Vital Signs

LA's Cult of the Dead

One of the many hearses that ply Hollywood Boulevard is different from all the others. The long gray Cadillac sports a sunroof, air-conditioning, and a cargo of live bodies, not dead ones. The vehicle is the flagship of Grave Line Tours, and every day its driver leads his seven passengers, each with a window seat, on what is most emphatically not the standard movieland excursion.

The company caters to those willing to pay $30 to view the places where various stars died in nasty ways. The demand appears heavy. One must make reservations, but if someone doesn't show, they accept "standby" passengers at $25. Today's group includes four Chicagoans, two locals, and your reporter. The driver explains that the other tour companies scorn their outfit. And the Westwood Memorial Park has gone so far as to ban Grave Lines from its sacred precincts. But we are not visiting any cemeteries today. This tour goes right on location.

The driver explains that every item on his "death sheet" has been researched and verified. We won't be seeing any memorabilia of the recently departed. They maintain a strict five-year "cooling off' period. "We don't want any necrophiliacs crowding in," our guide explains.

First stop is just around the corner, at a rather shabby motel where Janis Joplin "said goodbye to Bobby McGee for the last time." How did this happen? The singer...

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