The average funeral in the U.S. costs about $7,000. Educated consumers can comparison shop and find a coffin at Wal-Mart Stores for less than $1,000, but typically those grieving for loved ones simply rely on local funeral homes and accept their price points.
While the cost associated with the average funeral service is burdensome for most, there are those for whom no average funeral will do. Many actors, musicians, and politicians have been sent off in grand fashion, with extravagant final services featuring dizzying floral arrangements, gleaming caskets of pure gold, and limousine processions so long they seem to go on for miles. The departed may not be able to take it with them, but with enough money they can certainly make a memorable exit.
What are some of the most extravagant funeral services of all time? Click ahead and find out.
By Daniel Bukszpan
Posted 19 October 2011
Singer Michael Jackson died of acute propofol intoxication in June 2009. On the day of his July 7 memorial at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, 3,000 police officers were placed on duty, an effort that cost the city $1.4 million. He was later buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills, Calif., at a cost of more than $1 million.
The cost of the funeral included $25,000 for Jackson’s casket, $35,000 for his clothes, and $590,000 to be interred at the Great Mausoleum, also the final resting place of actors Clark Gable and Jean Harlow. The cost also included more than $11,000 for invitations, $30,000 for security, and $16,000 for flowers. Attorney Howard Weitzman justified the expense by saying, "It was Michael Jackson. He was bigger than life when he was alive."
When Elvis Presley exploded onto the popular music scene in the 1950s, he was the lean, mean ambassador of a new sound called rock ‘n roll. When he died in 1977, multiple illnesses and long-term drug abuse had rendered him a shadow of his former self. Still, he remained capable of causing a sensation, and with his funeral he did exactly that.
Presley was driven to Forest Hill Cemetery in Memphis in a procession consisting of 17 white limousines. Some 80,000 fans lined the streets to see the spectacle, prompting President Jimmy Carter to deploy 300 National Guard troops to maintain order.
The King of Rock ‘n Roll was carried in a 900-pound bronze coffin to his final resting place next to his mother. It ended up not being so final — after an attempt to steal Presley’s body, the entertainer and his mother were moved and buried on the property at Graceland, his former home, according to the 1999 book “Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley” by Peter Guralnick.
Princess Diana of Wales died in a car accident in August 1997. Her passing was met with worldwide grieving on so massive a scale that it overshadowed the death of Mother Teresa the day before. Millions of people around the world watched as the procession took her to Westminster Abbey and then to a performance by Elton John, who sang a version of his hit song “Candle in the Wind” that he had re-written for her.
A few days after her funeral, British officials estimated that the cost for the entire event was almost $8 million. Unfortunately, this estimate only became public knowledge after a Freedom of Information Act request caused a memo to be released that included a British government official joking about the cost of the service. The official claimed that the multimillion-dollar price tag amounted to “scarcely a deck on the Royal Yacht.”
When Pope John Paul II died in 2005, he received a lavish service befitting one of the world’s foremost religious figures. It was held in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and was attended by former U.S. presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, as well as Prince Charles of Wales and more than 200 other dignitaries from all over the world.
In order to accommodate the many sacred rites that take place after the death of a pope, funeral services lasted for several days. These included the Rite of Papal Death, the Rite of Visitation, the Mass of Repose, the Mass of Requiem, and the Rite of Interment. After it was all over, figures released by the Holy See put the expense for the entire service at $9 million.
When Ronald Reagan, the former U.S. president, died in June 2004, more than 104,000 people viewed his coffin in the United States Capitol Rotunda in the space of 34 hours. The number of people who had made the pilgrimage to see him exacted a financial toll on the nation’s capitol. City administrator Robert C. Bobb told USA Today on June 9, 2004, that the cost to the District of Columbia had already exceeded $2 million, and there were still two more days to go.
The funeral inadvertently incurred other costs, as well. Former President George W. Bush had declared June 11, 2004, a federal day of mourning. Marshall Brian of How Stuff Works estimated that giving the nation’s federal employees a paid day off had cost taxpayers an estimated $400 million.
Alexander the Great was the king of the Greek state of Macedon during the 4th century BC. With his army at his side, he conquered the entire Persian Empire and was so fearsome a warlord that his name is still invoked by military brass over 2,300 years later. Today, the location of his remains is unknown, but many historians claim that he was the recipient of the most expensive funeral in history.
Alexander was placed inside of a golden sarcophagus, which was itself placed inside of another golden sarcophagus, and that was placed inside a golden carriage. Most historical accounts claim that he was then transported to Egypt. This process took two years, during which time the army of Ptolemy I attacked his funerary carriage. The cost of the entire funeral is estimated to equal $600 million in today’s dollars.
While a golden funerary cart is likely beyond the reach of most people, there are still ancient burial arts available to those willing to pay for them. Summum, an organization founded in 1975 in Utah, offers mummification services at a cost of $67,000.
The beloved actress Elizabeth Taylor died in March 2011 of congestive heart failure after years of declining health. She was laid to rest in a private Jewish ceremony led by Rabbi Jerry Cutler, the man who had officiated the funerals of Walter Matthau and Milton Berle.
Along with having her service overseen by the rabbi to the stars, she was buried in an $11,000 mahogany casket lined with red velvet. In one fabulous final touch, she left instructions for the service to begin 15 minutes later than scheduled, so that she could even arrive fashionably late to her own funeral.
While Taylor had a traditional Jewish funeral, a person well known for her love of jewels might have considered other options for memorializing herself. Cremation Solutions, a Vermont-based business, will turn the departed’s ashes into diamonds for a variety of price points, starting at $2,199.
Model, actress, and reality show star Anna Nicole Smith died in February 2007 in Florida of an accidental overdose of drugs, including klonopin, ativan, and the sleep aid chloral hydrate. Legal proceedings held up the burial for almost a month, but when she was finally laid to rest in the Bahamas in March 2007, she went out in style in a mahogany coffin draped with a rhinestone blanket.
While Smith’s final expenses were higher than average, the funeral was also an expensive proposition for members of the media. Crews were charged $2,000 per camera and $5,000 for a live satellite uplink by the Sandy Port Development Co., the owner of the property where the funeral was held. Crews were required to provide a valid credit-card number upon signing the agreement to cover the event.
Former President Richard Nixon resigned from office in 1974 in the wake of the Watergate scandal. By the time of his death in 1994, he had rehabilitated his image to that of an elder statesman. At his funeral, mourners lined up in the rain for up to eight hours to pay their respects. At one point, the line stretched three miles long.
Nixon had asked not to have a state funeral, but as a former president there were considerations that couldn’t be avoided. The funeral’s cost of more than $311,000 was mostly attributable to transportation expenses, such as cargo planes to carry the honor guard troops, and the $56,000-an-hour use of Air Force One, which carried the former president to his final resting place in California.
Since his passing, Nixon has been immortalized on the television cartoon “Futurama,” which takes place hundreds of years in the future. On the show, his head is preserved in a jar, a scenario that is not as far-fetched as it sounds. The Alcor Life Extension Foundation offers the option of neuropreservation, the cryogenic preservation of one’s own head, for $50,000. Those who choose to have their entire bodies cryogenically frozen would pay $120,000.