It must be really weird to read something saying you’re dead. Nowadays, thanks to social media, fake deaths happen all the time. Every other week there’s a celebrity who “dies” and the news spreads and spreads and, before they know it, their death is trending worldwide. However, it also happened in the past. Here are a few noteworthy people who lived long enough to see their own obituaries.
1. Mark Twain
Mark Twain is the most famous case of a premature obituary. When his cousin fell ill and reporters got their Twains mixed up, it was initially reported that Mark Twain was the one who passed away, leading to him saying his famous line “rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated”, according to the story.
However, Twain’s death was actually mistakenly reported two times, putting him in a very select category. In 1907, three years before he actually died, he was declared lost at sea by the New York Times, although he showed up a few days later. This time he really did get a chance to write an article “celebrating” his demise.
2. Pope John Paul II
The Pope has actually got Mark Twain beat because his death was incorrectly reported three times. The most significant one would be the obituary by CNN who jumped the gun by a couple of years. You might not know this, but it is actually common practice for news agencies to have obituaries on famous people who are still alive, just in case. They write obituaries and just keep them in a database somewhere and update the year of death from time to time.
CNN, however, hosted them on a secure server so they could be ready to release the obituary on their website as soon as they got the word. Of course, someone eventually found that server and made all the obituaries public. Besides Pope John Paul II, they also had Nelson Mandela, Dick Cheney, Bob Hope, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and Fidel Castro.
3. Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway and his wife were reported dead by some media outlets while on vacation in Uganda. The couple had been involved not in one, but in two plane crashes less than two days apart. Their first plane was one they chartered in order to see the sights and it cracked up while attempting to make an emergency landing next to a waterfall. The next day, the couple went on a journey on a tourist steamer and then chartered another flight. This one had to do some evasive maneuvers in order to dodge a flock of birds and it caught fire.
While both Hemingways were injured during their ordeal, nobody on either plane was seriously hurt during the crashes. Of course, as soon as most media companies heard “Hemingway” and “plane crash”, they got a bit overzealous when putting the two together.
4. Abe Vigoda
People can react very differently when hearing news of their death. Some get confused, some get angry, some get a bit creeped out. Abe Vigoda took it all in good humor.
Just in case the name doesn’t ring any bells, Abe Vigoda is an actor, best known for playing Tessio in The Godfather. He’s been “dead”, on and off for the last 30 years or so. This whole thing started back in 1982 when an article in People referred to him as “the late Abe Vigoda”. The same mistake was repeated a few years later by a television station.
This sparked a running gag regarding Vigoda’s living status. It was referenced in sketches, TV shows, talk show skits etc. There is even a website whose sole purpose is to let you know whether Abe Vigoda is alive or not (I checked; he’s alive). The actor embraced his reputation as “the late Abe Vigoda”. When the original mistake came out in People, he even posed for a picture in a coffin, holding that issue of the magazine.
5. Alfred Nobel
Most premature obituaries don’t actually have a lasting impact on the world. That was not the case here. While Alfred Nobel is mostly known by many for the Nobel Prizes he created in order to celebrate great achievements, he is also known as the inventor of dynamite. Suffice to say that his public image in his day wasn’t too complimentary. In fact, when a French newspaper mistakenly published his obituary, it had the headline “The Merchant of Death is Dead”. It then went on to talk about the vast fortune Nobel made off the death of many, many others.
Nobel was quite disturbed by this, probably not realizing that creating something incredibly deadly might do that to someone’s reputation. Even so, he started thinking about ways to improve his image and move on from the whole “merchant of death” thing and that is why he used his fortune to fund the Nobel Prizes which we still have today.