5 Famous People Who Got Their Start In The Funeral Profession

funeral profession

I love telling people that I work in the funeral profession. And I wish that I could say it was for righteous reasons… yes, I feel honored to work in such an amazing profession, and I am always singing the praises of the heroic, selfless people who I get to work alongside. But, I have to admit… my favorite part of telling people I work in this profession is the look on their face when they hear the world “funeral.”

Funeral directors, you know what I am talking about. That moment when someone’s polite smile falters into shock and surprise before they can catch themselves. You can see the question of “why” written all across their face. And it always makes me smile. If only they knew some of the funeral professionals that I knew, or knew about the hard work that went into the last funeral they were at to make sure everything went off without a hitch.

However, I think the reason why most people are surprised to meet someone who works in the funeral profession is because we’re a rare (and special) breed. It’s not a profession that people boast about, or hear about at their career fair…at least anymore. But I think people would be surprised to learn that some of the most famous people in the world got their start working in the funeral profession in one way or another.

Surprised? Here are just a few famous names that got their start in the funeral profession…

Angelina Jolie

It may come as no surprise to some people that this famous actress and her obsession with all things “dark and morbid” once considered a career in the funeral profession. But surprisingly, Angelina Jolie’s introduction into the mortuary world started out in the same way as many other funeral directors.

“It sounds like this very strange, eccentric, dark thing to do, but in fact, I lost my grandfather and was very upset with his funeral,” she revealed in a 60-minute interview. “How somebody passes and how family deals with this passing and what death is should be addressed in a different way … I thought I could do better, so I got a home course when I was about 14. I did a mail-order degree.”

However, it turned out that the acting bug hit shortly after her interest in funeral studies, and she never looked back to the death care profession.

Thomas Lynch

These days, most people recognize Thomas Lynch for his extraordinary writing abilities. However, as many people in the funeral profession probably know, he is equally well-known in his role as an undertaker. In fact, he used his experiences as a small-town funeral director in his home state of Michigan to inspire several books dealing with mortality. For example, his book The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade was turned into a documentary film in 2007 by PBS Frontline. Luckily, he hasn’t lost the fuel that got him started in both professions.

“When you grow up in funeral service, you always have a job. But at some point it becomes more than a job, and I can see this happening to the young people who have come here to work as high school students on work-study programs,” he told PBS. “I’ve seen it happen to Sean [his son], where you’re swinging the door at night, helping people with their coats, directing them one place or another, carrying flowers, doing all the innocuous little things that add up to taking care of a family during visitation. But when some widowed person comes out and takes you by the shoulders and said, “Thank you, I couldn’t have done this without you,” and all you did was be there, or answer the call, or show up, there’s this deep sense of having been of use to people at a time of need. And that’s very seductive.”

Marshall White

Have you ever heard of “The World’s Strongest Mortician?” Don’t worry… that’s not the next big trend that your families are expecting from their funeral directors. It’s the nickname of Marshall White, an American professional strongman athlete from Colorado. And when Marshall isn’t taking 3rd place in America’s Strongest Man Competition, or flipping over tires like it’s nothing, he is running his own funeral home in Colorado. That’s right… before hitting the gym professionally, Marshall went to mortuary school so he could start his own funeral home. Talk about motivation! Just keep lifting caskets all day and you may steal his title in the future!

William Banting

If you found yourself transported back in time to the early 19th century, there was one name in the funeral profession that you were sure to know – William Banting. His family business, located on St. James’s Street in London, was among the most eminent companies of funeral directors in all of Britain. In fact, his staff were the official funeral directors to the Royal Household, conducting the funerals of everyone from King George III to Prince Albert to Queen Victoria to King Edward VII. However, when William retired is when he truly made his name.

As someone who was constantly worried about his weight, Banting was always hopping on the next big fad diet. (Yes, they had those even in the 19th century.) It was through experimenting with different foods and restrictions that he uncovered the amazing health benefits of a low-carbohydrate diet. He was so impressed with the results that he even published a pamphlet that became notoriously popular and was later released in 3rd and 4th editions. The findings in his pamphlet would later go on to inspire the massively popular Atkins diet founded by Robert Atkins. It just goes to show you, even serving royalty isn’t as noteworthy as a good get-thin-quick diet!

Danny DeVito

Every generation seems to know Danny DeVito, whether it’s from Matilda, Taxi or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. But, what many people may not know is that, before he was being nominated for Emmys or Golden Globes, he was working as a hair stylist in his sister’s salon.

“My sister, Angie, was a hairdresser and I was 18 years old, just out of high school, “ he recalled. “I wasn’t going to go to college and I needed a job, and she said, ‘Why don’t you come work for me?’”

However, his sister didn’t just have him working a chair at her salon… he was also in charge of taking calls from the local funeral homes. “I used to go in there to the mortuary… it was only women’s hair I did, and it was usually a really old lady, and she didn’t talk back!” DeVito joked.

Were you surprised by any of these notable names that used to work in the funeral profession? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Also, be sure to check out our post that features notable people that STILL work in the funeral profession → “These Are The 9 Most Innovative Funeral Professionals.”

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  1. Jerry Swan

    Singer John Conley also got his start in Funeral Service. Rose Colored Glass!

  2. Paul

    Thank you so much for sharing your story.

  3. Graham Burton

    Hi Rilee,
    Almost sure Ray Wilson the ex England footballer played a part in the funeral profession ,not sure if it was before his footballing career or after .Small world when you see who help loved ones in their time of grief .
    To those still in the profession and even those who have retired have the knowledge that we all have played a role in their own way to become something or more than a celebrate to the famlies .
    Rilee keep up the good work .
    Regards Graham.

  4. Ernie Gieseke

    How about long time country star John Conlee.

    He was, and still is, a licensed funeral director. He also was a County Coroner in the past.