(Spoiler Alert) Now that the award-winning TV series Breaking Bad has finished its run, if you plan to watch past episodes and don’t want to know how it ends, don’t read this post.
(Still reading? Don’t say I didn’t warn you.) Walter White dies in the last episode of Breaking Bad. Here in Albuquerque, where the series was based, local fans released a torrent of emotion. Their tributes included a paid obituary in the newspaper and a funeral — for a fictional TV character! It’s an interesting commentary on the perceived value of funeral services.
On October 3, members of the Unofficial Breaking Bad Fan Tour Facebook page placed a paid obituary in the Albuquerque Journal. Here’s how it read:
WHITE, WALTER: a.k.a. “Heisenberg,” 52, of Albuquerque, died Sunday after a long battle with lung cancer, and a gunshot wound. A co-founder of Gray Matter, White was a research chemist who taught high school chemistry, and later founded a meth manufacturing empire. He is survived by his wife, Skyler Lambert; son Walter “Flynn” Jr.; and daughter Holly. A private memorial was held by his family. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to a drug abuse prevention charity of your choice. He will be greatly missed.
The announcement, which included a photo of actor Bryan Cranston as Walter White, ran in another part of the paper away from the real death announcements. That issue of the newspaper sold out in many locations, and out-of-state orders poured in to the Journal’s circulation department.
The online story became the most-read article on the newspaper’s website since they started keeping track in 2006. The obituary itself or news about it was posted to websites including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Seattle Times, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, MSN, Yahoo, Variety, TMZ, The Atlantic, E-online, US News and World Report, Christian Post, Perez Hilton and the Daily Mail in the United Kingdom.
Then there was the October 19 graveside funeral service for Walter White at Sunset Memorial Park. More than 200 people attended. The funeral also served as a fundraiser for Albuquerque’s Health Care for the Homeless nonprofit organization.
A funeral procession started at the Walter White descanso. Descansos are a common sight in the Southwest. It’s a roadside memorial, usually a cross, which marks the spot where someone dies. The procession included Bernalillo County Sheriff’s deputies, a tan, beat-up RV made famous in the show, a hearse and 80 cars carrying diehard fans. The procession shut down streets and took 10 minutes to pass.
Sunset Memorial Park officials agreed to hold the funeral only after being assured that they could remove the memorial, should it become an attraction. The rectangular tombstone was to be installed away from real graves.
When some families were upset by the headstone placement in the cemetery near buried loved ones, the cemetery requested the stone be removed. It is now enshrined at Vernon’s Hidden Valley Steakhouse, a restaurant in Albuquerque’s North Valley. Vernon’s created an endowment fund for Albuquerque’s Health Care for the Homeless from proceeds related to the funeral.
Funeral attendees said they were there to pay their respects and find some kind of closure. While that’s what funerals are designed to help do, remember, this was a fictional person who entered people’s homes on Sunday evenings.
Everyone needs to take note of Walter White’s memorialization. How would your obituary read? What would you want done with your body? Would people flock to your funeral? Before there’s an unexpected death – hopefully, not by gunshot – plan ahead and have a conversation.
Gail Rubin is author of the award-winning book A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die and The Family Plot Blog. Her 12-episode TV show, also called A Good Goodbye, is now available in a 4-DVD set. Rubin is a Certified Celebrant and death educator who uses funny films to help start funeral planning conversations. Her website is http://AGoodGoodbye.com.
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