[Today’s post is sponsored by my dear friend and medical school colleague, David Harrison MD, of Salem, OR. It was good to visit with him this weekend, and as he enjoys these odd posts, hopefully he’ll like this one too]
On 19 September 1973, country-rock music legend Gram Parsons died in a California motel room of an overdose of morphine and tequila. A seminal figure whose work influenced everyone from the Rolling Stones to the Byrds, he had made a half-joking (?) drunken pact with his manager several months before his demise: if anything happened to either one of them, the survivor was to take the deceased to Joshua Tree National Park and cremate the remains.
Accordingly, Parsons’ manager, Phil Kaufman, grabbed a roadie named Michael Martin and commandeered Martin’s girlfriend’s old hearse – which had broken windows and no license plates – and headed to LAX, convincing the authorities that they were authorized to pick up Parsons’ remains (which were slated to be flown to Louisiana and buried there per his family’s wishes). Coffin onboard, the two men drove 200 miles through the Mojave Desert, stopping to get several containers filled with gasoline en route. Once at the national park, at the foot of majestic Cap Rock, they hauled the corpse out of the coffin in the back of the hearse, doused it with petrol, and lit the match.
Kaufman and Martin were arrested, but since burning stolen bodies was not actually a crime in California at the time (!!) they were instead fined $300 each, plus $750 for the coffin, which was somehow ruined during the trip. The twosome raised the money for the fines by holding a charity concert starring Bobby Pickett & the Cryptkeepers, who played their one-hit “Monster Mash” over and over to the enthralled crowd. And Parsons’ charred remains eventually wound up in New Orleans anyway.
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