Tales of the Bizarre: Truman Capote’s Ashes Were Auctioned Off in 2016

Author, screenwriter and playwright Truman Capote photographed in his United Nations Plaza residence in 1980
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Yes, you read the headline right. [SPOILERS incoming for the final episode of Feud: Capote vs. The Swans] In the final twist of Feud: Capote vs. The Swans, Joanne Carson (played by Molly Ringwald) decides to auction off Truman Capote‘s (played by Tom Hollander) ashes in an auction. The finale shows Capote’s final moments. After he was excommunicated from New York City and its socialites, he found an escape in Carson’s home and passed away there in 1984. Before Carson died in 2015, she signed off on a deal that would allow Julien’s Auctions to auction off the items in her home, including a wooden box of Capote’s ashes.

The series dramatized the auction, which happened in 2016, and showed the ghosts of his swans watching the auction, horrified. This begs the question, were his remains really auctioned off to the highest bidder? How is that allowed? Turns out, it is true.

Feud: Capote vs. the Swans Tom Hollander as Truman Capote (center), Pilot', (Season 2, ep. 201, aired Jan. 31, 2024).

FX/Everett Collection

Co-founder of Julien’s Auctions Martin Nolan explains. He said, “I met Joanne Carson in her home when she was alive. A lovely lady and an interesting lady. When she passed away, she chose Julien’s to handle her estate auction, which included her portion of Truman Capote’s ashes in a Japanese wooden, hand-carved container in 2016. She would travel with them because she felt [Capote] was her friend and she was continuing to take care of him and befriend him and be a friend to him.”

American author Truman Capote (1924 - 1984).

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While Carson cared for the ashes, they were unfortunately stolen from her twice at parties but she got them back. While it seems odd and even perhaps immoral to auction someone’s ashes, Carson wanted the ashes to go to someone who would care for them too, not just end up discarded after she was gone too.

The marker attached to the crypt where the ashes of American author Truman Capote are interred, at Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park in the Westwood neighbourhood of Los Angeles, California, circa 1990

Vinnie Zuffante/Getty Images

However, Nolan added, “We had an ethical moral decision to make: ‘Do we really want to sell somebody’s ashes?’ And at the same time we thought, ‘Hey, you know what? Truman Capote would absolutely love this if he was here. He would be writing about it.’” They decided to put it into Carson’s overall collection. It was sold for $43,750 to an anonymous bidder.

Want more Tales of the Bizarre? Check out our other stories and get your fill of weird history.

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November 2017

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