The Story of Gram Parsons Death
In the late 1960s, famed LA country musician Gram Parsons became enamored of Joshua Tree National Monument in southeastern California. Parsons would frequently spend his weekends in the area with girlfriends and close friends. Before his tour was scheduled to commence in October 1973, Parsons decided to go on one more excursion.
Less than two days after arriving, Parsons died on September 19, 1973, in Josua Tree, California, at the age of 26 from an overdose of morphine and alcohol.
Parsons’ body disappeared from the Los Angeles International Airport where it was being readied to be shipped to Louisiana for burial, per his father’s request. Prior to his death, Parsons stated that he wanted his body cremated at Joshua Tree and his ashes spread over Cap Rock.
To fulfill Parsons’ funeral wishes, Parson’s friends stole his body from the airport and in a borrowed hearse drove it to Joshua Tree. Upon reaching the Cap Rock section of the park, they attempted to cremate Parsons’ corpse by pouring five gallons of gasoline into the open coffin and throwing a lit match inside. What resulted was an enormous fireball. The police gave chase but, as one account puts it, “were encumbered by sobriety,” and the men escaped. The two were arrested several days later. Since there was no law against stealing a dead body, they were only fined $750 for stealing the coffin and were not prosecuted for leaving 35 lbs of his charred remains in the desert.
The site of Parsons’ cremation was marked by a small concrete slab and was presided over by a large rock flake known to rock climbers as The Gram Parsons Memorial Hand Traverse. The slab has since been removed by the U.S. National Park Service, and relocated to the Joshua Tree Inn. There is no monument at Cap Rock noting Parsons’ cremation at the site. Joshua Tree park guides are given the option to tell the story of Parsons’ cremation during tours, but there is no mention of the act in official maps or brochures. Fans regularly assemble simple rock structures and writings on the rock, which the park service sand blasts to remove from time to time.