Happy Halloween! We’ve already posted about this year’s meta celebrity Halloween costumes, and which celebrity movie deaths we grieved for or cheered on. But let’s get a little serious for a sec and talk about the celebrity death hoax.
It’s almost an occupational hazard, at this point—if you’re famous enough, someone will spread a rumor about you dying. Just like “sources” plant “tips” about celebrity couples cheating, getting engaged, or being into kinky shit. It shouldn’t surprise us that there are fake news stories every month about a famous person biting it… and yet, invariably there are thousands of people who believe it and share the rumor.
There seem to be just a handful of websites that specialize in these “Fake A Death” formulated hoaxes. Sometimes it’s just one person who wants to troll the internet. (And weirdly enough, it’s almost always men.) Especially thanks to how quickly a rumor can start over Twitter, most celebrities have gotten caught up in hoaxes. So it’s not worth listing every single one, especially because you’ll start to notice the same gruesome details repeating. Instead, I’ve chosen five different rumors that cropped up at varying times but freaked us out just enough that we started to believe it was true. At least, until someone on the playground or another Twitter account debunked it.
Steve from Blue’s Clues: I’m willing to bet that a lot of Crushable readers (the slightly older ones) remember this as their first brush with the celebrity death hoax. I still recall the whispers going around the elementary school: “Steve died!” “But how?” “From DRUGS!” That’s one way to keep the kiddies from ever experimenting, by killing off their mentor figure from an overdose. Now that I’ve got about thirteen years’ perspective on this, however, I’m most fascinated by Snopes’ rationale for how the rumor started:
The easy answer about why this rumor is circulating is to pin it on society’s distrust of children’s hosts, as expressed in rumors of these nice, smiling men not being all they seem. Yet it might all be a lot simpler than that. In the same year he began with Blue’s Clues, Burns put in an appearance on the popular TV show Law & Order. He played Kevin Jeffries, an apparently drugged-out kid who died while in police custody. It’s possible the current rumor has its roots in someone seeing “Steve of Blue’s Clues” die, albeit on a completely different TV show.
Now, let’s look at some more recent examples that got spurred on by social media.
Natalie Portman: The problem with these sites that generate fake news stories is that they cycle through the same details. So once you hear the falling-off-a-cliff story multiple times, it loses its eeriness. But that first time? Hoo boy.
Actress Natalie Portman died while filming a movie in New Zealand early this morning – June 29, 2009. Preliminary reports from New Zealand Police officials indicate that the actress fell more than 60 feet to her death on the Kauri Cliffs while on-set. Specific details are not yet available. The accident occurred at approximately 4:30 a.m. Additional details and information will be forthcoming.
Just you wait, someday a celebrity is going to die from falling off a cliff, and none of us will take the story seriously.
Jon Heder: Right as America was falling in love with the Napeoleon Dynamite star in 2005, the shocking report started circulating online that he had violently died. I can’t find any still-existing sites with the original death report, but according to Snopes the top two contenders were a car crash that snapped his neck and a drug overdose. The fact that he was Mormon gave the story more emotional grounding, as it was even more distressing to hear that such a wholesome-seeming boy had succumbed to the perils of Hollywood.
Eddie Murphy: How funny, this hoax was reported just today. These sites really are getting so lazy. But let’s go for it anyway, because we haven’t heard of a ski accident yet:
The actor & novice snowboarder was vacationing at the Zermatt ski resort in Zermatt, Switzerland with family and friends. Witnesses indicate that Eddie Murphy lost control of his snowboard and struck a tree at a high rate of speed.
Eddie Murphy was air lifted by ski patrol teams to a local hospital, however, it is believed that the actor died instantly from the impact of the crash. The actor was wearing a helmet at the time of the accident and drugs and alcohol do not appear to have played any part in his death.
Of course, this kind of subterfuge seems in even poorer taste when you remember that Usher‘s stepson passed away after a boating accident earlier this year.
The Taco Bell chihuaua: Why would an outlet report on the passing of a beloved TV commercial dog if it hadn’t happened? That was my logic, at least. But I soon learned that the internet, it does not operate under the normal constraints of logic.
Photo: Nick Jr.