Virtually all cultures across the world have funeral rites. In the UK, funerals tend to mean a place of worship, mourners wearing black, eulogies, and a burial or cremation. Some funerals are simple with few attendees, and some are big affairs with hundreds of mourners. Many of us can remember a public figure or celebrity's funeral that made an impression on us, either due to the person themselves or the grandiose nature of their funeral service.
In this article, we're discussing 10 of the most extravagant funerals in history — some long, some expensive, some star-studded, and some all of the above.
Celebrities are known for their extravagance, whether in their lifestyle, their home, or their fashion. For some, that doesn't stop with their death. Many celebrities have had memorable funerals — Elizabeth Taylor, for example, was fashionably late to hers — but the following have managed the most extravagant funerals in recent celebrity history.
Elvis Presley's 1977 funeral was certainly extravagant, costing a reported $24,000. That's the equivalent of $120,000 (or £94,000) today — much higher than the average cost of a US funeral, which the National Funeral Directors Association report as $7,848.
While his funeral was private, with approximately 200 attendees, it was estimated by police at the time that up to 100,000 people visited his home in Memphis in the days following his death. This is perhaps partly why Elvis' funeral was so expensive — 300 National Guards were sent to Memphis due to the sheer amount of people there. As funerals go, it's safe to say that Elvis' sounds pretty fancy.
Singer Aretha Franklin's 2018 funeral was over seven hours long and cost $320,000 — that's just over £251,000. During the service, there were words from Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Rev. Jesse Jackson, among others, and musical tributes from artists such as Ariana Grande, The Clark Sisters, and Stevie Wonder. In the lead-up to her funeral, Franklin even wore four separate outfits during open-casket viewings.
The funeral service was intended to be five hours but ran over by two, and was broadcast on US television as well as being streamed live online. Between the outfit changes, runtime, and the unrivalled musical line-up, Aretha Franklin's funeral was the epitome of glamour — and it was a fitting send-off for the Queen of Soul.
Pop star Michael Jackson died in 2009, and as you might expect of the king of pop, his funeral was no simple affair. His burial plot alone cost a colossal $800,000 and his casket $25,000; the casket was made from solid bronze, plated with gold and lined with blue velvet. It's no surprise the funeral added up to a total of $1 million, which equals approximately £785,000.
With performances from artists like Mariah Carey, Jennifer Hudson, and Lionel Richie, as well as words from Queen Latifah and Michael's brother Jermaine Jackson, the ceremony was televised around the globe, with an estimated 2.5 billion people watching worldwide.
Public figure funerals
Public figures have historically outdone celebrities when it comes to funeral arrangements — national and religious leaders, alongside royals, take the next few spots on our list.
Arguably the most memorable funeral in recent history is the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales. The September 1997 ceremony is believed to have cost up to £5 million with approximately 1 million attendees. It's one of the most watched funerals ever, with an estimated 2.5 billion viewers worldwide.
The service itself was held at Westminster Abbey, with guests including multiple former prime ministers, then-First Lady Hillary Clinton, and celebrities such as George Michael, Brian May, Steven Spielberg, Luciano Pavarotti, and Tom Cruise. With a renowned performance of 'Candle in the Wind' from Elton John, with the lyrics changed to reflect Diana, it's fair to say that the venue, star-studded guest list, and £5m price tag certainly make this one of history's most extravagant funerals.
Pope John Paul II
Pope of the Catholic Church from 1978 until his death in 2005, Pope John Paul II's funeral was undeniably extravagant. Costing around €8 million, John Paul II's funeral was reported by the New York Times as being "the biggest funeral for a pope in the nearly 2,000-year history of the office", with countless royals and national leaders in attendance.
The former pope was buried in three coffins, as is customary. An estimated 4 million people gathered in Rome to mourn in the days following John Paul II's death. While this funeral might not be as memorable as others, it was undeniably a grand affair.
John F. Kennedy
An unforgettable event for those living through the 60s was the 1963 assassination of US President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas. Shocking people around the world, he was pronounced dead on the 22nd of November and his funeral was held three days later, at St. Matthew's Cathedral. Kennedy's funeral was televised around the world — it was one of the first world events to receive this coverage and is often said to have transformed media coverage of such events altogether.
The funeral cost $15 million, with his burial plot alone being a reported $13 million — a $13 million burial plot is definitely a little more grand than you might expect for yourself, but given JFK's political, cultural, and historical significance, it's no surprise that he received such a send-off.
Queen Elizabeth II
Communities across the world mourned the death of the UK's longest-reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, in September 2022. With reign lasting 70 years, she is the only ruler that many of us remember, and as such her death had an impact on many people. It is no surprise that such an internationally important individual would have an exorbitantly expensive funeral.
