There is an old adage that the rich and poor put their pants on the
same way, one leg at a time. It has also been said that death is the great equalizer. As true as these statements may be, when it comes to funerals the rich and famous often find ways to take their ostentatious lifestyle to the grave. In New York City, for more than a century, the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home has provided services to some of the most exclusive clients in the world.
By 1915, Frank E. Campbell was one of the leading undertakers in the city. From marketing to hearses he had transformed the industry, and the very perception of the funeral home. In 1926, the death of 31-year old movie star Rudolph Valentino, and the choice of the Campbell funeral home for final arrangements changed everything. Then located at Broadway and 66th Street, the funeral home was stormed by tens of thousands of fans. Dozens were injured in the crush, and a newspaper led with a banner headline, 75 HURT IN RUSH TO SEE VALENTINO. Even though Campbell’s funeral home was provided a promotional bonanza, he devised a way to magnify it by paying women to swoon and faint.
In the years that followed Campbell honed his reputation, and added a particularly valuable service to the rich and famous; the ability to be discreet when needed. As an example, after his murder the Campbell funeral home utilized a decoy hearse and coffin which allowed for a degree of anonymity when John Lennon’s body was transported to a crematorium.
Since 1926, the Campbell funeral home has provided services to a veritable Who’s Who of American sports, political, and social luminaries. From Judy Garland to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, from Rocky Graziano to Henry Cabot Lodge, from Jim Henson to silent movie star Fatty Arbuckle the Campbell funeral home provided funeral arrangements. Other notables included Irving Berlin, Joan Crawford, Heath Ledger, Thomas Dewey, Mae West, George Gershwin, and Isaac Asimov.
Even though the Campbell funeral home became known for its celebrity funerals, this continues to be only a small part of their business. They are also known as strong community supporters. In a recent interview General Manager Paul Horvath said, “Though people think of us as a celebrity funeral home, that really is only about 10 percent of our business.” This was made manifest when a homeless man well known in the Upper East Side community was found dead and Campbell’s arranged for his funeral, and discounted services.
The facility at Madison Avenue and East 81st Street, in spite of its notoriety, remains a very private place. Media is seldom allowed at services, and a uniformed doorman stands at the entrance. A security team is retained, many of whom are off-duty New York City police officers. There is a private elevator as well as a private visitation area. Cellphones are prohibited from the main chapel.
The Campbell funeral home may be known for its celebrity association but the cornerstone of its century of success is respect, attention to detail, and and a near obsession to honor the wishes of the family. Arizona Funeral Home and Crematory may not have catered to the rich and famous, and they may not have a history that spans the 20th century, but as with the Campbell funeral home, they have built a reputation by honoring the needs of the family, attention to detail, and professionalism.