In Tribute to a Woman's Humor, Actress Joan Hackett's Friends Make An Unusual Grave Decision

updated 06/25/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/25/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

When she died of cancer at 49 last October, Joan Hackett must have known she wouldn't soon be forgotten. Not by her fans, who remember her as the struggling Vassar graduate in the 1966 movie The Group, as an aging narcissist in 1981's Only When I Laugh, and in the numerous Broadway plays and TV shows in which she appeared. Nor would she be forgotten by her friends, including Carrie Fisher, Neil Simon, Marsha Mason, Mario Thomas and Bella Abzug. As they recalled at a memorial service, Joan threw herself into everything she did—painting, gourmet cooking, fighting for the ERA and against nuclear weapons, and, especially, making people laugh.

That was the quality they remembered when it came time to choose her epitaph. "Joan wouldn't have liked anything overly sentimental," says her former business manager, Dick Smyser. Pals, including Teri Garr, suggested such options as "I'd like a second opinion" and "I did all my own makeup."

The final choice was copied from a pillow Joan hung on her door when she was sleeping (and which was buried with her). Hackett—who according to friends claimed to be five years older than she was so she would look terrific for her age—was serious about getting her beauty sleep. Says Fisher, "She had a ritual: She wore a face mask, cream, rouge on her nose—she used everything but hormones." Says Smyser, "She would look at this and say, 'Perfect.' "

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