From Sir Paul McCarney to Tom Cruise and Beyoncé, hoax celebrity death stories are – as Mark Twain wrote – greatly exaggerated.
Some actors have even suffered death by Twitter several times!
SPYSCAPE walks you toward the light:
Sir Paul McCartney (born 1942): The Beatles’ legend who wrote the title song to the 1985 movie Spies Like Us was at the center of the ‘Paul is Dead’ conspiracy theory in the 1960s. Some believed an imposter had replaced the singer. The album cover for Abbey Road (above) fueled the myth – some fans saw it as a funeral procession with a barefoot McCartney as the corpse and John Lennon, in white, as the priest. Paul repeatedly denied his death, once telling the BBC: “If the conclusion you reach is that I’m dead, then you’re wrong, because I’m alive and living in Scotland.”
Sean Connery (1930 - 2020): Connery appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman in 1993 to quell rumours about his demise. They started with the death of Connery’s friend in Spain, retired Formula One World Champion James Hunt. A story circulated naming the deceased as James Bond. The news spread to Japan, along with reports about the death of Texas governor John Connally – a name that in Japanese is indistinguishable from Sean Connery – so the Bond star said he had a lot of explaining to do, worldwide.
Tom Cruise (born 1962): The Mission Impossible star laughed when told in 2010 about reports of his death in a fatal plumbing accident. Cruise joked that he was actually appearing on camera as a hologram, then asked fans to get the message out. “I'm really alive. Did the internet get it wrong again?”
Matt Damon (born 1970): Damon was amazed anyone took the news of his death seriously when a 2009 story appeared with text that sounded like the lyrics to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. His family took his passing in stride. “All my wife said was, ‘Well, that's weird’," Damon recalled. "Then she reminded me that the same thing had happened to George [Clooney] a few years ago.”
George Clooney (born 1961): With mega-celebrity comes mega-death. But it seems The American star did not nose-dive in a private plane in Colorado or plunge to his death from a New Zealand cliff. That didn’t stop ‘George Clooney dies’ stories from going viral, however. The actor referred questions about his demise to Mark Twain.
Beyoncé Knowles (born 1981): Beyoncé, who made her film debut as Foxxy Cleopatra in the Austin Powers’ movie Goldmember, was the focus of a Twitter rumor in 2015 when a fake news site reported her ‘fatal’ car accident alongside a fiery crash photo. The following year Beyoncé supposedly died as a result of excessive bleeding from an earring injury. As Foxxy puts it: “Say what?”
Gene Hackman (born 1930): The Conversation and French Connection actor heard about his death from an article headlined ‘The Greatest Living American Actor at 85: Gene Hackman Is Gone But Still in Charge’. It was quickly rewritten to swap the word ‘gone’ with ‘retired’, but not before Twitter fired off condolences and a Facebook page sprang up - RIP Gene Hackman – asking for ‘likes’.
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson (born 1972): The Central Intelligence star supposedly fell off New Zealand’s Kauri Cliffs while filming a stunt in 2014. The news exploded, so Johnson trolled his trolls, writing on social media: "I would love to meet the person who is starting rumors of my death – to show them how a dead foot feels up their a**.”
James Earl Jones (born 1931): Jones, better known to some as Darth Vader and star of The Hunt for Red October, was the focus of a parody website. Facebook and Twitter picked up the ‘news’, but it turned out Darth Vader only died on screen.
Russell Crowe (born 1964): The Gladiator and Body of Lies star was declared dead by a New York City radio station in 2010. Crowe supposedly plummeted off an Austrian mountain. “Unable to answer,” Crowe tweeted. "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"
Hilary Duff (born 1987): The star of spy comedy Agent Cody Banks also reportedly fell off New Zealand’s Kauri Cliffs while visiting a luxury golf resort. (She happened to be in Los Angeles at the time). The same cliffs have, at various times, supposedly killed VIPs Tom Cruise, Natalie Portman, Dwayne Johnson, Orlando Bloom, Tom Hanks, Jeff Goldbloom and Brad Pitt.
Brad Pitt (born 1963): Rumors about the death of the Spy Game star have popped up a few times but reports of his shooting death in 2016 went viral, prompting Pitt to release a statement saying he was alive. The shooting story was a hoax to entice readers to click a link to a site that would steal their data. It was unfortunate timing for Pitt, who was in the midst of a divorce from Salt star Angelina Jolie.
Kirk Douglas (1916 - 2020): Legendary actor Kirk Douglas survived a helicopter crash and a stroke but was killed off twice by the media. Action News 3 still claims the Catch Me a Spy actor died at age 100 (he lived to 103) and People magazine accidentally published his obituary in 2014 under the headline DO NOT PUB. At least Douglas died knowing he’d be remembered.
Abraham ‘Abe’ Vigoda (1921 - 2016): The Godfather actor ‘died’ at least three times. The rumors started in 1982 when People referred to him as the ‘late’ Abe Vigoda. (The actor responded in Variety by publishing a photo of himself reading People magazine in his coffin). The death stories were so relentless a producer once called his agent asking for “an Abe Vigoda type” and a website popped up to keep track of his status – isabevigodadead.com. As one wag put it: “I’ve seen Abe in person. He only looks dead.”
Morgan Freeman (born 1937): Freeman, who co-starred with Ben Affleck in the spy thriller The Sum of All Fears, was pranked with a Facebook page RIP Morgan Freeman. The Dark Knight actor responded: “I keep reading that I have died. I hope those stories are not true …”
Steven Seagal (born 1952): No, the star of Shadow Men and Under Siege did not die when the ‘RIP Steven Seagal’ Facebook page was posted in 2013, nor did he have a massive heart attack in 2015. Whether his career died in 2011 when he drove a tank into a house and killed a puppy is another matter ...
Jackie Chan (born 1952): Chan’s death has been reported several times, twice in 2013 alone. So when #RIPJackieChan started trending again The Spy Next Door star assured fans he had not suffered a heart attack, wasn’t in a car crash and hadn’t fallen off a 12-storey building. According to Chan’s statement: “Today, everybody called to congratulate me on my rumored engagement. Afterward, everybody called me to see if I was alive.”
Arnold Schwarzenegger (born 1947): When The Terminator dies, it is big news, but Schwarzenegger’s death was only by Twittercide. The True Lies star didn’t pass away after a heart attack in 2015 but, if he had, we all know what his last words would have been. (Say it, you know you want to.) "I’ll be back.”
Tanya Roberts (1955 - 2021): Sadly, there have also been a few heartbreaking premature death announcements. Tanya Roberts’ publicist accidentally announced her passing while Roberts was hospitalized but still alive. The A View to a Kill star died shortly afterward. As her Charlie’s Angel co-star Jaclyn Smith said in tribute: “Goodbye angel, Rest In Peace.”