Dead famous in Switzerland

September 15, 2010, 42 Comments

When it comes to Switzerland, foreign celebrities are like elephants – they come here to die. Of course, the low rates of tax and high level of privacy might have something to do with it, but it is interesting how many stars are buried here. While their graves are strewn all across the country, they are particularly concentrated along the shores of Lake Geneva; in comparison, German-speaking Switzerland is relatively free of dead celebrities. Don’t ask me why. It seemingly has little to do with language as few were native French speakers. In fact many were British-born. Perhaps it’s just a low-tax variation of the British love-affair with France.

The list below is my pick of some the most famous foreigners buried in Switzerland. What’s interesting is that most worked in the arts, and ten were authors, from literary heavyweights James Joyce (pictured) and Thomas Mann to pulp-fiction masters Alistair MacLean and James Hadley Chase. Although all were born abroad, some were Swiss by the time the died, eg Peter Ustinov and Hermann Hesse.

And while all of them will now remain Swiss, there is one corner of Switzerland that is forever England: in tiny Corsier-sur-Vevey cemetery, three great Britons are buried, with Charlie Chaplin laid to rest next-door to James Mason and over the way from Graham Greene. So if you are into a bit of cemetery tourism (don’t laugh, it’s astonishingly popular), Corsier is a good place to start, before setting off in search of famous graves in the rest of Switzerland.

Canton Geneva

  • Richard Burton, British actor: (d 1984) Celigny
  • Alistair MacLean, British author: (d 1987) Celigny
  • Jorge Luis Borges, Argentinian author: (d 1986) Plainpalais Cemetery Geneva
  • Jean Calvin, French reformer: (d 1564) Plainpalais Cemetery Geneva
  • Sir Humphrey Davy, British scientist: (d 1829) Plainpalais Cemetery Geneva

Canton Vaud

  • David Niven, British actor: (d 1983) Chateau d’Oex
  • Vladimir Nabokov, Russian author: (d 1977) Clarens
  • Charlie Chaplin, British actor: (d 1977) Corsier-sur-Vevey
  • Graham Greene, British author: (d 1991) Corsier-sur-Vevey
  • James Mason, British actor: (d 1984) Corsier-sur-Vevey
  • Coco Chanel, French designer: (d 1971) Bois-de-Vaux Cemetery Lausanne
  • Pierre de Coubertin, French Olympic founder: (d 1937) Bois-de-Vaux Cemetery Lausanne
  • Peter Ustinov, British actor: (d 2004) Nyon
  • Henri Nestlé, German industrialist: (d 1890) Territet
  • Audrey Hepburn, Belgian actress: (d 1993) Tolochenaz
  • James Hadley Chase, British author: (d 1985) Vevey


  • Robert Palmer, British singer: (d 2003) Lugano
  • Hermann Hesse, German author: (d 1962) Montagnola
  • Erich Maria Remarque, German author: (d 1970) Ronco sopra Ascona
  • Paulette Goddard, American actress: (d 1990) Ronco sopra Ascona
  • Patricia Highsmith, American author: (d 1995) Tegna

 German-speaking Switzerland

  • Erasmus, Dutch thinker: (d 1536) Basel Cathedral
  • Meret Oppenheim, German artist: (d 1985) Birsfelden Cemetery Basel
  • Thomas Mann, German author: (d 1955) Kilchberg Cemetery Fluntern
  • James Joyce, Irish author: (d 1941) Fluntern Cemetery Zurich
  • Paul Klee, German artist: (d 1940) Schosshalde Cemetery, Bern
  • Elias Canetti, German author: (d 1994) Fluntern Cemetery Zurich
  • Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, German singer: (d 2006) Zumikon Cemetery Zurich

42 Comments on "Dead famous in Switzerland"

  1. berncat Thursday September 16th, 2010 at 03:21 PM · Reply

    More dead famous foreign people in Swiss cemeteries:

    Michail Bakunin (Bremgartenfriedhof Bern
    Paul Klee (Schosshaldenfriedhof Bern
    Elias Canetti (Friedhof Fluntern Zürich)

    Regards, berncat

    • swisswatching Friday September 17th, 2010 at 11:29 AM · Reply

      I excluded Paul Klee from my list as he’s really Swiss rather than foreign. I know that technically he was German, but that has more to do with Switzerland’s ridiculous immigration laws than nationality. He was born in Switzerland (in Muenchenbuchsee) – and in most other civilised countries, that would be enough to make him a national. But not in Switzerland. Not forgetting that his citizenship request was accepted a few days after his death. So I promoted him to being Swiss from birth, especially as he has his own museum in Bern.

