PARIS For over a decade, Oscar Wilde fans have flocked to a famous Paris cemetery with lipstick in hand and left red and pink kiss marks all over the Irish writer's cream-colored grave.
But from this week onwards, with Wednesday marking the 111th anniversary of the Dublin playwright's death, Wilde enthusiasts will have to contend with paying their tributes through a glass screen at arm's length from the tomb.
The new-look grave was unveiled after a renovation that left it scrubbed clean and surrounded by a glass enclosure to preclude future visitors from degrading the stone.
"If they'd kissed it simply without lipstick, we wouldn't have had to do this," Wilde's grandson Merlin Holland told reporters after the unveiling ceremony at the Pere Lachaise cemetery, whose other famous inhabitants include Edith Piaf, Marcel Proust and Jim Morrison.
Actor Rupert Everett, guest of honor at the ceremony, and due to portray the late writer in an upcoming film, said he thought that even though Wilde would have loved the attention lavished on his grave, he thought he would have been uncomfortable at the lipstick graffiti defacing it.
"I think he'd be thrilled that he was still attracting so much attention. I don't think he would like graffiti very much because he loved perfect clothes, perfect houses," Everett, star of the film "My Best Friend's Wedding," told Reuters.
"I think he'd like his statue to be clean and beautiful."
Wilde, best known for the farcical play "The Importance of Being Earnest" and the novel "The Picture of Dorian Gray," was born in Dublin but living in London when he was tried for homosexuality. Convicted, he spent two years in prison, after which he left for France, where he died destitute in Paris.
Wednesday's unveiling of the new grave, funded in part by the Irish government, was attended by French and Irish officials and some family members. Several people left flowers.
Everett, who has acted in several Oscar Wilde plays and a silver screen adaptation of The Importance of Being Earnest, referred to Wilde as his patron saint, and read out a passage from "De Profundis," the letter Wilde wrote to lover Alfred Douglas from prison in England.
Touching on the controversy surrounding Wilde's sexuality, Everett said the writer not only associated kisses with love but also with danger and death.
"And so I wonder how he was able to support the lipstick-kiss tributes that thousands of admirers had left over the years. Maybe he said 'Save me, disciples," Everett quipped.
Wilde's grave was last renovated in the 1990s. Decades of graffiti had prompted Wilde's descendants to secure a historical monument listing for the tombstone, in the hopes that it would discourage vandalism.
The graffiti stopped but then the kissing started. Cemetery officials and Wilde's descendants hope that this time the glass enclosure will keep the grave spick and span.
It is not the first time Paris has cleaned up Wilde's grave.
Holland talked at the ceremony about how when the tomb's crowning sculpture of an angel in flight was made in the early 1900s and transported to Paris, officials at the Pere Lachaise cemetery immediately covered it up with a tarp to hide the angel's genitalia from public view.
"This grave is no stranger to controversy."
(Reporting By Anna Maria Jakubek, editing by Paul Casciato)