Funeral Films: Grand Theft Parsons
This story is so extraordinary that if it didn’t really happen, no one would believe it. It involves two men, a hearse, a dead rock star, five gallons of gasoline, and a promise.
Remember the influential country rock musician Gram Parsons? He played with Emmylou Harris, The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and The International Submarine Band. Parsons died in 1973 in a motel room near Joshua Tree National Monument from a morphine Séries Netflix overdose at the age of 26.
The film Grand Theft Parsons (2003) is based on the true story of what happened to Parsons’ body after he died. The movie illustrates certain issues that can be helpful for starting funeral or estate planning conversations.
Prior to his death, Parsons stated that he wanted his body cremated at Joshua Tree and his ashes spread over Cap Rock, a prominent natural feature there. His road manager Phil Kaufman (who also managed Parsons’ drug and alcohol use as best he could) and he had a pact. Whoever died first, the other would take the body to Joshua Tree and “set his spirit free,” that is, set the body on fire.
Taking a Body from a Hospital
At the beginning of the film, Kaufman (played by Johnny Knoxville) tries to obtain Parson’s body from the small, remote hospital near Joshua Tree. The nurse says as he’s not a physician or close relative, he has no rights to access the body. He tries to steal the body from the hospital, unsuccessfully.
Parsons’ body goes to the Los Angeles International Airport for shipment to New Orleans for burial. Parsons’ stepfather arranged for a private ceremony, neglecting to invite any music industry friends.
In the film, Kaufman hires a hippie with a psychedelic hearse to retrieve the body from the airport and bribes the air cargo office clerk to obtain Parson’s body.
Once at Joshua Tree, Kaufman attempts to cremate Parsons by pouring five gallons of gasoline into the open coffin and throwing a lit cigarette inside – resulting in an enormous fireball. That part of the film stays pretty close to the true story.
What Makes a Will?
The movie adds snarky ex-girlfriend Barbara Mansfield (played by Christina Applegate). She tries to cash in on Parson’s money and earthly possessions using a handwritten note on the back of a flyer advertisement. She says it’s his Will, but there is no notarization or anything that would make it official.