People

Published: Monday December 16, 2013 MYT 6:00:00 AM
Updated: Monday December 16, 2013 MYT 8:33:43 AM

5 epic funerals

Farewell, Madiba: The coffin of Nelson Mandela is carried on a gun carriage for a traditional burial after the funeral ceremony in Qunu, South Africa, on Dec 15, 2013. – Reuters

Farewell, Madiba: The coffin of Nelson Mandela is carried on a gun carriage for a traditional burial after the funeral ceremony in Qunu, South Africa, on Dec 15, 2013. – Reuters

As the world bade a final goodbye to Nelson Mandela yesterday in what’s been one of the biggest funerals in recent times, we look at five epic funerals that have stood out.

NELSON Mandela was laid to rest in his ancestral home in Qunu yesterday after an eventful week of international mourning that has seen his beloved South African nation of 52 million, peers, admirers and prominent leaders from around the world paying tribute to the colossal anti-apartheid figure. The former president died aged 95 in Johannesburg on Dec 5.

National holidays, flags flown at half-mast, memorial services, musical dedications, speeches and eulogies – not to mention a selfie gaffe involving US President Barack Obama that went viral on social media – all made Mandela’s funeral quite epic, befitting his stature as a deeply revered statesman notable for advocating equality and reconciliation.

There have been other epic funerals before Mandela’s. Here's five of them:

Goodbye England’s rose

On Sept 6, 1997, over a million people lined the streets of London to pay their last respects to Diana, Princess of Wales, who died in a car crash in Paris aged 36, as her horse-drawn hearse made its way to Westminster Abbey. Attended by family, royals and celebrities, and watched by more than two billion people in a global live broadcast, Diana’s funeral was incontrovertible proof of her fame. Although divorced from Prince Charles, Diana, as the mother of a future king of Britain, Prince William, and a highly popular royal, was accorded a funeral so grand – costing up to RM40mil – anyone would have thought she was queen of the world. Add the astonishing outpouring of grief, Elton John’s rewritten version of Candle In The Wind, and that white envelope on her coffin poignantly addressed to “Mummy” by her second son, Prince Harry, Diana's funeral was stunning in scale, sight and power.

Covered in 'heaven’s tears'

North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong-il’s final send-off on Dec 28, 2011, in Pyongyang, was as massive as the larger-than-life image painted of him when he was alive. In video footage released by state media, a major funeral cortege led by Kim’s coffin and giant portrait, driven in two Lincoln Continental limousines, passed a 40km route covered in snow local reporters described as “heaven’s tears”. Thousands could be seen publicly grieving, some beating their chests and flailing in remorse as they watched their Dear Leader ­– who died at 69 reportedly of a heart attack – one last time. Afterwards, it was alleged that anyone whose sorrow didn’t seem genuine enough faced six months in a labour camp.

Out with a bang

Cult American writer Hunter S. Thompson’s love of weapons and explosives was as legendary as the freewheeling “gonzo” life famously depicted by Johnny Depp in Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. Putting a gun to his head and fatally shooting himself at home, his demise at the age of 67 was just as dramatic. So when news got out that Thompson’s funeral would see his ashes shot out of a cannon, it seemed apt. On Aug 20, 2005, the cannon – which was placed atop a 47m tower shaped like a fist clutching a peyote button – launched Thompson’s remains. It was followed by fireworks and music. According to Thompson’s widow, the funeral was funded by Depp, who had become a close friend. Depp confirmed it and added: "All I'm doing is trying to make sure his last wish comes true.”

The huge throng at Tan Sri Loh Boon Siew's funeral procession.

Seven lorries of flowers

The funeral of Penang tycoon and philanthropist Tan Sri Loh Boon Siew, better known as “Mr Honda” for introducing Honda’s four-stroke motorcycles into Malaysia and popularising its use, was perhaps one of the biggest public funerals ever held in the northern state. On Feb 23, 1997, an estimated 10,000 people marched in Loh’s funeral procession, which began at his house in Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah, winding 2km through the main streets of George Town, before ending up at the Batu Gantung cemetery. To put it into perspective, seven big lorries were needed to transport all the condolence bouquets and wreaths sent to Loh’s family. Loh died in his sleep; he was 79.

As far as the eye can see: The multi-million turnout at C.N. Annadurai's funeral. 

The biggest farewell

While Diana’s may be the most widely televised, the funeral of former chief minister of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, C.N. Annadurai, on Feb 3, 1969, still holds the Guinness World Records for the “most attended funeral” with an estimated 15 million. The throng forming the procession in the state capital Chennai can be seen in photos stretching far into the horizon, following Annadurai’s casket in a reverence usually accorded to deities. In many ways the leader, who died of cancer aged 59, was god-like: unassuming in life, and humble among his people, this champion of Tamil rights and culture in India truly deserved his farewell to end all farewells.

Tags / Keywords: People, epic funerals, Nelson Mandela, Diana, Kim Jong-il, Hunter S. Thompson, Loh Boon Siew, C.N. Annadurai

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