During his brief 26-year lifespan, Gram Parsons transformed himself from the heir to a citrus fortune to L.A.’s country rock outlaw. He played with the Byrds, saw his song “Honky Tonk Women” allegedly stolen by Keith Richards, and banged Emmylou Harris before the rest of Nashville did. Parsons had long been obsessed by California’s Joshua Tree monument, which he often visited to search for UFOs while tripping on acid. In Sept. 19, 1973, the cosmic cowboy accidentally mixed his interest in close encounters with his addiction to booze and morphine, and OD’d at the The Joshua Tree Inn.
Parsons’s millionaire stepfather wanted the body brought back to Louisiana. Instead, manager Phil Kaufman and an unidentified friend hijacked the body from a loading dock at LAX, and, in a borrowed hearse, sped to Joshua Tree, believing that was where Parsons would have wanted to have been cremated. Kaufman’s clumsy attempts at cremating the corpse instead produced a giant fireball that alerted park rangers. A police chase ensued, ending with Kaufman and his pal in custody. Parsons’s charred body was eventually interred in New Orleans. — Charles Bottomley