A car accident. A drug overdose. A fatal fall … When it comes to celebrity death hoaxes, the methods of demise tend to follow familiar patterns. But despite the common tip-offs, there are some hoaxes that catch on quicker than a celebrity can cry, “I’m alive!” Here’s a look at some of the most widespread.
The King would have turned seventy-five in 2010, if he hadn’t passed away from a drug overdose back in 1977. Or did he?! In a twist on the death hoax, Presley remains one of the greatest dead-or-alive urban legends to date. Reported sightings of an older, obese Presley have been as commonplace as those of the icon’s ghost. But given Presley’s cherished legacy, it’s easy to see why some have found it hard to accept his passing.
This one just goes to show that playing albums backward may not be the best way to devise the death of a member of one of the greatest rock bands of all time. Students started this rumor in 1969, based on clues supposedly revealing McCartney’s death back in 1966. “Proof” included “hidden messages” in the Beatles’ White Album and Magical Mystery Tour recordings. Some believers said the cover of Abbey Road revealed a funeral death march, with Paul representing the sole shoeless corpse in the procession; others even claimed that the Beatles had replaced McCartney with a look-alike. McCartney himself disproved the hoax in a November 1969 Life magazine article and even named his 1993 solo album “Paul Is Live” to poke fun at his faux death.
For the last several years, some of the most rampant death hoaxes have involved the Kauri Cliffs, a particularly precarious precipice in New Zealand that’s allegedly claimed everyone from Tom Hanks to Tom Cruise to Jeff Goldblum, who was said to have taken a fateful fall from it in June 2009. He later confirmed otherwise through his publicist and a hilarious guest stint on The Colbert Report in which the “dead” actor reported on his own demise.
The power of the Internet has definitely fueled a new era of celebrity death hoaxes, and in 2007, Paris Hilton was the target. According to MuseumofHoaxes.com, a false story doctored to look like a CNN report read: “Although no official statement has been released, unnamed sources from within the Lynwood medical ward tell CNN that Paris received two wounds to the chest, one to the back, one to the throat, and three to the abdomen. Although her condition has been stabilized, surgeons are pessimistic about a full recovery, their main concern being that the puncture to her back may have severely damaged her spinal cord.”
At the time, Hilton was serving her infamously short jail sentence and reportedly died from the shanking. She was offed again that same year via the Web, when one report claimed she had committed suicide. Of course, neither rumor panned out: Hilton suffered from little more than public scrutiny during her forty-five-day jail stint whittled down to house arrest.
At one time, the Biebs was as popular for being a Twitter trending topic as he was for his music—but that fame came on the heels of death rumors that have dogged him since 2009. The teen first reportedly committed suicide, only to be shot dead in a nightclub after that, then done in by a drug overdose. Bieber has staved off these rumors through simple tweets and ongoing public appearances that prove his continued existence, but such falsehoods may simply be part and parcel of that level of fame these days.
Male pop stars aren’t the only ones biting the dust. Miley Cyrus has been falsely pronounced dead twice: first in 2008, in a hit-and-run car accident, and then later that year, when she was “killed” by a drunk driver. The last hoax included a message from Cyrus’s good friend Mandy Jiroux that read: “Hey, guys, this is Mandy and I have some very sad news :( … We’re very hurt to tell everyone this, but Miley died this morning after being hit by a drunk driver … R.I.P. honey, we will miss you so much.” Cyrus’s fans didn’t miss her for long—she’s still alive and kicking around in a number of music and film projects.
This hoax got so out of line that Braff himself took to YouTube last October to call out the culprit behind his faux death announcement (he supposedly perished from a pill overdose). On behalf of his mother, Braff said, “You win my first-ever ‘Douche of the Day’ award for making my mom upset.” He went on to joke around about what he’d like to have happen at his real funeral, including an R&B version of “Wind Beneath My Wings” performed by his friend and fellow actor Donald Faison. Braff thus proved not only that he was still kicking, but also that he and Faison aren’t so different from their Scrubs characters off-camera, either.
These are but a few of the celebrities who’ve been killed off prematurely. Every generation has had its own death scares, from Frank Sinatra to Johnny Depp, but nowadays a death hoax is just a sign of a famous person’s relevance. So if it’s reported that a house-party mishap has claimed the cast of the Twilight film saga? Stay skeptical.