Mark Twain, 1897.
In the 21st century death hoaxes about celebrities have been widely perpetuated via the Internet. However they are not a new phenomenon; in 1945 following the death of Franklin Roosevelt there were hoax reports of the deaths of Charlie Chaplin and Frank Sinatra, among other celebrities of the time. Possibly the most famous hoax of this type was the "Paul (McCartney) is dead" rumour of the late 1960s.
Hoaxes about the death of a celebrity increase in frequency when genuine celebrity deaths occur. With the 2009 death of Michael Jackson, which closely coincided with the deaths of Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Billy Mays and Patrick Swayze, hoax reports emerged concerning the deaths of a number of celebrities. Paul Walker's death in December 2013 sparked rumours of Eddie Murphy dying in a snowboarding accident.
On 8 January 1992, Headline News almost became the victim of a death hoax. A man called HLN and claimed he was President George H. W. Bush's physician. He claimed Bush died following an incident he had in Tokyo. However, before anchorman Don Harrison was about to report the news, executive producer Roger Bahre, who was off-camera, immediately yelled "No! Stop!" It turned out that a CNN employee entered the information into a centralized computer used by both CNN and Headline News, and it nearly got out on the air before it could be verified. James Edward Smith, an Idaho man, was questioned by the USSS and was later sent to a medical facility for evaluation.
On 18 March 2015, a fake website that reported the death of Lee Kuan Yew, first prime minister of Singapore. Lee was still alive at the time, but died on 23 March 2015. On 8 April 2015 the student who created the fake site was issued a warning by the Attorney-General of Singapore, after "careful consideration of all relevant factors".
Death denial rumors
An opposite phenomenon is death denial rumors: claims that a person is alive, despite official announcements of death (i.e. death certificates, confirmations, etc.). Notable cases are Elvis Presley, Andy Kaufman, Tupac Shakur, Michael Jackson, David Bowie and XXXTentacion.
- "Celebrity Death Hoaxes". MSN UK. 2009-07-01. Retrieved 2009-07-02.
- "Hippo eats dwarf: a field guide to hoaxes and other B.S.", by Alex Boese, 2006, ISBN 0-15-603083-7 , pp. 261, 262
- "Ordinary reactions to extraordinary events", by Ray Broadus Browne, Arthur G. Neal, 2001, ISBN 0-87972-834-5, chapter "Dead or Alive", pp. 21-42
- Frank Marshall White, "Mark Twain Amused," New York Journal, 2 June 1897
- "FLOOD OF RUMORS GIVES CITY JITTERS". New York Times. 1945-04-14. Retrieved 2009-07-02.
- "Celebrity hoaxes continue after Jackson death". Ninemsn Australia. 2009-07-01. Retrieved 2009-07-02.
- Selby, Jenn (4 December 2013). "Paul Walker tragedy sparks Eddie Murphy Twitter death hoax". The Independent. Retrieved 20 December 2013.
- "Musician Started Bon Jovi Death Hoax". Rolling Stone. 28 December 2011. Retrieved 20 December 2013.
- Whiteman, Bobbie (30 October 2013). "Celine Dion makes two appearances in New York following Facebook death hoaxes". Mail Online. Retrieved 20 December 2013.
- Considine, Austin (19 September 2012). "One Comeback They Could Skip". New York Times. Retrieved 20 December 2013.
- Mikkelson, David. 24 August 2014. Snopes.
- Simpson, Jessica. April 1 2018. Media Mass.
- "Singapore Police Identify Suspect in False Web Post About Lee Kuan Yew". wsj.com. Retrieved 8 April 2015.
- "Student who posted fake PMO announcement on Mr Lee Kuan Yew's death given stern warning". www.straitstimes.com. Retrieved 8 April 2015.