Famous Hollywood stories that never actually happened

Good Hollywood scandals never die, even the ones that aren't true. There's just something about death, depravity, and denial that makes us willing to believe almost about anything we read. But for all the strange-but-true Hollywood stories you hear, there are almost as many that are either embellished beyond recognition or just completely made up. They persist because they're too good not to believe. Here are a few of the most popular untrue Hollywood tales that just won't die.

Bruce Lee was murdered for revealing martial arts secrets to foreigners

Martial arts legend Bruce Lee once took out a challenger in three minutes, and then decided he had to invent a whole new style of street fighting because three minutes really wasn't fast enough. Lee was one of the original badasses of Hollywood, so when he died suddenly at the age of 32, there were more than a few people who believed his cause of death couldn't have possibly been something boring.

One of the most popular rumors that circulated after Lee's death was that he'd been murdered by someone in the Chinese martial arts community who was angry that he'd been teaching martial arts secrets to foreigners. (Sounds like the plot of a Jackie Chan movie, huh?) Alas, the truth was tragically a whole lot blander than that — according to BruceLee.com, on July 20, 1973, Lee had "a mild headache." Because headaches can't be punched, kicked, or back-fisted into oblivion, he took a prescription medication called Equagesic, after which he slipped into a coma and died. It took nine days for the coroner to declare a cause of death, which probably contributed to all the wild rumors about the Hong Kong mafia, a curse on the haunted house he'd just purchased, and that one where he died while making overly vigorous love to actress Betty Tingpei. Those rumors persisted because no one really wants to hear that Hollywood Badass No. 1 actually died from a cerebral edema caused by a hypersensitivity to Equagesic.

Steve from Blue's Clues overdosed on heroin

Remember Blue's Clues? If you're a Millennial, you probably grew up on that whimsical tale of a treasure-seeking blue puppy and her heroin-addicted co-host. Wait, what?

No, it's not actually true that Steve Burns from Blue's Clues died from a heroin overdose (or ever took heroin at all), but like Steve himself, it's a story that just hasn't died yet. According to Snopes, the rumor began in late 1998, four years before Burns actually left Blue's Clues. It was concerning enough to cast and crew that Burns felt compelled to appear on shows like Today and The Rosie O'Donnell Show not only to prove that he wasn't a corpse but also to give parents some ideas on how they could tell distraught preschoolers that their hero wasn't actually dead and also wasn't a heroin addict. Or a porn star. And hadn't been replaced by a look-alike.

Despite all those public appearances, the rumor still haunts Burns, who has speculated that it's just too "satisfying" to believe that the host of a popular children's TV show might have a drug-addicted alter-ego. "I think I'm going to just make a website and actually affirm the rumor," he told MTV in 2007. "That way, I can at least die of something better than a drug overdose."

Rock Hudson married Jim Nabors

Now, never mind that in the 1970s there was no public debate about same-sex marriage and no one could actually do it legally. That didn't stop the rumor mill from spitting out this tale of secret romance, which has persisted through the decades despite there being no evidence that it ever happened. Jim Nabors (who played Gomer Pyle on The Andy Griffith Show), was friends with Rock Hudson, but Hudson was notoriously secretive about his sexuality and it's doubtful he would have ever engaged in anything as potentially damaging to his reputation as a clandestine same-sex wedding. The rumor got its legs because of the general stupidity of the people who spread it — in the '70s, it was still considered just fine to laugh at gay couples. In fact, this particular rumor appears to have its origins in a joke — according to the Village Voice, some unidentified person once said, "If Rock Hudson married Gomer Pyle, he'd be 'Rock Pyle.'" Haha … ha.

Incidentally, Jim Nabors did go on to marry his long-time partner Stan Cadwallader, but not until 2013 when he was 82.

A Las Vegas hotel drained its pool because Dorothy Dandridge stuck her toe in it

In the 1950s, some really appalling things happened in the name of segregation, but this was probably not one of them. The story got some new life in the 1999 HBO film Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, when the actress was portrayed dipping her toe in a public pool, and then watching stoically from her hotel room as the pool was drained and scrubbed clean by black maintenance workers. According to Snopes, though, there isn't any evidence that this ever happened, but one of her biographers wrote that management at a Las Vegas hotel had once threatened to drain the pool if she tried to swim in it, which let's face it, is obnoxious enough.

