Jon Bon Jovi: dead or alive? Turns out he’s alive – phew! – but for a while the internet thought the 49-year-old rock singer has died of a heart attack, thanks to a spoof news story that went viral. The rise of social media is making death hoaxes more and more common. Here are a few other memorable ones.
‘At Last’ singer Etta James may be terminally ill with leukaemia, but she’s not actually dead yet. So she must have been alarmed to read reports in August 2011 that she had passed away at her home in southern California. The source of the rumour? A fake news report, purporting to be from TMZ.
Poor Eminem – it seems the internet really wants him dead. The demise of Slim Shady (supposedly in a car crash) has been reported not once, but twice, in 2000 and again in 2008. Both times the story was reported as fact. Thankfully, the man born Marshall Mathers is still alive and well.
Rick Astley was reported dead in June 2009. A newswire report stating the singer had been found dead in a Berlin hotel room turned out to a ‘hilarious’ prank. The world had been rickrolled – the news link really just led to his video for ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ with the message, “You’ve beeen Rickrolled.”
Last year, Peaches Geldof started a rumour on Twitter that pop princess Miley Cyrus had died in a car crash. The socialite later claimed it was all a big misunderstanding (yeah right), writing: “Didn’t want to cause distress by tweeting that I’d heard that Miley had died. Turns out it was thankfully a rumour. Glad to hear that.” Guess you can’t trust the teaches of Peaches.
Lou Reed was another victim of a malicious death rumour. An email spread like a virus over the web in May 2001, claiming the Velvet Underground frontman had been found in his apartment, dead from a painkiller overdose. Several radio stations were taken in, reporting the death as news.
Justin Bieber just can’t catch a break on the internet. Not only did people vote for him to tour North Korea through a viral campaign, but snarky web users also started a rumour that the then-15-year-old committed suicide. At least the clean-cut singer can take a joke – he wrote on his Twitter: “Oh yeah…and it feels so good to be alive. Ha-ha”.
Back in 2001, when Britney Spears was still dating Justin Timberlake, a rumour surfaced that the couple had died in a car crash in 2001 (after colliding with a pretzel van). Reported by some American radio DJs, the story turned into news. The pop stars threatened to take legal action and the DJs were fired. Guess this hoax wasn’t too funny after all.
Foo Fighters fans had a scare in 2006 when Dave Grohl’s death was reported. He subsequently gave an interview to NME, in which he reassured fans that he was very much alive. “I am a cockroach,” he said. “I’ll be around for a long time.”
Michael Jackson’s death sparked a whole slew of celeb death rumours, including Ellen Degeneres, Jeff Goldblum and P Diddy. The rapper’s Twitter read, “Diddy has passed today. It is a sad day for everyone. More news to come”, along with a picture of a cross. It was deleted almost instantly, though, so fans didn’t have to worry for too long.
Then again, death hoaxes predate the internet. Back in ’66, someone cooked up a rumour that Paul McCartney had snuffed it. The elaborate story went like this: he went missing, his body was found on a beach in France, and some guy named Billy Shepherd got plastic surgery to replace the Beatle. Several books have been published on this urban legend, pointing out all the clues “proving” the death.
Similarly, in 1973, Melody Maker printed a fake obituary for shock rocker Alice Cooper, claiming he’d been beheaded by a faulty guillotine prop on stage. It was meant to be a funny, satirical piece, but some people took it seriously. Did this line not give it away? – “The head, it is understood, will be the subject of a competition in one of Britian’s pop magazines.”