The Strange Theft Of Gram Parson's Corpse
Parsons had found success as the man who steered The Byrds into country rock in 1968. He then took the new genre further with the Flying Burrito Brothers and, through his friendship with Keith Richards, significantly influenced the Stones' classic 1972 album Exile On Main St. Hugely gifted as a songwriter and singer, he was also a tortured soul whose relationship with his wealthy family caused him no end of grief.
By 1973, heroin addiction and a serious alcohol problem had reduced him to a low ebb, his marriage was in tatters, and death seemed to be frequently on his mind. In one of his last interviews he declared: "Death is a warm cloak, an old friend." Within weeks he was dead. But that was just the start of the story.
Phil Kaufman (Parsons's road manager): Just a couple of months before he died, Gram and I went to the funeral of The Byrds guitarist Clarence White. We'd had a few sherbets before we went, and we were saying that if Clarence had his choice he wouldn't have chosen that kind of high-mass Catholic funeral with all that mumbo jumbo. So Gram said, you know: "This is bullsh*t. If I die I want somebody to have a few beers, take me out to the desert and burn my body." I said: "All right, it's a deal. But would you do the same for me?" He said: "Yeah."
Several months later, when we had finished his new album, Grievous Angel, he went out to the Joshua Tree desert to celebrate and kick back while I was in LA putting his next tour together. Gram often used to go to Joshua Tree. He just loved that area. He'd spent some time there with the Stones, and we'd also done some filming there. So he booked a couple of rooms in the Joshua Tree Inn with [Parsons associate] Michael Martin and his girlfriend Dale McElroy. She was a well-travelled woman who, at that time, had unlimited funds because she had inherited Caterpillar stock, which gave her a good, guaranteed income.
Dale McElroy (Michael Martin's girlfriend): Gram drove down in his Jag with [his ex-girlfriend] Margaret Fisher and we met him at the motel.
Phil Kaufman: As Gram's road manager I spent a lot of time finding his drug stashes and getting rid of them, but he could always get more. In Joshua Tree he ran into the singer Scott McKenzie's ex-wife, who could supply him, and spent the day drinking and doing drugs. Margaret was on the same drugs as Gram, and they were pretty far gone by the evening.
Dale McElroy: A few hours later, Margaret rushed up to my door in a panic and told me that Gram had overdosed, and to go get some ice cubes and meet her in Room 1.
Phil Kaufman: Margaret was familiar with the effects of heroin and morphine. She knew heroin is a downer, it makes your body lethargic, and an ice cube suppository shocks the body awake again. Rest of the story.