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Bernard Ohanian

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Oh No! Gilligan Is Dead! I Read It On Facebook!

Posted: 09/06/2012 8:29 am

Sad, and true: the Skipper's "little buddy," Bob Denver -- who also starred, unforgettably, as Maynard G. Krebs in "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis" -- died.

Seven years ago this week, as it turns out.

Didn't remember that? You're not alone: "news" of his death, reposted and re-tweeted breathlessly with the requisite comments of social media mourning -- such as "RIP, Gilligan!" "Another part of my childhood gone" etc -- spread via Facebook and Twitter this week as if he had just taken his last breath a few hours earlier. F. Scott Fitzgerald (who, by the way, has been dead a lot longer than Bob Denver, so please don't start any rumors) famously, and wrongly, wrote that "there are no second acts in American lives." Now, thanks to social media, there are second acts in American deaths. If you're lucky -- and sort of famous, but not so famous that everyone remembers where they were when they heard that you died -- your death can be re-circulated as news every few years, sparking a new spasm of mourning.

But at least poor Bob Denver is, as the Saturday Night Live crew used to say about General Franco, still dead. Eddie Murphy, on the other hand, appears to be very much alive -- although Facebook users and the Twitterati have killed him off several times recently (along with Bill Cosby, among others).

The Eddie Murphy and Bill Cosby rumors are easier to trace: they seem to spring from a totally fake "news" site -- one that, on its pages, even acknowledges in the fine print that its articles are "based on zero truth" and are "complete...fiction for entertainment purposes."

Of course, none of this can be blamed entirely on the Internet and social media: our generation was caught up in perhaps the biggest celebrity-death hoax ever, when we all studied the cover photo of Abbey Road and played Beatles' songs backward on our record player to see if Paul was really dead. But our new ways of communicating make these rumors easier to start.

They also make them easier to stop, which is where we geezers and near-geezers come in. Generally, we're more recent adopters of Facebook and Twitter than our children, grandchildren, and nieces and nephews are -- so we've built up fewer bad habits on social media. We're also, the scientists tell us, less prone to acting on impulse. So here's my plea to my fellow baby-boomers, and our older brothers, sisters, and parents: when you read shocking news (or really good news, or any kind of news at all) on Facebook or Twitter, pause a moment before you pass it on. Do a little checking via old-fashioned media (my two favorites are The New York Times and CNN; substitute your own favorites if you like) to see if it's being reported there. If it's not, hold off. It may in fact turn out to be true; if memory serves, Nora Ephron's death was on Twitter an hour or so before the Times confirmed it. In a case like that, waiting for confirmation before reposting or re-tweeting means you won't be on the absolute cutting edge of up-to-the-minute coolness. But if the "news" turns out to be no news at all (Bob Denver, Eddie Murphy, "I buried Paul") then you've earned the right to remind your younger relatives and friends, once again, that -- especially when it comes to social media -- you can't believe everything you read.


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  • Hilary Duff

    Hilary Duff is the most recent celebrity victim of the Internet. The former Disney star and "Gossip Girl" guest star, was rumored to have fallen off the Kauri Cliffs while staying at a luxury golf resort in New Zealand.

  • Justin Bieber

    It seems like the Internet's favorite rumor is claiming that Justin Bieber has died considering it has happened more than once. In 2009 there were rumors the teen heartthrob committed suicide, in January 2010 that rumor hit web again, and in February it was reported that Bieber had been shot in a nightclub. Then in June 2010, a fake news article went viral claiming the pop star had died of a drug overdose. In January 2011, "RIP Justin Bieber" started trending on Twitter prompting rumors that the Canadian singer had again died. At least Bieber can take the rumors with stride, <a href="" target="_hplink">he recently joked with a paparazzo </a>that the lastest rumor he heard about himself was that he died and was on his way to his own funeral.

  • Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake

    In June 2001 a Texas radio station reported that Britney Spears had died in a car crash, and then boyfriend Justin Timberlake who was driving was seriously injured. In 2009, Britney reportedly died again. Twitter users freaked out after someone hacked into Britney's Twitter account and posted: "Britney has passed today. It is a sad day for everyone. More news to come." In 2010, the rumor that she was dead, again, made the rounds when an email -- from yet another hoax in 2007 -- claimed that Britney had been in an asylum, carved the letters 666 into her forehead and then hanged herself with a sheet.

  • Lindsay Lohan

    Rumors of Lindsay Lohan's death at times have been quite believable. But in July 2011, Lohan's Wikipedia page was edited to state that the actress had died at age 24, as allegedly reported by <em>E! News</em> and no cause of death was yet indicated. The rumor was fueled by tweets from a fake Kim Kardashian Twitter account who kept tweeting about rumors of Lohan's death. While her career maybe dead, Lindsay is not.

  • Will Ferrell

    In 2006, Will Ferrel was rumored to have died after a fake press release said he was in a freak paragliding accident in Southern California.

  • Christian Slater

    In January 2010, actor Christian Slater was falsely reported dead after having a snowboarding accident in Switzerland. Snowboarding in Switzerland seems to be quite the celebrity killer; Owen Wilson and Eddie Murphy were both falsely reported dead from similar accidents the month earlier.

  • Will Smith

    Will Smith must have nine lives, because he's been rumored to be dead a whole bunch of times. May 2011 proved to be a tough month for Smith, first rumors that he was either in a car accident or died of a drug overdose began to circulate, then he saw the same fate as Hilary Duff by falling of a cliff in New Zealand. Rumors of Smith dying via car crash have circulated online since 2007.

  • Jackie Chan

    Rumors of Jackie Chan's death started trending on Twitter in March 2011. A fake news report claimed the actor had suffered a heart attack.