According to the Washington Post, Dandridge was the first black woman to receive an Academy Award nomination for best actress, the first black woman to be featured on the cover of Life, the first black entertainer to headline at the Waldorf-Astoria, and was voted one of the five most beautiful women in the world by a Hollywood photographers association — and yet she wasn't deemed worthy to swim in the same pool as the whites she was there to entertain. The toe-dipping incident might have been fictionalized, but the reality of the times she lived in was just as perpetually cruel.

Walt Disney was cryogenically frozen

At the end of Disney's 2013 movie Frozen, quirky-but-loyal Princess Anna is frozen solid, and then resurrected though an "act of true love." It's hard not to draw parallels between that famous movie moment and the legend of Walt Disney, who is supposedly also frozen solid somewhere beneath animatronic Captain Jack Sparrow and that dog that still refuses to give up the key to pirate prison. Disney is still waiting for his act of true love, which in his case would be a time machine and a cure for lung cancer.

Of course, this story isn't really true — there's no evidence at all to suggest that Disney had himself cryogenically frozen or that he was even aware such a thing was possible. According to Disney historian Jim Korkis, Walt Disney was actually cremated on December 17, 1966, which was a month before James Bedford (the first person in history to be cryogenically frozen) was placed Austin Powers-like into a block of ice.

The MGM lion went on a killing spree the day after the logo footage was shot

The MGM lion has been growling at moviegoers since 1916, which was before movies actually had sound, however that works. At any rate, people love a tale of ferocious animal versus hapless trainer, and they love those tales even more when the ferocious animal wins.

Now, there are plenty of true stories of predatory animals doing what they do in the wild, only at the expense of their trainers (like at Seaworld or Siegfried and Roy), so it's unclear why this particular falsehood got so much play except that it was something for moviegoers to talk about while the MGM logo was growling in their general direction. According to legend, logo-lion attacked and killed his trainer and two assistants the day after the scene was shot, but MGM kept using the footage anyway because, um, it was cool to have a man-eating lion as a mascot? Maybe the shoot turned out just right.

According to Snopes, the story was totally fabricated by a website famous for — you guessed it — fabricating stories, which rather ironically called itself "Factropolis.com." The truth is that no MGM lion ever attacked a trainer in the entire history of MGM lions, and there certainly weren't any fatal attacks on trainers, as evidenced by the longevity of the original MGM lion trainer Volney Phifer, who lived until the 1970s.

One of the Munchkins hung himself on the set of Wizard of Oz

Everyone loves an Easter egg, and what could be better than an Easter egg of someone actually committing suicide onscreen in the classic film The Wizard of Oz? Well, a lot of things could be better. Hello, Faces of Death in one of the most beloved children's movies of all time. Can you believe no one noticed?

Come on! Of course someone would have noticed, but that little bit of logic didn't deter the spread of this particular story, which goes like this: Dorothy and Scarecrow meet Tin Man. Dorothy, Scarecrow, and Tin Man skip off into the forest. Munchkin hangs himself in the distance. Film keeps rolling.

This never happened, and the myth has really only persisted because most people watch The Wizard of Oz on a small screen. If you squint and tap your heels together three times and think to yourself, "There's no place like a movie set for ending one's own life," you might actually convince yourself that the shadow in the distance is a Munchkin on the end of a rope. The much more boring truth is that MGM thought it would be fun and whimsical to turn a bunch of turkeys and peacocks loose on set. If you watch the scene on a big screen, it's clear that the shadow is that of a large bird, not a swinging extra. So the only real story here is that Dorothy and her pals were probably skipping down the Yellow Brick Road through extra-large piles of bird poop.

