Kiss goodbye to the lipstick on Oscar Wilde's tombstone


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The Independent Online

"Each man kills the thing he loves", wrote Oscar Wilde. "The coward does it with a kiss."

For more than a decade, alleged fans of Oscar Wilde have been stupidly proving his point. A craze grew up in the 1990s to place lipstick kisses, or daub painted lips, on the tomb of the great Irish writer in the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris.

Eventually there were so many kisses that the grease in the lipstick and the oil in the paint threatened to destroy the limestone of the tomb, including a celebrated image of a "flying angel-demon" by the Anglo-American sculptor Jacob Epstein.

Yesterday, 111 years to the day of his death in a Paris hotel at the age of 46, Wilde was given sanctuary from those who claim to love him. In a moving ceremony, his only grandchild, Merlin Holland, rededicated a cleansed and restored tomb, now surrounded by an elegant glass screen.

More than 200 people gathered to hear the actor Rupert Everett read from Wilde's prose poem "De Profundis", written while he was imprisoned in Reading jail for acts of homosexuality.

The Irish Culture Minister, Dinny McGinley, paid tribute to a "very great Irishman, who has moved people the world over".

The undisclosed but "modest" cost of restoration has been covered by the Irish government and the private Ireland Fund of France.

Mr Holland, 66, a British writer based in France, campaigned for the restoration of his grandfather's tomb with the help of Sheila Pratschke, the director of the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris. "The Irish government has recognised the importance of cultural investment despite the crisis of material values that we are all going through," Mr Holland told The Independent yesterday.

Père Lachaise, in north-eastern Paris, is the most-visited cemetery in the world. It is the last resting place of, among others, the musicians Chopin and Bizet, the writer Marcel Proust, the singer Edith Piaf and the American rock star Jim Morrison.

Its graffiti epidemic began when Morrison, lead singer of The Doors, was buried there in 1971. At one point, every fourth tomb on the route to his grave was daubed with arrows or scrawled with the words "This way to Jim". When the Morrison graffiti calmed down in the late 1990s, the Wilde graffiti took over. "Something had to be done," Everett said yesterday. "OK, so people want to express themselves. Well, baby, from now on you can kiss the glass screen."

In memoriam: Graves on display

Vladimir Lenin Lenin's embalmed body has been on public display in Red Square, Moscow since his death in 1924. The marble structure used to be a popular attraction but deterioration of the corpse has led to calls for him to be buried.

Elvis Presley The King died at his Graceland estate in August 1977 and is buried in the "Meditation Garden". Fans queue from early for the chance to see his grave, alongside that of his parents.

Francisco Franco The enormous Valley of the Fallen memorial took 18 years to build. Franco commissioned it to commemorate those who died in the Civil War. He is interred in the basilica.

Michael Jackson Fans cannot visit the grave in Forest Lawn cemetary in Los Andeles, although many leave tributes outside. His family may allow limited access. Cemetery residents include Clark Gable and Walt Disney.

Jim Waterson