Saturday, October 27, 2012

THE DEATH OF BELA LUGOSI

The great Bela Lugosi was one of the greatest actors horror movies have ever seen. Lugosi took on the Dracula role and made it his own. Unfortunately, he was only remembered for that 1931 Dracula movie, and he was so much more of an actor.

He would play the Dracula character for a final time in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. in 1948. By this time, Lugosi's drug use was so notorious that the producers were not even aware that Lugosi was still alive, and had penciled in actor Ian Keith for the role. The film would be Bela Lugosi's last "A" movie. For the remainder of his life he appeared — less and less frequently — in obscure, low-budget features.Bela Lugosi died on August 16, 1956 of a coronary occlusion at the age of 73.  He was discovered in bed by his fifth wife, Hope, upon her return from work. Although he was all but forgotten in his later years, his death was deemed newsworthy enough for a photographer to rush to his apartment to snap a photograph of his body being wheeled away by the undertakers.


Hope told the press, “He was terrified of death. Towards the end he was very weary, but he was still afraid of death. Three nights before he died he was sitting on the edge of the bed. I asked him if he were still afraid to die. He told me that he was. I did my best to comfort him, but you might as well save your breath with people like that. They’re still going to be afraid of death.”

Bela’s death generated few in-depth obituaries. Most notices were embarrassingly brief, with the majority focusing on his much publicized  addiction to drugs, which came to light when he publicly committed himself to the Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk, California the previous April. 

Bela’s funeral service was held at 2:30p.m. on Saturday August 18th at the Utter-McKinley Mortuary Chapel on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. Prior to the service, his body lay in state in full Dracula garb. Although Hope told the press that “it was his wish” to be buried in his famous costume, it was actually the decision of Bela’s ex-wife Lillian and their son Bela Jnr.


The funeral service was a relatively small affair, conspicuous by the absence of Hollywood “big” names. In addition to Hope, Lillian and Bela Lugosi Jnr., those who attended included Zoltan Korda, filmmaker Edward D. Wood and his wife Kathy, Glen or Glenda producer George Weiss, Forest J Ackerman, actors Carroll Borland, Tor Johnson, Paul Marco, Conrad Brooks, Dudley Manlove and Loretta King, and Don Marlowe, one of Bela’s former agents. Moments before Bela’s casket was taken from the Utter McKinley Mortuary, Marlowe pushed aside pallbearer Richard Sheffield, one of Bela’s teenage friends, to ensure he was photographed by the waiting press.

Contrary to popular myth, Lillian Lugosi, not Frank Sinatra, paid for the funeral and the plot in Holy Cross Cemetery. Hope paid for the coffin. Bela was buried at the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, Los Angeles. 


3 comments:

  1. That's a sad but fascinating look at the end of Lugosi's life. I just watched him in MARK OF THE VAMPIRE last night, so your timing in posting this is great.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Sad way to go. In my mind, no one can play Dracula like Lugosi. He set the standard pretty high!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Visiting his grave is one of my favorite memories of my time in LA.

    ReplyDelete