Our Favorite Mortician Caitlin Doughty Answers Questions About Her New Book And What It's Like To Die In L.A.
By Sarah Chamberlain
The affable mortician Caitlin Doughty has already won our hearts by answering our ickiest questions about the oblivion awaiting us all with her educational—and often hilarious—"Ask a Mortician" web series and her blog Order of the Good Death. To boot, she's a local mortician who specializes in green, sustainable burial and cremation practices
And now Doughty announced that she sold her memoir, "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (and Other Lessons from the Crematory)." To tide us over until the book's release, we snagged an interview with Doughty, who opened up about death's place in American culture, her favorite movie star deaths and why she calls L.A. home.
LAist: Your "Ask a Mortician" videos are popular on YouTube, you keep a regularly-updated blog, and you recently announced that you're releasing a memoir about your first year in the funeral business (congratulations!). What do you hope to accomplish by speaking openly about death and funereal work?
Doughty: Death used to be such a huge part of the life of a community. A hundred years ago, you'd see dead bodies in your home, at your church, sometimes dead bodies in the street. Now that we don't see corpses anymore—except on TV—we can kind of go though life pretending that death doesn't really exist, but it does. And it's coming whether you're prepared or not. My argument is that your life is better and your brain healthier if you're prepared.
LAist: What brought you to Los Angeles when you were starting out as a mortician? Was it the usual draws, or does L.A. have a particularly hopping mortuary scene?
Doughty: I actually had to move from San Francisco to L.A. to go to mortuary college. But I stayed here because, as I told my mother, "San Francisco is a good place to visit, but L.A. is a better place to actually live." It's a total mystery to me, why people are negative towards L.A. It's warm and fun and effortlessly diverse. It's the first place that's really felt like home to me.
LAist: I read that your book is going to cover your first year working in a crematorium. Is there a reason you're focusing so much on that year? I imagine your job must have new challenges and crazy stories every day.
Doughty: Choosing to focus on the first year was really about the huge mental transition I made. I came in when I was 23, thinking "C'mon, you love death; you got this, girl." But the reality of the crematory and how the death industry actually works in America was a pretty harsh wake-up call. The idea is to take the reader with me as my perceptions of death change, which hopefully will make them look at death differently as well.
LAist: You once did a video tour called "DEATH BY FAME", showing houses where certain stars had met their demise. Are there any L.A. deaths that particularly intrigue you?
Doughty: I was totally totally fascinated by the death of Yvette Vickers, the 1950's movie star who became a recluse and was found in her home in Benedict Canyon after being dead for over a year. She died in 2010 and not a soul noticed. Such a strange thing in L.A., where the meaning of life for some people is just to be seen. Her body slowly mummified as the months went by. It says so much about what our relationship with death has become.
LAist: Who is your target audience for the book? I know your usual audience of "deathlings" is very excited for its release!
Doughty: People who will die? I originally had delusions of writing a timeless classic, relatable to all times and all people. Realistically, it will likely be geared towards a younger, pop-science crowd. But there aren't really a lot of books that openly address what goes on behind the scenes in the death industry, so I hope that older people will enjoy it, despite my age.