View Celebrity Death Hoaxes
A death hoax involves falsely reporting the death of someone still living. This kind of hoax has been a favorite of pranksters for centuries. Early practitioners of it included Benjamin Franklin and Jonathan Swift.
The most famous death hoax of all time was the “Paul is dead” rumor of 1968, in which the claim that Paul McCartney of the Beatles had died swept throughout America and Great Britain.
In recent years, hoaxes alleging that various celebrities have died have become a frequent fixture in the news. Much of the reason for the popularity of this hoax can be attributed to the internet, which has made such hoaxes easier to perpetrate. A would-be hoaxer simply has to produce an email or webpage that imitates the look of a credible news source. Concerned fans will then forward the fake news story to their friends, inadvertently giving the hoax greater visibility.
Some journalists have noted that, ironically, being the target of such a prank has become a mark of status in our celebrity culture. Michael Heaton of the Cleveland Plain Dealer noted that, “It is the zenith of cultural obsession to have false rumors of someone’s death spread like goose grease across the land.”
Below is a list of some recent celebrity death hoaxes.
Paris Hilton. June 2007.
In June 2007 several articles posted online separately claimed that celebrity heiress Paris Hilton had died while in jail. One article, disguised to look like a CNN page, claimed she had been stabbed. Another article, disguised to look like a news release from Australia’s ABC network, alleged she had committed suicide. Paris Hilton was in jail at the time, but she was definitely still alive. See Paris Hilton Death Hoax.
March, 2006: Will Ferrell
An obituary uploaded to the wire service iNewswire in March 2006 claimed that the comedian had died in a paragliding accident “after a freak wind gush basically blew Ferrell and his companion towards a wooded area where they lost control before crashing into dense foilage.”
January, 2005: John Goodman.
An obituary that circulated by email claimed that the actor John Goodman had collapsed from a heart attack.
Rap star Eminem. In December 2000 news reports claimed that he was the victim of a car crash.
Suzanne Shaw of the band Hear’Say. In May 2001 the BBC reported she had been found dead in her home.
Rock legend Lou Reed. In May 2001 numerous radio stations reported he had been found dead in his apartment. Cause of death: Drug overdose.
Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears
Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears. In June 2001 a Los Angeles radio station reported that the couple had died together in a car crash (just like Eminem). It was a really bad year death-wise for Britney Spears because in October her death was reported again. Once more it was an automobile accident that did her in. In this second case a twenty-two-year-old hacker named Tim Fries managed to make it appear as if the report of her death was on CNN’s website, thus adding far more credibility to the story.
Jackass star Johnny Knoxville. A notice on the internet claimed he had died “while being filmed parachuting from a biplane whilst eating a catering sized tub of Heinz baked beans, when his parachute failed to open.”
Athlete Carl Lewis. In July 2003 he was reported to have been killed in a bicycle accident. The fake report was actually written by a biking enthusiast to draw attention to an abutment in a Houston park that he considered dangerous.
Michael Jackson. Supposedly committed suicide in April 2004 by “consuming more than two-dozen sleeping pills,” according to an internet report.
Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. A fake news story (disguised as a page from the Guardian) reported the passing of the Iron Lady. As a tribute to her, Stephen Hawking was supposedly going to speak in her voice.
Napoleon Dynamite star Jon Heder. An email rumor claimed he crashed and died while driving to Oregon. It partially read: “John Heder, lead role in Napoleon Dynamite, died of head injuries after undergoing a highway car accident two days ago. He was riding in the passenger seat on his way to Salem, Oregon with his friend Mike McHill when the driver supposedly saw a deer run in front of the car. Mike overcorrected and drove off a steep ten foot embankment after rolling three or four times.”
American Idol anti-hero William Hung. The source of his false death report was a faux-news piece on the site Broken Newz. He was said to have OD’d from heroin, leaving a suicide note that read: “I have no reason of living… my art which is my importance to the best everybody laugh to… I make end here… goodbye world of cruel.”