Sunday, April 18

The Strange Death of Gram Parsons 1973

In the late 1960s,Gram Parsons became enamored of Joshua Tree National Monument in southeastern California. Alone or with friends, he would disappear in the desert for days searching for UFOs while under the intoxicating influence of psilocybin or LSD. After splitting from Burrell, Parsons would frequently spend his weekends in the area with Margaret Fisher and Phil Kaufman. Before his tour Parsons had scheduled to commence in October 1973, Parsons decided to go on one more excursion. Accompanying him were Fisher, personal assistant Michael Martin, and Dale McElory, Martin's girlfriend. Less than two days after arriving, Parsons died September 19, 1973 in Joshua Tree, California at the age of 26 from an overdose of morphine and alcohol. According to Fisher in the 2005 biographyGrievous Angel: An Intimate Biography of Gram Parsons, the amount of morphine consumed by Parsons would be lethal to three regular users and thus he had likely overestimated his tolerance considering his experience with opiates. Fisher and McElroy  returned to Los Angeles & Kaufman dispersed the remnants of Parsons' stash in the desert. Parsons' body disappeared from the Los Angeles International Airport where it was amidst preparations for shipment to Louisiana for burial. Prior to his death, Parsons stated that he wanted his body cremated at Joshua Tree and his ashes spread over Cap Rock, a prominent natural feature there; however, Parsons's stepfather arranged for a private ceremony back in New Orleans and neglected to invite any of his friends from the music industry. Two accounts claim that Bob Parsons stood to inherit Gram's share of his grandfather's estate if he could prove that Gram was "a resident of Louisiana," explaining his eagerness to have him buried there.To fulfill Parsons' "funeral" wishes, Kaufman and a friend stole his body from the airport and in a borrowed hearse drove it to Joshua Tree where they attempted to cremate it by pouring five gallons of gasoline into the open coffin and throwing a lit match inside. What resulted was an enormous fireball. Police chased them, but according to one account they "were encumbered by sobriety," and got away. Several days later the two were arrested. Since there was no law against stealing a dead body, they were only levied a fine of $750 for stealing the coffin and were not prosecuted for leaving 35 lbs of his charred remains in the desert.

Parsons' makeshift memorial in Joshua Tree, California
The site of Parsons' cremation was later marked by a small concrete slab and  presiding over it by a large rock flake known to rock climbers as 'The Gram Parsons memorial hand traverse'.The slab has since been removed by the U.S. National Park Service and has been relocated to the Joshua Tree Inn which was where he was staying at the time of his death. At the site of the original memorial now are simple rock structures and writings on the rock which the park service sand blasts to remove from time to time.

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