Paul McCartney, Justin Bieber, and Game each share the experience of having been the targets of fake death hoaxes. Early this Monday morning rumors began circulating on various websites that rap star Game (pictured left & formerly known as The Game) had been shot and killed. In actuality, he hadn't, but these false rumors spread so rapidly that within hours the rapper's management had to issue a statement to dispel the untrue report. So, too, did the very much alive and well rap artist, who was in Sacramento Monday, when he tweeted, "If u gone [sic] spread rumors, b more creative. Say, I had a fight wit the Toy Story cast or sumn & it turned fatal ha ha.." But the ever shrewd rapper took it a step further by utilizing the incident as a prime opportunity to promote his forthcoming album. "My funeral is 8-24-10 @ da nearest Best Buy," he tweeted @ihategame.
While Game had one rumor of his apparent death, pop star Justin Bieber has been plagued by them. The sixteen year old Canadian singing sensation has been falsely pronounced dead a total of five times in the past year (all internet generated hoaxes), most recently on June 10th.
The famous, urban legend scale "Paul is dead" celebrity death hoax about the supposed passing of Paul McCartney, began in 1969 with a claim that the Beatle had died a few years earlier in a car crash and had been replaced by a sound-alike/look-alike. Proof of his passing supposedly could be found by playing certain Beatles records backwards or analyzing various Beatles album art. "Paul is dead" was not only one of the most well constructed death hoaxes but also one of the most widely repeated (and believed) hoaxes in pop history.
While certainly similar in structure, the key difference between the "Paul is dead" rumor from four decades ago and the more recent ones about Bieber and The Game is the scale and frequency of how they have spread, and the incredible speed at which rumors travel in this digital age. Thanks to today's technology, with instant messaging devices like Twitter, news (real or fake) travels very fast. Hence, deliberate hoaxes and well meaning but not fact-checked death reports are transmitted globally with a fingertip. And bad news travels the most quickly, even if it's fake.
Last October a fake tragic news story about punk percussionist Chuck Biscuits spread like wildfire online. It stated that the drummer, who played with such bands as Black Flag, Danzig and Social Distortion, had died from throat cancer. Blogger James Greene, Jr of JGTwo.wordpress, who mistakenly reported the supposed death, had been emailing two people over a five month period who he believed to be the reclusive drummer and his wife. Allegedly the two people on the other end of the emails tricked the blogger into believing the artist was dead, all supposedly part of an elaborate hoax on the blogger. But the fake news was already out there and it took a lot longer to correct it.
Around that same time last fall fake rumors that rocker Deryck Whibley of Sum 41 fame was dead also spread online. The rumor was deliberately started by blogger Andrew Bucket, who admitted that he made up the story to discover just how quickly a rumor could circulate online. Very quickly is the answer! But what many might find disturbing about that fake death notice and many others is the precise wording and language used, which deliberately preys on peoples' emotions. The fake death notice read: "Friends of DC music in Las Vegas have confirmed, to much, much sorrow throughout our city that Deryck Whibley, who played so many early shows in DC's punk scene, has died today. He was found at 10.45am by his girlfriend Hanna Beth Merjos. Details to come, we are all still reeling."
Of course, while many unsuspecting fans fall victim to these hoaxes upon first hearing them, many more have grown increasingly (and justifiably) more skeptical of any celebrity death notice. Hence this time last year, when news of Michael Jackson's death was first spreading virally, many were suspicious, believing it was probably a hoax. And no wonder, since five years earlier, in April 2004, there had been a rampant rumor that Michael Jackson had reportedly OD'ed as a result of consuming more than two-dozen sleeping pills.
According to the website museumofhoaxes, celebrities who have been victims of false death reports include George Clooney, Zach Braff, Jeff Goldblum, and William Hung. The former American Idol contestant's false death report was a faux-news piece on the satire site Broken Newz that said he had OD’d from heroin, leaving a suicide note that read [sic], “I have no reason of living… my art which is my importance to the best everybody laugh to… I make end here… goodbye world of cruel." Even though it was a joke, some people actually believed it. Another celebrity drug overdose hoax that circulated in 2001 was about Lou Reed dying from a heroin overdose, with numerous radio stations at the time wrongly reporting that Reed had been found dead in his apartment. More recently, on June 10th rumors that actor Russell Crowe was dead after falling off a cliff in Australia began circulating. Of course, he wasn't dead and hadn't even been in an accident. He had, it seems, instead been the target of some idle minds who visited the hoax website FakeAWish.com, which allows users to enter an actor's name, generating a list of death scenarios for users to choose from and then link via Facebook and Twitter -- hence starting a whole new celebrity death hoax.
Of course, on the other end of the spectrum are the rumors & hoaxes of people who are very much deceased being supposedly spotted alive somewhere. Perhaps the most famous of these remain the once commonplace rumors that Elvis Presley was alive and well and seen working at a 7/11 or something like that. In fact, those alleged public sightings of Elvis fueled many a weekly tabloid story in bygone years. In more recent years reports of sightings of the deceased Tupac Shakur have been pretty common. In the past year there have been several alleged Michael Jackson sightings as well. The whole dead-celebrity-is-alive theme is fodder for whole other Amoeblog! Meantime, question everything you read, especially via Twitter, FaceBook or individual's blogs, and if you have any doubts, research further for a solid confirmation.