How Somebody Stole Gram Parsons’ Body, and Got Away With It
Gram Parsons was one of the most influential musicians of his generation – though the true extent of his influence would not be felt until after his death.
The singer-songwriter, guitarist and pianist was a pioneer in country rock, and the unusual aftermath of his passing – being burned in the desert by his friend and road manager – cemented his legendary status. The court case from that incident was settled on Nov. 6, 1973.
Parsons first rose to fame with the Byrds, whose keystone album Sweethearts of the Rodeo owed much to his cross-genre sensibilities. He and fellow Byrd alumnus Chris Hillman founded the Flying Burrito Brothers in 1969, releasing their seminal debut album, The Gilded Palace of Sin, before the year was through.
A second album, Burrito Deluxe, followed in 1970, but Parsons was fired from the group before it saw release, due in no small part to his burgeoning drug use. Two solo albums followed: GP in 1973, which introduced the world to Emmylou Harris, and Grievous Angel, which emerged posthumously in 1974 and would become one of the keystone albums of the incipient country rock scene that spawned more commercially successful artists like the Eagles.
Parsons died from a massive overdose of morphine and alcohol on Sept. 19, 1973. In honor of a mutual pact they had shared, his friend and tour manager Phil Kaufman – whose notorious road exploits with artists ranging from Frank Zappa to Nanci Griffith earned him the moniker "Road Mangler" – stole Parsons' body. It was being readied for shipping from the Los Angeles International Airport to Louisiana, against the singer's stated wishes.
Kaufman and a friend drove Parsons' body out to Joshua Tree National Park, where Parsons and Kaufman had agreed that they would each burn the other's body if it became necessary. Reaching the Cap Rock section of the park as promised, Kaufman poured gas into Parsons' casket and threw in a lit match, resulting in a fireball. After a few days, Kaufman and his friend were taken into custody. At the time, however, there was no law against stealing a body, so the two were fined just $750. Parsons was eventually buried at Garden of Memories in Metairie, La.
In true Mangler style, Kaufman raised the money for his fine by throwing a party called Kaufman's Koffin Kaper Koncert. The incident was the subject of the 2003 movie Grand Theft Parsons, which featured Jackass star Johnny Knoxville as Kaufman and Gabriel Macht as Parsons.