The Wild 2016 Cormac McCarthy Death Hoax That Fooled Nearly Everyone

Author Cormac McCarthy died in his New Mexico home on Tuesday, June 13, 2023, The New York Times reports — or did he? The 2023 reports that the writer died were legitimate, but a few years earlier, another news story broke that McCarthy had died from a stroke at the age of 82, which turned out to be fake, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Based on that fact, as bad news spread once again that McCarthy died, some fans could be left wondering — is this one real?

Per Snopes, online celebrity death hoaxes are a reliable clickbait tactic that sometimes get used in phishing scams. They are most often quickly debunked, but sometimes a legitimate news outlet picks up the story, such as in 2016 with McCarthy. The McCarthy hoax that year reportedly began with Tommaso Debenedetti, who told The Washington Post, death hoaxes reveal, "the terrible situation of media." The account announcing that McCarthy died, "was not reliable," he said, "but a lot of important sites believed it."

McCarthy's 2016 death hoax began on Twitter

The account that Tommaso Debenedetti referred to in 2016 was on Twitter, and it was created only moments before the fraudulent McCarthy death-hoax tweet was shared. It was made to mimic the official Twitter feed of McCarthy's publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, and it fooled a number of important legitimate news sources, including The New York Times and USA Today, which shared the news in their own Twitter feed with no attribution. (USA Today later tweeted a correction.)

The news also duped other literary icons like Mario Vargas Llosa who wrote (via Snopes) "He really is a hero of our times," referring to McCarthy's legacy. Writer Joyce Carol Oates (pictured) also took to Twitter as McCarthy's death hoax news spread (via Electric Literature). And once it was revealed to be fake, New York writer and journalist Rachel Syme tweeted, with her tongue firmly in cheek, Oates, "reported the fake death of Cormac Mccarthy so quickly you have to wonder what's going on under the surface there" (via Electric Literature).

Knopf had something to say about Debenedetti's dark prank

Since the fake Twitter account sharing the death hoax that Cormac McCarthy died in 2016 was meant to look like his publisher's, Alfred A. Knopf, Knopf's director of publicity at that time, Paul Bogaards, naturally had something to say about it. Without mincing words, Bogaards tweeted, "What f***ing moron wakes up and tweets someone has died as a joke/just for fun?"

As it turns out, Italian teacher Tommaso Debenedetti was behind more than just the 2016 McCarthy death hoax. He also launched fake death announcements involving Cuban leader Fidel Castro — who actually died in 2016 — and Spanish film director Pedro Almodóvar (pictured) — who was as of this report very much still alive. In 2012, Debenedetti told The Guardian, he sought to expose fact-checking problems in modern media. "Social media is the most unverifiable information source in the world but the news media believes it because of its need for speed," he said. 

In 2023, McCarthy's son confirmed his father really did die at the age of 89 from what were reportedly natural causes, The Guardian writes. This time the sad news was also confirmed by McCarthy's publisher. Once news of "The Road" author's death was confirmed, Stephen King tweeted, "Cormac McCarthy, may be the greatest American novelist of my time, has passed away at 89. He was full of years and created a fine body of work, but I still mourn his passing."