When you're a star, celebrity hoax stories come with the territory, but they're not always something to smile about: Internet Scambusters #397
If you believed some of the celebrity hoax stories currently circulating, you'd think a couple of famous but dead singers were still very much alive, while a few other very much alive stars would seem to be dead.
In the age of the Internet, rumors like these circle the globe in seconds and mostly the "victims" take it in stride -- but not always.
In this issue, we have the lowdown on the latest celebrity death hoaxes and other phony stories from the showbiz world, plus an insight into the role of the media in perpetrating these myths.
Online Gossip Drives Surge In Celebrity Hoax Stories
Online gossip-mongering and intense competition between tabloid magazines and newspapers have turned celebrity hoax stories into a booming business, with a new "shock" story appearing almost every day.
Many of these are celebrity death hoaxes. Here are some of the most recent from the past couple of months:
- Robin Hood actor Russell Crowe (supposedly fell down a mountain in Austria).
- Singer and TV reality star Bobby Brown (non-existent cancer).
- Canadian singer Gordon Lightfoot (unspecified cause).
- Teenage singing sensation Justin Beiber (purported motorcycle accident -- his third Internet "death" in the past year!).
- Joint stars of the Twilight movies, Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart (unspecified).
- Actor Tom Cruise ("a plumbing accident in New Zealand" -- sounds intriguing!).
Other recent celebrity hoax stories range from non-existent pregnancies (singer Beyonce Knowles) to bizarre tales like the false story that singer Lady Gaga had a leg amputated as a publicity stunt, while socialite Kim Kardashian supposedly had to apologize to fellow passengers after stinking out an airplane flight with a giant burrito!
Apparently she doesn't even like burritos. 🙂
Add these to other celebrity hoax stories we previously reported here at Scambusters in the article Urban Legends and Hoaxes Straight from the News Headlines.
Many of these celebrity hoax reports just make people smile. More importantly, they seem to have the same effect on their subjects who, after all, thrive on publicity.
Indeed, some celebrities happily go along with or invent hoaxes, either for publicity or just for fun.
One of the most famous is Rolling Stones rocker Keith Richards who has perpetrated many outrageous stories about himself (as if his real life hasn't been sensational enough!).
These included his claim that he once had a complete replacement of his blood, via transfusion -- a story that Richards only recently owned up to being a hoax.
And even singer Beyonce, mentioned above, laughed off a recent "leaked recording," allegedly an unedited tape of her singing without backing music that portrayed her as screeching out of tune.
The "recording" was subsequently revealed as a hoax made by a well-known broadcaster.
The singer easily put it down though -- by performing live on a late-night TV show -- and said she was glad of the publicity!
But not everyone gets a kick out of celebrity hoaxes.
A recent story involving Van Morrison dismayed the veteran Irish blues singer who is famous for shunning publicity.
Hackers who penetrated the star's website posted a bogus announcement that happily-married Morrison had fathered a child with another woman.
Although denied by Morrison, the false story circulated widely before being exposed as a hoax.
The singer subsequently launched a libel action against a newspaper that repeated the claim.
Elvis and Michael Jackson "sightings"
And, of course, some other celebrity hoax victims can't smile either -- because they're no longer with us, though reports that they're still alive probably help their posthumous record sales.
The most famous of these, naturally, is Elvis Presley, who has to compete for "sightings" with hundreds of his impersonators.
In fact, there's was a website dedicated to Elvis sightings, which mournfully declares: "Everyone knows the King is not dead."
And, to "prove" the point, it listed more than 800 "sightings" of Elvis -- from all over the world!
In light of this, it's probably not surprising that another legendary singer, the late Michael Jackson, has allegedly been spotted since his death.
The star supposedly went into hiding because of fears for his safety and, again, a website dedicated to Jackson "sightings" is doing brisk business.
In one instance, fans thought a man who appeared on TV, claiming to have been a beneficiary of Jackson's generosity when he was alive, looked and sounded so much like the pop singer that some believe it really was him, in disguise.
On the other hand, several Internet rumor mills have reported that Jackson actually died several years ago and was replaced by an impostor.
The Internet undoubtedly deserves the bulk of blame for the boom in celebrity hoaxes.
Social networking site Twitter, where many of them seem to start out, has probably become the world's biggest gossip shop.
Anyone can post any rumor they wish, even one they just made up. They can do this anonymously (or even posing as a celebrity themselves) and it'll circle the globe in seconds.
But online celebrity hoax artists don't have the field to themselves.
In an experiment last year, a group of documentary makers fed a whole series of celebrity hoax stories to tabloid newspapers which, in many cases, reproduced them without checking them out.
The fabricated stories were harmless, though some were certainly mischievous, like a claim that controversial singer Amy Winehouse set her hair on fire with a hairdryer.
The team subsequently released a documentary movie called Starsuckers "as evidence that media organisations cannot be trusted to tell the truth," according to the British newspaper The Guardian.
Another group of people who find nothing to smile about from celebrity hoaxes are pop fans who fall for bogus stories about upcoming concerts.
Sometimes, these are just mischievous but other times the aim is to con the fans out of money for bogus tickets.
Read more about these and other instances where celebrity names have been used to scam the public in an earlier Scambusters issue, 10 Celebrity Scam Tricks That Lurk Behind the Names of the Rich and Famous.
The lesson for all of us from this mushrooming growth in celebrity hoaxes is to take sensational stories about famous people with a pinch of salt until they are confirmed.
It may be okay to smile at them but please think twice before you pass them on.
Otherwise you could be fanning the flames of a celebrity hoax, and in these days of instant digital communication that can rapidly turn into a damaging wildfire.
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!