  • Russell Crowe

    In June 2010, Russell Crowe responded to rumors of his death via Twitter: "Unable to answer tweets fell off a mountain in Austria, all over red rover. Don't know how I got there, but the media are never wrong.G'Bye."

  • Jeff Goldblum

    In 2009, Global Associated News -- the origin of the majority of celeb death hoxes-- reported that actor Jeff Goldblum died while filming a movie in New Zealand. Those Kauri Cliffs must be extremely dangerous, as Goldblum was said to have fallen more than 60 feet to his death while filming a movie. Falling off the Kauri Cliffs is a favorite rumor when it comes to celebrity deaths. Countless celebs have died this way including George Clooney, Will Smith, Dwayne Johnson, Natalie Portman, Tome Cruise, Harrison Ford and most recently Hilary Duff. It's safe to say that if you read about a celebrity falling off a cliff in New Zealand it's fake.

  • Eminem

    In 2009 a fake <em>Yahoo News </em>story claiming that Eminem died in a car crash went viral. The details included blaming the cause of the crash on Eminem, claiming the rapper was distracted by a cell phone conversation, which caused him to swerve into an oncoming truck.

  • Bill Cosby

    In August 2010, the Internet killed Bill Cosby ... again. The actor and comedian was not impressed. Cosby tweeted, "To the people behind the foolishness, I'm not sure you see how upsetting this is." This was the fourth death hoax that Cosby has lived through, and he told Larry King that the rumors even made his daughter call to check to see if he was OK.

  • Charlie Sheen

    While his character on "Two and a Half Men" has been killed off by CBS, Charlie Sheen is still very much alive despite what you might have heard. Rumors of Sheen's death spread quickly online in June 2011 and vaguely implied that he had died in his house from cardiac arrest. But there was a twist to the hoax; when users clicked on links to the story, they were taken to a cloned YouTube page that infected their computer with malware. And in 2010, Sheen was rumored to have died in a snowboarding accident. But fear not, if you find it overwhelming to keep up with Sheen being alive or dead, there's a <a href="" target="_hplink">website to help you keep track</a> of Sheen's status.

  • Aretha Franklin

    In December 2010, singer Aretha Franklin was rumored to have died. The rumor came soon after Franklin revealed she had been battling pancreatic cancer and at the time was recovering from surgery. Franklin was one of the many celebrities falsely reported dead during this time.

  • Taylor Swift

    Taylor Swift has also died a few times. She's been in a fatal car crash in 2009 and later that year another rumor that she died from an allergic reaction to sleeping pills was all over YouTube and Facebook. Swift recently <a href="" target="_hplink">took home six Teen Choice Awards</a>, including the Ultimate Choice award, so she's definitely not dead.

  • Kanye West

    Someone on Twitter told the world that Kanye West had died in a car crash back in 2009. "RIP Kanye West" instantly became a trending topic and West's then-girlfriend Amber Rose quickly turned to her own Twitter account to stop the rumors. She tweeted: "This RIPKanyeWest topic is not funny and it's NOT TRUE! He has people like myself and his family that love him very much."

  • Nick Jonas

    Actor and pop singer, Nick Jonas had the honor of having quite the creative death hoax. In December 2009, reports that Jonas had died after he went into cardiac arrest as a result of his diabetes made its way around the Internet. Some reports even said that Jonas died after receiving a lap dance at a popular strip club in Dallas.

  • Paul McCartney

    Paul McCartney is so famous he didn't even need the Internet to fuel rumors of his death. In 1969 the rumor that McCartney had died and was replaced by a body double was so strong that <em>Life</em> magazine even ran a cover story titled "Paul Is Still With US," to help quash the rumor.

  • Morgan Freeman

    In 2010 rumors of Morgan Freeman's death went viral. How the rumor was started was unclear and some accused <em>CNN </em> of tweeting and reporting the claim. <em>CNN</em> actually issued an official release responding to the rumors: "CNN did not report Morgan Freeman death. Rumor is false. CNN will aggressively investigate this hoax." As it turned out the rumor was started by a Twitter user named @originalcjizzle. He later tweeted, "I had no intention of things turning out this way," and has since deleted his account.

  • Paris Hilton

    In June 2007 reports of Paris Hilton's death exploded online. The reality TV star was serving time in jail for drunk driving, and was rumored to have been stabbed to death by a fellow inmate. The hoax came from a fake news story, set on a website made to look like it came from <em>CNN. </em>

  • Miley Cyrus

    Teen popstar Miley Cyrus has also suffered multiple deaths. The former star of "Hannah Montana" was rumored to have died once in 2007, and then said to have been hit by a drunk driver in 2008. Then in 2009, another rumor of Cyrus' death was fuel by socialite Peaches Geldolf who tweeted that a "friend in the industry" texted her that Miley had died. The rumors were put to rest when numerous fans tweeted that they'd just seen Miley perform in London and she was very much alive.

  • Zach Braff

    In 2009, former "Scrubs" star Zach Braff was rumored dead when a fake page displayed the headline, "Beloved Scrubs actor found dead in his home." The source behind the cruel rumor,New Jersey resident Chris Laganella, actually posted an apology to Braff on his personal website: "I'm sorry if I scared everyone. Zach, sorry if you got offended by me posting a fake suicide about you on the Internet. Your 32,000 square foot house would be pretty empty without you. Thanks for (apparently) taking it lightly, since I haven't gotten a letter about a lawsuit yet. Just so you know, I'm a huge fan; that's the only reason I made this page, believe it or not. Also, sorry for upsetting your mother."

  • Taylor Lautner

    In 2010, "Twilight Star," Taylor Lautner was reported dead from a cocaine overdose. Twilight fans eager to see him shirtless in the new "Breaking Dawn" movie will tell you that is so not true.