While I get ready for another year in Singapore, I have compiled, for no reason in particular, what I believe to be the ten greatest eulogies delivered by or for famous men or women. In this, I limit eulogies to those actually delivered at some kind of official memorial service. This does not include write-ups by commentators, and does not include ex-post-facto addresses commemorating the dead (thus disqualifying what would otherwise be the finest eulogy of all time, Lincoln’s Gettysberg Address.)
10. John Culver eulogizes Ted Kennedy: Several of Kennedy’s own eulogies: for his sister-in-law Jackie Kennedy Onassis, for his nephew JFK Jr., and especially for his brother Bobby, were in contention for this list. But former Iowa senator surpasses him, telling an illustrative and poignant story of Kennedy, not when he was an aged senatorial lion, but when he was a young Harvard undergraduate, taking his provincial classmate on a sailing trip.
9. Pericles eulogizes war dead: This speech was good enough to be part of the curriculum, on and off, from the 3rd century BC onward as part of Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War, is still widely read today. With good reason. This speech is foundational to the history of the West by making their death in battle part of a war of ideas rather than territorial gain or bloodlust.
8. Jawaharlal Nehru eulogies Mahatma Gandhi: Nehru’s timely speech puts a longtime ally and not infrequent adversary to rest. This is a pivotal text for the development of nascent Indian nationalism during the nation’s infancy as a sovereign country.
7. Mona Simpson eulogizes Steve Jobs: Jobs’ sister, who did not meet him until in her twenties, gives some lovely insights into the life and outlook of her long-lost brother. Her account of his last words is profoundly touching.
6. Kevin Costner eulogizes Whitney Houston: Costner himself recognizes how little he and Houston had in common, but this does not stop him from sending off the songstress in grace and dignity.
5. Winston Churchill eulogizes George VI: Churchill gives a magnificent reflection on wartime leadership (although it possibly feathered his own historical nest as well.) I want it on record that I don’t like or respect Churchill very much; I’ve read too much of India’s history to give him very much of the benefit of the doubt. But this is, nonetheless a worthy ode to my favorite British sovereign, and a persuasive defense of a constitutional monarchy.
4. Bill Bradley eulogizes Dave DeBusschere: DeBusschere wasn’t the best basketball player the game has seen, but he was one of its greatest teammates and defenders. Fellow Knick and ex-New Jersey senator Bradley shares his recollections on the meaning of comradeship and shared victory.
3. Oprah Winfrey eulogizes Rosa Parks: The famous talk show host and media icon acknowledges just why one simple action from Parks opened doors for Winfrey and countless others.
2. John Cleese eulogies Graham Chapman: Cleese bids farewell to a fellow Python, and in the process, drops the first f-bomb in the history of British television.
1. Frank Oz eulogizes Jim Henson: Oz focuses on one anecdote, Henson going to absurd lengths to make him an original Christmas present. In doing so, Oz, the voice of Miss Piggy, Bert, Fozzie, and several other Muppets, demonstrates Henson’s childlike joy in his work.