The world of ashes always throws curve balls. People often say that the cremated remains of a person are priceless and in a sense this is true: they can’t be replaced; they can often be the most sentimental possession in the world or they may be unwanted. I think this the reason why so many couriers won’t touch them as they can’t insure them.
So the fact that the ashes of a famous celebrity have come up for auction is bizarre and fascinating. Truman Capote: author, socialite and general all-round celebrity is to have his ashes auctioned in Los Angles, the starting price for this macabre relic was $2,000, in fact the fetched $43,000!
The ashes are contained within a carved Japanese box and have been kept in the room where he passed away in the house of his friend Joanne Carson the widow of the famous US TV host. When Ms Carson passed away the executors of the estate pondered on what to do with Mr Capotes’ ashes, and after considering the ethical dimension they decide to sell them.
Bad taste? Well many think not, certainly not the auction house who think it is a good idea (surprise surprise) “With some celebrities this wouldn’t be tasteful, but I know 100% he would love it,” Darren Julien, president of Julien’s Auctions, told the Guardian. “He loved to create press opportunities and to read his name in the paper. I think he would love it that he’s still grabbing headlines today.”
He went on to say: “In this case it’s absolutely fine because it really embodies what Truman Capote was and what he loved to do,”. “Truman told Joanne that he didn’t want his ashes to sit on a shelf. So this is a different way of honouring his request. It is just furthering the adventures of Truman Capote.”
The ashes have had an interesting ‘life’ of their own, with them reported as being stolen (and returned) twice! The ashes were even invited to the Broadway version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s in 2013 opening gala but Carson, fearing another incident, kept them at home.
So this is interesting for two reasons: the morality and the legality. The morality, is right to flog someone’s moral remains under the hammer: is this not demeaning and in very poor taste? Well it depends. There are plenty of people who choose an eyebrow raising event for a loved one’s ashes. After reading Julian Barn’s Nothing to be Scared of where he discusses the clichéd expression: ‘what they would have wanted’ and his brother contends this to be a load of old tosh, future subjective, as one cannot say because it impossible to know! Personally I don’t think this a problem, and whilst one cannot know what Truman Capote ‘would have wanted’ it does seem entirely in keeping with his persona. As for the wider point that ashes are sacrosanct, well that depends which world view you hold and no one has a monopoly on what is correct.
As to the legality: I often report on this blog about rowing relatives going to court to settle who should have the ashes of a loved one and that the courts struggle on this because no one can own ashes in the same way that can’t own a body. So what will the contract say? What are these people buying, if those selling do not own the ashes? It would interesting to see if it was ever challenged….
I wonder if there might be a future market in the ashes of famous people? It would not be that surprising, if you think about it, the purchaser may decide to turn Mr Capote into a huge number keepsakes and sell them – you could end with a whole market in celebrity keepsakes, taking us back to the relic cult of the Middle Ages. And it wouldn’t be the first sort of occurrence like this: Napoleon’s penis and a kidney stone belonging to the actor William Shatner, which raised $75,000 for charity in 2006. So, watch this space…
Original story – well everywhere this was based on: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/aug/23/truman-capote-ashes-auction-breakfast-at-tiffanys-in-cold-blood