Top 10 Biggest Celebrity Funeral Scandals
The biggest celebrity funeral scandals prove that celebs can't escape controversy, even in death.
Even in death, the media circus continues to do its thing. Welcome to WatchMojo.com and today we’re counting down our picks for the "Top 10 Celebrity Funeral Scandals and Controversies."
For this list, we’re looking at celebrity funerals that, for one reason or another, ended up attracting negative press.
In the age of social media and viral videos, there are lots of ways for organizations to raise their public profile. But picketing the funerals of American soldiers and celebrities is probably not the smartest way to do it. Following the passing of visionary Apple co-founder Steve Jobs in October 2011, Westboro Baptist Church tweeted its plan to picket the entrepreneur’s funeral. He “gave God no glory,” the church claimed, and was now in Hell. Endlessly retweeted and ridiculed, the Church’s message got lost in translation once people noticed that an iPhone was used to send out the tweet.
On March 9, 1997, the music industry was shaken by the senseless murder of iconic rapper Biggie Smalls. His funeral service and procession attracted a huge star-studded crowd, but what began as a celebration of the young artist’s accomplishments took a nasty turn once the motorcade left the Notorious B.I.G’s Brooklyn neighborhood. An impromptu dance by teenagers on car rooftops set off police in riot gear, who broke out the pepper spray and arrested ten people—including a New York Times reporter sent to cover the event.
#8: Sherman Hemsley
As a onetime stage actor, Sherman Hemsley was used to waiting behind the scenes. But he probably didn’t expect to do it all again after he died. The actor and comedian, who made his beloved character George Jefferson from All in the Family and The Jeffersons an iconic role, passed away in July 2012. Right before the funeral, however, a man claiming to be his half-brother came forward to contest the will—postponing Hemsley’s burial. Eventually, a judge ruled against the so-called long-lost sibling, but in the meantime, Hemsley’s body was left chilling on ice… for three and a half months!
Screen legend Elizabeth Taylor was so fashionable she even arrived 15 minutes late to her own funeral, in accordance with instructions she’d left behind. Unfortunately, the service for the Hollywood superstar also made headlines for another reason—good old funeral supervillains Westboro Baptist Church. A hate group known for targeting the LGBT community, the church took aim at Taylor for her prominent role as an AIDS awareness activist, and promised to picket the funeral. Happily, the church was a no-show—a frequent occurrence—and Elizabeth Taylor was laid to rest peacefully in a private ceremony of family and friends the day after her death in March 2011.
Arguably the best known opera singer of all time and acclaimed member of “The Three Tenors,” Pavarotti was mourned far and wide when he passed away from pancreatic cancer in September 2007. Hundreds of stars, dignitaries, and other guests attended his funeral in the beloved performer’s hometown Modena, while thousands flocked to the piazza outside the Cathedral. Even the Pope chimed in, praising Pavarotti for honoring “the divine gift of music.” But despite all the goodwill, there were still some grumbles: a local parish priest claimed the funeral profaned the temple, as Pavarotti was a divorcee who had fathered a child out of wedlock. You really can’t escape the critics.
It was a funeral fit for a king, but there was always going to be some scandal surrounding the superstar’s ceremony. Elvis’ untimely death at just 42 sent shock waves around the world, and thousands of fans flocked to Graceland to honor the charismatic cultural icon. Yet even though the funeral was meant to be a private event, the National Enquirer bribed Elvis’ cousin to sneak a picture of the open casket. Unsurprisingly, the issue of the magazine with Presley’s face on the cover sold almost 7 million copies.
A year before her tragic death in a car crash in 1997, Princess Diana had divorced Prince Charles after both had extramarital affairs. Having married into the royal family, Diana therefore lost the status of “Her Royal Highness,” and according to a Britain Channel Four news report disputed by the royal family, the Queen insisted Diana be given a private rather than public funeral. Amidst an outpouring of public grief, and in accordance with the supposed wishes of Prince Charles, the funeral became a public event, with two and a half billion people watching the service from around the world.
An unparalleled vocalist and one of the best-selling musicians of all time, Whitney Houston nevertheless struggled with a drug addiction that proved her downfall. Her February 2012 memorial service, attended by the likes of Stevie Wonder and Alicia Keys, became easy pickings for the tabloids when ex-husband Bobby Brown stormed out of the church midway. According to The Daily Mail, the relationship between Brown and Houston’s family was still rocky, and after he was refused the front row and asked to switch seats multiple times, the frustrated Brown kissed his ex-wife’s casket and made an early exit.
An inspirational performer and vocal supporter of the civil right movement, Aretha Franklin deserved more than a little respect at her memorial service. But although the August 2018 funeral included moving tributes from well-known musicians and politicians, it was also riddled with controversy. Ariana Grande’s stunning rendition of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” was immediately followed by a bishop copping a feel and firing out awkward jokes. Making matters worse, Reverend Jasper Williams Jr. took the opportunity to deliver a never-ending eulogy that criticized black Americans, and was labeled sexist and misogynistic. However, most egregious—according to Franklin’s grieving family, anyway—was that he barely mentioned the superstar he was there to honor.
The King of Pop changed the music industry forever, but the former Jackson 5 member was hardly unaccustomed to controversy—and his public memorial service was no exception. With thousands of fans attending the event in July 2009, Michael Jackson’s ceremony served as a heartfelt celebration of the superstar’s legacy, but there was one big problem: the bill. Despite being a private event, the city of Los Angeles needed to plan its most significant security effort since they’d hosted the Olympics in 1984, and ended up forking over $1.4 million for police, cleanup, and traffic control. This was particularly troubling for many due to the city’s budget crisis at the time, as well as the Great Recession.