Steven Spielberg got his start by sneaking onto the lot at Universal Studios

All the world's great heroes come from humble beginnings — Spiderman was but a lowly photographer, Luke Skywalker was apparently trying to grow stuff in a desert, and Batman was … um … a rich orphan. Okay, most great heroes. According to various rumors, Steven Spielberg, who is famous for telling great stories, wanted his own awesome origin story — which is why he totally fabricated a tale of trespassing, deception, and impersonation of a movie executive.

Over the years, Spielberg rather shamelessly embellished this story, which started with him sneaking past Universal Studios guards dressed in a suit and tie and carrying a briefcase that contained nothing but "a sandwich and two candy bars." From there, the story morphed into a two-year stint as a squatter in an empty dressing room, which evidently gave him the "in" he needed in order to become a respected Hollywood filmmaker, though the specifics there are a bit hazy, to say the least. The story was entertaining enough that it's still told by tour guides at Universal, although it's completely false — Spielberg actually got his start when he landed an unpaid internship at Universal after his dad introduced him to one of the executives. That's boring, though. What if Luke Skywalker had gotten his start with an unpaid internship with a Jed— oh, wait.

Clark Gable killed a pedestrian while drunk driving and MGM covered it up

MGM probably covered up plenty of things Clark Gable did — the dude was a pretty prolific bad boy who drank and womanized his way through his career. (In those days, Hollywood thought womanizing was sexy, which seems shocking until you consider that 50 Shades of Grey only came out like two years ago.) Anyway, MGM understood the value of protecting the reputation of its most beloved star from the ravages of … that very same star. Gable's misadventures were neatly covered up by the studio's team of "fixers." And here's a funny fact: "Fixers" went around behind Hollywood stars and cleaned up after them in the golden age of Hollywood. 

Gable was known to not only drink and drive but to wreck a car or two on occasion, and he did have at least two alcohol-related accidents that were covered up. After Gable hit a tree, MGM's publicist told reporters that he'd swerved to avoid a drunk driver. The fixer even made him stay in the hospital for a week to trump up public sympathy. But Snopes says there was no pedestrian involved in that or any other incident. Gable was no choir boy, but he also wasn't guilty of killing anyone.

Brandon Lee's death footage stayed in The Crow

Not unlike the whole Munchkin suicide that never happened, there are lots of stories of Hollywood deaths that happened during filming — deaths that were evidently so awesome that movie makers totally eschewed society's notions about sensitivity and good taste so they could use the footage in movies. One such rumor has been circulating for two decades about the death of Bruce Lee's son, Brandon Lee, who was killed while shooting his character's death scene for the 1994 movie The Crow.

According to Snopes, not only was Lee's death scene not used in the film, it was also completely rewritten so the manner of death no longer resembled the on-screen accident. A stunt double completed the scene, and the character's face was never visible, except for the final moments when Lee's face was digitally added to his double. Still, moviegoers love a good urban legend and lots of people still believe the story.

A similar tale is told about the chariot racing scene in Ben Hur, which was so brutal that moviegoers just couldn't believe no one had died while filming it. Although there's been a persistent rumor that a stunt man met his demise while filming that scene, the truth is he only got a cut on his chin. It did need stitches though. Oh, the horror.

Richard Gere vs. the gerbil

No list of Hollywood myths would be complete without this tale of woe: In the 1990s, Richard Gere was (so sayeth the legend), taken to a Los Angeles emergency room to have a gerbil removed from a certain body part. And so we're clear, it wasn't a gerbil tattoo. Now the really funny thing about this particular myth is that there are literally thousands of people who claim to have been part of the … extraction process, which would have made that hospital room the medical equivalent of a clown car, but never mind.

Anyway, poor Richard Gere has been living with this story for so long that it's practically his common law wife that will one day inherit all his material possessions, which aren't quite as numbered as they might be if directors all over Hollywood hadn't been so shy about having Gerbil Guy star in their movie.

The story of Richard Gere-bil isn't true. There's no evidence it ever happened, and it's not clear that anyone else ever tried it either. According to Snopes, no existing medical records delve into the gerbil extraction problem or recount the medical histories of gerbil-using people or indicate that "gerbiling" exists outside the human imagination. Even so, this zombie gerbil story keeps coming back from the dead. Sorry, Richard.