There have been many cases throughout history of obituaries that have been published in reputable newspapers or broadcast on major television and radio networks for people who were still very much alive. The source of premature obituaries can be hoaxes, fraud or mistakes. Mistakes have exposed the morbid way that some media companies prepare for the deaths of celebrities. Often a technician need only press a button to launch a death announcement.
Below are twenty five of the worst premature death announcements of all time:
25. Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, was reported dead on August 27 2008 by Bloomberg in a 17-page obituary.
24. Thuy Trang
Thuy Trang was the actress who played the Yellow Ranger in the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers TV series. She was falsely reported dead in a car crash in 1997. In an ironic tragedy, she did die in a car crash four years later in 2001.
23. Feliberto Carrasco
In January 2008, an 81 year old Chilean man woke up to find himself laying in a coffin at his own wake . His relatives were shocked when he awoke but Carrasco himself appeared unperturbed and asked for a glass of water.
22. Alan Abel
In 1980, American hoaxter Alan Abel faked his own death in an elaborately staged skiing accident. The New York Times subsequently published his obituary. This was just one of many media circuses Abel caused over the course of his prankster career. For example, he appeared on the Today show to promote the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals that planned to put clothes on all the world's naked animals.
21. Slim Whitman
In January 2008, the Nashville Tennessean newspaper published a false report of country music legend Slim Whitman's death on their website. The rumor spread quickly and musician George Hamilton ended up dedicating a song to his memory at a concert.
20. Betty White
In 2009 the Today Show falsely reported that Betty White was dead. A successful campaign was subsequently launched on Facebook to bring the 88 year old White back to TV to host Saturday Night Live on Mother's day 2010. Betty White enjoys popularity with young people.
19. Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway was widely pronounced dead by the media after he was involved in a 1954 air crash in Africa. Hemingway survived the crash but was badly injured. After this incident he often read his premature obituaries with his morning drink.
18. Weird Al Yankovic
In the November 23 1997 episode of the cartoon King of the Hill character Bobby Hill said:
I see things clearly now. I 'm gonna grow up without anyone to love and die friendless and alone like Weird Al YankovicThis led to the persistent false rumor that the musician known for his parodies was actually dead.
17. Lucien Bouchard
A Canadian politician that was falsely declared dead by a major television network (CTV) and a major radio network (Radio Canada). CTV and Radio Canada both blamed each other for the error.
16. Rex Alston
In 1985 sports commentator Rex Alston read his own obituary in The Times (London). The paper accidentally published the death announcement exposing its morbid practice of maintaining prepared celebrity obituaries on file.
There were recurring rumors on the Internet in 2007 that comedian Sinbad had died of a heart attack. The rumor lead to his Wikipedia entry being falsely updated to list him as deceased.
14. Jeff Goldblum
There was an urban legend spread by twitter in 2009 that Jeff Goldblum had fallen off a cliff and died in New Zealand. The Today Show Australia reported the news in June 2009. Jeff Goldblum subsequently appeared on the Colbert Report (American comedy show) to eulogize himself.
13. Alice Cooper
Music magazine Melody Maker published a satirical review of a Alice Cooper concert that read like a mock obituary. Many fans took the review seriously and thought Cooper was dead. Finally, Cooper had to issue a press release: "I'm alive, and drunk as usual."
12. Orlando Thomas
Orlando Thomas is a former American Football player who is afflicted with Lou Gehrig's Disease. The Minnesota Vikings, his former team, announced that he was dead on their website on October 28, 2009. The false story was picked up by the associated press.
11. William Baer
William Baer was a New York University professor that was declared dead by the New York Times in 1942. It was a prank by his students. The New York Times seems to be a common target of such pranks.
10. Association of the Dead
The Association of the Dead is an Indian organization founded to protect the rights of people that have been falsely declared dead by the government. This seems to be a widespread problem in India. Relatives of the victim bribe government officials to have the victim declared dead then the relatives take their land and possessions. Once declared dead it is nearly impossible for the victim to undo.
9. Joe DiMaggio
In January 1999, NBC reported that Joe DiMaggio was dead in its scrolling text news. Joe DiMaggio himself was watching and saw the report.
8. Marcus Garvey
Black nationalist Marcus Garvey suffered a stroke in January 1940. He survived, but the Chicago Defender published his obituary nonetheless. Upon reading his own obituary Garvey suffered a second stroke and died. The obituary characterized him as "broke, alone and unpopular". It is widely believed that it was his obituary that killed him.
7. Shoichi Yokoi
Shoichi Yokoi was conscripted into the Imperial Japanese Army in 1941 and sent to Guam in 1943. During the 1944 Battle of Guam, Yokoi-san went into hiding where he remained until 1972. Yokoi-san lived in a subterranean cave, surviving by hunting and foraging. When he was discovered and returned to Japan he said "It is with much embarrassment that I have returned alive". This became a popular saying in Japan. Yokoi-san was one of the last three Japanese WWII hold outs, the other two being discovered in 1974.
6. Paul McCartney
In the late 1960s there was a persistent rumor that Paul McCartney of The Beatles was dead and had been replaced by a look alike. The rumor was fueled by mysterious lyrics in several Beatles songs. In 1969 a American University newspaper published an article entitled "Is Paul McCartney Dead?". The rumor was widely discussed on call-in radio shows and eventually picked up in the mainstream press. There are still some people who believe McCartney was replaced in the mid 1960s.
5. The CNN.com incident
On April 16 2003, pages were discovered on cnn.com that had obituaries for several living people including Fidel Castro, Dick Cheney, Gerald Ford, Bob Hope, Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul II, and Ronald Reagan. The pages were not meant to be published but were accessible on the public website. Fidel Castro's obituary seemed to be modeled on Ronald Regan's and listed him as a lifeguard, athlete and movie star. (Regan and Castro were bitter Cold War enemies)
4. George W. Bush
South African news program ETV announced that George W. Bush was dead in their scrolling news banner in February 2009. The error occurred when a technician pressed the wrong button.
3. Cannibal Holocaust
Cannibal Holocaust was a 1980 Italian exploitation film that was designed to look like a snuff film. Four actors from the film were contracted to lay low for one year to help fuel rumors that the film had included real murders. The scheme worked too well, the director Ruggero Deodato was arrested for murder in Italy. The actors eventually came out of hiding and the director was released.
2. Mark Twain
In 1897 Mark Twain was feared dead and reporters scrambled to verify the news. However, they soon realized Twain was alive and no premature obituary was published. This is where Twain's famous quote "The report of my death was an exaggeration" originated (this is often misquoted).
1. Alfred Nobel
In 1888 Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite and owner of Bofors, a major armaments manufacturer, was pronounced dead in a French newspaper. The obituary was a scathing attack on the industrialist saying:
The merchant of death is dead ..... Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.In fact, Alfred Nobel was alive and well .. it was his brother Ludvig who had died. It is thought that this false and critical obituary had a profound on Alfred Nobel and led him to establish the Nobel prize in order to improve his legacy.