New Zealand artist brings life to funerals with bizarre coffins

Attendants at Phil McLean's funeral were shocked, but delighted, by their dearly departed's coffin, which was shaped like a giant cream donut. Phil's own cousin, Ross Hall, created the coffin at his business in Auckland: Dying Art.

"It overshadowed the sadness and the hard times in the last few weeks," said [Phil's] widow, Debra. "The final memory in everyone's mind was of that donut, and Phil's sense of humor."

Among Hall's other creations have been Lego blocks, a sailboat, a firetruck, and a giant chocolate bar, along with a sparkling "The Matrix"-themed coffin. Hall first concocted the idea about 15 years ago while contemplating his own death.

"There are people who are happy with a brown mahogany box and that's great," said Hall. "But if they want to shout it out, I'm here to do it for them."

"How do I want to go out?" he thought to himself, deciding it wouldn't be like everyone else. "So I put in my will that I want a red box with flames on it."

Hall took his idea to a few funeral directors, and soon he was adding on to blank coffins using fiberboard, plywood, and a latex digital printer. These designs cost between $2100-$5400, depending on their complexity. They're biodegradable, according to Hall, and are usually buried or cremated with their owners.

Back to Phil McLean's funeral: why a giant donut? Turns out, according to his surviving wife, Phil considered himself a cream donut connoisseur. He loved to compare cream donuts in every small town:

He considered a good donut one that was crunchy on the outside, airy in the middle, and definitely made with fresh cream.

When Phil was diagnosed with bowel cancer, there was only one logical conclusion: he wanted to be buried in his favorite snack. Oh, and they even ordered 150 donuts from Phil's favorite bakery, 100 miles away in Whitianga. Phil was switched to a regular coffin for his own cremation, and Hall says he'll keep the donut forever. It currently resides in the back of his own white 1991 Cadillac hearse.

As for his own funeral? Hall said he's changed his mind about those red flames. He's emailed his kids saying he wants to be buried in a clear coffin wearing nothing but a leopard-pattern G-string.

"The kids say they're not going," he says with a laugh.