph, and that's not counting updates to Kim Il-sung's statue made at the same time. The statue alone is more expensive than almost any other funeral in history. 

There was also a 25-mile funeral procession, according to The New York Times. And if that weren't enough, even the land itself purportedly mourned Kim Jong-il. As reported in The Star, North Korea's state-run news agency claimed that dozens of supernatural events occurred throughout the country in the wake of Kim Jong-il's death.

The Red Baron's funeral included full military honors

Manfred von Richthofen, better known as The Red Baron, was one of the fiercest pilots in World War I. A legendary dogfighter with 80 combat victories in the air, the Baron, real name Manfred von Richthofen, and his bright red plane struck fear in the hearts of the Allied forces. So nicknamed because of the aforementioned plane and the fact that he was actually of noble birth, the Red Baron became famous both in Germany and outside of it, too.

On April 21, 1918, though, the Baron's number finally came up. He was shot flying into Allied airspace in France, chasing a pair of Canadian pilots. He was able to stay alive long enough to perform a rough landing, but died moments later. Since the Baron's plane went down in Allied territory, and considering his infamy, it seemed his remains might be fated for an ignominious disposal.

Instead, Allied forces gave him a burial with full military honors. They even had a wreath made that called him a "Gallant and Worthy Foe," according to Thursday Review. Silent film footage, a rarity at the time, actually exists of the ceremony and shows Allied forces giving him a respectful burial. He was initially interred in France, though he was later moved to Germany after the war, and then a final time to a family plot at his home.

C. N. Annadurai had the most attended funeral ever

Imagine 15 million people. It's hard, right? Beyond like 100 people our sense of the size of crowds is pretty fuzzy. So to break it down, AT&T Stadium, where the Dallas Cowboys play, has a total capacity of 100,000 people if you include standing room. Now multiply that by 150, and that's 15 million people. It's a whole lot, one of the largest gatherings in history, in fact, and they all came together for the memorial of Indian politician C. N. Annadurai in 1969, giving him the honor of having the most attended funeral to date.

While Annadurai was beloved in India, he's largely unknown outside of the country, so some background is necessary. Annadurai, called Anna by his constituents (which is a shortening of Annadurai, but also means "elder brother" in the Tamil language), was wildly popular as Chief Minister of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu thanks to his skills as an orator. He was also a playwright and novelist, to boot, and found success there as well.

But after being in office only two years, Annadurai died from oral cancer, cutting his political career short and leading to 15 million people from all over India to make their way to Tamil Nadu for his funeral. According to DT Next, special trains were run (they were ticketed but this wasn't enforced) all over the country to bring people to Tamil Nadu. Photos from the event depict a for-real sea of mourners.

Jim Henson had a send-off from The Muppets

Jim Henson was a multi-talented artist and creator, but he was best known for his work on Sesame Street, directing the films The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, and most memorable of all, creating The Muppets. Chances are, your childhood or the childhood of someone you know was hugely influenced by Jim Henson's works. He died in 1990 from toxic shock stemming from an infection in his lungs and the world became a sadder place.

But Henson had insisted years before that his funeral be a joyous affair. He requested a jazz band, and that no one wear black. He got both of those things and more. While Henson's funeral was private, his friends and family held two public memorials for him, one in New York City and another in London, according to Consequence of Sound. These celebrations included eulogies from those who had worked with him, musical performances, and even appearances by the Muppets themselves. Big Bird, one of Henson's most iconic characters, sang a heartbreaking version of "Being Green," a song typically sung by Henson's other most famous creation, Kermit the Frog.

Several months later, a televised memorial for Henson aired, called The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson. The Muppets, in character, learn about their creator and what he was like, then decide to hold a memorial for him. It is also a proven remedy for dry eyes, and copies of it can still be found today.

Willie McCoy had a meaty memorial

You might not recognize the name of Willie "Wolf Johnson" McCoy, but you've probably heard his voice. In the 90s, Chili's created one of the most famous commercials of the decade, which featured cooks in their kitchen singing a song about their baby back ribs. The jingle became infamous, and one of the most striking parts was the deep bass refrain of "Barbecue sauce." That bass voice was Willie McCoy.

A professional singer for most of his life, McCoy's most famous recording by far was the Chili's jingle, and he was apparently fond of the song himself. Enough so that after he died in 2012, he was laid to rest in a coffin shaped like a barbecue smoker. His funeral service included ribs for attendees, a barbecue sauce fountain, and even a few live pigs wandering around, according to Gawker. The preacher wore a chef's hat, and the pallbearers wore aprons.

The funeral was put together by Golden Gate Funeral Home in Dallas, TX, who are known for throwing large and extravagant funerals. It even spawned a short-lived TV show on TLC called Best Funeral Ever, which featured McCoy's funeral in its pilot episode. The show didn't last long, with critics calling it tasteless, and was cancelled after only eight episodes. Golden Gate Funeral Home is still around, though, if you've got a food-themed funeral in mind.