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Confession time, I am afraid of dying. It has scared me most of my life. This isn’t really the place to get into why but I am. I don’t like thinking about it because once my mind opens that door, well the thoughts can get dangerous pretty quickly. But today we are throwing that key away and busting down the door with the power of the typed word.
While I am afraid of dying, one of my favorite types of places anywhere is cemeteries. I love to wander around and look at the headstones and look at the lives of the past, known and unknown. Who were they? What were the moments of joy and pain in their lives? What were the last thoughts or images that the eyes had recorded? Was the end a moment of howling agony or a quiet time in which they just simply just didn’t wake up? Lots of questions and almost no answers. I walk among the names and I try to comfort my own soul for at least a moment.
And that brings us to today’s story, Hollywood Forever. It is a cemetery in Los Angeles, California, that was founded way back in 1899. Now there are some famous and some not-so-famous people here, I mean this is Hollywood after all and many people toil in and out of the limelight. As I walked along with its quiet park-like lawns I took notice of some of the names that I saw, Some I knew and some that until I wrote this, didn’t. So let’s go explore some of these people and let’s ask many questions that have no answers at all.
He was one of the founding members of one of the most important rock bands ever, The Ramones. He was born John William Cummings in Queens New York City on October 8, 1948. His music, Punk, was not for everyone but it has affected culture all over the world. He is one of the big draws to the cemetery but there are a lot of stories to learn about as you walk along with the dead.
Now Johnny lived one of those lives like many that had super highs and some super lows. He was that rocker that people loved and then he also stole his best friend’s woman. Now I start this journey here with John because I honestly thought, well this is gonna be a quick trip here, and then ill be done. But that’s not how it went at all, the more I walked around the more I saw in the names, that lives were sorta ruined and ruled by fame. I often wonder what this chase for glory will lead us to, and what dark path will we as people go into just to be wanted by the world.
Johnny died far too young, at the age of 55, but sometimes you do not have to live long to leave a wide mark on the world.
I know that this name means nothing to you but look at the above picture. From it, you would think that this was someone important, someone, that was part of the culture. Maybe a Hollywood star of a bygone era or perhaps some big-shot Hollywood executive who was leaving one last reminder of how important he was. Nope, This man was none of those things. Instead, he was a furniture maker and owner of a famous store in Los Angeles. Yeah, he wasn’t known outside a small group of people, and yet look at that statue, it’s a fine work of art.
I walked by this statue and I read the name and nothing came to mind. I pulled out my phone and did a search, but nothing. He wasn’t anyone famous, just someone who made an impact on the world and was well-liked. Maybe that’s all we need. Too often we place how important we are on how big we are. How bright our name shines in the light when it should be, how big are we when our name doesn’t shine in the light? Make or do something that people admire like a craft, raise a family or even be a good soul and that should be enough to be remembered. And yeah a statue doesn’t hurt at all.
He was born Christopher John Boyle on July 20, 1964, to a catholic father and to a Jewish mom who was a self-proclaimed psychic. He suffered from severe depression, panic disorder, anxiety, and agoraphobia yet became one of the biggest rock stars of the early 1990s. We never know what others are dealing with in life, we see the highs but rarely do we see the lows that occur behind closed doors. Some may talk about the struggle that haunts our minds but until you walk in someone’s shoes, then all the words in the world never really express how that mind really feels.
Like many, I loved the music that Chris made and while It was no secret that he had his demons, when he took his life, well it was a shock. How could someone who had everything just go out and hang himself? So many questions about the meaning of happiness and joy. While there have been some raised questions about medications and their effects in this story, the question is still a valid one because those demons take the lives of so many every single day. People who have what we all want on the outside and yet on the inside, there is a war going on that eats at them and then one day, gone. The battle is over and the ones who are hurt are the ones left behind.
As someone who has fought my own demons all my life, this life seemed tragic and dark but I try my best to look at the light, to look for the good in everything. Chris Cornell left a lot of music that brings joy to many all over the world and while he is gone, he isn’t forgotten.
