Giovanni “Gianni” Versace was an Italian fashion designer and founder of the fashion house Versace. At the time of his death, Versace’s fashion empire was worth over $800 million — with 130 boutiques worldwide.
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Gianni Versace was killed in 1997, at the age of 50. His killer was Andrew Cunanan, an obsessed fan who killed several other people before taking Versace’s life.
Versace led an iconic life, frequently spending time with Hollywood royalty and real-life royalty alike. So it’s no surprise that his funeral was a unique and star-studded affair.
What Happened During Gianni Versace’s Funeral Service?
Versace was known to attend luxe social gatherings regularly, surrounded by fashion models, actors, musicians, and even members of the royal family. And his funeral service, though somber and subdued, was a virtual “who’s who” of 90’s pop culture.
Here are some specifics about Gianni Versace’s funeral, from its time and location to its celebrity attendees.
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Location and date
Versace’s funeral took place on July 22, 1997, one week after his tragic death. It was held at Milan’s Cathedral, also known as the Duomo di Milano.
The 600-year-old church, with its massive, breathtaking edifice, is the second-largest Catholic cathedral in the world. Many historians believe it’s built on a sacred Roman site.
The larger-than-life cathedral was a perfect location for the funeral of Versace, who himself was larger than life.
Order of service
Gianni Versace’s funeral service was considered a “memorial,” rather than a “Mass,” by the Catholic Church. According to Catholic tradition, a funeral Mass can only take place before burial or cremation. Gianni Versace was cremated almost immediately after his death.
The exact order of service at Versace’s funeral is unknown, but it likely followed a similar order to most Catholic funerals. If so, it would have included the following:
- Gathering hymn
- Invitation to prayer
- Opening prayer
- First reading
- Psalm or song of praise
- Second reading
- Lord’s prayer
- Song of farewell
Elements that could have been missing due to the nature of the service include:
- Prayer of Commendation: When the priest prays as the casket is carried out of the church.
- Recessional Hymn: When the priest leads the procession out of the church while a hymn is sung.
Virtual funeral tip: If you host a virtual or hybrid Catholic funeral due to travel restrictions and other factors, your service may also be considered a "memorial." You'll need to work with your Church to make decisions about what to include and what to leave out. For such situations, we recommend using a service like GatheringUs, which can help iron out the details and host a seamless virtual event.
Over his lifetime in fashion and design, Versace grew close to many famous people. Those people showed up in force to pay respect to their departed friend and peer.
In fact, approximately 2,000 people crowded into the Duomo di Milano to take part in the funeral service (many of them dressed in black Versace garments).
Here are some of the names you might recognize from Gianni Versace’s celebrity funeral:
- Naomi Campbell: Supermodel Naomi Campbell was a close friend of Versace’s and one of his greatest muses. Campbell reportedly considered Versace a best friend, a protector, and an inspiration to achieve greatness.
- Sting: Sting was one of Versace’s closest celebrity friends. The designer had even created the rock star’s wedding tuxedo.
- Princess Diana: Perhaps Versace’s most famous friend and funeral attendee, Princess Diana, sat with Elton John during the service. Only a month later, Princess Di met her own similarly tragic fate in the car accident that took her life.
- Carolyn Bessette Kennedy: Carolyn Kennedy was another of Versace’s famous clients. She passed away in a plane crash, along with her husband John F. Kennedy, Jr., and her sister, Lauren, in 1999.
- Giorgio Armani: Armani and Versace may have been rivals in the fashion world, but they were also friends and peers.
- Anna Wintour: Anna Wintour was one of Versace’s close friends from the fashion world as editor-in-chief of Vogue America. She wore her iconic black sunglasses to the funeral.
- Karl Lagerfeld: Karl Lagerfeld, the creative director for the House of Chanel fashion line, was another of Versace’s peers in the fashion industry. He passed away in 2019 at the age of 85.
- Elton John: Elton John and Sting performed a hymn at Versace’s funeral service. Just over one month later, Elton John would be called upon again to perform at another heart-wrenching celebrity funeral. This time for his friend, Princess Diana.
Also in attendance were Gianni’s family members, most notably his sister Donatella, and his partner of 15 years, Antonio D’Amico.
Elton John and Sting joined forces to give a heartfelt rendition of “The Lord is My Shepherd,” or Psalm 23. The Psalm brought many guests to tears.
