Abe Vigoda, seen here on Barney Miller in 1977, was mistakenly reported as dead many times before his actual death in 2016.

A death hoax is a deliberate report of someone's death that is later revealed to be untrue.[1][2][3] In some cases, it might be because the person has intentionally faked death.


"James Ross Clemens, a cousin of mine, was seriously ill two or three weeks ago in London, but is well now. The report of my illness grew out of his illness; the report of my death was an exaggeration."

Samuel Langhorne Clemens/Mark Twain, 1897.[4]

In the 21st century, death hoaxes about celebrities have been widely perpetuated via the Internet. However, they are not a new phenomenon: in 1945 following the death of Franklin Roosevelt, there were hoax reports of the deaths of Charlie Chaplin and Frank Sinatra, among other celebrities of the time.[1][5] Possibly the most famous hoax of this type was the "Paul is dead" rumor, which claimed that Paul McCartney died in a car crash in 1966 and was replaced by a look-alike.

Hoaxes about the death of a celebrity increase in frequency when genuine celebrity deaths occur, such as when Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, and Billy Mays died in rapid succession in June 2009, followed by Patrick Swayze a few months later.[6] Paul Walker's death in November 2013 sparked rumors of Eddie Murphy dying in a snowboarding accident.[7]

Other cases of celebrity death hoaxes fueled by social media include Bill Murray, Jon Bon Jovi, Gordon Lightfoot, Shah Rukh Khan[8] Jerry Springer,[9] Bill Nye,[10] BHMNL star Syuusuke Saito, Joe Rogan, Queen Elizabeth II, William H. Macy, Harry Belafonte,[11][12] and Jimmy Fallon.[13]

In August 2018, Michael J. Fox was targeted due to his Parkinson's disease and his age.[14] In June 2023, Jeremy Renner was falsely rumored to have died from his wounds from a snowplow incident in January. Teenage rapper Lil Tay and her older brother were falsely reported as dead on 9 August 2023, when her Instagram account was compromised.[15] On September 11, 2023, country music singer Toby Keith was incorrectly reported dead because of his stomach cancer, before his actual death in February 2024.


On 8 January 1992, Headline News almost became the victim of a death hoax. A man phoned HLN claiming to be President George H. W. Bush's physician, alleging that Bush had died following an incident in Tokyo where he vomited and lost consciousness; however, before anchorman Don Harrison was about to report the news, executive producer Roger Bahre, who was off-camera, immediately yelled "No! Stop!"[16] It was discovered that a CNN employee entered the information into a centralized computer, used by both CNN and Headline News teleprompters, and nearly got out on the air before it could be verified. The perpetrator of this hoax was identified as James Edward Smith from Idaho, who was questioned by the Secret Service and subsequently sent to a medical facility for psychiatric evaluation.[17]

On 18 March 2015, a fake screenshot supposedly from the PMO's website reported the death of Lee Kuan Yew, first prime minister of Singapore.[18] Lee was still alive at the time, but died on 23 March 2015 after being hospitalized, age 91. On 8 April 2015, a student who created the fake rumor was issued a warning by the Attorney-General of Singapore, after "careful consideration of all relevant factors".[19]

On 22 November 2022, a fabricated screenshot of a CNN story with the headline "Donald Trump dead at 76" was posted on Instagram and Twitter. This caused posts falsely claiming that Trump had died to circulate on social media. The origin of the hoax was traced to comedian Tim Heidecker, who had one day earlier posted a tweet with the joking implication that Trump's death was being covered up.[20][21][22]

Death denial rumors

See also: Conspiracy theories about Adolf Hitler's death and Elvis sightings

An opposite phenomenon is death denial rumors: claims that a person is alive, despite official announcements of death (i.e. death certificates, confirmations, etc.).[2] Notable cases are Elvis Presley, Andy Kaufman, Tupac Shakur, Prince, Michael Jackson, and XXXTentacion. Another death denial rumor is that John F. Kennedy Jr. faked his death in the 1999 plane crash and went into hiding. This conspiracy theory was later spread by the QAnon movement, which also claimed that he would return to public life and be Donald Trump's running mate in the 2024 presidential election.[23]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Celebrity Death Hoaxes". MSN UK. 2009-07-01. Archived from the original on 2010-01-28. Retrieved 2009-07-02.
  2. ^ a b "Hippo eats dwarf: a field guide to hoaxes and other B.S.", by Alex Boese, 2006, ISBN 0-15-603083-7 , pp. 261, 262
  3. ^ "Ordinary reactions to extraordinary events", by Ray Broadus Browne, Arthur G. Neal, 2001, ISBN 0-87972-834-5, chapter "Dead or Alive", pp. 21-42
  4. ^ Frank Marshall White, "Mark Twain Amused," New York Journal, 2 June 1897
  5. ^ "FLOOD OF RUMORS GIVES CITY JITTERS". New York Times. 1945-04-14. Retrieved 2009-07-02.
  6. ^ "Celebrity hoaxes continue after Jackson death". Ninemsn Australia. 2009-07-01. Archived from the original on 2009-07-04. Retrieved 2009-07-02.
  7. ^ Selby, Jenn (4 December 2013). "Paul Walker tragedy sparks Eddie Murphy Twitter death hoax". The Independent. Retrieved 20 December 2013.
  8. ^ "Musician Started Bon Jovi Death Hoax". Rolling Stone. 28 December 2011. Retrieved 20 December 2013.
  9. ^ Considine, Austin (19 September 2012). "One Comeback They Could Skip". New York Times. Retrieved 20 December 2013.
  10. ^ Mikkelson, David. 24 August 2014. Snopes.
  11. ^ "American Singer Harry Belafonte is Alive: Death Hoax; Where is He Now, Children and Wife".
  12. ^ Simpson, Jessica. April 1, 2018. Media
  13. ^ Garvey, Marianne (2022-11-16). "Jimmy Fallon is asking Elon Musk to take down #RIPJimmyFallon". CNN. Retrieved 2022-11-18.
  14. ^ Pasquini, Maria (6 August 2018). "Michael J. Fox Is Not Dead, Despite What a Death Hoax Tried to Make Fans Believe". People Magazine. Retrieved 14 August 2023.
  15. ^ Saad, Nardine (10 August 2023). "Report: Lil Tay is alive, blames death hoax on '3rd party' compromising her Insta". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 14 August 2023.
  16. ^ https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=VN8VAAAAIBAJ&pg=6690,1544301 [dead link]
  17. ^ "Archives". Los Angeles Times. 10 January 1992.
  18. ^ "Singapore Police Identify Suspect in False Web Post About Lee Kuan Yew". Wall Street Journal. 20 March 2015. Retrieved 8 April 2015.
  19. ^ Lee, Min Kok (7 April 2015). "Student who posted fake PMO announcement on Mr Lee Kuan Yew's death given stern warning". The Straits Times. Retrieved 8 April 2015.
  20. ^ "Fact check: Image shows fabricated CNN story about Donald Trump dying". USA TODAY. Retrieved 2023-08-16.
  21. ^ "Fact Check-CNN did not report Trump died on Nov. 1, 2022". Reuters. 2022-11-02. Retrieved 2023-08-16.
  22. ^ Slisco, Aila (2022-11-01). "Fake news of Trump's death spreads on Twitter amid misinformation backlash". Newsweek. Retrieved 2023-08-16.
  23. ^ Vallejo, Justin; Thomas, Phil (18 January 2022). "Why some QAnon believers think JFK Jr is still alive – and about to become vice president". The Independent. Retrieved 14 August 2023.