From premature obituaries to hoaxes, rumors and conspiracy theories, these stars turned out to be alive and well
In that race to be first on the page, sometimes the media accidentally speaks too soon in reporting the deaths of celebrities and public figures. And sometimes it’s not an accident, in which the media or the public is often duped due to ill-advised jokes, conspiracies or hoaxes, many of which went viral until people put the rumors to rest. From slips of the tongue to premature obituaries, here are some celebrities who were initially reported dead, even though at the time they were alive and well.
Bob Dylan • Classic rock fans can exhale, because Bob Dylan is alive and well, contrary to a Nov. 21, 2020 report on MSNBC that said he had died in 2019. “Sorry about that,” a network news anchor said.
Drake • Fans of the Canadian rapper panicked when, on Nov. 14, 2020, they saw #RIPDrake trending on Twitter. But as it turned out, the four-time Grammy-winner was the victim of a hoax. Clicking on a (supposed) L.A. Times headline reading “Drake Canadian Songwriter And Rapper Dies At 34” takes you to a video of British singer Rick Astley singing “Never Gonna Give You Up.” Beneath it reads: “You got Rick rolled in 2020.”
Paul McCartney • Conspiracy-loving Beatles fans believe that McCartney died in 1966 and everything that’s happened to “him” since then is courtesy of a look-alike and sound-alike. Not only that, they believe clues to McCartney’s fate were revealed in songs written by fellow musicians George Harrison and John Lennon. Like, Lennon’s “A Day in the Life,” where the lyrics “Paul is dead, miss him, miss him”… are said to be heard only when the song is played backward.
Rick Fox • Following the tragic death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his young daughter dying in a helicopter accident outside of Los Angeles in January 2020, his Lakers teammate, Rick Fox, was rumored to be among the other seven aboard the craft who perished. “My family went through, in the midst of all this, something that I couldn’t have imagined them experiencing,” Fox told “Inside the NBA.”
Alice Cooper • Fans of the musician got a little confused in 1973 after reading Melody Maker magazine’s satirical review of Cooper’s concert in the form of a mock obit. Cooper is known for his onstage decapitations and executions, but he later had to issue a statement saying, “I’m alive, and drunk as usual.”
Abe Vigoda • The first time Abe Vigoda was reported dead, he was a spry 60-years-old when a People magazine reporter visited the wrap party of “Barney Miller” in 1982 and said “the late Abe Vigoda” wasn’t there. Five years later, another reporter mistakenly referred to him as “the late Abe Vigoda.” Jokes about his age and being dead followed him the rest of his career, and his life, because he really did pass away in 2016 at the age of 94.
Bob Hope • Film legend Bob Hope’s death was announced five years prematurely in 1998 when a pre-written obituary was accidentally published on the Associated Press website. Unfortunately, the erroneous report of his “death” was then announced by the United States House of Representatives live on C-Span.
Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake • As a joke, two Dallas DJs claimed a car accident took the lives of the pop stars, who were dating at the time. “The first thing I did was call Britney,” Timberlake told ABC News in 2001. “Since the beginning, [when] people knew about our relationship, there’s always been things that have been said that were totally not true, but this just, like, took it to a whole ‘nother planet.”
Avril Lavigne • Rumors began circulating in April 2003 that the “Complicated’ singer killed herself after her grandfather’s death. And in 2017, Twitter gave new fuel to that fire, igniting a conspiracy theory that the Lavigne known today is actually look-alike singer Melissa Vandella. As the theory goes, the suits at Lavigne’s label cooked up a cover-up scheme of her supposed death so they could continue to release her songs.
Will Ferrell • A fake press release posted on the iNewswire Web site in March 2006 claimed that Ferrell was killed in a paragliding accident in Southern California when a wind gust caused him to lose control and crash into trees.
Steve Jobs • Bloomberg’s obit of Apple founder Steve Jobs three years before his death in 2008 was especially glaring considering that it was 17 pages long. The article had been updated but was then accidentally published. The news even briefly rattled Wall Street investors. Bloomberg’s correction however didn’t even list Jobs by name.
Nick Jonas • The pop singer-turned-actor was the victim of death hoaxes twice in 2009. One report said he died of cardiac arrest due to complications with his diabetes, while another said his heart stopped after a lap dance in a Dallas strip club.
Taylor Swift • Apparently, 2009 was not a good year for Swift. She was said to have been in a fatal car accident and then, months later, died from an allergic reaction to sleeping pills, which spread like wildfire on Facebook and YouTube. In July 2016, she was once again said to be dead, presumably because of a mural by an Australian artist that got lots of press. It was a portrait of the singer and the words “In loving memory of Taylor Swift 1989-2016.”
Zach Braff • The “Scrubs” actor was reported dead in 2009 by a fake CNN.com page. The perpetrator of the “joke” later posted an apology, saying in part, “… Thanks for (apparently) taking it lightly, since I haven’t gotten a letter about a lawsuit yet. Just so you know, I’m a huge fan; that’s the only reason I made this page, believe it or not. Also, sorry for upsetting your mother.”
