“Believe me, if a man doesn’t know death, he doesn’t know life.”
-Lionel Barrymore in Grand Hotel
Hello, Death Hags.
Welcome to Find a Death.
So you want to know where this nonsense comes from?
I’ve been interested in death since I was a tyke. My mother recalls taking me to a funeral of a young family member when I was 3 years old. On their way to the grave site, I noticed the tent set up, and asked, “Mom, are we going to the circus?” I suppose in a way, we were.
Growing up in Detroit, I lived on one of the most dangerous intersections in the city. Fatal accidents were the norm. There was a family ritual – when we were jarred awake from our slumber by that horrible noise of a car accident. One would call the police, one would grab the towels, etc. One night while I was asleep, a car hit a lamp post in front of our house. I heard the sound of slamming brakes, the impact, and the live wires of a fallen street light zapping away. I got out of bed, looked out the window, yawned, and returned to bed. You get the idea.
The first celebrity deaths of any real recollection to me were Martin Luther King and Janis Joplin. When Florence Ballard of the Supremes passed away in 1976, it was practically a school holiday. I became obsessed.
A person dies two deaths. The first is when they draw their last breath.
The second is the last time their name is spoken aloud.
A habit I started when I was young, was to thumb directly to the end of any biography, to find out how and where they died. If there were photos – even better. I could (and still can) stare for hours at that photo of Marilyn’s body being removed from her Brentwood home in a body bag. At the same time, I also discovered the joy of cemeteries. When I was a Boy Scout I would ditch organized hikes, to explore a new grave yard.
Eventually, I left Detroit and made my way to Chicago, where I started my company, Dearly Departed. It specialized in dead celebrity memorabilia. Key chains, T-shirts, etc, adorned with tombstone photographs. It was also then that I became fanatic about tracking down my favorite celebrity graves. It was natural that I hooked up with Greg Smith, and his famous Grave Line Tours, in Hollywood. With a smile on my face I quit my law firm job, loaded up the truck and moved to Beverly… on my own dime – a month after the Northridge earthquake. Perfect timing.
One of the first things I changed at Grave Line Tours, was the rule to wait five years until after someone died before adding them to the tour. My thought is: we bring people to the news. That decision brought the company from near bankruptcy, to success – appearing on such shows as 20/20, Entertainment Tonight, and with a little help from O.J. Simpson, CNN. Of course, with success comes bullshit. I left.
Just before my liberation from Grave Line, I fell in love (this was 1996) and moved to the UK. Because of my immigration status, I was unable to leave for about a year and a half. Princess Diana died. It drove me nuts not being able to travel the short distance to Paris to see the tunnel. As you can see by the photograph below, I made it. Within minutes of getting my status from the government, there was me, straight (ish) to the pillar. When I got there and I touched the exact spot where the Diana’s Mercedes hit the post, I felt really strange, I was in awe. I kept thinking, “All that drama – the event of Diana’s death – the world’s reaction – it all started right here.”
Scott Michaels in the tunnel where Diana was killed.
That’s why I started Find a Death in 1999. I wanted to assemble the stories of people’s deaths, with photographs. I get a lot of flack for this, but obviously the right people get it because several thousand visit this site, every day. I also get a lot of heat for interjecting comments and opinions. My response to that? Get your own website and do it yourself. I did. Am I being disrespectful? Maybe. Do I care about the people I write about? Usually. Fame doesn’t stop when you are dead. Plus, if you were a dick in life, that hasn’t changed because you died. Right, der Bingle?
In my research, I have visited probably thousands of final breath locations and graves, and documented them in detail. Along the way, I have managed to acquire a tastelessly wonderful collection of articles including an oil painting done by convicted serial killer John Wayne Gacy, a piece of the Hindenburg, Mae West’s teeth, bricks from fireplace which witnessed the famous Manson Murders, a piece of John Denver’s airplane, and most notably, the Jayne Mansfield Death Car.
Through Find a Death and Dearly Departed Tours I have become a person people come to chronicle the last hours of celebrities lives, and have appeared skads of TV shows, magazines and newspapers. I was a technical consultant on the TV show Aquarius, American Horror Story and Quentin Tarantino’s film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
Hey this is cool! I made a show for E! called Celebrity Death Trip.
With Mike Dorsey, we’ve produced three full-length documentaries, Dearly Departed Vol. 1 and 2, and The Six Degrees of Helter Skelter – a geographic retelling of the Tate/Labianca murders of 1969 which Rex Reed called, “A hair-raising trip to the dark side of Hollywood, better than any movie…Nothing helter skelter about it. It cuts to the facts and gives you nightmares!”
A huge accomplishment for me was the publication of my book Rocky Horror, From Concept to Cult, a collection of interviews from the cast and crew of The Rocky Horror Show, and Rocky Horror Picture Show. I’ve consulted and contributed to hundreds of books, television programs and articles.
Fun Fact: Find a Death was named in the Supreme Court as the worst case scenario for what can happen to you when you die.
Weirdo Fun Fact: This happened.
Fun Fact: I’m in Trivia games!
Fun Fact: Dean Martin bought me a beer.
Fun Fact: I have my own cremation niche at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, with my neighbor being Larry Tate from Bewitched. (Thanks Gary and Nancy for christening it for me!)
In 2002 I returned to Hollywood, and 2004 it was with great joy that I announced my own new venture into the sightseeing industry, Dearly Departed Tours and Artifact Museum.
Find a Death is consistently looked upon as a good resource for death information. Find a Death cannot exist without the help of others, and if there are any notorious locations that you have photographed, or if you are planning a vacation somewhere and fancy a bit of “alternative tourism,” drop me a line. I have hundreds of locations that I’d like photographs of, and, to quote Sandra Bernhard, “Without you, I’m nothing.”
My good buddy Kevin Hassell helps me (us) out a lot with stories and additions. Kevin normally works in management in New Jersey, and we’re really darn lucky to have him. Thanks Kevin.
Thank YOU, Scotty! Like he said, I am his “behind the scenes man.” Please feel free to send me any info at the link above. Thanks for coming to the site, everyone!-K.
Stay cool. Stay sane.