Poor celebrities. In their life, nothing is guaranteed, be it success, happiness or in this case, even being alive. Rowan Atkinson is the latest person of interest to be struck down by the Internet with a premature obituary, and since this has become such a regular occurrence, we’ve compiled a list of 10 high profile celebrities that were written off as dead before anyone really checked.
King of the castle when it comes to celebrity death hoaxes, the “Paul Is Dead” conspiracy theory is tenuous, weird and still widely believed to be true by many to this day. In 1969, rumours began circulating in America that Macca had died in a car crash in London, and that The Beatles had replaced him with a lookalike. Morbid album artwork and strange messages revealed only when playing tracks backward intensified the speculation. As far as we know, Paul is alive and still going strong; still, we’re guessing he’s not the biggest fan of cranberry sauce.
After once singing “I ain’t gonna live forever”, Jon Bon Jovi was faced with the end rather sooner than he expected. In 2009, the Bon Jovi lead singer was culled by the Internet spectacularly after an LA blog reworded the announcement of Michael Jackson’s death, leaving an article suggesting than Bon Jovi had died in his house. Scuppering the claims, a photo was uploaded days later of Bon Jovi holding a sign saying “Heaven looks a lot like New Jersey”. We can only wonder what his hell looks like.
Curtis Jackson, according to an interview with Oprah in 2012, had previously survived nine gunshots in an incident in 2000. According to a more recent story, 50 Cent succumbed to a numerically similar attack 6 months ago, but this time failed to come through the nine gunshots alive. To add another dollop of incredulity to the story, the rapper Meek Mill was also supposedly a suspect in this completely fake shootout. Judging by Jackson’s recent appearances in court regarding just how much money he doesn’t have, we can probably rule this one out too.
When Franklin Roosevelt died in 1945, panic spread among America, and reports started emerging of numerous celebrities meeting their demise, including Charlie Chaplin and Frank Sinatra. The New York Times reported “Widespread jitters bordering on mass hysteria seemed to sweep New York yesterday… as rumors of killings, accidents and deaths involving prominent persons flooded the city.” Luckily Ol’ Blue Eyes was fine, and lived another 43 years until suffering a heart attack in 1998.
As one of the more active, DIY action movie stars of the modern era, Jackie Chan may well have been disappointed to learn that he apparently died not once, but twice in 2011. First the “Rush Hour” star was rumoured to have died of a heart attack in March 2011, and later in the year a Facebook group entitled “RIP Jackie Chan” surfaced and gained popularity. And that wasn’t the end for him: in 2013 Chan was once again the subject of an online death hoax. His response was a Facebook photo of himself holding up a newspaper.
The infamous website Global Associated News are known for generating fake articles announcing the death of basically every celebrity going. In 2012 they caught everyone hook line and sinker with an article claiming skating figurehead Tony Hawk had died in a car crash. Soon after the article was published, #RIPTonyHawk was trending worldwide. Thankfully, it turned out to be false, and Hawk got back to what he does best: making Tony Hawk Pro Skater video games.
This hoax carried more weight when it was first reported, mainly because it appeared to have originated from CNN. In September 2010, the tweet “RT @CNN: Breaking News: actor Morgan Freeman has passed away in his Burbank home,” was retweeted by several legitimate news sources, seemingly confirming that the Shawshank Redemption actor had passed away. The reports were quickly quashed, and CNN denied any involvement in the rumour, prompting sighs of relief from fans of slow, deep-voiced narration everywhere.
According to the Independent, comedian and film star Murphy has been killed off by the Internet a whopping eight times. Most recently, in reaction to Paul Walker’s death, tweets regarding Murphy were misconstrued as an announcement of his death. Once again rumours mills began turning, and Murphy’s publicist walked the well-trodden path of issuing a statement, saying “Eddie Murphy has not died”. With “Beverly Hills Cop 4” still in the works, we suggest Eddie turns off his Twitter notifications for a bit.
Poor Celine seems to constantly be the target of obituary articles, despite still being under the age of 50. In late 2013, Dion had two rumours to deal with at the same time – one report suggested that she had died in a plane crash, another claimed it was a car crash. Multiple TV appearances in the following days put to bed the rumours. This comes after a similar story in 2012, where #RIPCelineDion was trending worldwide on Twitter. For now, however, Dion’s heart goes on.
Like so many on this list, Slim Shady was reported to have died in a car accident in 2000. Unlike most on this list, however, these reports claimed to show pictures of the wreckage. After being taken up by MTV News, the story was quickly dropped, not least because the pictures claimed that Eminem had been driving a rented Saturn. 13 years later, and more “evidence” appeared online, this time showing gory pictures of a man getting stabbed, purported to be Eminem. Once again, the publicist fulfilled their duty, confirming Marshall Mathers was indeed alive, adding “He remains unstabbed”. Quite.