Hollywood Forever Cemetery Events Breathe Life Into the Unlikeliest of Places

Featured image credit: Gary Minnaert

No one wants to hear “I’ll spit on your grave.” But “I’ll sit on your grave?” More than one Hollywood luminary would be happy to oblige. And that’s the underlying theme of Hollywood Forever Cemetery; a place where even death can’t pull the stars from their spotlights. Those interred at this cemetery have chosen posthumous revelry over resting in peace. Fortunately,  a seemingly endless stream of Hollywood Forever Cemetery events satisfies their final requests. So what can you expect from the most lively graveyard in the world? 

A Brief History of Hollywood Forever Cemetery

Photo credit: Mike Jiroch

If you’ve lived in Los Angeles for any significant amount of time, you’re likely well aware of Hollywood Forever. It may not be as sprawling as Forest Lawn. But it’s not just one of the oldest cemeteries in LA. It’s still the only cemetery in Hollywood. 

Before infinity was promised by adding “Forever” to the name, the star-studded graveyard was simply known as Hollywood Cemetery. A team of investors established it in 1899 before selling parcels off to Paramount Pictures. Keep in mind that none of this sold land had been used as a cemetery. Today, Paramount’s studio lot shares the same block as Hollywood Forever. Another part of the land was reserved for the Beth Olam Cemetery, an exclusive graveyard for Hollywood’s Jewish community. 

In 1939, Hollywood Cemetery became Hollywood Memorial Park. It wasn’t until 1998 that its name was updated to the one we recognize today, and Hollywood Forever Cemetery events became a thing. It’s still a fully operational cemetery with frequent services, a funeral home, a crematorium, and a gift shop. But it’s also become an important cultural hub for the Hollywood neighborhood and, by extension, Los Angeles. 

Hollywood Forever Cemetery Movies

Photo credit: Cinespia

Yeah, we’re not talking about movies filmed at Hollywood Forever (though there are plenty of those to go around). Arguably the most popular of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery events is Cinespia’s annual cinematic programming. The organization invites Angelenos to picnic under the stars amidst some of Hollywood’s undisputed legends as classic films are projected along the ample facade of a mausoleum bordering the Fairbanks Lawn. 

Cinespa has become something of a fixture on the LA scene over the years. This year will mark the organization’s 23rd season, making it the longest-running outdoor cinema experience in LA. While their Hollywood Forever selections are probably their most popular, they also do screenings at other venues around the city. 

There’s a surprising amount of liberty at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery events organized by Cinespia. For example, you can bring your own food, including beer and wine (though hard liquor is expressly prohibited). When was the last time you tipped back a bottle of champagne in a graveyard? Actually, maybe don’t answer that. 

Día de los Muertos Celebration

Photo credit: Joey Zanotti

Each year at the end of October or early November, the line between the living and the fabulous dead blurs for one of the most beloved Hollywood Forever Cemetery events. The Día de los Muertos celebration inspires a cemetery-wide parade of elaborate costumes, intricate ofrendas (memorial altars), live music, art, and general festivity. It’s the perfect way to honor the Mexican Day of the Dead with equal parts revelry and respect. 

This is an interactive event where patrons are encouraged to dress up in festive costumes. You can even bring your own ofrenda if you apply in advance at the event’s official site. Don’t have a costume? You can typically find intricate facepainting services onsite for a fee.  Día de los Muertos takes place rain or shine because death doesn’t wait.  

Hollywood Forever Cemetery Events for Live Music

Hollywood Forever Cemetery also offers one of the city’s most intimate venues for seeing live music: the historic Masonic Lodge. When it opened its doors in 1927, live performances were likely far from the visitor’s minds. Today, it’s hosted the likes of:

  • Moby
  • Ryan Adams
  • J Mascis
  • Karen O
  • Johnny Marr
  • The National
  • The Breeders
  • Sleater-Kinney 
  • Chvrches
Photo credit: Justin Higuchi

But a cemetery that doesn’t restrain its residents to the afterlife can’t be expected to constrain its live performances with a single venue. That’s why the cemetery itself also serves as a venue for outdoor shows. A pulse-checking plethora of artists have performed on the grounds for a live (and not-so-live) audience. They include:

  • Lana Del Rey
  • The Flaming Lips
  • Father John Misty
  • St. Vincent
  • Angel Olsen
  • Death Cab For Cutie
  • Billy Idol
  • Beach House
  • Sufjan Stevens
  • Garbage
  • Tame Impala
  • Modest Mouse 

Touring Hollywood Forever

If you’d like a more traditional means of experiencing the grounds, a guided tour may be your favorite of the numerous Hollywood Forever Cemetery events consistently offered to the public. It’s a fantastic way to explore the cemetery’s rich history. The nearly three-hour tour visits some of the cemetery’s most famed resting places and memorials including those of:

  • Judy Garland
  • Cecil B. DeMille
  • Rudolph Valentino
  • Mickey Rooney 
  • Tyrone Power
  • Douglas Fairbanks
  • Johnny Ramone
  • Dee Dee Ramone
  • Valerie Harper
  • Chris Corner
Photo credit: Sean Russell

You can even sign up for the occasional night tour. Just be careful of wandering peacocks. The grounds are full of them! 

Additional Hollywood Forever Cemetery Events

So much for “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” If you think this is a full calendar, you’ll be shocked to learn organizers still find ways to fit in more enticing Hollywood Forever Cemetery events throughout the year. The cemetery has been the site of several film and television premiers, podcast tapings, and author talks and readings. With events typically selling out quickly, it’s safe to say that hanging out in the cemetery isn’t just for goths these days. But we suppose the hitmakers of Hollywood Forever are just dying the way they lived… in the spotlight. 

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