The last laugh
Everyone is born. Everyone dies. It’s only the stuff that happens in the middle that makes us unique. Most tombstones either skip over that part entirely or offer mere platitudes about the person buried below. With every life reduced to a name and two dates, is it any wonder cemeteries can be so depressing? Occasionally, however, a tombstone offers a clue or two about who someone was and how they impacted the people in their lives – and often, the result is heartwarmingly hilarious.
That’s all, folks
The great voiceover artist Mel Blanc, who voiced Bugs Bunny, Woody Woodpecker, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Tweety Pie, Sylvester, and many other popular cartoon characters, was also the voice of Looney Tunes’ ubiquitous sign-off, “The-the-the-that’s all folks.”
When Blanc died in 1989, his family made sure that all future generations who came upon his tombstone would know exactly what he was famous for in life. Not only does it say “That’s All Folks” in quotation marks, but it also refers to Blanc as the “man of a thousand voices,” as well as a “beloved husband and father.”
The final commercial break
Are you obsessed with trying to answer the Jeopardy! questions that stump everyone? You have Merv Griffin to thank for that. The host of the eponymously titled talk show, which aired from 1962 to 1986, also created Wheel of Fortune.
Biography calls him “America’s ultimate showman, one who knew what audiences wanted and made it his life’s work to entertain.” It’s said he often joked that he wanted one particular phrase inscribed on his tombstone: “I will not be right back after this message.” That’s precisely what he got.
I told you so
In Princeton, New Jersey, you’ll find the gravestone of one William H. Hahn Jr. He was born in 1905 and died in 1980, and it is believed he ordered his tombstone himself a week or two before his demise. With its simple and to-the-point phrase, “I told you I was sick,” it gives the distinct impression that Hahn may have been a cantankerous sort of fellow, albeit one with a pretty darn good sense of humour.
I told you so (Part 2)
Like William H. Hahn Jr., Irish writer and comedian Spike Milligan, whose eccentric sense of humour was an important influence for Monty Python’s Flying Circus, also chose to let the world know that he knew better. Born in 1918, he died in 2002, but not before making sure his tombstone was inscribed with his version of the “told ya so” line, “I told you I was ill,” translated into Gaelic. Milligan’s epitaph was named the UK’s favourite in a recent survey, beating out Mel Blanc’s.
The star of the show
Apparently, it wasn’t enough that actor Jack Lemmon (1925–2001) left behind a legacy of more than 50 films (including Some Like It Hot and The Odd Couple), eight Academy Award nominations, and two wins. It seems he, or his loving family, wished to leave behind one last marquee in which his name made it over the title. In fact, this one last marquee doesn’t even bother with a title. It just says, “Jack Lemmon in…” and leaves the blank to be filled in by future generations.
A perfect turn of phrase
Eight-time Academy Award winner Billy Wilder (1906–2002), who wrote the screenplay for and directed Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot, wasn’t just a funny guy. He was also the genius directorial mind behind the film noir classic Double Indemnity (as well as its cowriter with another film noir genius, Raymond Chandler) and the writer of more than 80 screenplays produced for film and television.
But it appears he wanted to be remembered mostly as a funny guy. His epitaph – which reads, “I’m a writer but then nobody’s perfect” – is a nod to the hilariously ironic last line of Some Like It Hot.
There goes the cemetery
In life, comedian Rodney Dangerfield (1921–2004) might be most famous for his role in the film Caddyshack, but fans of his stand-up will remember him starting many a set with “I don’t get no respect,” arguably one of the funniest quotes of all time. Self-deprecating to the very end…and beyond, he went with “There goes the neighbourhood” for his epitaph. Dangerfield’s epitaph is so well known that it’s been used as a New York Times crossword puzzle clue.
The joke lives on
Comedians all have their favourite jokes, and Leslie Nielsen was no exception. But his “Let ‘er rip” tombstone is so on point, people thought it couldn’t possibly be real. But a Snopes investigation settled the matter. The funnyman, who was most famous for his roles in the Airplane and Naked Gun films, had such a penchant for fart jokes, it was something he vowed he would take to the grave. Literally. In 1996, he announced that when he died, that’s what his tombstone would say. It does.
One of the funniest men you’ve never heard of
Warren Wesley Berkenbile wasn’t one of the most famous funny men around, but he was one of the funniest men in Davenport, Iowa…or so he would like you to believe. On the back of his tombstone, which he shares with his wife, Marie, who predeceased him in 1985, it is inscribed, “Here lies one of the funniest men around. It’s funny they let him live so long.”
A Tombstone tombstone
This tombstone actually exists in Tombstone, Arizona, in the Boothill Graveyard. While there are a number of interesting epitaphs there, including Frank Bowles’ (“As you pass by, remember that as you are so once was I, and as I am you soon will be….”) and Margarita’s (“Stabbed by gold dollar”), we’re partial to Lester Moore’s.
A Wells Fargo Station agent in Naco, Arizona, he met his end when he delivered a damaged package to a disgruntled, and armed, Hank Dunstan, who also died of gunshot wounds in the ensuing scuffle. Moore’s epitaph reads: “Here lies Lester Moore, Four slugs from a 44, No Les, No more.”