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Adventure in Death: Capote’s Ashes Up for Sale

Cerith Mathias talks to Darren Julien, who is auctioning off Truman Capote’s ashes from the estate of Joanne Carson this weekend. 

Fans of writer Truman Capote have a unique opportunity to own an unusual piece of memorabilia, when the author’s ashes go on sale at Julien’s Auctions in Los Angeles this weekend. In a twist befitting of the Southern Gothic tone of much of his work, Capote’s ashes, along with many of his other possessions, will be sold as part of the auction house’s “Icons and Idols” collection.

Following the author’s death in 1984 from liver disease, the intricately carved Japanese box containing Capote’s remains was kept along with many of his personal belongings by his close friend Joanne Carson, until her death last year. The executors of Carson’s estate then decided to place the items up for auction, an event that has attracted attention the world over.

Cerith Mathias spoke with Darren Julien, president and CEO of Julien’s Auctions, as the sale was preparing to begin. This coverage is part of our celebration of Truman Capote in conjunction with his birthday September 30 and the 5oth anniversary of In Cold Blood.


CM: This is quite the collection of Capote artifacts up for auction, including the man himself in the form of his ashes. What do you think Capote would have made of it?

DJ: As most of the celebrities represented in our past auctions, we are sure he would find it exciting and interesting at the same time. The estate of Joanne Carson has consigned them to the auction. There are many items from her estate in our auction, including the memorial ashes. I often joked with Joanne about someday selling his ashes as she said he did not want to just sit on a shelf. Truman would have loved that his ashes are being sold and no doubt is what he would have wanted. Truman Capote and Joanne Carson were dear, dear friends. I am sure if they were both still here with us they could tell us some amazingly entertaining stories.

CM: Have human ashes ever been auctioned before? Is this a first for Julien’s Auctions?

DJ: This is the first time ashes have ever been sold. So whatever they sell for will be a world record.

CM: Are there ethical issues to be considered with such an auction?

DJ: Not at all, especially because it’s Truman Capote. There is no doubt this is what he would have wanted. If it wasn’t Truman Capote, we would pass because we wouldn’t want to be disrespectful. And the antics he was always up to, and how much he loved press—it’s no question that that is something he would have wanted done.

CM: It’s 32 years since Truman Capote’s death. Has there been a lot of interest in the auction? How much do you expect the ashes to sell for?

DJ: Yes, tremendous interest from all over the world. We have bidders from Russia, China, Japan, U.S., UK and others who have specifically registered to bid on Truman’s ashes. They are estimated to sell for $4,000-$6,000, but we expect they will sell for a huge amount more.

CM: The Capote lot up for auction is a big one. Which of the items, other than the ashes, stand out to you?

DJ: Some other things of great interest are his Snakebite Freeze Kit, his personal clothing, books and posters and of course the clothing at his time of death.

CM: Are you a Capote fan yourself? Where would you like to see him end up?

DJ: Yes, I think Truman is the greatest writer of our time. I want to see him where he can have the most adventure in death, as that is that is what he would have wanted.

Update: The ashes sold for $45,000 on the afternoon of Saturday, September 24. The buyer has not been identified. 

Featured photo of Capote’s ashes in a carved Japanese wooden box from Julien’s Auctions

This interview is part of our celebration of Truman Capote’s life and work in conjunction with his birthday September 30 and the 50th anniversary of the publication of In Cold Blood this year. Click here for more Capote stories and interviews. 

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