Russell Crowe • The “Gladiator” star took matters into his own hands in June 2010 by tweeting, “Unable to answer tweets fell off a mountain in Austria, all over red rover. Don’t know how I got there, but the media are never wrong. G’Bye.”
Jackie Chan • “Jackie is alive and well,” read a note on the action star’s Facebook page following internet buzz that he died in March 2011. “He did not suffer a heart attack and die, as was reported on many social networking sites and in online news reports.”
Barack Obama • On July 4, 2011, Fox News’ Twitter account was hacked by a group called “The Script Kiddies” and posted that President Obama had been assassinated during an Iowa event.
Lindsay Lohan • A tweak to Lohan’s Wikipedia page in July 2011 cited her death and credited E! News as their source – which was false. But the news spread, thanks to a fake Kim Kardashian Twitter account.
Justin Bieber • If you believe social media, Bieber has been “dead” more times than you can count. There were suicide rumors in 2009 (which resurfaced in 2010), along with a shooting in a nightclub and an overdose. Then there was #RIPJustinBieber, which trended on Twitter in March 2012.
Eddie Murphy • The actor/comedian has been the subject of false reports of his death more than once. On Aug. 30, 2012, he has was said to have been killed in a snowboard accident and, most recently, was again the subject of internet buzz after the death of his brother Charlie lead to mistaken identity.
George Soros • Reuters accidentally published their premature obituary for billionaire George Soros on April 18, 2013, writing he had “died XXX at age XXX.” Reuters retracted the article and issued a correction: “Reuters erroneously published an advance obituary of financier and philanthropist George Soros. A spokesman for Soros said that the New York-based financier is alive and well. Reuters regrets the error.”
Celine Dion • Never-ending rumors of Dion’s death on social media do not sit well with the singer, in great part because each time one sprouts wings and flies, she has to ease her aging mother’s fears. “The thing that worries me is my mum,” she said in November 2013 via Digital Spy. “It makes me a little mad – she’s 86 years old and if I’m not on the phone telling her I’m OK four seconds after it’s on the news … it doesn’t matter what they say, it’s the impact it has on your family.”
Vin Diesel • In January of 2014, Facebook was the starting point for a post that went viral about the death of the “Fast & Furious” actor. The post linked to what they said was a “news report,” which, when clicked, requested permission to access the viewer’s accounts. If granted, the “RIP Vin Diesel” post was sent as spam to everyone on that user’s friends list.
Dwayne Johnson • The Rock did not die while filming a stunt on the set of “Fast & Furious 7,” as was stated in an April 2014 Facebook post that went viral at the time. He nixed the report and posted a Facebook message of his own that read, “Rumors of my death are false – Im still ‘Bringin’ It’ 24hrs a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year – including leap year!” A tweet of his took a more direct approach: “I would love to meet the person who is starting rumors of my death – to show them how a dead foot feels up their ass.”
Macaulay Culkin • When the “Home Alone” star was targeted by death rumors in November 2014, he debunked the reports by taking to Instagram and posting a photo parodying a scene from “Weekend at Bernie’s.”
Axl Rose • Word of the death of the Guns N’ Roses singer spread across the internet on Dec. 3, 2014, but he nipped that one in the bud, tweeting, “If I’m dead do I still have to pay taxes?”
Michael Jordan • The web site Cronica MX posted an article in February 2015 reporting the NBA superstar died of a heart attack. They took it a step further by producing a video with spliced footage of a breaking news segment and a tearful anchor.
Martin Lawrence • In April 2015, News Buzz Daily falsely reported Martin Lawrence was found dead in a Los Angeles hotel room by a maid named Verna Del Sosa. Lawrence never mentioned it directly, but he did make his un-dead self visible on social media in the days following his “death.”
Arnold Schwarzenegger • An Aug. 28, 2015 post on MSMBC.co (not to be mistaken for MSNBC.com) reported that the former Governator died following a heart attack.
Carlos Santana • A Sept. 2015 tweet from a Canadian journalist reporting that Santana’s body was found in a car sparked immediate denials from his peeps. “He is alive and well and enjoying his morning!” his rep told USA Today. Team Santana added to that message, posting on their Facebook page, “… Thank you all for your concern, but the reports of his passing are false.”
Robert Redford • The Sundance Film Festival founder’s publicist stepped in to call reports of his death in December 2015 “a sick hoax.” The fake news first came from Britain’s Sky News, which said he had fallen off a “golf buggy” in Santa Monica.
Chevy Chase • According to a fake report in Breaking 13 News, the “Community” actor died in his sleep after suffering a heart attack on Jan. 6, 2016.
Sean Penn • News reports popped up on Jan. 12, 2016 that Sean Penn was found murdered in his Malibu home and that authorities were investigating the possibility that El Chapo might have ordered a hit on the actor/director who had interviewed him shortly before.
