Fun Funerals

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Members of Congress have the longest average obituary. Perhaps that's a statement on folks who are usually criticized for being long-winded. The average length of photo and editorial combined is 25 inches.

If size truly matters, congressmen are followed by singers, judges and military personnel. Athletes are seventh, authors eighth, inventors 12th, Hollywood directors 14th, and philanthropists 27th.

The longest individual obituaries were for Richard Nixon (510 inches), Frank Sinatra (236 inches), Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (210 inches), Joe DiMaggio (209 inches) and Warren Burger (158 inches).

The longest obituary for a black American belonged to Ella Fitzgerald (102 inches).

The vast majority of obituaries are for people who lived in New York, Los Angeles or Washington.

"There are certain career paths that just get more attention, and I think that says a lot," says Ball. "University professors and business executives usually do very well. Why do they do better than architects? I do not know."

Ball quotes longtime Times editor and columnist A.M. Rosenthal giving a tongue-in-cheek response of how one might make the obituaries:

"It is best to die before noon, 2 p.m. at the latest, so that there will be decent time for justice to be done before the early evening deadline of the first edition — and less inconvenience to the staff. All those interested in having the Times sum up their lives, even briefly, should also avoid dying on Saturday, when the deadline is very early."

P.S. Editors often assign obituaries to young staff members to teach them the importance of spelling names correctly. If you get the name wrong, the family of the deceased will roast you alive. Interestingly, Ball's partner, Jonnes, suffered the indignity of having her name spelled wrong on the book jacket. Andrew McMeel Publishing promises to get it right in the next edition (should it be published).

Buck Wolf is a producer at The Wolf Files is a weekly feature. If you want to receive weekly notice when a new column is published, join the e-mail list.