It might seem like an odd thing to some but cemeteries are many times a great place to find art. This headstone for the late director Tony Scott is a great example. A man climbing to the top. This isn’t your normal plain Christian headstone. No this one which has a list of films that he directed on one side, is a work of art that could be in any museum in the world.
She was the first African American to win an Oscar for her role as Mammy in Gone with the Wind. That alone should be a note but Hattie McDaniels should be known for her struggle after that award was given to her. Racism was alive in 1939 as sure as it is today.
It is claimed that Clark Gable himself recommended McDaniel for the role of the made in the movie. She was by the time of the movie a well-liked actress among other performers but the role was not easy to get. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt wrote to try to have her own maid be cast in the role. While it was not the lead, it was still a great role for her to land.
When the film premiered in 1939 in Atlanta, she was not allowed to attend because it was held in a whites-only theater. The Grand Theater on Peachtree Street was the site of the premier, a palace that you can still visit by the way. Gable threatened to not attend if she wasn’t allowed to attend but he backed off when McDaniel convinced him to go anyways. Now she was at the Hollywood debut of the film and in fact, has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. But that’s not to say that all was sunshine in Hollywood because California like much of the country then was a place in which blacks were segregated from whites in many places.
The Oscars ceremonies for 1939 were held on February 29, 1940, in Los Angeles at the Ambassador Hotel. She was made to sit at a table for two on the side of the room, the hotel had a no blacks policy but allowed her in as a favor to the studio that made the film, MGM. She was not allowed to go to an after-party as this was held at a no-blacks club. Another black woman would not win the award for 50 years.
Her time as a great actress on-screen was short-lived, as she passed away on October 26, 1952, of breast cancer at the age of 59. One of her final wishes was to be buried at Hollywood Cemetery, as it was known at the time. However, this was also denied to her as the cemetery had a policy of not allowing blacks to be buried there. She is now buried elsewhere but the below pictures show a cenotaph, which is an empty tomb, which was finally placed in her honor in 1999.
As a sad side note, after her death, her Oscar was sold and is still missing to this day.
27 is too young to be gone. People die every day at an old age and unfortunately, they also die at a young one too. War, famine, drugs, and incurable diseases are some of the sad ways people leave our world. But at 27 and crushed by your own car should not be the way that anyone goes.
Anton Yelchin was born in Russia but came to the United States at the age of six months and grew up in Southern California. His parents were figure skating trainers, and his father was Sasha Cohen’s coach at one time. But his fate was not on the ice but on the screen. He was in films like Hearts in Atlantis, Fright Night, and of course in the Star Trek films starting in 2009 playing Chekov. He was well-liked and had many fans all over the world, his future was bright.
On June 19, 2016, he was found pinned between his Jeep Grand Cherokee and a brick post outside his house. He had gotten out of his car to check a gate and mail and the car rolled back down his driveway after it was not put into park. Such a tragic way for a life to end.
I wonder what those final moments were like, was the blow all at once, or did it slowly happen? As I walked along with the statue that is on his gravesite I took in a deep breath and tried my best to shake that thought out of my mind. Some reach the peak of the mountain and fall, while others fall before making it to the top, both are tragic in their own rights.
He was born Joseph Yule Jr., and for over 90 years he was a star. While some die young. Others live long lives which seems like a fairy tale of sorts. He made his debut at the age of 6 on the stage and by the age of 19 was nominated for his first Oscar in 1939. He helped to entertain the troops in World War II for nearly two years. The number of movies and TV shows that he was a part of is long and pointless to list here but he was a part of the entertainment of the world for a long time. But one of his final roles was of Gus in the film, Night at the Museum, which is where a lot of younger people would know him from.
But the life of a star isn’t all sunshine if you haven’t noticed the theme of a lot of these stars in this piece so far.
