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Culture Re-View: Having the last laugh - Spike Milligan and other great gravestones

Three empty graves. What funny line would you put on yours?
Three empty graves. What funny line would you put on yours? Copyright Canva
Copyright Canva
By Jonny Walfisz
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For today's Culture Re-View, we take inspiration from the anniversary of comedian Spike Milligan's death to look at some of the best gravestone quips in history.

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27 February 2002: Spike Milligan’s gravestone has the last laugh

For the final Culture Re-View of last week, it was the anniversary of the day Russian troops invaded Ukraine. It seemed fitting to drop the chipper usual tone of this column and elect a more serious remembrance of a year at war.

So it seemed only fair to make the opening Re-View of this week a study of a more humorous, if indeed darkly comical, subject: gravestones.

Specifically, let’s take a look at some of the wittiest, snarkiest and wryest gravestone epitaphs that have been preserved by history. And where else could we start but one of the best comedians ever, Spike Milligan.

Milligan died on this day in 2002 at the age of 83. Before his death, he made his name as an irreverent Irish-English writer, actor, comedian and more. He’s probably best known as a co-creator and member of the Goons, and their ‘50s radio comedy programme ‘The Goon Show’. Alongside other legendary comedy figures like Peter Sellers, Milligan’s show went on to inspire other surrealist comedy groups like Monty Python.

“I told you I was ill”

As one of Britain’s most beloved comedians, it was only fitting therefore that when he died, he should have an equally funny epitaph. He had previously said he wanted his headstone to bear the words “I told you I was ill”. However, because Milligan was buried at St Thomas' churchyard in East Sussex, UK, the diocese wouldn’t let him have the line written.

Jonathan844 via Wikimedia Commons
Spike Milligan's graveJonathan844 via Wikimedia Commons

Luckily, his family found a way around the Church’s un-fun ruling. They translated the line into Gaelic. “Dúirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite” was chiselled in, and the diocese was perfectly happy to let it stand to this day.

Frank Sinatra

Leave it to an old crooner like Sinatra to put a line this smoothe on his gravestone. The Rat Pack member and singer of classics like ‘New York, New York’ has the title of one of his finest songs on his grave. “The best is yet to come”.

Frank Carson

Another Irish comedian has made the list. The Northern Irish comedian was a hit on British television throughout the ‘70s. When he died in 2012, at the age of 85, he had “What a way to lose weight” written on the headstone.

Winston Churchill

The wartime Prime Minister, Churchill was a formidable fellow. The cigar-smoking politician led the UK through the Second World War, although his responsibility for the Bengal famine has tarnished his legacy significantly.

Still, he was well aware of the kind of person he was in his life. It might not be on his actual grave, but the statesman’s epitaph was fittingly: “I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”

Mel Blanc

And finally for our list of excellent gravestone quips, it could only be Mel Blanc, the American voice actor who is probably best known today as the original voice behind classic cartoon characters like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Tweety, Sylvester, Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn, and the Tasmanian Devil among others for the ‘Looney Tunes’ series.

Taking inspiration from the show’s sign-off, when Blanc died in 1989, his headstone in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery reads: “That’s all folks.”

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