Famous Funerals in History and Modern Times

Updated September 8, 2020
Funeral for Abraham Lincoln

Certain famous funerals stand out for their opulence, expense, and size. Others are notable for their beauty. It's interesting to learn about how funerals of the rich and famous have changed over the years. These are some of the most famous funerals in history, as well as some important modern funerals.

Abraham Lincoln's Funeral: Washington, DC, 1865

One of the most famous funerals in history was for the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. After Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865, his body was carried to the White House where mourners could visit. A funeral procession then moved his body to the Capitol Rotunda, where it lay in state for a few more days. On April 21, Lincoln's body was loaded on a train headed to Springfield, Illinois, and his famous funeral train journey began. The train travelled through seven states and 180 cities, allowing more than 1.5 million mourners to visit his body and at least seven million people to stand in witness as the train passed.

Queen Victoria's Funeral: London, 1901

When Queen Victoria died in 1901, it marked the end of the Victorian age and the end of a 64-year reign. She had preplanned her funeral and requested a full state funeral, which meant a funeral procession to St. George's Chapel. Millions of people observed the procession. Queen Victoria requested that she be dressed in white and wear her wedding veil, a symbolic choice for a queen who had worn nothing but black since the death of her husband four decades before.

Rudolf Valentino's Funeral: Los Angeles and New York, 1926

When movie actor Rudolf Valentino died in 1926, he was severely in debt. In an attempt to recoup some of their losses, his creditors arranged a very public funeral to raise money. The first funeral took place in New York City, and so many people attended that some had to be turned away. A second funeral in Los Angeles gave even more mourners a chance to pay their respects.

Babe Ruth's Funeral: New York, 1948

Famed baseball player Babe Ruth had a larger-than-life funeral as well. After dying of throat cancer in 1948, he lay in state for two days at Yankee Stadium. About 100,000 people filed by his casket there to pay their respects. 6,000 people filled St. Patrick's Cathedral for his funeral mass, while 75,000 more waited outside in the pouring rain.

John F. Kennedy's Funeral: Washington, DC, 1963

While much controversy still surrounds the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, one thing is for certain -- his burial is one of the most famous funerals of the 20th century. Kennedy, who was the 35th President of the United States, was fatally shot in 1963. He lay in repose in the East Room of the White House for 24 hours. From there, the casket was carried to the U.S. Capitol to lie in state. Hundreds of thousands of people lined up to view the flag-draped, closed casket. Representatives from almost 100 countries attended this famous funeral. His service was held at St. Matthew's Cathedral and he was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Millions of people lined the procession route and many millions more watched it on television.

Sir Winston Churchill's Funeral: London, 1965

When Winston Churchill died in 1965, he had the largest state funeral in history. Churchill's body lay in state at Westminster Hall, and the line to view the body stretched for three miles. After three days of lying in state, more than 321,000 people viewed his body. The service was held at St. Paul's Cathedral, where 3,000 mourners paid their respects. After the funeral, Churchill's body was carried by train and boat to his final resting place at St. Martin's Church at Bladon. Millions of people watched as the funeral train passed.

Malcom X: New York City, 1965

El-Hajj Malik Shabazz, also known as Malcom X, was assassinated in 1965 and had a famous funteral in Harlam, New York. The public viewing in Harlam was attended by up to 30,000 people, including some of the most important Civil Rights activists of the 1960s. According to the Village Voice, at least 3,000 people attended the funeral ceremony.

Martin Luther King, Jr.: Atlanta, 1968

Following his assassination in 1968, the funeral of the great Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of the most famous funerals in history. King was refused a state funeral by Georgia governor Lestor Maddox, but he still had a service befitting his stature as a great leader. The first, private service at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta was attended by 1,300 people. Then a simple farm wagon pulled by two mules took King's body to a second service at Morehouse College. 100,000 people witnessed the procession, which passed by the capitol building.

Elvis Presley: Memphis, 1977

Compared to some famous funerals, Elvis Presley's was a modest affair. After he was embalmed at the Memphis (Tennessee) Funeral Home, his body was returned to his home, Graceland, for public viewing. More than 30,000 fans converged to bid farewell to this cultural icon. Televangelist Rex Humbard delivered the sermon, and many of Elvis' colleagues spoke (and sang) on his behalf. Following the service at Graceland, the funeral procession, which consisted of 14 white Cadillacs, proceeded through the fan-lined streets of Memphis to Forest Hill Cemetery where he was interned.

Princess Diana's Funeral: London, 1997

Princess Diana of Wales' funeral was just as elaborate as her wedding to Prince Charles. The divorced daughter-in-law of England's Queen Elizabeth II, the former Diana Spencer, died in a car crash in Paris, France, in 1997 at the age of 36. Diana's funeral followed a week of mourning in the United Kingdom. Her journey home included a four-mile procession from Kensington Palace to Westminster Abbey, where the Royal Family joined celebrities and politicians for a very solemn service. More than one million people lined the streets along watching the gun carriage that carried the princess. Walking the route behind the hearse was Diana's two sons, William and Harry, their father Prince Charles, their grandfather and her brother. Millions of people worldwide watched her funeral on television.

Ronald Reagan's Funeral: Washington, DC, 2004

Ronald Reagan, the 40th President of the United States, had what was arguably the most expensive funeral in modern history when he died in 2004. The seven-day event cost $400 million and involved services in Washington, DC and California. Millions of people filed past his coffin as he lay in state, and millions more watched the funeral on television.

Michael Jackson's Funeral: Los Angeles, 2009

When Michael Jackson died in 2009, he technically had a memorial service instead of a funeral. The event was held at Staples Center in Los Angeles. There, 17,500 people attended the service, which included eulogies by celebrities. Close to a million more people waited outside during the service, and millions more watched coverage of the memorial on television. There were musical tributes by some of the most famous singers and musicians in the world.

Nelson Mandela's Funeral, Qunu and Johannesburg, 2013

When Nelson Mandela, the first Black president of South Africa, died in 2013, his funeral was a days-long event. South Africa officially had 10 days of mourning, and while Mandela's body lay in state, at least 100,000 people paid their respects. Many foreign dignitaries and leaders attended his funeral in Qunu.

Personal and Meaningful Tributes

These famous funerals prove that the right tribute is personal, no matter how large the service is. Funerals can vary in length and content, but whether you're a celebrity or an ordinary person, the most important aspect of any service is that it is meaningful.

Famous Funerals in History and Modern Times