Today, the death of Neil Armstrong was announced, inspiring a chorus of questions like, “Wait, didn’t he die last year, too?” He actually died on August 25, 2012 at the age of 82. By now, most people have realized their mistake and are shaking their heads at how obviously faulty human memory can be and how quickly the wrong information can spread through the masses. But false reports of famous deaths are not limited to Neil Armstrong. Many prominent social figures have had their supposed demises heralded far and wide, despite the pesky technicalities of their reported deaths being completely inaccurate.
Many well known people have had their deaths reported prematurely. There have been instances of prewritten obituaries being accidentally published when the person in question was still very much alive. More often, however, misinformation about a person’s death is intentionally spread through social media outlets, where the drama of the gossip prompts its swift dissemination.
Bill Cosby’s death has been reported multiple times via twitter, for instance, prompting the need for him to prove his continuing life through released statements like this one:
“And now ladies and gentlemen for my rebuttal: As you well know, a dead person cannot rebuttal. Therefore, I am rebuttaling to tell you that when I heard the news I immediately began rebuttaling and went into denial. My wife has just informed me that there is no such word as rebuttaling, she says the word is rebutting. But I don’t care, because I’m alive! Thank you. PS. That’s another thing dead people don’t say.”
Countless other celebrities have been forced to refute their own deaths, including Will Smith, Morgan Freeman, Eddie Murphy, Lindsay Lohan, Aretha Franklin and many more. At one point, Justin Bieber was reported to have died a couple of different ways in a single day.
The ways in which many of these figures die vary in their plausibility. That Neil Armstrong dies of old age is not hard to believe and other false reports of the deaths of famous people tend to stretch the imagination.
Johnny Knoxville was fictitiously given a fitting end when he reportedly died, “while being filmed parachuting from a biplane whilst eating a catering sized tub of Heinz baked beans, when his parachute failed to open.” Yet multiple celebrities have been reported to meet their ends while falling to their deaths in New Zealand. It seems improbable that more than one person would meet such a specific end.
The statistical anomaly is not misleading as most of these types of deaths are generated from a website called fakeawish.com which allows a person to insert a celebrities name into a set of scenarios and generate a hoax, meant to “prank” people. Many reports featuring famous people meeting their ends in car crashes, snowboarding accidents or falls in New Zealand start from this site.
Another popular source for creating drama is Twitter. Many false deaths are announced and spread through this means, including the supposed shooting death of Barack Obama. His death was reported through multiple tweets from Fox News’ allegedly hacked account that even went so far as to welcome the Vice President into office as the new President.
What sets all of these people apart from Neil Armstrong is that he is, in fact, dead. He is somewhat unique in the trend of famous deaths reported in that he dies again while others meet false ends with happier outcomes. Sometimes a good joke is landed, reassuring the public that the person in question is still on top of their game, sometimes a simple follow up report to clarify is all that surfaces. This time, however, no such relief can be found and the grief that his family feels is still very real.
Written by: Vanessa Blanchard