Gram Parsons is remembered for being one of the pioneers of the country rock music movement of the late 1960s and early 70s. He was born Ingram Cecil Connor III on the fifth of November, 1946, in Winter Haven, Florida, to parents Ingram Cecil ‘Coon Dog’ Connor and Avis Connor.
The Connor’s usually lived at their primary residence in Waycross, Georgia, but Avis insisted on returning to her Floridian hometown to give birth. Despite being brought up in a loving household, Gram experienced a great deal of tragedy and trauma in his early life. His mother suffered from depression, and both parents were alcoholics. Perhaps the most tragic event in his early life was when Gram’s father took his own life two days before Christmas in 1958.
Gram was devastated by his father’s death, but he pressed on. Tragedy struck once again on June 5, 1964, when Avis heavy drinking led to her death from cirrhosis. While it must have seemed as if his family was falling apart around him, Gram found some solace in his love for music. His passion for music was especially emboldened after seeing Elvis Presley perform live in Waycross on February 22, 1956. Five years later, while still in his early teens, Gram began playing rock and roll music with cover bands such as The Legends and The Pacers.
Pretty soon, he was headlining clubs owned by his stepfather Robert Parsons in the Winter Haven area. When he was 16, Gram shifted his musical focus over to folk music, and in 1963 he formed his first professional band, The Shilohs, in Greenville, South Carolina.
Three years later, while attending Harvard University, Gram founded the International Submarine Band. The group only put out one album, 1968s Safe at Home, before disbanding. Gram then joined the Byrds in early 1968. With that group, he played a crucial role in recording the band’s seminal album Sweetheart of the Rodeo.
After leaving The Byrds in late 1968, Gram and fellow Byrd Chris Hillman formed an outfit called The Flying Burrito Brothers. In 1969, they put out their debut record, The Gilded Palace of Sin. The album was well received by critics but failed to perform commercially.
After a haphazard cross-country tour of America, the band rushed out a second album called Burrito Deluxe. Dissatisfied with what he was bringing to the group, Grams was fired by the band in early 1970.
He then collaborated with Emmylou Harris, who assisted him in recording the vocals for his debut solo record, GP, which hit record shelves in 1970. Despite being met with rave reviews, the album failed to chart.
Following in his parent’s footsteps, Gram’s health began to deteriorate due to his years of drug and alcohol abuse. Ultimately this culminated in him dying at the age of 23 from a toxic combo of booze and morphine in 1973.
While he achieved a degree of success in his lifetime, Gram never rose to the ranks of a superstar. That being said, his contributions to the worlds of rock and country music are seen as being enormously influential. Bands such as The Rolling Stones and The Eagles borrowed heavily from Gram’s signature sound, and since his passing, Gram’s music has taken on a life of its own.
Following his passing, Gram’s body was shockingly stolen! But that’s just the beginning of this wild story, because following the theft of his remains, things got especially weird. Keep watching to hear the bizarre yet true story of what happened to Gram Parson’s corpse following his untimely death at the age of 26.
Gram Had A Deep Love For The Desert
In the late 60s, Joshua Tree National Monument became a favorite hangout spot for many celebrities and musicians. The monument, which has since been designated a National Park, is a few hour’s drive from LA and is famous for it’s stunning terrain and foliage.
Gram Parsons was introduced to the wonders of the Mojave Desert around this time and he would frequently make his way out to Joshua Tree on the weekends. Oftentimes, he was accompanied by his road manager, Phil Kaufman, and his buddy Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones.
Gram absolutely loved the high-Desert and frequently did photoshoots in it. In between shoots and recording sessions, Gram would frequent local bars while staying at the Joshua Tree Inn. Come nightfall, he would often visit the National Monument to gaze up at the stars in search of UFOs.
While attending a mutual friend’s funeral in early 1973, just a few short months before Gram’s passing, he and Kaufman had a conversation where they made pact that if either of them were to die prematurely, they would make sure that their bodies were taken out to Joshua Tree. There, they would have one last drink with the body before burning it in the desert.
Just a few months after making this pact, Gram checked himself into room 8 at the Joshua Tree Inn on the evening of September 17, 1973. He intended to spend the next couple of days partying in the room with his friends.
During his stay at the Inn, Gram consumed a copious quantity of drugs and alcohol. Kaufman wasn’t present but he probably later wished that he had been because on the 19th of September Gram overdosed on a deadly combination of alcohol and morphine.
