Celebrities Declared Dead When They Weren't

While many celebrities have access to the finer things in life due to their fame and fortune, there is also a dark side to show business. Fans and critics watch their every move and troll them on social media, and sometimes rumors that a star has died surface even though he or she is perfectly fine and in no danger of passing away. Celebrity death hoaxes gained a lot of traction in the mid-2010s, as people were able to manipulate trending topics on Twitter and Facebook. Plus, many of these alleged death reports were disguised phishing scams intended to steal people's personal information.

Many times, celebrities have engaged a publicist or representative to shut down the rumors. Other times, stars have responded personally to the erroneous news reports. Some have preferred to say nothing at all. Of the actors, singers, and others who reportedly died, the cause of death has varied greatly. Some were reported to have perished in freak snowboarding accidents in the Alps, others in car crashes, and some due to heart attacks. The pranksters who came up with these reports were not typically creative with the causes of death, but they still managed to go viral with their fabricated accounts. Some false death reports have involved young stars, while others appeared more credible because the people involved were on the older side.

Check out just a few celebrities who have been victims of celebrity hoaxes.

Will Ferrell Didn't Perish in a Paragliding Accident

In 2006, an error-ridden press release reported that actor/comedian Will Ferrell, who was 38 at the time, was killed in a paragliding accident. The article was posted on iNewswire, according to ABC, and was full of inaccuracies, including Ferrell's age and his alma mater. According to the release, which was reported on by Gawker, "a freak wind gush basically blew Ferrell and his companion towards a wooded area where they lost control before crashing into the dense foilage [sic]." 

The release was eventually retracted, but it made a large enough impact that the star's publicist was forced to issue a statement to set the record straight. Matthew Labov noted, "Not much to say other than we heard and read about it this morning and reacted accordingly. There was no point in trying to track [the source] down as it was obviously a hoax."

iNewswire claimed that the release was published by an individual with a web address that couldn't be traced. The president of Airtek Paragliding, the company that the release claimed Ferrell used before plunging to his death, responded that he was unaware of the actor using his services. If Ferrell was to die unexpectedly, a paragliding accident would be somewhat appropriate way to go, considering his penchant for humor.

Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake were on separate coasts when they reportedly died in a car accident

Famous or not, it has to be strange to read about your own demise. In 2001, two Dallas DJs decided to trick their listeners by reporting that pop star couple Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears had died in a car accident. When Timberlake, then a member of 'N Sync, heard the news about his untimely death, he immediately called his girlfriend to see if she was okay, reported ABC. Spears was in Los Angeles, while Timberlake was across the country in Philadelphia. "The first thing she says to me was, like, 'Hey, where are you?” Timberlake explained. "You know, we both kind of heard about it at the same time."

Following the stunt, the disc jockeys were fired. Timberlake explained that he was used to rumors surrounding his and Spears' relationship, but that reports of their deaths took that type of gossip to a whole other level. Plus, he didn't like how the lie impacted his family, who were worried when they heard that he had reportedly died. What family wouldn't freak out about hearing such a report? "I seriously got, like, six phone calls from different people in my family — immediately," Timberlake revealed.

Abe Vigoda's death was a running joke for years

Actor Abe Vigoda, known for "Barney Miller" and "The Godfather," passed away (for real) in 2016 at the age of 94. However, rumors about his death circulated for decades and became a running joke that Vigoda leaned into and made into a comic routine. The rumor started in the early 1980s after People, a reputable media source, accidentally called him "the late" Abe Vigoda after the 60-year-old star missed a "Barney Miller" wrap party. The publication promptly amended the oversight, but it was just the beginning of death rumors that would plague the star for years, according to the Washington Post

Vigoda revealed that his wife regularly received condolence cards about his death, but he decided to turn lemons into lemonade. He proved that he had a sense of humor by posing in a coffin for the cover of Variety. He also did the late night talk show circuit to demonstrate that he was, indeed, alive and well. In 2001, the website AbeVigoda.com was launched, so people could check whether he was dead or alive. While he was in on the joke, Vigoda couldn't prevent his real death from occurring on January 26, 2016. Still, he lived well into his 90s, three decades after his initial "death" in the 1980s.

