Bela Lugosi died in his sleep at about 6:45 p.m. on Thursday, August 16th, 1956. He was 73. The cause of death was recorded as a coronary occlusion with myocardial fibrosis. His body was discovered by his fifth wife, Hope, in their apartment at 5620 Harold Way, Los Angeles, on her return from work. Although he was all but forgotten in his later years, his death was deemed newsworthy enough for a photographer to rush to his apartment to snap a photograph of his body being wheeled away by the undertakers.
Geza Kende’s magnificent portrait looks on as Bela’s body is removed from his apartment
Hope told the press, “He was terrified of death. Towards the end he was very weary, but he was still afraid of death. Three nights before he died he was sitting on the edge of the bed. I asked him if he were still afraid to die. He told me that he was. I did my best to comfort him, but you might as well save your breath with people like that. They’re still going to be afraid of death.”
Bela’s death generated few in-depth obituaries. Most notices were embarrassingly brief, with the majority focusing on his much publicized addiction to drugs, which came to light when he publicly committed himself to the Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk, California the previous April.
The funeral plaque displayed at Bela’s funeral
Bela’s funeral service was held at 2:30p.m. on Saturday August 18th at the Utter-McKinley Mortuary Chapel on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. Prior to the service, his body lay in state in full Dracula garb. Although Hope told the press that “it was his wish” to be buried in his famous costume, it was actually the decision of Bela’s ex-wife Lillian and their son Bela Jnr.
Bela photographed lying in state in the Strother Chapel of the Utter McKinley Mortuary by his teenage friend, David Katzman
The funeral service was a relatively small affair, conspicuous by the absence of Hollywood “big” names. In addition to Hope, Lillian and Bela Lugosi Jnr., those who attended included Hungarian directors Zoltan Korda and Steve Sekely, Scotty Beale (assistant director on Dracula, Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Raven), Robert Boyle (associate art director on The Wolfman), filmmaker Edward D. Wood and both his current wife Kathy and former wife Norma McCarty, Glen or Glenda producer George Weiss, Forest J. Ackerman (editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland), actors and actresses Carroll Borland (Mark of the Vampire), Tor Johnson and Paul Marco (Bride of the Monster and Plan 9 from Outer Space), Conrad Brooks and Dudley Manlove (Plan 9 from Outer Space), Loretta King (Bride of the Monster), and Don Marlowe, one of Bela’s former agents. Moments before Bela’s casket was taken from the Utter McKinley Mortuary, Marlowe pushed aside pallbearer Richard Sheffield, one of Bela’s teenage friends, to ensure he was photographed by the waiting press.
Don Marlowe, back left, looks into the camera while the other pallbearers, including Edward D. Wood Jr., second right, concentrate on their footing
Bela’s funeral book, pallbearer card and newspaper clippings
Contrary to popular myth, Lillian Lugosi, not Frank Sinatra, paid for the funeral and the plot in Holy Cross Cemetery. Hope paid for the coffin. Bela was buried at the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, Los Angeles. (Andi Brooks)