RIP Kanye West, Chuck Biscuits and Harrison Ford: Celebrity Death Hoaxes and Social Networking in the 21st Century
Kanye West Is Dead
The most recent victim of an Internet death hoax is the Grammy-winning rap artist Kanye West, who reportedly died Oct 20th in a “bizarre car crash”. Hoax-sters went so far as to conjure up the gritty details, including the fact that the accident involved two luxury cars, with a second person injured, a third arrested for gross vehicular manslaughter, and a fourth person detained by police. This hoax sprung up via the social networking site twitter, not long after West upset many people with his interruption of Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the 2009 VMA’s. West’s girlfriend Amber Rose dispelled the rumour via her own twitter account:
“It’s totally disrespectful to make up a story like this where all human and we all make mistakes… and to say someone died cuz of a mistake is ridiculous.” (officialamrose)
Is Michael Jackson Really Dead?
On June 25, 2009, reports began circulating that Michal Jackson, “The King of Pop” had died at the age of 50 at his rented home in the Holmby Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles. Rumours that this was an elaborate hoax soon began to surface, while every major media outlet, including
CNN and FOX News began running the story, reporting that Jackson had indeed died. Coincidentally, actress Farrah had lost her battle with cancer earlier that day, and many believed the Jackson death was a fake.
When a high-profile celebrity such as Jackson passes on, there is bound to be a sense of agony and disbelief, but Michael’s tarnished reputation, combined with his pending ‘comeback tour’ led many doubters to cast the story aside as an elaborate publicity stunt to gain attention for the fallen star. The reports indeed turned out to be true, but not without some spectacle to go along with the tragedy.
Jeff Goldbloom, Harrison Ford, Both Dead?
As reports of the Michal Jackson death made their way around the globe, other celebrities began to simultaneously die off, or so it would seem. Jeff Goldbloom was reported to have fallen to his death on the set of a new movie. Harrison Ford reportedly died while sailing off the coast of St. Tropez. The two death reports surfaced almost simultaneously, and were immediately denied by the stars’ publicists. These baseless reports made their way through twitter, and were ranking in the ‘Trending Topics’ on the social networking site.
In the weeks and months after Michal Jackson’s death, many celebrities have been victims of death hoaxes: Miley Cyrus died in a car accident, singer Rick Astley was reportedly found dead in an Berlin hotel room, according to an Associated Press release. Both stories turned out to be false.
Punk Drummer Chuck Biscuits Loses Battle With Cancer
Death hoaxes are not limited to mainstream artists and blockbuster movie stars. Vancouver, BC-born drummer Chuck Biscuits, who played in seminal hardcore punk acts like D.O.A., Black Flag, and The Circle Jerks, before going on to play in the popular band Danzig, was reported to have died on Oct 29th. The story began with a blogger, James Green Jr., who believed he had been conducting email correspondence with Biscuits and his wife for over 6 months. When he received an email stating that the drummer had died, he then posted a loving obituary on his website. Mainstream media sources such as the CBC reported the death, before it was eventually proven to be a hoax by Biscuits’ brother. It is still unknown who is behind the hoax, but with 6 months’ worth of saved emails, Greene Jr. is now under the impression that it may have been Biscuits himself.
Is Technology To Blame?
Many people are quick to point the finger at social networking sites like twitter, facebook, myspace and digg for the death hoaxes. But it turns out that death hoaxes have been surfacing long before twitter came about. Take for example the flood of death hoaxes following the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945, as reported in this April 14, 1945 NY Times Article. People were flooding the switchboards with reports that Babe Ruth, Jack Benny, Charlie Chaplin, Frank Sinatra, and Errol Flynn had all died. These reports all turned out to be false.
In 1966, music fans around the world began spreading the “Paul is dead” rumour, that Paul McCartney of The Beatles had died, and was replaced by a look-alike and sound-alike. Fans cited the fact that Paul was the only barefooted Beatle on the cover of ‘Abbey Road’, and claimed to have heard messages in the band’s lyrics and songs played backwards. All of these claims turned out to be baseless, as Sir Paul McCartney continues to make music to this day.
Is Society Fascinated With Death?
It is impossible to say why a person would start a death hoax. Popularity? Comedy? Who knows. With the new social networking/multimedia craze, there is seemingly no way of separating the hoaxes from actual fact. Until a death certificate is produced, it is impossible to prove a death is legitimate. Many people have been fooled, and many more will in the future. Who will be next to suffer this fate?