HOLLYWOOD, California, Aug 24, 2008 (AFP) - Murdered starlets, celebrity drug overdoses, psychopathic crimes: for offbeat tour guide Scott Michaels, the history of Hollywood is dripping with blood.
Michaels, 46, is the brains behind the "Dearly Departed" tour, a quirky voyage through the seamy underbelly of Los Angeles that sets out to expose the dark side of fame and fortune.
"Sit back and rest in peace," Michaels tells his passengers as his tour bus sets off from its departure point off of Hollywood Boulevard, not far from the Kodak Theatre where the Oscars are handed out every year.
For Michaels, death is a passion, and his tour is definitely not for the squeamish. During the tour, for example, sight-seers are shown the house where Elizabeth Short -- "The Black Dahlia" -- was believed to have been dismembered in 1947. The horrific killing is Los Angeles' most famous unsolved murder.
Even the fabled Hollywood sign, whose giant letters straddle the hills above Tinseltown, turns out to have a grisly history.
In 1932, 24-year-old actress Peg Entwistle plummeted to her death after jumping off the sign's "H", depressed at her failure to make it big.
Later, Michaels' bus stops outside a house in the upmarket neighborhood of Los Feliz, an ordinary-looking home with an extraordinary history -- it is where Rosemary and Leno LaBianca were murdered by members of Charles Manson's "family" in 1969.
Across town in Beverly Hills, Michaels' tour breezes past the home where in 1947 mobster Bugsy Siegel was gunned down by a hitman firing shots through the living room window. The assassin was never caught.
Police had less difficulty identifying the killer of another gangster who met a bloody end in Beverly Hills, Johnny Stompanato.
Stompanato, the lover of screen icon Lana Turner, was stabbed to death in 1958 by the actress's teenage daughter.
However Turner's daughter, Cheryl Crane, was later cleared of murder after defense lawyers successfully argued that she had only been defending her mother, who was being attacked by the gangster.
As Michaels' bus heads down Sunset Boulevard, he points out the notorious Viper Room nightclub where actor River Phoenix collapsed and died from a drug overdose in 1993. The hotels where singer Janis Joplin and John Belushi died of overdoses in 1970 and 1982 respectively also figure on the tour.
Not too far away is a less tragic but slightly more lurid spot: the anonymous sidestreet where Hugh Grant was arrested by police in 1995 after picking up the prostitute, Divine Brown.
Although many of the stops are decades old, Michaels has included several contemporary references on the tour.
They include the news kiosk where an outraged Paris Hilton swiped a copy of her own pornographic home video and the public toilet where singer George Michael was busted for propositioning an undercover police officer in 1998. (As the tour bus stops outside the toilet, the vehicle's stereo system kicks in with Michael's hit "I want your sex.")
For Larry Browder, a 50-year-old tourist from Savannah, Georgia, the tour is a hit. "I thought that was part of the history, the murders which took place in this city, it needs to be told, it needs to be seen. It makes things more real," Browder said.
Michaels launched his tour three-and-a-half years ago, having had a lifelong interest in "the old Hollywood".
But today Michaels is dismayed to see how much of the history of the neighborhood is vanishing. Buildings that once housed nightclubs and restaurants frequented by the stars are making way for luxury hotels and apartment blocks.
"I feel horrible about it," Michaels told AFP. "Hollywood has become cool. It's a shame. Ultimately, the people with the money win."