Celebrity Death Hoaxes: 53 Famous People Who Were Reported Dead… But Weren’t (Photos)
From premature obituaries to hoaxes and conspiracy theories, these stars turned out to be alive and well
Rosemary Rossi | June 7, 2018 @ 8:00 PM
Last Updated: June 7, 2018 @ 8:05 PM
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. 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.
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.
Sean KingstonBBC News shocked the music world when they 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.
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.
George SorosReuters 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."
Bloomberg's obit of Apple founder Steve Jobs three years before his death 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.
Sometimes it's not an accident. Below are celebs who were the subjects of ill-advised jokes, conspiracies or hoaxes, many of which went viral until people put the rumors to rest.
A fake press release posted on the iNewswire Web site in March 2006 claiming that Ferrell was killed in a paragliding accident in Southern California when a wind gust caused him to lose control and crash into trees.
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."
Rumors began circulating in April 2003 that the "Complicated' singer killed herself after her grandfather's death. In recent weeks, 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.
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.
Social media, again, ran amuck 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.
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.
Facebook was the starting point for a post that went viral about the death of the "Fate of the 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.
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.
Remember that fake news about Eddie Murphy dying in a snowboarding accident? Facebook tried the same story with Washington in Nov. 2011.
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.
"Jackie is alive and well," read a note on the action star’s Facebook page following internet buzz that he died in September 2016. “He did not suffer a heart attack and die, as was reported on many social networking sites and in online news reports.”
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 concluding 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.
When the "Home Alone" star was targeted by death rumors in Nov. 2014, he debunked the reports by taking to Instagram and posting a photo parodying a scene from "Weekend at Bernie's."
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.
A fake news story reporting Eminem's death in a car accident went viral in 2009. The story went as far as to blame the rapper for the crash, saying he swerved into an oncoming truck because he was on his cell phone.
And here we go again with that same snowboarding accident report that keeps popping up with the same facts and only the name of the "deceased" changed. Yup, Carrey was said to have died in April 2016. Even weirder, necropedia.org posted his "anticipated" obituary with a May 20, 2017 date.
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, according to 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."
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 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.
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.'"
According to Breaking 13 News, the "Community" actor died in his sleep after suffering a heart attack on Jan. 6, 2016.
Fans of the musician got a little confused in the early '70s after reading Melody Maker magazine's satirical review of Cooper's concert in the form of a mock obit. He later issued a statement saying, "I'm alive, and drunk as usual."
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."
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.
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."
The web site Cronica MX posted an article in Feb. 2015 reporting the NBA superstar died on 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 was reportedly found dead in a Los Angeles hotel room by a maid named Verna Del Sosa in 2015. Lawrence never mentioned it directly, but he did make his un-dead self visible on social media in the days following his "death."
A BBC News video uploaded on YouTube on Sept. 24, 2010 announced Madonna was dead. They were, obviously, wrong.
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.
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.
Sean PennNews 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.
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. But this was one time he did not say, "Hasta la vista, baby."
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 Jan. 2011.
The Sundance Film Festival founder's publicist stepped in to call reports of his death in Dec. 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.
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."
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.
The former Disney star was said to have fallen to her death on the Kauri Cliffs in New Zealand.
May 2011 was not a pleasant month for Smith, who was reported killed in a car accident, after an overdose and falling off that same cliff where Hilary Duff supposedly perished.
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."
After the internet announced the comedian's death, he tweeted, "Emotional friends have called about this misinformation. To the people behind the foolishness, I'm not sure you see how upsetting this is."
While Paris Hilton was serving jail time in 2007 for a DUI, the internet spread word that she had been stabbed to death by a fellow inmate. The story was originally posted on-line and made to look as if it was coming from CNN.
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.”
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.
Although CNN had initially been accused of claiming that Freeman had died, it was actually a Twitter user named @originalcjizzle, who later wrote, "I had no intention of things turning out this way."
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."
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."