Gordon Lightfoot is not dead. Never mind the story that appeared on the website of Canada’s National Post on February 18 and was then quickly tweeted ’round the world. He’s fine—“I feel fine” was the quote he gave a TV station—but he joins a surprisingly large club of living celebrities who have read about their own deaths. And thanks to the gossipy virulence of the web, and especially Twitter, more and more will.
2008: car crash
On September 5, a hoax news story saying that the teen singer had died made its way onto Digg, then to Wikipedia. Cyrus played Radio City Music Hall that evening.
June 2009: yacht sank
2009: fell off a cliff
Last summer, during the Michael Jackson–Ed McMahon–Farrah Fawcett celebrity-death cluster, a rumor rocketed around the Internet that Goldblum had, of all things, fallen to his death off a New Zealand cliff. Later that week on The Colbert Report, Goldblum did a walk-on and issued a denial (which Stephen Colbert claimed not to believe until he read it on Twitter). The same cliff–plunge–in–New Zealand rumor has attached itself to several other stars over the years.
October 2009: car accident
Those famously exaggerated “reports of my death” (which had also circulated in 1897) were just a rumor; no premature obituary was actually published, though the New York Times did hint that Twain might have been lost at sea. As for that famous quote, it isn’t quite right either: He really said, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.” Until 1910, when it came true.
The black activist was living in London in 1940 when he suffered a stroke. As he recovered, newspapers reported his death; soon after reading the headline marcus garvey dies in london, Garvey had a second stroke and died.
July 2009: car accident
1999: cause unknown
The Yankee Clipper’s death was announced on an NBC News ticker in January, less than two months before DiMaggio actually died—and, reportedly, while he happened to be watching. NBC’s retraction crawled across the screen twenty minutes later.
June 2009: plane crash
January 2010: car accident
1998: cause unknown
Five years before he actually died at 100, Hope’s prewritten obituary was accidentally published on the AP’s website. It listed his age as “xx,” but an Arizona congressman read condolences on the House floor. Soon after, Hope’s daughter Linda issued a statement: “Dad is at home, having his breakfast.”
June 2009: fell off the same cliff as Jeff Goldblum
April 2009: murdered
June 2009: found dead in a hotel room
1982: cause unknown
People magazine prematurely killed off the Barney Miller and Godfather co-star, calling him “the late Abe Vigoda.” Vigoda’s non-death (he is now 88) is a pop-culture meme to this day. Abevigoda.com, for example, does only one thing: indicate whether Abe is alive or dead.