Most African-Americans are familiar with Black homegoing ceremonies, or funerals as they’re called by others. But the services provided by Golden Gate Funeral Home in Dallas, Texas and Tallulah, Louisiana, as profiled by the TLC show Best Funeral Ever are some of the most elaborate in the nation.
John Beckwith Jr. knows all about those kinds of services. He’s the owner of Golden Gate Funeral Home in Texas and Louisiana whose over-the-top funeral services are featured on Best Funeral Ever on TLC. If you’ve missed out thus far, you can watch special showings on December 23 and 24 at 10 p.m. Beckwith has done funerals that included a guy buried in a smoker-like casket, a former Olympian whose funeral included a medal stand, and a funeral that incorporated Santa Claus.
He says that there is literally no request he can’t fulfill, although some of his personal religious beliefs mean he won’t personally participate in all of them.
“Golden Gate funeral home would never turn down anyone,” Beckwith told the Tom Joyner Morning Show. “Some of them personally I would not go to because of my beliefs, but I have staff members and people available to have any kind of service.”
For a disabled man who never could partake of an amusement park, Golden Gate sent the man on his last ride on a roller coaster. It’s part of the norm at Beckwith’s funeral home.
“It’s all about celebration,” Beckwith says. “We celebrate life, not really mourn the death. He never really had a chance to ride roller coasters because of his physical disability.”
Golden Gate Funeral Home started out in a small Texas town in 1980, founded by Beckwith’s father. But the TLC show was his brainstorm.
“This is my baby. It started out with the ‘Ask the Undertaker’ show here where we try to educate families about pre-planning for services and speaking to your family members about what you want and don’t want. This allowed us to do this on a nationwide level. We want the deceased person to make all the decisions before they passed away. On the show, we have a combination of both. We’ve had people who’ve watched the show and told their family they wanted to be on the show and then they’ve passed.”
Golden Gate even hires professional mourners – people paid to mourn the dead. It’s a concept Beckwith says is not new or unique to his funeral home.
“We do have professional mourners. That’s something Golden Gate funeral home offices. Professional mourners are biblical. That’s been going on since the beginning of time.” Mourners are trained and paid up to $250 per service. (Not a bad side hustle, as Beckwith says mourners can do up to four funerals per day.)
Beckwith doesn’t see “Best Funeral Ever” as a promotional tool, because he didn’t need the promotion. He says Golden Gate is the top funeral home in the Dallas, Fort. Worth area and #1 in the state doing 2500 funerals a year. Beckwith hopes that if people take anything out of the elaborate services on his show, it’s that it’s important to let people know how you’d most want to be remembered.
“We want them to have their opinion about it, because if you don’t want to do this, tell your family. What that’s all about is that when you pass away, your family doesn’t have to make emotional decisions and worry about what your wishes were. It’s never too much for me, [when a funeral intrudes on my beliefs] I have staff that can handle it. No limitations.”