Rest in Fame: Celebrity Tourism in Hollywood Cemeteries
This research is a critical study of tourism at four cemeteries in the Los Angeles area between 2013 and 2019: Hollywood Forever, Forest Lawn in Glendale, Forest Lawn in Hollywood, and Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery. We examined these venues through the lens of celebrity tourism, since they are known as "Hollywood memorial parks," hosting the graves of some of the most famous stars in the world. Through participant observation, informal conversations, and content analysis of texts we aimed to understand how the relationship between these venues and the entertainment industry works as a "pull factor" for tourists. Our data collection and analysis led to three main findings. Firstly, we identified the motivations behind the increasing number of tourists who add Los Angeles cemeteries to their must-see list. Although scholars often define cemeteries as dark tourism destinations, our investigation shows that Hollywood memorial parks are more related to celebrity tourism. Secondly, employing the notion of "cult of celebrity," we described how the experience of tourists visiting their favorite celebrity's grave can be seen as a modern pilgrimage centered on a collective experience. Thirdly, we analyzed the cemetery as a commodity in which executives work to promote the site as the perfect location where one can spend the "eternal life." In this sense, we also investigated how memorial parks are often used as venues for cultural events, attracting a large number of tourists. As described in the findings section, initiatives such as movie screenings and guided tours transform cemeteries into much more than just peaceful places where to honor the dead, becoming venues for both commodification and spectacle.