The decision of what to do with cremation ashes is a complex one. We understand it’s an incredibly personal decision – do you scatter them in a place that your loved one adored? Or create something out of the ashes that means they’ll always be with you? Or both?
It’s a decision that’s completely personal to you, your loved one and your relationship together. Here are some decisions about cremation ashes that famous people (and their relatives) have taken.
Founder of The Beatles, John Lennon, was sadly shot and killed by an obsessed fan in December 1980. John was cremated, and Yoko Ono scattered his ashes in New York’s Central Park. While the exact location is unknown, it is widely believed to be within view of the home they shared. The presumed spot of the scattering is now Strawberry Fields – a memorial for John and a space where his fans can gather to pay tribute to the talented musician and the incredible musical legacy he left.
The former Beatle also opted to have his ashes scattered. George tragically battled cancer before his death at the age of 58 in November 2001. His wishes were that his ashes would be scattered according to Hindu tradition in the Ganges River, a sacred river in India.
Legendary musician, Kurt Cobain, was cremated at his own request after his death in April 1994. It is widely reported that his ashes were split up. Some of his ashes were spread into the Wishkah River in Washington, where there is now a memorial to the former Nirvana frontman. The more unusual element of the story is that some of Kurt’s ashes were taken to a Buddhist Monastery in New York by his widow, Courtney Love. She allegedly took the ashes there for the monks to purify, before keeping a separate portion of his ashes in a handbag. Yet, in a strange twist, Love once alleged that these ashes were stolen, before later retracting her claim.
The iconic star had kept his cancer battle concealed from the public, and the world mourned the death of the talented musician when he passed away at the age of 69 on 10th January 2016 – two days after his final album, Blackstar, was released. Following a small and private ceremony for his cremation (he requested that there would be no funeral), Bowie’s wishes were for his ashes to be scattered in Bali, Indonesia, in line with Buddhist rituals native to the island.
Rumours have always been rife about what happened to Walt Disney’s body. For years, urban legends have circulated that he was frozen. However, his family members have confirmed that is not the case, and his death certificate shows that he was cremated two days after his death in 1966. Instead of being scattered, his remains are kept in a mausoleum at a Californian cemetery.
The death of the comedy hero Robin Williams in August 2014 devastated fans everywhere. It was also the catalyst for conversations about how mental health is stigmatised and how we can help those in need. In his will, Robin expressed that his ashes would be scattered in San Francisco Bay. He’d been a long-time resident of San Francisco and considered it home, but there was another emotional reason too. Thirteen years previously, Robin lost his mother, and her ashes were spread in San Francisco Bay. According to news reports, he wanted to be in the same resting place as his beloved mother.
Mathematician and physicist Albert Einstein is one of the greatest figures of the 20th century – his general theory of relativity changed our understanding of space and time forever. Einstein was cremated after his death in 1955 (this was quite uncommon during this period!) And something else that was a little unusual was that his brain was removed before his cremation to be studied. Einstein’s ashes were spread on the grounds of the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study.
Hunter S. Thompson
The cultural commentator and author of books such as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas requested that he went out with a bang, literally.
His family was heartbroken after his suicide in February 2005, and he left very specific wishes for them. Instead of a funeral, he requested a huge party with a unique end to the night – his ashes would be loaded into fireworks and into a 157ft cannon, from which they were fired.
According to the New York Times, the cannon was, in fact, fired by friend, Johnny Depp. The actor had played Thompson in the film adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and the two went on to become friends – Depp even helped to bankroll the elaborate farewell.
The iconic actor, best known for his roles in A Streetcar Named Desire and The Godfather, died in 2004. A portion of his ashes were scattered in one of his favourite places: Death Valley, which is known as one of the hottest places on earth. The actor apparently loved Death Valley and asked for his ashes to be scattered there and in Tahiti.
This is a rather unusual, but beautifully fitting, tribute to the Marvel Comics editor. Mark wanted his ashes to go into a comic book by mixing them with the ink. Marvel agreed and reprinted a collection of Squadron Supreme with a special ink that included some of his ashes. In the book’s foreword, Mark’s widow Catherine paid tribute to him. She wrote: “He remained true to his passion for comics, as he has truly become one with the story and blended himself in the very fibre of the book.”
The founder of psychoanalysis was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium in London. His cremation ashes were then transferred to a 4th Century BC Greek urn, which he had received as a gift from his close friend, Marie Bonaparte. The urn had been on public view but was temporarily relocated after thieves attempted to steal the 2,400-year-old urn with his ashes inside. Today, the restored urn is on display; however, it is protected by a case made of special glass, and it is also guarded.
The talented singer and songwriter died in 2011 at the age of 27. Amy’s final resting place was hugely influenced by her grandmother, Cynthia, who she adored. When Cynthia passed away from lung cancer in 2006, Amy had her grandmother’s name tattooed on her arm in tribute. When Amy was cremated, her ashes were mixed in with Cynthia’s and both ashes are now buried together in North London.
Janis Joplin died of a heroin overdose at the age of 27. She requested to be cremated and that her ashes would be scattered by plane over the Pacific Ocean. Janis also requested that a sum of $2,500 would be set aside for a “wake party.” An estimated 300 guests attended the party where the Grateful Dead performed, and the invitations, referring to her nickname, read: “Drinks are on Pearl.”
When the actress died in 2016, her brother and daughter thought that putting her ashes in a Prozac-shaped pill urn was a loving and fitting tribute to her. Although the urn was not made specifically for her ashes, she’d had the giant Prozac pill for a long time, and it was one of her favourite possessions. She also spoke candidly about her mental health issues and how they affected her and her career. Carrie was buried beside her mother, actress Debbie Reynolds, who died one day after her daughter.
The world-famous theoretical physicist’s ashes are buried with fellow scientists Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton. The burial was a gesture of respect and honour for everything that Hawking accomplished in advancing knowledge about physics, and his ashes are buried between Darwin and Newton. Hawking died in 2018 at the age of 76 – when he was diagnosed with motor neuron disease at the age of 22, he was given only a few years to live.
When deciding what to do with cremation ashes, remember to take your time, consider all your options and don’t rush the grieving process. Our blog that explores 22 unique things to do with cremation ashes might offer some ideas to pay a beautiful tribute to a loved one.