Digging up Dad: Dali and Celebrity Paternity Testing from the Grave

Jun 28, 2017 | AABB DNA Testing, Celebrity Paternity Test, Forensic DNA Testing, Paternity, Science and Technology

Dali and Celebrity Paternity Testing

On Monday, June 26, a court in Madrid ordered the remains of Salvador Dali to be exhumed. No…it’s not to gather evidence for a crime: it’s because an astrologer and tarot-card reader named Pilar Abel filed a paternity lawsuit, claiming her mother had an affair with the famed surrealist artist in 1955. Celebrity paternity testing is not uncommon at all—what is less common is when the potentially-paternal DNA comes from the grave.

 Dali, who passed away in 1989, did not have children with his wife, Gala. If DNA testing determines Abel to be his biological daughter, then the 61-year-old could inherit 25% of the artist’s estimated $335 million estate. This is not the first time Abel has tried to confirm her roots. Her lawsuit claims that two prior tests have been done over the last 10 years, but she was never allowed to see results.

Celebrity Paternity Testing the Dead: How Is It Done?

For a living paternity test, DNA from all participants is usually collected via cheek swab. For the recently-deceased, samples are often extracted from blood cards that were created by the mortician or other professional who handles a body following death. It is possible that blood cards were used for Dali’s two previous tests. However, blood cards contain such small amounts of organic material for testing, that it makes additional downstream testing difficult.  Dali has been long gone, so how will DNA most likely be extracted for this test?

Dr. Julie Heinig, PhD, Director of Forensic Services at DNA Diagnostics Center (DDC), weighs in on how DNA is usually extracted from the long-departed:

“In cases where an individual is deceased, the ability to get their DNA can be problematic. In some instances, the court will deem the exhumation of a body justified, and an order will be issued [which is what happened with Dali].

DNA degrades rapidly in deceased individuals, particularly in blood and soft tissues, so I recommend to our clients that they collect compact bone such as the femur or humerus (upper leg or upper arm bone). Cells from bone is one of the best sources of DNA from decomposed human remains.  Since experts only have one shot at collecting a bone sample during an exhumation, I suggest they collect approximately 3 to 4 inches of one of the long bones to ensure we have enough bone sample to work with for DNA extraction.”

Celebrity Paternity Testing the Dead: Other Famous Tests

Dali is by no means the first to undergo paternity testing from the great beyond. Some other famous celebrities who were exhumed include:

Yves Montand (died in 1991; tested in 1998): The beloved French actor and singer was the subject of a paternity test by a 22-year-old woman.

DNA Results: not the father

Bobby Fischer (died in 2008; tested in 2010): The famous chess champion was accused of fathering a then-9-year-old child.

DNA Results: not the father

Juan Peron (died in 1974; tested in 2006): A 72-year-old woman claimed to be the daughter of the three-term super-popular president of Argentina.

DNA Results: not the father

Final Thoughts

Because of its reputation for excellence, DNA Diagnostics Center (DDC) has a long history of doing celebrity paternity testing, including high-profile tests for the Prince paternity case and the Anna Nicole Smith paternity case. DDC also performs all paternity testing for Maury, Paternity Court, and other popular TV shows. Although the testing for Dali is being performed by a toxicology lab in Spain, this case is of interest to us, as it is to many–and you can be sure it won’t be the last case of celebrity paternity testing from the grave!

Don’t hesitate to call us at 800-929-0847: We’re here to help.



  1. judith gordon

    i would like to my dna but live on ss and can’t afford to pay ancestry. i was told my great grandmother was pregnant with my grandmother when she married her second husband back in 1885 bradford pa.and no one knows who the first husband was or uncle is in his 90’s and i would like to go over our family history with himbefore he passes away.i would appreciate any help you could give me.


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