Fame followed him everywhere he went and made millions of dollars in his life but when he passed away in 2014, his personal property was valued at only $18,000. He had a bad gambling habit and it took his fortune. That and family, ah yes yes family. We have not really touched upon that special breed of evil sharks that eat away at those who have come into money. There are many who have good families that are loving, warm, and made of the kind of bonds we all want to be a part of. Others walk in the halls of madness, bled of every last dollar that they made. Isn’t that a dark part of Hollywood, sure you rise to the top but do you rise alone? Parents, agents, friends, families, and those who hang on, all out with hands open ready to let some of the money they make the land as the tree of talent is shaken to its core.
But then these tragic ends of life happen even to those who have even less in life to offer.
Her real name was Terry and when he passed away she was just 11 years old but even if this native of Chicago was young in human years, she was an old dog that will always be remembered. She was in a total of 23 films in her lifetime. Her most famous role was of course Toto in the Wizard of Oz. She was buried in Studio City, Los Angeles in 1945 on what was at the time just a farm. In 1958 her grave was destroyed when the construction of the Venture Freeway ran thru the farm. The monument in the picture was dedicated to her in 2011.
He was and to millions still is a sex symbol. A lovable rogue that women wanted to jump in bed and men wanted to pour a beer with. A star in the 1970s when a man was a tough man, and they didn’t get anymore tough than Burton Lean Reynolds Jr. This is a quick tale of a star that went up, hit its high, and then did something that is kinda common among us mere mortals, a second act.
I don’t need to tell you who this man is, most people know him even if they have never seen one of his films. But let’s go thru his story a little. In 1956 while a student at Palm Beach Junior College a teacher pushed him to try out and get a part in a play based on that teacher hearing him read a bit of Shakespeare. One summer he won a scholarship to the Hyde Park Playhouse just north of New York City where he met actress Joanne Woodward, wife of Paul Newman, who helped him find an agent. She later said of Reynolds, ” I don’t think I ever actually saw him perform, I knew him as this cute, shy, attractive boy. He had the kind of lovely personality that made you want to do something for him.”
He made his debut on Broadway, took acting classes, and waited for his moment in the spotlight. His first break was on television but he had a rough time on it, quitting one show that left a bad mark on him in Hollywood. But after being cast in the show Gunsmoke, things slowly started to change. In 1972 he was in Deliverance, a movie that changed his life. Oh and he posed naked in the April 1972 issue of Cosmopliation. Then the roles came pouring in, White Lightning, The Longest Yard, Gator, and of course, Smokey and the Bandit in 1977.
He was one of the biggest stars in the world. He married Lori Anderson, who was seen as one of the most beautiful women in the world. Life was good for an army brat born in Lansing Michigan. But of course, the good times never last forever.
By 1983 his star shinned a little less. He returned to television on the show Evening Shade in the early 90s. but even that hit was not enough to fill up his pockets and he declared bankruptcy in 1996. he got divorced from Anderson with tales of mistreatment whispered in the air. It seemed that this is where his story would end. Once the biggest name in Hollywood, a star known the world over. Would our story have a tragic end like that of many that came before him or would his light just dim slowly, a man who faded away into the shadow?
Never known for his acting skills, he had a lucky break in 1997 when he played an adult director in the hit Boogie Nights. He was nominated for his only Oscar for best-supporting actor. All of sudden, Burt was back. Yeah, he was in many garbage films, but he had the love of his fans again. Here and there he would get a good role again but that was not what he was after, he was a good ole boy who flashed his smile and the people loved him.
While he never hit the Boogie Nights high again, he was a star again who was talked about not as someone who was a once hitmaker but as someone who hit bottom and had that second act late in life.
He passed away in 2018 at the age of 82. The bust you see in the picture was placed at Hollywood Forever in 2021.
And that is our tour of Hollywood Forever, maybe someday I’ll go back again. There are many other stories to tell but for now, we say goodbye to the once bright stars of its lawns and find more stories to tell.