Social media sites lit up yesterday after reports of actor Paul Walker's death spread, fueled by hashtags like #RIPPaulWalker. Walker's star rose to fame after he appeared on the radar in "Varsity Blues" and went on to star in the Fast and Furious franchise. In what is perhaps the most ironic celebrity death to date Walker, who reprised his role as street racing undercover cop Brian O'Conner most recently in Fast & Furious 6 this year, was killed yesterday in a fiery car crash following a charity event for his organization, Reach Out World Wide, to benefit victims of the recent typhoon in the Philippines.
What drew the attention of Medicine Show staff to Walker's death is the controversy surrounding a death hoax involving the actor that his agent had officially responded to just hours before Walker actually passed away. On the eve of his actual death, Walker became the latest celebrity to fall victim to the strange trend of death hoaxes. Early Saturday his representative made a statement responding to the faux news: "He joins the long list of celebrities who have been victimized by this hoax. He's still alive and well, stop believing what you see on the internet."
Reports concerning Walker's mortality started coming in immediately following the actual accident, which occurred in Santa Clarita, north of Los Angeles. Social media became mass confusion as fans posted RIP comments, while others held fast to the hoax story. Then to further complicate matters parody news site MassMedia.net published an article stating that reports of Walker's death in the crash were part of another hoax. While fans searched for answers, a statement was posted to Walker's Facebook page confirming his passing.
While an extra twist or two and intervening fate make Walker's death/death hoax story unique, he is indeed only the latest in a long line of celebrities to have been erroneously reported as having died. In fact, it seems that you haven't made it in show business until a fake report of your death have made the rounds.
Celebrity death hoaxes are not a new phenomena. In 1945 following the death of Franklin Roosevelt, hoax reports of Charlie Chaplin and Frank Sinatra made the rounds before dying out (pun intended). Death hoaxes are reported more frequently when a genuine celebrity death occurs. Several celebs fell victim to the hoax following the 2009 death of Michael Jackson, which coincided with Farrah Fawcett and Ed McMahon's deaths as well. During this time it was repeatedly reported that actor Harrison Ford had died aboard a yacht off the coast of San Tropez.
|Jackie Chan points to the newspaper date to prove his mortality|
The MassMedia website has a sort of template to publish fake news stories. One ready-made article waiting for a name to be filled into blanks describes a star falling off a cliff to their death while on location in New Zealand. Users then generate a faux article with a "Global Associated News" headline. In recent years Jackie Chan, Tom Hanks, Russel Crowe, Tony Danza, Jeff Goldblum, John Cena, Natalie Portman, and Jerry Springer have all fell victim to the cliff death template article. Fans are shocked when they see Facebook posts and tweets saying their favorite celebrities have passed away. The anonymity of the internet allows these not-so-funny jokes to carry on with no one being held responsible for them.The ability of a Twitter user to retweet something they see with one click, without verifying the truth of such claims, fuels the spread of such stories.
Another popular fake way for celebrities to go is in a snowboarding accident, thanks to the same fake article template site. Eddie Murphy, Adam Sandler, Charlie Sheen, Avril Lavigne, and Owen Wilson have all watched as stories of their deaths after colliding with a tree while snowboarding in Switzerland were circulated.
Sir Paul McCartney has watched stories of his passing spread not once, but twice, on a large scale. In 1966, at the height of the Beatles' popularity, rumors began circulating that Paul had been killed in a car accident and replaced by a lookalike to keep record sales going. Last March he saw "Paul is dead Again" become a trending topic on Twitter, again falsely spreading the rumor that he had died.
When stories of her death began circulating in 2011, Joan Rivers responded by releasing the following statement: "I don't know where this came from. I did very well performing on stage this weekend in Ottowa and I didn't even bomb. I think the story came from Betty While - that bitch." While Rivers made a joke out of the story, the folks here on Lost Creek don't approve of the jab at good ol' Betty White. 76 year-old Morgan Freeman also fell victim to the hoax recently when rumors spread that he had passed away peacefully at his home. Freeman's faux-death was reported on CNN.
In December of 2011 rumors spread that Jon Bon Jovi had fallen into a coma, and died after suffering caridac arrest. Bon Jovi posted the following photo to assure fans he was alive and well:
Plane crashes are a favored means of death among death hoax stories. Celine Dion, George Clooney, and Jim Carrey have battled such news . Car accidents are another favorite, previously falsely alleged to have killed Emma Watson, Johnny Depp, and Brittney Spears.
But just because there's existing fill-in-the-blank templates available doesn't mean some gossip mongers aren't creative with the false stories they attempt to spread. An original story lends their efforts some credibility. In 2010 rapper Eminem was, for a short while, reported to have died after being stabbed multiple times in New York City. This story was accompanied by a photo of a man's back with stab wounds, but no identifiable features, such as his face.
In 2007 it was reported that while incarcerated, heiress Paris Hilton was shanked to death in jail. Twilight star Taylor Lautner fell victim to the celebrity death hoax phenomena in 2010, when it was reported he died after being drugged by strippers. The same year the story of actor Matt Damon's body being found in the dessert outside San Diego was widely circulated. Following her infamous performance at the VMAs a story spread that Miley Cyrus had killed herself, leaving behind a video message to her fans.
While several celebrities have witnessed their alleged deaths reported on more than one occasion, it seems that Bill Cosby is the most frequent victim of the death hoax. Most recently Cosby didn't die in August, when a Facebook group called "R.I.P. Bill Cosby" had over 300,000 likes overnight. In 2010 he was reported dead on at least four occasions. Cosby responded to the August incident by voicing his frustration at having his friends and family repeatedly subjected to the shocking lies.
Paul Walker was filming Fast and Furious 7 at the time of his death. It is not yet clear what effect this tragedy will have on production. He leaves behind a 15 year-old daughter. The car, a new Porsche GT, was an unrecognizable chunk of twisted metal. Walker and a friend was taking the new car for a spin when something caused them to lose control and wrap themselves around a utility pole. The driver, believed to be Roger Rodas, was an experienced race car driver. Onlookers were quick to upload video of the scene onto the web. For those of you who like to stare at train wrecks, video is below.