Obituaries are used to announce a death, but they also tell a life story. They share important accomplishments and biographical details about the deceased.
But not all obituaries are equal. In fact, some can be quite long. While the average obituary is around 200-300 words, some have reached as much as 10,000.
So who gets these lengthy goodbyes? According to The New York Times, your best bet is to be either a president, pope, or a publisher. The newspaper, which publishes around 1,000 obituaries every year, recently shared the longest obituaries they’ve published in the last 40 years.
President Gerald Ford has the fifth-longest obituary ever published by the New York Times, clocking in at 7,674 words. He passed away at the age of 93 in 2006. His obituary largely covers the events surrounding his controversial pardon of President Nixon.
Excerpt: “Mr. Ford ran for president of the senior class in 1931 on, as he later used to recall with a laugh, the Progressive ticket. He lost, but he was never to lose another election until he sought a different presidency 45 years later as more of a conservative.”
The fourth-longest obituary belongs to the former publisher of The New York Times itself. Sulzberger’s obituary is around 8,790 words long. The obituary primarily focuses on his 34-year tenure as publisher, beginning in the early optimist days of postwar America and ending in the transformative final days of the 20th century.
Excerpt: “By the 1990s, when Mr. Sulzberger passed the reins to his son, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., first as publisher in 1992 and then as chairman in 1997, the enterprise had been transformed. The Times was now national in scope, distributed from coast to coast, and it had become the heart of a diversified, multibillion-dollar media operation that came to encompass newspapers, magazines, television and radio stations and online ventures.”
President Reagan’s obituary is exactly 11,411 words long. As both a movie star and one of America’s most popular postwar presidents, his obituary covers his long life in the public eye.
Excerpt: “To a nation hungry for a hero, a nation battered by Vietnam, damaged by Watergate and humiliated by the taking of hostages in Iran, Ronald Reagan held out the promise of a return to greatness, the promise that America would ‘stand tall’ again.”
President Nixon’s obituary has a word count of 13,155. The former president passed away in 1994, and his obituary — unsurprisingly — covers the events around the infamous Watergate scandal and its impact on the American people.
Excerpt: “Almost constantly in the public eye from the time he entered politics in 1946, he propelled himself into a career that culminated a generation later when he became the first President to travel to Communist China and the first to resign from office. Over the decades, he evoked conflicting emotions among millions of Americans.”
Pope John Paul II currently has the longest obituary ever published by The New York Times. His obituary is 13,870 words long. He was the second-longest-serving pope in modern history, traveling to more than 120 countries, beatifying 1,340 people, and canonizing more than 480 saints during his tenure.
Excerpt: “More than outgoing, he was all-embracing — a bear-hugging, larger-than-life man of action who had climbed mountains, performed in plays, written books and seen war, and he was determined from the start to make the world his parish and go out and minister to its troubles and see to its spiritual needs.”
Of course, no journalist wants to write 10,000 words on deadline. And so many obituaries — in fact, thousands of them — are written in advance. In an interview with Vice, New York Times Writer Margalit Fox said that “Most people have some awareness that many newspaper obituaries are written in advance. But a common and very understandable fallacy is that they are all written in advance… When we have some downtime if there’s nothing breaking, or when our editor wants to give us a little reprieve, then we turn our attention to working on advances…”
It’s estimated that The New York Times has about 1,600 to 1,700 advanced obituaries ready to go, with about three new ones added each week. In some rare cases, obituaries are written so far ahead that the subject of the obituary outlives the reporter who wrote it.
What’s the longest obituary you’ve seen? Share with us in the comments below!