March 15, 2005 (Santa Monica, CA) – Death is a fact of life, and the famous among us are treated no differently than average citizens when it comes to government record keeping – everyone’s exit is commemorated with a death certificate. Mike Steen, a 38-year veteran of the California funeral service industry, spotlights a selection of these documents in his book “Celebrity Death Certificates.”
Created as a reference book primarily targeted to libraries by publisher McFarland & Co., “Celebrity Death Certificates” has attracted a significantly wider individual market specifically among Hollywood history buffs since hitting bookshelves in 2003. As a result of its popularity, Steen will publish a second volume later this year.
“Everybody is interested in death when it’s not their own family, and everybody is interested in celebrities, so putting the two together is a natural,” said Steen who is Cemetery Superintendent for the City of Santa Monica and was dubbed “Funeral Director to the Stars” by GQ magazine during his extensive tenure at Westwood Village Mortuary and Memorial Park whose first famous permanent resident was Marilyn Monroe.
The 8-1/2 x 11 softcover book offers a unique reading experience for even the most well-read entertainment fan, with 182 pages of actual death certificates and amendments containing a plethora of Who, What, Why, When, Where and How details about the deceased.
Brief biographical sketches with information essential for interpreting the corresponding certificates are located in a separate section, but as the book’s preface suggests, the intriguing documents stand alone due to their ability to encapsulate a person’s life on one page.
The roster of talent featured includes a mix of Silent Era, Golden Age and more contemporary film stars, television icons, famous writers, musicians and other newsmakers like Bonny Lee Bakley, the wife of actor Robert Blake who is currently on trial for her murder and awaiting the jury’s verdict.
The certificates are organized alphabetically by professional name, which is commonly different from the deceased’s listed legal name. Careful inspection of the Table of Contents reveals that Steen has cleverly crafted numerous posthumous reunions:
Ã¢Â?Â¢ Famous couples such as George Burns & Gracie Allen, Ozzie & Harriet Nelson and Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. & Mary Pickford.
Ã¢Â?Â¢ Siblings including Lionel, Ethel & John Barrymore, Moe, Shemp & Jerome “Curly” Howard, AKA The Three Stooges and twins Dirk & Dack Rambo.
Ã¢Â?Â¢ Father and son Dean Martin and Dean Paul Martin.
Ã¢Â?Â¢ Dancing partners Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
Ã¢Â?Â¢ Television cast mates like “I Love Lucy” stars Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Sr., William Frawley and Vivian Vance, Clayton “The Lone Ranger” Moore and his partner in crime-fighting Jay “Tonto” Silverheels and original Saturday Night Live regulars John Belushi and Gilda Radner.
Ã¢Â?Â¢ Classic dueling newspaper gossip columnists Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons, as well as their biggest male competitor, Walter Winchell.
Ã¢Â?Â¢ A poignant trio of John Gilbert and Clara Bow, superstars of silent film whose careers were ruined by the invention of “talkies,” alongside Al Jolson who starred in “The Jazz Singer” which launched the sound revolution.
Stars whose untimely deaths caused headline-making cultural shockwaves are also included: Marilyn Monroe (ruled a probable suicide which is a source of continuing debate), James Dean (automobile accident), Sharon Tate (Manson Family murder victim) Rock Hudson (the first celebrity to have AIDS listed as a underlying cause of death, thus bringing the epidemic to worldwide attention), Natalie Wood (accidental drowning), Freddie Prinze (suicide), River Phoenix (drug overdose) John Denver (plane crash) and Phil & Brynn Hartman (murder/suicide.)
The inclusion of ex-Beatle George Harrison’s death certificate is historically noteworthy because it includes the amended documentation that reveals the true location of his death, a detail that at the time caused public controversy about a celebrity’s right to privacy.
Certificates for icons that Steen would have liked to include such as Joan Crawford, James Cagney and Montgomery Clift were not available for publication because they passed away in one of the few states (Arizona, Florida, New York and Texas) where these documents are not considered public record. Steen even had to turn down a request from Gig Young’s ex-wife to have the late actor included in the next volume because, as Steen puts it, “he died in the wrong place.”
Steen became interested in the unusual hobby of celebrity death certificates in 1991 after reading a privately published collection that included U.S. Presidents and famous industrialists besides motion picture stars. Inspired by that book, he decided to focus his efforts on Hollywood-related deaths by using documents from his personal collection which numbers approximately 700 records.
Among the details that may be gleaned from death certificates include given name, date and time of death, birthplace, name and birthplace of parents, name of spouse, occupation and employer, citizenship, primary and contributing causes of death, address and length of residency, location and in some cases circumstances of death when it involves a crime, disposition of remains and whether or not an autopsy was performed.
The documents are also asthetically interesting, with a diverse range of styles based on when and where they were originally issued. Older records in the book dating back to 1930 are filled out by hand, while others were composed on typewriters or printed out using modern computer technology.
Guarding the integrity of these tools of his trade is important to Steen who says that good taste dictates his editorial decision to let the death certificates speak for themselves without adding commentary. “I prefer the straight information format because any semblance of titillation would take away from the professionalism and focus of the project,” explained Steen.
For more information, visit CelebrityDeathCertificates.com.