Few endeavors are as daunting as writing a eulogy for someone you’ve loved and admired. With that solemn responsibility comes the challenge of capturing a person’s essence and paying tribute to the place they held in the lives of family and friends, and even the world at large.
To inspire your own words of remembrance, we’ve gathered our list of the most memorable eulogies of decades past – remembrances that run the gamut of emotion from laughter to tears, and, ultimately, that celebrate all that endures.
New York Mayor LaGuardia’s eulogy to Nikola Tesla
The name may not be familiar, but Nikola Tesla has gone down in history as one of the most important inventors of all time. Three days after the Serbian-American physicist died in a New York hotel in January 1943, the city’s mayor, Fiorello LaGuardia, read a eulogy live on New York Radio. Hearing that eulogy all these decades later, you can’t help but feel the defiant celebration of Tesla’s life.
“Tesla is not really dead!” said LaGuardia. “Only his poor wasted body has been stilled. The real, the important part of Tesla lives in his achievement, which is great, almost beyond calculation, an integral part of our civilization, of our daily lives.” That work included contributions to the design of the modern alternating current electricity supply system, and, by many accounts, the invention of the radio.
Watch Mayor LaGuardia’s eulogy to Nikola Tesla HERE.
Lee Strasberg’s eulogy to Marilyn Monroe
While she was often cast as a flighty blonde, Marilyn Monroe longed to be treated as a serious actress. Among those who believed in her talents was Actors Studio director Lee Strasberg. When Monroe died of an overdose at the age of 36, Strasberg delivered the eulogy, summing up Monroe as a tragic mixture of untapped greatness and fragile, childlike sensitivity.
While Monroe’s life was in many ways larger-than-life, Strasberg used the eulogy to show the universality of her many frailties. “Others were as physically beautiful as she was,” said Strasberg, “but there was obviously something more in her, something that people saw and recognized in her performances and with which they identified.”
Watch Lee Strasberg’s eulogy to Marilyn Monroe HERE.
Dick Van Dyke’s eulogy to Stan Laurel
How do you pay tribute to one of your heroes? Actor and comedian Dick Van Dyke often copied the physical comedy of Stan Laurel, of the comedy duo Laurel and Hardy, in his skits. In 1965, Laurel suffered a fatal heart attack, and when his funeral was held at the Forest Lawn-Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles, Van Dyke delivered the eulogy.
“But the loss that we had with a man like Stan Laurel is a deep one because there doesn’t seem to be anybody to take his place. He won’t happen again because the world’s a different place now.” Van Dyke ended his eulogy with a poem, “A Prayer for Clowns.”
Watch Dick Van Dyke’s eulogy to Stan Laurel HERE.
Martin Luther King’s eulogy to four Birmingham girls
On Sunday, Sept. 15, 1963, four members of the Ku Klux Klan planted dynamite beneath the front steps of the 16th Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. The explosion killed four girls and injured 22 others. Finding words of comfort fell to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In his eulogy, King acknowledges the hardships of life, but promises better days ahead for those who hold tight to faith.
“Life is hard, at times as hard as crucible steel,” said King. “It has its bleak and difficult moments. Like the ever-flowing waters of the river, life has its moments of drought and its moments of flood … and if one will hold on, he will discover that God walks with him and that God is able to lift you from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope …” More than five decades later, President Obama would look to this speech for guidance in delivering the eulogy to Charleston pastor Clementa Pinckney, one of nine worshippers killed at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Watch Martin Luther King’s eulogy to the four Birmingham girls HERE.
Bob Costas’s eulogy to Mickey Mantle
When Hall of Fame baseball player Mickey Mantle died in 1995 at the age of 63, he left behind decades of hard living. In his eulogy to his childhood hero, sportscaster Bob Costas didn’t shy away from mentioning “the pain that invaded his body and his soul.” But Costas also honored Mantle’s determination to overcome alcoholism and, ultimately, the valiant fight he waged in the last few weeks of his life.
“And then in the end, something remarkable happened,” said Costas, “the way it does for champions. Mickey Mantle rallied. His heart took over, and he had some innings as fine as any in 1956 or with his buddy, Roger, in 1961. But this time he did it in the harsh and trying summer of ’95. And what he did was stunning. The sheer grace of that ninth inning, the total absence of self-pity, the simple eloquence and honesty of his pleas to others to take heed of his mistakes.”
Watch Bob Costa’s eulogy to Mickey Mantle HERE.
What’s the most memorable eulogy you’ve ever heard? Tell us in the comments box below!