Elizabeth II's state funeral, taking place in Westminster Abbey, was the most expensive royal funeral the UK has ever seen, with a cost of over £160 million. Alongside the royal family, the funeral was attended by then-Prime Minister Liz Truss, multiple former prime ministers including David Cameron, Theresa May, and Boris Johnson, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and US President Joe Biden, among many others.
More than 4 billion people watched worldwide, and over a million people payed their respects in London. One look at the Queen's coffin, where the state crown, orb, and sceptre lay as she was carried into Westminster Abbey, makes clear that Elizabeth II's funeral was nothing short of extravagant.
Perhaps surprisingly, former president Ronald Reagan's funeral cost much more than that of Queen Elizabeth II, at a reported $400 million. Security, crowd control and a national day of mourning likely make up most of that cost — the funeral lasted a total of 7 days. Reagan's funeral is the most expensive not only of all former presidents, but also the most expensive in recent history.
Extravagant funerals in ancient history
Throughout history, individuals of immense power and influence have left their mark through a variety of remarkable means, even after death. The grandest and mightiest empires orchestrated the most opulent celebrations in honour of their leaders.
A common practice among historical leaders was to display their power and solidify their legacy through extravagant funerals after their passing. Extravagant funerals in ancient history were usually rooted in a civilisation's social norms and often reflected their intricate religious beliefs. Some of these ceremonies held to commemorate the departure of a leader or a prominent member of society exceeded the scale and grandeur of any modern-day funerals.
King Khufu and Queen Henutsen
Whether or not you've heard his name, the Ancient Egyptian King Khufu's influence is undeniable. He is the man responsible for the building of the Great Pyramid of Giza, where he and his Queen were to be interred following their deaths.
The Great Pyramid was constructed around 2550 BC, so we can't really ascribe a monetary value to the Pyramid — regardless of cost, commissioning the Great Pyramid of Giza is some undeniably extravagant end-of-life-planning.
Alexander the Great
Alexander III was the King of Macedon for 13 years in the 3rd century BCE. Known more commonly today as Alexander the Great, he is largely known for his military conquests. Following his death in Babylon aged 32, he had a funeral that's estimated to have cost today's equivalent of $600 million.
We can see the extravagance of Alexander's funeral procession as described in Charles Rollin's The Ancient History of Egyptians, Carthaginians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Medes and Persians, Grecians and Macedonians. Alexander's coffin is stated to be 'formed of beaten gold, and half filled with aromatic spices and perfumes'. Rollins also describes Alexander's chariot:
On [his] chariot was erected a pavilion of entire gold, twelve feet wide, and eighteen in length, supported by columns of the Ionic order, embellished with the leaves of acanthus. The inside was adorned with a blaze of jewels, disposed in the form of shells. The circumference was beautified with a fringe of golden network; the threads that composed the texture were an inch in thickness, and to those were fastened large bells, whose sound was heard at a great distance.
It's certainly safe to say that Alexander the Great had an extravagant funeral — based on the procession's monetary value, it really may be the most extravagant on this list.
While a direct cremation may be a less traditional option, it is by no means less meaningful. John Lennon and David Bowie are among those who've had direct cremations, opting for a memorial rather than a funeral — and they aren't the only ones.
If you want something a little different after you've passed away, there are many options for what you can do with ashes — from exotic scattering locations to cremation diamonds, there are many ways to add a touch of extravagance to your end-of-life wishes.
Turning ash into a commemorative item
There are many services that incorporate small amounts of cremation ash into jewellery. This can be in the jewellery itself, for example, a pendant made from metal mixed with ash, or in the form of urn jewellery, such as a necklace with a hollow pendant that can securely hold some cremated remains. It's also possible to turn ashes into a diamond using high pressure, high temperature (HPHT) machines. These cremation diamonds can then be incorporated into jewellery such as a ring or earrings.
Cremation jewellery may be popular, but it's not the only option. You can also have ashes pressed into a vinyl record, to uniquely commemorate a music lover. The record can contain anything from an album or playlist to a personal message from you or your loved one.
From glass to tattoos to trees, there are many options to consider if you're looking for an original way to remember a loved one, or planning for yourself after you're gone.
At Aura Flights, we specialise in one-of-a-kind space memorials. We scatter ashes in space, where they travel the globe for up to six months before returning to Earth as rain or snowflakes. Our premium scatter vessel was developed by our in-house engineering team to ensure a breathtaking scatter for each and every passenger.
A space scattering is the perfect option for lovers of space, astronomy, or travel — ashes scattered in space can come to rest all over the world, ensuring that your loved one stays with you wherever you go.