I recently hopped on one of the tours and had a great time. One thing was clear from the start: Richard wasn’t one of those part-time tour guides who blankly recite a canned speech while waiting for his ‘big break.’ His movie knowledge was impressive, he had a passion for Hollywood history and he was an entertaining speaker. One of the tour’s first stops was the Knickerbocker Hotel, where William Frawley, who played Fred Mertz in the 1950s TV show I Love Lucy, expired. He actually collapsed from a heart attack on the sidewalk outside before being carried into the hotel’s lobby. We paused in silence for a moment in front of the hotel, and then (like Frawley, I hope) moved on.
Under bright and cheery spring skies, our dark tour continued, turning and twisting through quiet, wealthy neighborhoods that secreted the uneasy allure of celebrity death. We paid our respects to the last residence of Michael Jackson. Stopping near the gate of the $100,000 a month rental in Holmby Hills, Richard played a recording of the actual 9-1-1 call for us. After that, we swung up and around the Chateau Marmont. Passing its entrance, we stopped along a long wooden fence that hid the hotel’s property. To our right was a little gate and a metal number 3. ‘Past this gate in Bungalow 3 is where John Belushi overdosed,’ Richard announced. He then held up a dated photo, in which there was van marked ‘Coroner,’ surrounded by paparazzi, in the same spot we now were.
As our tour continued, so did the death toll. It began to seem like every building, every corner was growing darker. Was it the shadows of mortality mixing with the bright April sunshine? Or maybe it was just getting later in the day. At any rate, I began to think that Hollywood was a dangerous place for celebrities, a Bermuda Triangle for the cinematic-ally charismatic. For those who want even more terror, consider the after-dark tour.
For years, Hollywood had been a factory town, producing dreams, escapism and hope for the world. It rocketed otherwise ordinary people into mythical gods and goddesses. Although some of these celebrities simply faded away, others exploded like star-bursts, and Dearly Departed Tours does a great job of keeping those echoes alive.
By Richard Davis
Richard Davis lives and writes in Los Angeles, CA. Read his blog here.