      • Octavio Saturday November 27th, 2010 at 03:08 AM · Reply

        technically, Meret Oppenheim is in the same cathegory as Klee. half Swiss, Swiss mother (the artist Eva Wenger) and living mostly in Switzerland…

  2. berncat Thursday September 16th, 2010 at 08:51 PM · Reply

    More dead famous in Switzerland:

    Georg Büchner, German writer, died 1837 (Zürich, Germaniahügel)

    Hans Arp, German-French sculptor, painter, poet, died 1966 (Locarno, S.Maria in Selva)

    Max Horkheimer, German philosopher, died 1973 (Bern, Jewish cemetery)

    Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, German painter, died 1938 (Davos, Waldfriedhof)

    Regards, berncat

    • swisswatching Friday September 17th, 2010 at 11:24 AM · Reply

      It seems that fame is subjective. I must confess that I haven’t heard of any of these people, and I would guess that outside the German-speaking world, they aren’t so well-known. It reminds me of when I was researching my book and went to Sihlfeld Friedhof in Zurich to find Johanna Spyri’s grave. The info desk there gave a long list of ‘famous’ people buried there. Famous in Zurich maybe, but not in the real world.

      And of course, my list isn’t exhaustive. Just 25 people I was interested to find here. But thanks for the extras.

  3. berncat Friday September 17th, 2010 at 11:47 AM · Reply

    Your list contains mostly (and only) actors, singers and writers, no painters, philosophers etc.

    I was surprised to read that Georg Büchner isn’t well known. He wrote “Woyzeck” and probably qualifies as one of the most important authors in German language. He died in Zürich aged 23.

    Horkheimer is, together with Theodor Adorno, the founder of the “Frankfurt School” of thought. Both these philosophers are very well known in the anglo-saxon world. They spent World War 2 in exile in the US and even published in English.

    I forgot to mention Karl Jaspers, German philosopher, died 1969 (Basel Hörnli cemetery). He should qualify as a celebrity.

    Regards, berncat

  4. griseopallidus Sunday October 10th, 2010 at 11:53 AM · Reply

    May be possible to add more persons:

    Oskar Kokoschka, painter (d.1980) Clarens

    Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, french architect and theorist (d.1879) Bois-de-Vaux Cemetery Lausanne

  5. swisswatching Tuesday October 12th, 2010 at 07:47 AM · Reply

    Dame Joan Sutherland, the Australian opera singer, died at her home near Geneva on 10.10.10 but will she be buried in Switzerland or Australia?

    • Mark Martin Tuesday October 19th, 2010 at 09:01 AM · Reply

      In reference to Dame Joan Sutherland’s burial it is really odd that there is no information anywhere. I guess her family does not want to share the details of her final resting place.

      • swisswatching Friday October 29th, 2010 at 04:56 PM · Reply

        I know. All that was in the Swiss press at the time was that it was a small and private funeral, with no mention of a place. Since then, I can’t find any reference of where in Switzerland her grave is. It will be found one day.

  6. Tim Footman Tuesday October 12th, 2010 at 09:13 AM · Reply

    Pssst… Robert Palmer wasn’t American, he was a Brit.

  7. berncat Friday November 26th, 2010 at 02:10 PM · Reply

    Just came across this fine book: “Immortalis: Prominenz auf Schweizer Friedhöfen”, written by Hanspeter Buholzer (Trubschachen: Landverlag, 2009, ISBN 978-3-9523520-2-1), which lists more foreign celebrities in Swiss cemeteries. To name a few: Jean Anouilh, Paulette Goddard, Rainer Maria Rilke, Douglas Sirk, Michel Simon, Bruno Walter (world famous conductor), Joseph Schmidt (world famous tenor), Ludwig Klages (founder of graphology), Paul Hindemith (composer) …

  8. Marie-Jo Jones Friday May 13th, 2011 at 10:53 AM · Reply

    Jean Anouilh, Pully (VD).

