Woman's colorful obituary goes viral. Her son says she would have loved her newfound fame.

·5 min read
Andy Corren (center) and his mother Renay Corren, who's life is memorialized in a colorful obituary that's since gone viral. (Photo courtesy of Andy Corren)
Andy Corren (center) smiles alongside his late mother Renay Corren, whose life is memorialized in a colorful obituary that's since gone viral. (Photo courtesy of Andy Corren)

"A plus-sized Jewish lady redneck died in El Paso on Saturday," begins arguably one of the funniest obituaries to hit the internet in recent years, published in the Fayetteville Observer on Wednesday.

The tribute was written by Andy Corren in honor of his late mother, Renay Corren, who died in El Paso, Texas, over the weekend at the age of 84. She’s survived by her five sons — Andy, Michael, Jeffery, Scott and Marc, as well as their families. Her late daughter, Cathy, died in 2007.

Described as a "bawdy, fertile, redheaded matriarch of a sprawling Jewish-Mexican-Redneck American family" who enjoyed "dyeing her red roots, weekly manicures, dirty jokes, pier fishing, rolling joints and buying dirty magazines," Corren tells Yahoo Life that, above all, his mother was an original who never took life too seriously — something he was eager to reflect when crafting the obituary.

"I'm just so surprised that people are sharing it," Corren, a writer and talent manager, says of the colorful obituary that went viral on Wednesday. "It seems like a lot of people, from what I can tell, have people like this in their family."

Indeed, the tribute has gained a growing amount of praise on Twitter, many of whom cite Corren's timing, cleverness and frankness as a refreshing outlook on death:

As Corren lovingly writes in the obit, "A more disrespectful, trash-reading, talking and watching woman in NC, FL or TX was not to be found," adding that in her 84 years of life, she survived COVID, breast cancer, pneumonia and blood clots, as well as "multiple bankruptcies," "marriage to a philandering Sergeant Major," and an "affair with Larry King in the ’60s."

Describing himself as "her favorite son, the gay one who writes catty obituaries in his spare time" in the obituary, Corren says telling the truth about life is something his mother knew well.

"There was something so unapologetic about my mom's type of being and grit — and, yes, grift. It was just completely without guile. She never tried to hide it," he says, adding that she would have adored the newfound fame she is getting now. After all, "She was a Jewish mother, and they really love attention."

The fact that his mom's vivacious life has struck a chord has been the perfect send-off, he explains, especially for much of his family who was unable to travel to the funeral in El Paso.

"For most American families, death and dying is so horrifically expensive. And funerals are the last kind of insult in this whole process. Most cannot cope with it and we certainly were no different in that regard," he says. "We're a blue-collar, working-class family, and many of us have taken off weeks of work to care for our mom and be at her bedside."

Renay Corren, who died last weekend, is the center of a viral tribute written by her very clever gay son. (Photo courtesy of Andy Corren)
Renay Corren, who died last weekend, is the center of a viral tribute written by her son. (Photo courtesy of Andy Corren)

Another hope Corren wishes that comes out of the tribute, he explains, is for all of us to confront our fears and to challenge traditions around "death and dying," something he hopes we can "normalize" as a society. "It's part of life. We need to create space for it. We need to make it beautiful," he says.

"I had her spiritual acquiescence to have fun, to do what she would do, which was to make a big joke of it," he says. "She was very anti-authoritarian, extremely not into kowtowing to convention. That's another reason why I think people are so attracted to it. After a year where we've had so many deaths around us, I think we have this opportunity as a culture to examine our own death rituals. And having these conversations is important."

"I would much rather, as the British say, 'Have the piss taken out of her' than to go to some stuffy memorial where everybody's crying and weeping. And then telling inappropriate jokes over bad food," he jokes. "I do feel that by telling her story this way — and allowing life and light and laughter to come in — I'm telling the true story of my mother, the authentic story of my mother. Though it did have darkness, of course, it had shadows, she was a great person to be friends with. I'll tell you that."

These days, Corren says he’s working on a book about his “time as a young man in the entertainment business," set in Los Angeles in the 1990s. But in the last 24 hours, he’s received several other offers from families all around the world to write similar tributes to their loved ones.

His message to them? "Yeah, no..."

"I've seen a lot of offers like, 'Please write my obituary,'" he says. "And I'm thinking to myself, 'Oh my God, what a horrible business, to write other people's death notices.' No. You do that!"

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