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In Death, He Wants to Be Celebrated

January 15, 2005|Geoff Boucher | Times Staff Writer

Lions of literature and war heroes get grand memorials, but rock stars usually get scruffier send-offs -- consider the years of vandalism inflicted on Jim Morrison's grave in Paris or the fact that Kurt Cobain is celebrated in his hometown by a papier-mache statue in a muffler shop. Johnny Ramone wanted better, and on Friday the underground rock hero got it.

The 55-year-old Ramone, who died four months ago in Los Angeles of cancer, spent the final weeks of his life buying legacy insurance in the form of a $100,000 bronze statue of himself, which was unveiled Friday on a prime plot at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

The gleaming statue, which shares real estate with the headstones of Tyrone Power and Rudolph Valentino, arrived with a star-studded ceremony, some R-rated eulogies and about 1,000 cheering fans.

Ramone, for the uninitiated, was the former construction worker who as a young man taught himself to play guitar, and in a band called the Ramones played deliriously fast and loud music that was at the center of the American punk movement that rattled the 1970s music scene.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday January 19, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 52 words Type of Material: Correction
Hollywood Forever Cemetery -- A story in Saturday's California section about a statue of rocker Johnny Ramone being erected at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery referred to his monument sharing the cemetery lawns with headstones for actors Rudolph Valentino and Tyrone Power. Those actors are memorialized at the cemetery, but not with headstones.

That legacy brought a crowd to the proceedings Friday unlike that usually seen among the reflecting ponds at Hollywood Forever. There was even a T-shirt sales booth and roaring Harley-Davidson engines that gave a rare fright to geese that skim the pond behind the statue.

Ramone had been inspired to craft the entire event while he watched the state funeral of former President Reagan from his bed at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. His widow, Linda Ramone, said she repeatedly assured her ailing husband that the price tag was worth it because it would be "bigger than Jim Morrison's grave."

Ramone is not the first musician or even the first Ramone in the cemetery; bandmate Dee Dee Ramone, who died of a drug overdose in 2001, is nearby. But Johnny arrived with the loudest moving-in party and the most dramatic architecture.

"He's in very good company," said Theodore Hovey, who nodded toward the more sedate masonry marking the plots of Ramone's nearest neighbors, among them Fay Wray and Hattie McDaniel.

Ramone's path to Hollywood Forever was an odd one. He was a blue-collar kid who used his military academy background to become the drill-sergeant figure in a band whose members had pre-music hobbies such as sniffing glue and bombing New York pedestrians with televisions dropped from rooftops.

He was hailed at the proceedings by film and music stars, among them Oscar-winner Nicolas Cage, who imagined young children skipping over the headstones of Old Hollywood and going straight to the Ramone plot. "Who's the guy with the guitar and the leather jacket and the funny-looking haircut? I want to be that guy."

The guitarist, born John Cummings in Long Island (all the band members adopted the surname Ramone, which they had heard Paul McCartney used as an alias while traveling), was full of attitude. That was reflected in the ceremony.

Actor Vincent Gallo struck a frequent theme when he described his late friend as intellectually fierce, stridently opinionated and always confident in his status as a rock legend.

"What good things can I say about Johnny Ramone that he didn't say about himself?"

Ramone was famously right-wing in a rock scene that always exits stage left, and that, along with his crusty exterior, made him an intimidating character to many. But Eddie Vedder, lead singer of the band Pearl Jam, in a halting voice, described him not only as a "strict teacher" but also as an affectionate father figure.

Three of the band's four original members have died in recent years, even as the Ramones' music enjoyed a renaissance.

Grammy-winning producer Rick Rubin, who sat near members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Lisa-Marie Presley during the proceedings, said the music of the Ramones was as influential within the rock world as the Beatles, but the mainstream didn't notice.

"There was the music before them and the music after," he said after the event.

Earlier in the afternoon, the last survivor from the original line-up, Tommy Ramone, mused that the memorial was not for the man as much as it was for the idea of Johnny Ramone.

"He wanted the fans to have a place to come and a way to feel in touch with this music that got so many things right."

But punk rock was counterculture; how can its hero end up amid manicured hedges? The question was met with a friendly shrug by Steve Jones, the former guitarist of the Sex Pistols and the British punk equivalent to Ramone.

"It's all show business. I want a statue over there. Only a bigger one."

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