Gabourey Sidibe • The “Empire” star was barraged with tweets from concerned fans in March 2016, who were checking to make sure she was still alive, following a post that said she had died from an asthma attack. Sidibe assured everyone she was fine, but joked that maybe she was dead, if her “version of Hell is people believing poorly written articles about me.”
Jack Black • The Twitter account for Black’s band Tenacious D was hacked in June 2016 and the culprits posted this unsettling message: “It is with a heavy heart I am to announce that Jack Black passed away last night at 3:37 am. The cause of death is yet unknown.” They later cleared up the mess, posting, “WE had our Twitter account hacked. We can assure you that Jack is ALIVE and WELL and that this was a sick ‘prank.'”
Nicolas Cage • Although trafficforgoods.site’s July 2016 headline read “Nicolas Cage passed away because of a serious Motorcycle Accident,” the body of the story said he died when he “lost control of his snowboard and struck a tree.” But social media took the bait and ran with it anyway. Another fake news outlet picked up the story, tweaked it and added a Photoshopped pic of a motorcycle crash scene, Cage’s face and a CNN chyron.
Hillary Clinton • Following Hillary Clinton’s appearance at a 9/11 memorial in September 2016 in which she appeared to collapse while getting into a van, ABC News weekend anchor Joe Torres said on that evening’s newscast, “We begin with the breaking news about Hillary Clinton’s death.” The anchor meant to say “health” rather than “death,” but Twitter nonetheless had a field day, sparking speculation that the woman who emerged from her daughter Chelsea’s home a few hours later was a look-alike because the former first lady had died.
Cher • Cher was added to the celebrity death hoax list of victims after a “R.I.P. Cher” Facebook page was created in September 2016. Apparently the post concluded with the message “Please show your sympathy and condolences by commenting on and liking this page” wasn’t enough of a clue that it was a fake because the reports of her passing went viral and attracted nearly a million likes.
Miley Cyrus • The “Wrecking Ball” singer has dodged the social media Grim Reaper more than once. In 2008, she was said to have been killed by a hit and run driver, and in 2009 socialite Peaches Geldolf tweeted that a “friend in the industry” texted her that Cyrus had died. Word of her death arose again in Sept. 2016, when Now8News reported that she was found dead in her bathtub after a prescription pill overdose.
Beyonce • Jewelry can kill you, or at least that’s the rumor that started after the singer accidentally ripped out an earring during a Brooklyn concert in October 2016 and blood began running down her face. A Facebook page claimed she had died because she didn’t seek medical attention. The BeyHive was not happy about the hoax.
Kanye West • Social media, again, ran amuck in December 2016 with the theory that West’s uncharacteristic behavior at the time was because it wasn’t really him… it was a clone. You read that right. Cancelling his tour, dyeing his hair, having a public meltdown and dissing Beyonce and Jay Z while cozying up to Donald Trump was enough proof for some.
Adam Sandler • LinkBeef, which was the breeding ground for several celebrity death hoaxes, reported on Jan. 13, 2017, that Sandler was found dead of an apparent suicide and even cited their source as Marin County Police Department in California and “quoted” Sandler’s “utterly heartbroken” wife, Jackie.
Willie Nelson • The country music legend’s publicist shut down rumors of his death that began with a March 13, 2017 story on Radar Online that said he was “deathly ill.” In reality, it was just a “bad cold” that forced him to cancel a handful of concert dates.
Betty White • As recently as May 10, 2017, a tweet popped up saying that White was found dead, and another one said her publicist confirmed it. People are so in love with White, that when her name trends on Twitter, they freak out with worry that she’s met her maker. Someone even set up a GoFundMe to protect her from all the celebrity deaths in 2016.
Barbara Bush • In April 2018, CBS News briefly and erroneously published an obituary for former first lady Barbara Bush with “DO NOT PUBLISH” in the headline. Bush really did die just two days later.
Sean Kingston • BBC News shocked the music world in June 2018 when it reported the Jamaican-American singer was found dead at his home weeks after he crashed his jet ski into a Miami bridge. “Today” caught up with the 21-year-old three months later about his near-death experience.
Costa-Gavras • On Aug. 30, 2018, the Associated Press reported, and then withdrew, news that Greek film director Costas-Gavras had died. Their report was based on a tweet that came from a “fake account” believed to be from Greece’s culture minister. In fact, AP said that Gavras even spoke on state television that same day.
Jeff Bezos • With an estimated worth skyrocketing to $171 billion during the coronavirus pandemic as homebound people are forced to stay out of stores and shop online, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos became the target of death rumors on July 7, 2020, causing #ripjeffbezos to trend on Twitter.
Mark Twain • We couldn’t leave out humorist Mark Twain, who became known for, among many other things, one of history’s most misquoted quotes. In 1897, Twain responded to a journalist’s inquiry about his health by writing, “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.”
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