The Italian opera star, Luciano Pavarotti, was expected to attend, but there’s no record of a performance by the singer.
The church choir also performed some hymns at the service.
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There’s no record of speeches or eulogies given at Gianni Versace’s funeral service. It’s likely that, as a Catholic service, the priest gave readings and offered a eulogy.
Typically, the priest gives a first reading from the Old Testament and a second reading from the New Testament. The priest may also read the Gospels chosen by the family. The priest then leads the congregation in prayers and hymns.
Publications around the world put out obituaries for the late celebrity after his death in 1997. An excerpt from the Independent’s obituary for Gianni Versace reads:
“Born of humble origins in 1946, he was apprenticed at his mother's knee, for she ran up outfits for the locals. Having moved to Milan, in 1973, he began freelance designing for the prominent ready-to-wear labels Callaghan and Genny before launching his eponymous label in 1978.”
After learning about his tragic passing, mourners and fans took it upon themselves to deliver colorful floral tributes and other gifts to Versace’s residence, Casa Casuarina, in Miami Beach, Florida.
The mansion was not only a place where he entertained celebrities like Madonna and Elton John; it was also the place where he was murdered. Versace had purchased the property in 1992 — along with the hotel next door — after falling in love with its Mediterranean Revival architecture.
In the five years that followed, he expanded and restored the mansion to reflect his personal style and sense of luxury.
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Where Is Gianni Versace Buried?
Gianni Versace’s body was reportedly cremated almost immediately following his murder in Miami, Florida.
Versace’s family didn’t choose to keep his ashes or scatter his cremains. Instead, they returned Versace’s ashes to his estate in Italy.
There, Versace’s urn sat on display for close friends and family to pay their respects.
Location of cemetery
Following his cremation, Versace’s ashes were returned to Italy by private plane. They remained at his private estate near Cernobbio, Italy, for a period of mourning, as mentioned above.
Versace’s ashes sat in an urn on a simple altar within the courtyard of his Italian villa.
Before the funeral took place, Versace’s family moved his ashes to Moltrasio Cemetery, near Lake Como, for burial.
Versace’s remains were entombed in his family’s vault at Moltrasio Cemetery in Italy. An attempted break-in was reported almost immediately, but the perpetrator fled after setting off the vault’s security alarm.
It is thought that Versace’s family held a small, private service at their estate before laying Gianni’s remains to rest.
Remembering Gianni Versace
Versace’s colorful life and fashion, paired with his sudden and tragic death, left an impact on the world. While we know the perpetrator, authorities have stated that we may never know the true reason why Versace was killed.
Recently, Versace’s assassination and circumstances surrounding it were portrayed in the drama series “American Crime Story.” But sources close to Versace, including Antonio D’Amico, have indicated that the series is inaccurate in many ways.
Versace’s family carries on his legacy in fashion. His brother, Santo, is CEO, and his sister, Donatella, is head of design at Versace. He also left 50% of his empire — worth an approximate $500 million — to his niece, Allegra Versace.
Versace is also remembered by his friends and peers. Elton John dedicated an album to him in 1997, and a French choreographer and friend wrote a ballet in his honor in 2007. In 2017, Versace even received a posthumous “America Award” from the Italy-USA Foundation.
- Mulvagh, Jane. “Obituary: Gianni Versace.” Independent. 17 July 1997. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/obituary-gianni-versace-1250904.html
- Hallemann, Caroline. “Here's What Gianni Versace's Funeral Was Really Like.” Town and Country. 20 March 2018. https://www.townandcountrymag.com/society/a10340697/gianni-versace-funeral/
- Bilyeau, Nancy. “The true story of Gianni Versace’s murder.” Town and Country. 20 March 2018. https://www.townandcountrymag.com/style/fashion-trends/a15045343/gianni-versace-murder-death-true-story/
- Miller, Julie and Robinson, Joanna. “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: Versace’s H.I.V. Status.” Vanity Fair. 25 January 2018. https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2018/01/versace-gianni-aids-hiv-american-crime-story
- “Milan Cathedral: History and facts.” Study.com. https://study.com/academy/lesson/milan-cathedral-history-facts.html
- “Celebrities weep for Versace at Milan memorial.” CNN. 22 July 1997. https://cnn.com/WORLD/9707/22/versace.memorial/
- “Italy: Milan: memorial service to Gianni Versace.” AP Archive. 21 July 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=do8KE1EAM9c&feature=emb_title