Taylor Swift did not die inexplicably at home

In 2012, a post on Twitter claimed that singer Taylor Swift, who was just 22 at the time, had died. Since she was so young, it must have been quite shocking to fans. The social media account appeared to be affiliated with MTV News, which gave it some credibility. The post alleged that the star passed away at her home, but the allegations were false, according to Taste of Country. It wasn't the singer's first experience dealing with such a disturbing rumor. Swift had been part of another death hoax three years earlier, after Kanye West famously interrupted her acceptance speech at the MTV Video Music Awards.

2012 was a bad year for country star death hoaxes in general. That same year, singer Reba McEntire experienced her own mortality after rumors circulated that she fell off a mountain in Austria while filming a movie. She responded on Twitter, saying, "While I would love to be shooting a movie in Austria, I definitely did not fall off a mountain! Nor am I dead! I am alive and kicking!!!" (via E!). Garth Brooks was also the victim of a death hoax, with reports claiming he died while riding a jet ski. He never acknowledged the false reports.

Charlie Sheen's death rumor involved click-bait malware

Charlie Sheen has also been killed off by false media reports a few times over the years. In 2011, when Sheen was making frequent headlines for his erratic behavior, rumors surfaced that he died of a cardiac arrest, according to E! News. Since he was acting a little crazy and was exhibiting unpredictable behavior, this death rumor may have been easier to believe than some other ones on this list. When the news trended on several social media websites, the actor's rep responded, "Reports of Mr. Sheen's demise have been greatly exaggerated." Sheen himself also proved he was very much alive by tweeting in a very Sheen-like fashion: "Warlock: long nap...very much alive."

The bad news about this particular death hoax was that those who clicked on a link about his demise from Twitter or Facebook were directed to a clone of YouTube that included a virus. This, in turn, caused the link to be automatically posted on the user's Facebook page, according to Mashable. In order to view the video, users were directed to answer a survey, compounding the problem. Sheen's false death report reportedly infected some people's devices with malware, so they were given the (awful) gift that keeps on giving.

RIP Justin Bieber was a trending topic

In 2012, Justin Bieber was falsely declared dead on two separate occasions. Reports surfaced on Twitter in both January and March that the Canadian singer had suddenly passed away, according to IBT. Even though the pop star tweeted about spending time in the company of his grandfather, telling over 18 million followers, "Great day fishing. time with grandpa doing the simple things in life. great day." it didn't stop the rumor from gaining traction.

"RIP Justin Bieber" became a trending topic. So, who was responsible for the rumor? The Twitter community. These pranksters were known for joining forces to get the phrase "RIP [Celebrity Name]" to trend, reported RadioNow. RIP isn't always a bad connotation; it can also stand for Really Inspiring Person, but that wasn't the case with Bieber. Not everyone was amused with the hoax, and some fans commented about its lack of sensitivity, according to IBT.

Eddie Murphy did not die while snowboarding in the Alps

Death by snowboarding was a popular death hoax in 2012. A website called Global Associated News reported in February 2012 that actor/comedian Eddie Murphy was killed in Zermatt, Switzerland, while snowboarding. The star's brother, Charlie Murphy, dismissed the rumors, tweeting "My brother is fine. People who start these type of rumors are sick people," as reported the Hollywood Reporter.

It wasn't the first time that the website published a story about a celebrity perishing while snowboarding in the Alps. The previous year, the victim was Jim Carrey, and the article was nearly identical to the one about Murphy. And on the same day that Murphy reportedly died, the website claimed that both Jeff Goldblum and Tom Hanks were killed after falling off a cliff in New Zealand. It would be ridiculous to believe these reports, and the site acknowledged that fact by writing the following disclaimer on the bottom of the Murphy article: "This story is 100% fake! This is an entertainment website, and this is a totally fake article based on zero truth and is a complete work of fiction for entertainment purposes."

Why so many reports of dramatic celebrity deaths? The website permitted the use of user-generated content in which anyone could simply choose a name to plug into an article template regarding a celebrity's unexpected "death."

