After visiting Hollywood dozens of times over the years, I wanted to try something a little different on my most recent visit. At the suggestion from a friend, I booked the Tragical History Tour at Dearly Departed Tours on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.
After walking into the Dearly Departed headquarters I was greeted to the sounds of a record player spinning the tunes of Wanda Jackson’s Country Gospel album. Not exactly what I expected from a tour operator that focuses on the deaths of famous celebrities.
Included in the price of admission is a visit to the Dearly Departed museum which houses a unique collection of bizarre artifacts from Hollywood celebrities. Pictured above on the left is a piece of tile from Jayne Mansfield’s pool as well as a hunk of cement from the women’s restroom where Jayne last stopped before she was tragically killed in a car accident at age 34.
Even more bizarre is a copy of the police report from when Paul Reubens (Pee Wee Herman) was arrested in 1991 for fondling himself in public at an adult move theater. There are dozens of these strange artifacts scattered all around the Dearly Departed waiting area for you to peruse before your tour begins.
The main event, of course, is a three hour tour through Hollywood aboard the Dearly Departed motor coach. Highlights include passing by the locations where celebrities like Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston passed away.
During the tour, guests are given a binder that gives more details of the locations you pass by because clearly you can’t just knock on the door and waltz in. Even more chilling, when available, you hear the frantic 911 calls (which are public record) of each celebrity death highlighted on the tour. If you think this all sounds incredibly morbid and creepy? It might be, but it’s actually extremely entertaining.
This man, Brian Donnelly, is the reason you need to book the Tragical History Tour. Admittedly, his tour doesn’t solely focus on the death of celebrities, its a hodgepodge of everything Hollywood. Just like Julia Child was born to cook and Sammy Davis Jr. was born to entertain, Brian Donnelly was born to be a tour guide.
Brian Donnelly is a walking encyclopedia of everything Hollywood. After riding in a motor coach with him for over three hours, he barely took a breath and spouted out far more facts, opinions and anecdotes than I can wrap my head around. He’s funny, engaging and most importantly, being a tour guide is not just a job for him, it’s a genuine passion. To give you an idea of who he is, check out this video he made in 2013. This is all the stuff the media doesn’t cover when the Oscars are on television and I find it fascinating.
What kind of guy is Brian Donnelly? He had his 47th birthday party by having dinner in the same restaurant Janice Joplin did (Barney’s Beanery) before she passed away, followed by staying in Room 105 at the Highland Gardens Hotel where Joplin died of a heroine overdose. That, my friends, is Brian Donnelly. He’s the eccentric guy you want to take you around Hollywood. I promise, you won’t hear many of his stories on any other tour.
Here’s something I learned while taking Brian’s tour. The Capitol Records building was designed by the same architect, Welton Becket, that created Disney’s Contemporary Hotel at Walt Disney World. Even more interesting is the tower was never designed to look like a stack of records with a “needle” at the top, that’s merely a coincidence. Also, the flashing red light at the top of the building spells out “Hollywood” in morse code. The switch to turn on the light was initially flipped by Leila Morse, the granddaughter of Samuel Morse who was the co-inventor of morse code.
Most interesting is finding Marilyn Monroe’s final resting place. Located to the right of her plot is where Hugh Hefner will be buried once he finally kicks the bucket.
Notice the pinkish color of Marilyn’s plot versus the stone right below it. That pink color is due to the thousands of women who visit her final resting place every year and kiss the marble. The marble has been stained from so many women’s lipstick kiss marks left over the years. There is another incredible story about who owns the burial plot just above Marilyn’s, but I will save that one for Brian Donnelly who will no doubt tell you while taking the Dearly Departed Tour.
Even if you are local to the Los Angeles area and you feel like you’ve seen it all, trust me, you will get your money’s worth from Dearly Departed Tours. You will learn things and see sights you never knew existed and look at Hollywood from a completely different perspective. Most importantly, make sure you request Brian Donnelly is your tour guide when booking. You will not regret it. For more information visit www.DearlyDepartedTours.com.
Images Copyright: Theme Park University and Brian Donnelly