    And if you haven’t heard of Anouilh, here is the link to Wikipedia

  9. برترین سایت ایرانی Monday November 7th, 2011 at 09:39 PM · Reply

    This might be this blogs best writing to date!!

  10. K Kittle Sunday January 8th, 2012 at 06:34 PM · Reply

    I enjoyed your book “Swiss Watching”. I think Edwin Powell Hubble (Hubble Telescope) is buried in Switzerland, do you know where?

  11. Korhomme (@Korhomme) Friday February 24th, 2012 at 09:00 AM · Reply

    James Joyce died in 1941 — sorry — and was originally buried in an ordinary grave, much later he was given an Ehrengrab (with Nora).

    • diccon Wednesday February 29th, 2012 at 09:09 AM · Reply

      Thanks. I’ve changed the typo!

  12. Cargo Tuesday September 4th, 2012 at 01:24 PM · Reply

    Great blog and always interesting.
    This post reminded me of a recent conversation about Heimatort, along with its lack of a simple english equivalent.
    The more I get to know the Swiss the more I love them – apart from trying to get any sleep on the National Day celebrations in the cities (not fun if you have PTSD) and the ‘Every Swiss is a Policeman’ rebukes for what the an outsider regards as tiny infringements of the law or social mistakes from complete strangers. It’s a strange contrast that takes some getting used to, but inside the ‘coconut’ is a great place.

  13. Tiit Kaadu Tuesday September 25th, 2012 at 11:47 AM · Reply

    Concerning your list of graveyards where famous foreigners have been buried, there is a mistake in connection with Mr Graham Greene.

    Mr Greene’s graveyard is Cimetière des Monts -de-Corsier, Corseaux, and this is not the graveyard where Charles Chaplin and James Mason have been buried (at Corsier-sur-Vevey).

  14. Bill Thompson Monday March 24th, 2014 at 02:38 PM · Reply

    Hi Diccon

    Do you have any information/photos of grave etc concerning General Sir Thomas Morland (1865-1925), died 21 May 1925 and buried in the English cemetery, Villeneuve, Montreux, please? He was a corps commander in the Great War and had retired to Switzerland before he died.
    I would love to know more about this cemetery please, if you have no information on the general himself.

    Thanks – Bill Thompson
    24 March 2014

    • Diccon Bewes Monday March 31st, 2014 at 08:58 AM · Reply

      Hi Bill. Sadly I don’t think I can help you. I haven’t visited that cemetery yet and so can’t fill you in on the front. And the general is a new name for me. Sorry. If I ever get to that English cemetery, I’ll take some photos for you!

  15. Pier Tuesday November 17th, 2015 at 04:06 PM · Reply

    Should one add Georges Simenon although he was not buried but his ashes scattered under a tree in Lausanne? He was a French writing Belgian author. I think he was translated even in English.

  16. Thomas Bates Saturday March 5th, 2016 at 08:57 PM · Reply

    Did you know that Vince Taylor lived and died in the latter part of his life in Lausanne. He was an early 60s rock singer and apparently an inspiration for David Bowies Ziggy Stardust character.

  17. Alex Jones Sunday May 15th, 2016 at 09:50 PM · Reply

    Cimetière de Clarens-Montreux, Montreux, District de la Riviera-Pays-d’Enhaut, Vaud, Switzerland
    is the resting place of Dame Joan Sutherland.. Details available on

    • Diccon Bewes Tuesday May 31st, 2016 at 07:22 AM · Reply

      Thanks for the info Alex.

  18. Elisabeth Thursday August 4th, 2016 at 05:38 PM · Reply

    In your list there is a famous German film director of Hollywood from the 50th and 60th missing.
    Douglas Sirk died on January 14th 1987 in Lugano (Ticino).

    4 August 2016

  19. matherese Saturday October 28th, 2017 at 05:11 AM · Reply

    American splendid concert pianist Christopher Falzone (1985-2014)

  20. matherese Monday November 27th, 2017 at 11:42 AM · Reply

  21. Robert Thursday January 7th, 2021 at 07:37 PM · Reply

    Robert Palmer isn’t burried in Lugano, his sister took him to England after his death, I asked in Lugano cemetery and they confirmed this

    • Diccon Bewes Thursday January 14th, 2021 at 08:47 AM · Reply

      Ok I’ll double-check this. When I asked in Lugano, they confirmed it!

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