Vin Diesel did not die in a failed stunt

In spring 2020, rumors started circulating on Facebook that "Fast and Furious" star Vin Diesel was killed while working on a stunt, according to Monsters & Critics. The link on the social media website led users to X-rated content as well as a video clip that covered the death of Paul Walker, who appeared in the franchise alongside Diesel. It was a good way to bait people because Walker actually died in 2013 in a car crash. The video prompted viewers to share the content by pausing the clip, only allowing them to view it in its entirety if they did so. But those who followed the instructions made a big mistake.

This hoax was reportedly a phishing scam, which is designed to steal people's personal information. It was thought to have been spread by the same source as a hoax involving actor Will Smith and his son Jaden that circulated in 2019, in which false reports claimed the pair died in a car accident. Diesel did not respond to the rumors of his death, and reputable media sources never reported that he passed away.

Robert Redford's golf cart accident was fabricated

In 2015, a tweet that appeared to be from Britain's Sky News claimed that actor/director Robert Redford had died after falling out of a golf cart in Santa Monica. Social media users immediately started posting kind words about the star, who was 79 years old at the time, according to Reuters. However, Redford did not pass away from an unfortunate golf accident. His publicist, Cindi Berger, said in a statement, "This is a sick hoax. I just spoke to him and there is no truth to this whatsoever."

Berger added that the actor was at home and feeling just fine. In reality, the post originated from Sky Breaking News, which was known for publishing erroneous death reports. However, the tweet gained a lot of momentum during the 15 minutes before it was deleted, and users were very distraught about the star's alleged passing. As for Redford, he did not have an Instagram or Twitter account and declined to make a personal comment about his reported death.

El Chapo did not order Sean Penn's death

In January 2016, Daily Media Buzz and BuzzFed.net reported that actor Sean Penn was "brutally murdered" at his home. The article said that his wife discovered his body, that there were no signs of a break in, and that nothing had been stolen. In addition, the article pointed out that there was speculation that drug lord Joaquín Guzmán, aka El Chapo, may have been responsible for his death. This seemed to make the news more credible since the star allegedly helped authorities find Guzman and get him incarcerated.

Snopes easily shot down the rumor that Penn was murdered. While the actor did end up interviewing El Chapo prior to his arrest, Penn was not killed in his home. Snopes noted that had the Oscar winner died in such a manner, the news would have been published around the world on a variety of reputable media sources. However, only two lesser-known websites reported the news, and one of them, Daily Media Buzz, was known for posting fake news. In addition, BuzzFed.net is easy to mistake for BuzzFeed.com, but the two websites are not connected.

Nicolas Cage didn't die in a motorcycle accident, or while snowboarding

Nicolas Cage became a member of the death hoax club in 2016, when reports surfaced that the star was killed in a motorcycle crash. According to IBT, social media users started sharing a photo from CNN that included the star's mug shot and the caption: "Famous Actor Nicolas Cage Passed Away: Fatal Motorcycle Accident." Cage's fan base was stunned by the news, but some skeptics didn't buy it.

One problem was that the image included footage from an accident that took place in 2011 in San Diego. In addition, the story wasn't covered by CNN or other major outlets, which is a big red flag. Eventually, the false report was removed from websites. Cage was not a stranger to death hoaxes that year. He had also reportedly died after hitting a tree while snowboarding (or skiing) in Switzerland, and died en route to the hospital. Cage was publicly keeping a low profile at the time, but had several films in production and was alive and well.

MSNBC apologized for accidentally claiming Bob Dylan was dead

While the majority of death hoaxes come from questionable sources, some have involved reputable media organizations, which is what happened in November 2020. MSNBC erroneously claimed that singer Bob Dylan had died, according to Outsider. The news site was covering an auction involving Dylan's personal affects, which generated a good chunk of money. During the report, the news anchor falsely stated that "Dylan died last year at the age of 79." The news was shocking, and fans believed it because of MSNBC's reputation as a reliable news source.

MSNBC wound up apologizing for its blunder and issued a retraction. Unfortunately, its lack of fact checking had gone viral, and it was hard to take it back. The problem stemmed from the fact that the auctioned items came from Dylan's friend, Tony Glover, who actually was deceased. MSNBC issued a video apology with the anchor admitting, "We accidentally said that he died last year. Bob Dylan is very much alive. He turned 79 this year. Sorry about that."