Since Kaufman was both Gram’s road manager and close friend, he was immediately summoned to the inn, but by the time he had made it there, Gram’s body had already been removed and was being stored at a morgue in a Yucca Valley hospital.
Kaufman proceeded to gather up all of Gram’s belongings, cleaning up any remaining drug-related paraphernalia, before heading back to his home in LA. After spending the following day drinking and contemplating the pact that he and Gram had made just months prior, he knew that he had to act promptly if he were to ensure that his friend’s wishes were upheld.
Kaufman also recalled that Gram deeply disliked his stepfather out in Louisiana. He knew that if he didn’t do something quickly, Gram’s body would likely be shipped back to the New Orleans area to be laid to rest there.
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A Last Minute Change Of Plans
The last thing that Gram wanted was to have a drawn-out, depressing, religious funeral service with friends and family present. Wanting to uphold his friend’s wishes, Kaufman called up the morgue in Yucca Valley only to find out that Gram’s remains had already been taken out to the LA International Airport, where they were expected to be flown out to Louisiana.
After calling up the airline, Kaufman learned that the body was expected to arrive that evening. He then recruited several of his friends who knew about the pact to help him pull off the heist of his lifetime. With a borrowed a hearse that was previously used for camping outings, Kaufman and company made their way out to the airport. The vehicle had no plates and had several broken windows, but it was going to have to do.
They first donned suits in an attempt to look more professional but after deciding that they looked ridiculous, they put on their tour clothes consisting of Levi’s, cowboy hats and boots, and Jackets embroidered with the words ‘Sin City’ on the back. Before heading out to the airport, they naturally loaded up the hearse with Jack Daniels and beer. Gram would likely have found that bit pretty hilarious.
Hours later, Kaufman and his friend Michael Martin arrived at the airport loading dock just a truck arrived with Parson’s casket. Despite being drunk and bedraggled, Kaufman somehow managed to convince an airline employee that Parson’s family had changed their minds and wanted to ship the body on a privately charted flight instead.
While Kaufman was busy filling out paperwork inside using a fictitious name, a law enforcement officer pulled up, blocking the hangar’s door. Thinking that he was about to get caught, Kaufman got a bit nervous, but the officer suspected nothing and just sat there.
After getting handed the paperwork, he walked up to the cop and asked him to move the car. The officer then apologized and literally helped load Gram’s casket into the back of the liquor-filled, unlicensed hearse.
Martin then got into the drivers seat and tried to drive out of the hanger, but on his way out, he ran into the wall. The police officer observed the accident and made a comment about ‘not wanting to be in [Martin’s} shoes right now’ before driving off.
Kaufman and Martin Honored Gram’s Wishes
After several close calls, the two drunk corpse-nabbers sped out of the airport. On their way out of town, they stopped at a gas station to fuel up before heading to Joshua Tree.
Once they made it to Joshua Tree, they continued to drive until they were too intoxicated to go any further. They then stopped at Cap Rock, a landmark geological formation at the park, where they unloaded Gram’s coffin. That’s when Kaufman saw flashing lights out in the distance.
Concluding that the lights must be police, Kaufman quickly opened up the casket and doused Gram’s body with gasoline before tossing a match in the casket. The two then watched as a giant fireball erupted out of the casket. With the inferno ablaze, the ashes of Gram’s burning body rose high into the desert sky.
As the car lights in the distance got closer, Kaufman and Martin drove off and bee-lined to Los Angeles.
After making it safely home. Kaufman and Martin laid low for a while. The following morning, all of the newspapers told the tale of Gram’s hijacked and burnt body. Some reports even speculated that the cremation may have been some kind of Satanic ritual.
Knowing that the police were looking for them, Kaufman and Martin turned themselves into the police several weeks later. Incidentally, they wound up in court on Parson’s 27th birthday, the fifth of November, 1973.
Since there was no law at the time against stealing a corpse, the two were charged with misdemeanor theft for stealing and destroying the coffin and were essentially given a slap on the wrist. They were ordered to pay $708 in damages for the coffin and were ordered to pay an additional $300 a piece for their crime.
That about wraps up this wild tale. Did you know that Gram Parson’s road manager and friend stole his corpse and burned it in the Mojave Desert? And do you think that what they did was right, considering the fact that they were honoring Parson’s wishes? Let us know in the comments.
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