Posted: Jan 1, 2009 8:15 pm |
Edited by: Rich Balls
Beaumont, Texas -- Rock 'n' roll's most macabre historical artifact will go on the block when the family of the late 1950s pop star J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson auctions his casket on eBay sometime in the next few weeks - almost 50 years after "the day the music died."
The Big Bopper's 16-gauge steel casket was exhumed last year from his original grave at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Beaumont, Texas, so it could be moved to a more visible location with a life-size statue and historic marker. The disinterment also offered forensic experts a chance - with his family's blessing - to examine the pop singer's unautopsied remains after his death in rock 'n' roll's first great tragedy.
On Feb. 3, 1959, Richardson died at age 28 in the crash of a small plane in a field near Clear Lake, Iowa, that also killed 1950s rock stars Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens and sent a shock wave around the world. The accident was immortalized as "the day the music died" in "American Pie," an early-1970s hit song by Don McLean.
Richardson was buried a few days later in his Beaumont hometown with great fanfare, including tributes from Elvis Presley and others.
Jay Richardson, the Bopper's son, plans to sell the empty casket on eBay to raise money for a musical show about his father and to keep the Bopper's memory alive. Born three months after the crash, Jay, who lives in Katy, Texas, never met his father in life - but saw him for the first time at his exhumation.
"Wouldn't it be wonderful to bring Dad back to life?" Jay, 49, said recently from Canada, where he was touring with a tribute act to his father, Holly and Valens.
"I have no personal use for the casket," he said. "When you get down to it, it is just a metal box. ... Even though it was Dad's resting place for 48 years, it's also a unique opportunity to learn more about the early years of rock 'n' roll."
The exhumed casket is in surprisingly good condition after 48 years in the muddy gumbo of Southeast Texas. It bears minor rust spots and a white lime stain showing where several inches of water once leaked into the surrounding vault, but there was no evidence water had ever seeped into the casket itself.
Inside, forensic examiners found the Big Bopper's well-preserved corpse, dressed in a black suit and a blue-and-gray striped tie. He wore socks, but no shoes. Most remarkably, his thick brown hair was still perfectly coiffed in his familiar, 1950s flat-top.
After the 2007 autopsy found he died of crash-related injuries, the Big Bopper was reburied in a sleek new casket donated by the Batesville Casket Co., which made the original. Since late last year, the old casket has been on public display at the Texas Musicians Museum in Hillsboro, Texas.
The Big Bopper died right as he was hitting the big time. The happy-go-lucky Texas DJ in a leopard-skin jacket would sell a million records but never see a dime from his greatest hit, "Chantilly Lace." He also wrote the George Jones hit, "White Lightning." Tom Kreason, the Texas Musicians Museum's founder, admits the casket is macabre but says it is a "priceless" artifact of a historic moment in music. He approached some auction houses about selling the casket, but "they all seemed confused," so he decided to reach for a wider audience on eBay. The Texas Musicians Museum will receive an undisclosed share of the sale, he said.
How much could a used celebrity casket bring on the open market? A handful of memorabilia dealers shied away from guessing, largely because a used celebrity casket has never been offered for sale.
"Certainly there'll be some distaste, but I think this is a piece of history that is very special," Kreason said. "Even if it doesn't sell, we've made a point about the historical value of J.P. Richardson. No matter what happens, he wins, historically."