Recently, we heard the news that childhood star, Home Alone lead and frontman of a pizza-based Velvet Underground cover band, Macaulay Culkin, had died. About 4 minutes later, we heard he was alive and well, and was instead the latest victim of the venerable death hoax.
I say, 'venerable' because death hoaxes have actually been around for a long time. Indeed, American author Mark Twain was consistently plagued by death rumors after a newspaper erroneously reported he'd kicked the bucket. He famously stated:
James Ross Clemens, a cousin of mine, was seriously ill two or three weeks ago in London, but is well now. The report of my illness grew out of his illness; the report of my death was an exaggeration.
Since then, President Roosevelt, Charlie Chaplin and pretty much any celebrity of even minor repute has been victim of a death hoax.
However, with the rise of social media, sharing, and page 'liking,' celebrity death hoaxes have exploded. Here are some of the best responses from supposedly dead celebrities.
1. Jeff Goldblum
Goldblum is the modern day Mark Twain when it comes to death hoaxes. Hardly a year goes by without someone online claiming Goldblum has joined the choir invisible. Indeed, it seems Goldblum is particularly prone to falling off cliffs in New Zealand (something which is certainly not limited to him, as we'll see), and since 2009 he has apparently died another 3 or 4 times. He even has poorly made tribute videos on Youtube:
Wow. That's how I'd like to be remembered.
He seems to take all this supposed death in his stride, and once appeared on The Colbert Report mid-way though his own obituary.
2. Dwayne Johnson
Remember what I was saying about cliffs in New Zealand? Well, apparently they're the only thing on Earth that can take out Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson. In 2011, he also apparently fell off one while filming in the country. How did he respond? Well, it seems like he took some inspiration from his WWE days.
3. Morgan Freeman
In 2012, God himself, Morgan Freeman, was subjected to a new type of death hoax. Someone created a Facebook page stating Freeman had died, encouraging fans to like and share the page. Within only a few hours the page had already gathered 60,000 likes, subsequently those who liked the page were plagued with spam. Luckily, Freeman was alive and well, as his official Facebook page announced:
4. Zach Braff
In 2009, news emerged that Zach Braff had died from a drug overdose in his massive Hollywood mansion. Fortunately, it turned out to be another celebrity death hoax that was created in the wake of Michael Jackson's very real death in that year. Braff took to Youtube to explain he was still on this mortal coil, as well letting us know how big his house really is and what his preferred method of suicide would actually be.
5. Kel Mitchell
And now a death hoax from the pre-Twitter period. Back in 2006, emails started to circulate that Kel Mitchel (of Kenan & Kel fame) had died. The rumors actually persisted for quite some time, and only last year a friend of mine was still adamant he had died.
As it turns out, Mitchell wasn't too concerned about them. In fact, he thinks they may have helped his career a bit. He told The Atlantic:
It was kind of laughable, you know what I mean? It’s laughable, but at the same time, it’s a serious matter. It’s shocking to me that someone would sit there and say someone else died... When they said that, it was like people started looking me up to see what was going on and if I was alive. It basically changed everything around. It actually worked out in my benefit.
6. Paul McCartney
Perhaps the strangest death hoax of all concerns The Beatles legend Paul McCartney. It's particularly odd because some people still actually believe it. The urban legend suggests Paul died in car crash in 1966 but was secretly replaced with a look-alike so as to not hit upon the increasing success of The Beatles.
The rumors suggest there are clues hidden within Beatles tracks and album covers which reveal that Paul is in fact dead. For example, if you play 'Revolution 9' backwards, it reportedly says "Turn me on, dead man." While it's also claimed that John Lennon says 'I buried Paul' at the end of 'Strawberry Fields Forever.' In reality he says 'cranberry sauce.' Other clues include the Abby Road cover which is supposed to resemble a funeral procession, and the Sgt Pepper cover which reportedly also subtly hints Paul died. In 1969, McCartney addressed the rumors, stating:
Perhaps the rumour started because I haven't been much in the press lately. I have done enough press for a lifetime, and I don't have anything to say these days. I am happy to be with my family and I will work when I work. I was switched on for ten years and I never switched off. Now I am switching off whenever I can. I would rather be a little less famous these days.