Every once in a while, a star suffers an untimely death at the hands of tragedy. Only a handful of these celebrities and artists become cult heroes, who – since their star burns out long before ever fading away – are remembered just as they were in their heyday. But what about the sacred places where these legends came to their sudden end? Sometimes the loss is so agonizing and heartbreaking that their devoted followers build shrines at these sanctified dwellings to honour the memory of their heroes. This blog post will focus on cult hero hotel shrines and the artists who died in these motels and hotels, which have become sacred shrines for necro-tourist and die-hard fans the world over.
The obsession with artists, stars and legends who died unfortunate premature deaths – often due to their debaucherous and excessive lifestyles or an unthinkable tragic accident – is nothing new. Some of these inspirational characters are ripped from society so abruptly that they leave an eternal mark in the place where it all ended, creating an attraction for loving fanatics to pay homage to them for eternity. Let’s go on a spiritual journey and visit my favourite cult hero hotel shrines.
He was a country legend credited with merging the 60’s flower-child ethos with 70’s rock & roll drenched in catchy country twang. Influencing and working with huge rock acts like The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers and The Rolling Stones, he propelled his country jangle into rock ‘n’ roll and alternative music of the time – still influencing many great artist today like Ryan Adams and Wilco. Although Parsons isn’t exactly a household name, he was named one of Rolling Stone Magazine’s 100 most influential artists of all-time.
Parsons’ flame burnt out on September 19, 1973 in room eight of the Joshua Tree Inn Motel in the Morongo Valley pass in San Bernardino County. He and his BFF, Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards – along with two women – were on a drug and booze-fuelled bender for days. They loved going down to Joshua Tree in the desert to party. But it was to be Parsons’ swansong, with the autopsy revealing off-the-chart toxicity levels of opiates in his bloodstream. Rumour has it his cold corpse laid in the motel room for an extended period of time before his death was even reported. And if that wasn’t bizarre enough, Parson’s friend and producer Phil Kaufman, who made a pact with his now-deceased friend to cremate him in the desert, stole his corpse that had been shipped to New Orleans, and drove it back to Joshua Tree where he poured gasoline over it and set it a light at Cap Rock (near the motel). The whole story is documented in Kaufman’s biography, Road Mangle Deluxe. Perhaps one of the wildest “cult hero hotel shrines” stories we’ll ever encounter in this lifetime.
Room 8, where Parsons passed on to the next world, is incessantly occupied with fans the world over. And a great number of passers-by stop in simply to see the motel and leave flowers, alcohol, letters and gifts at the engraved stone plaque and guitar shrine just outside the room. According to Wikipedia, this is purely a spiritual creation by devotees of the singer and is by no means an official memorial sight. “Joshua Tree National Park does not officially recognize Parsons’ link to the park, and his memorial does not appear on the maps. Rangers are given the option to tell the story, but it does not appear on brochures either. While Parsons was incinerated a quarter mile away from Cap Rock, the location is often confused with the actual place were it happened. Makeshift memorials and inscriptions are found around the rock, and cleared by the park caretakers. Tourists and fans of Parsons visit the site, as well as the Joshua Tree Inn, where a guitar-shaped statue to Parsons can be found on the outside. Room 8 is reserved by the current owner for people who ask specifically to stay there for its relation to Parsons and not offered to walk-in guests. The only remaining furniture from the time is a mirror found near the bed.”
John Belushi, the 33-year-old star of SNL, The Blues Brothers, and Animal House, was an all-American hero and one of the country’s most recognizable faces. The now-cult actor was posthumously celebrated in 2004 when he was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. His contribution to American sketch comedy is unsurpassed and his story makes for a great addition to the “cult hero hotel shrines” compilation.
On March 5, 1982, Belushi’s personal trainer discovered his body in Bungalow 3 at the Chateau Marmont Hotel on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. He had been on an apparent four-day cocaine binge, but on his final night, things spiralled even further out of control. Another all-night bender at The Roxy on the Sunset Strip ended up at his hotel room, where A-list celeb friends Robin Williams and Robert De Niro (who both left before the incident occurred) came to visit him. Catherine Evelyn, however, was in the room when Belushi came to his end due to a fatal speedball (a combination of cocaine and heroin). She initially lied to the authorities, but months later admitted to being at the scene and was charged with first-degree murder. The charge was later reduced to involuntary manslaughter and she served 15 months in prison.
Even though the outdated rooms at the fabled Chateau Marmont Hotel are grungy and the service is said to be shoddy, necro-toursim – as well as living (and apparently dead) celebrity-spotting – is alive and well at this Hollywood haunt. Since Belushi’s death, strange happenings and paranormal activity have been said to increase in Bungalow 3. A family staying in the room in 1999, while renovations were being made to their home, reported that their two-year old son was frequently laughing and “talking to himself.” When asked who he was talking to, the boy would say “the funny man.” Later, while looking at a book about The Chateau Marmont with his mother, the boy saw a picture of Belushi, pointed at it and said “it’s the funny man!” Whether the room is haunted remains a mystery. But actors, movie buffs, fans and cult-culture aficionados from all over the globe book Bungalow 3 months, sometimes years in advance to be in the presents of Belushi’s ghost and leave flowers, gifts, letters or even drugs. The room has become notorious for being a party spot for Hollywood A-listers who manage to get their foot in the door by using their celebrity status, paying homage to America’s beloved sketch-comedy genius in true Belushi style. Hunter S. Thompson used to get loaded on drugs and write articles in the room and Dorothy Parker would stay there to work as well. The hotel isn’t just famous for the cult hero hotel shrines, but also an array of bizarre celebrity behaviour involving everyone from Jim Morrison to Lindsay Lohan.
Although the social comedy, The Importance of Being Earnest, is widely considered to be the Irish writer’s greatest masterpiece, he was said to be more prolific at writing drama. A film adaptation starring Colin Firth and Reese Witherspoon was made in 2002, stating the continued importance of Wilde’s work. No classic literature collection is complete without works like The Happy Prince & Other Tales, Salome and Lady Windemere’s Fan. Despite actually being celebrated for his writing while alive, he spent time in jail after being accused of homosexuality and died nearly penniless, which inspired the famous quote, “I can’t even afford to die.”
“My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or other of us has got to go.” These were the last words Wilde said on November 30, 1900, before dying in dingy Room 16 at Hôtel d’Alsace (now called L’Hôtel) in Paris, France, where suffered through his last days. As far as cult hero hotel shrines go, Wilde attracts great numbers of fans to the hotel, but also to his grave in Paris (which is constantly smeared with lipstick in tribute of his hardships).
The hotel has since become famed for its opulence and charm. Set in the heart of the avant-garde Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighbourhood, it oozes Parisian elegance. Room 16 has since be renamed as The Oscar Wilde room and attracts wealthy hangers-on and lovers of literature, wanting to sleep in the sanctuary where Wilde breathed his last breathe. Talents like Salvador Dalí, Jorge Luis Borges, Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Jim Morrison and Serge Gainsbourg have enjoyed its decadence to the fullest. The reputation of the hotel has been built on the legend of Wilde and continues to draw visitors, even today, wanting to pay tribute to the great author.