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Top premature obituaries: All

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Oct 21 2010
1 Kanye West: was the subject of an Internet hoax news report on 20 October 2009 claiming that he had been killed in a car crash. The rumour quickly spread via social networking websites such as Twitter, prompting West's girlfriend Amber Rose to respond "This 'RIP Kanye West' topic is not funny and it's NOT TRUE!" 52183
2 Miley Cyrus: On September 5, 2008, a false Reuters article spread around the web claiming that Miley Cyrus had died in a terrible car accident. This incident, which was also reported by TMZ, was quickly debunked, as Miley performed in concert the following Friday. A similar incident took place on November 16, 2008, when someone hacked into Cyrus' YouTube account and posted a video stating she died after being hit by a drunk driver. 48503
3 Paul McCartney was proclaimed dead in 1966 by a caller to radio DJ Russ Gibb's show on WKNR-FM Detroit. A few days later New York DJ Roby Yonge was fired for discussing McCartney's possible death on a late-night show. These and other incidents led to interminable rumors that McCartney's supposed death (hinted at by a trail of supposed clues in various Beatles songs) had been covered up and he had been replaced by a look-alike. 45563
4 Norman Wisdom: the British comedian was reported dead by Sky News on December 28, 2008, with a pre-prepared video obituary having been accidentally published. Wisdom died on 4th October 2010. 42558
5 Queen Elizabeth II<nowiki>'</nowiki>s death was announced on BBC Radio West Midlands on May 17, 2010. Host Danny Kelly played God Save the Queen, then announced that "Queen Elizabeth II has now died." He was stopped by his producer, and later admitted that the announcement was meant as a joke: the Queen Elizabeth II who had died was a Facebook user who used the Queen's name. The chairman of Mediawatch-UK said in response, "Because it's the Queen and they treated it like a big announcement, it makes things worse ... It's the BBC we are talking about here, and there's a certain expectation from them." 29912
6 Britney Spears and then-boyfriend Justin Timberlake (musicians) were reported to have died in a car crash by two Texas DJs as a joke in 2001. The radio station (KEGL) was sued and the DJs were fired. The car crash story is thought to have originated as a rumour on the Internet. 28647
7 Steve Jobs: On 27 August 2008 Bloomberg accidentally published a 17-page obituary. In a subsequent public appearance Jobs joked about the accident by displaying on screen during a keynote an imprecise quotation of Mark Twain (who was also the recipient of a premature obituary) reading "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated". 28374
8 George W. Bush, or George H.W. Bush, when the moving banner headline on South African television's ETV News read "George Bush is dead". A technician who was testing the banner accidentally pressed the "broadcast live for transmission" button, according to the BBC. 27676
9 Nelson Mandela (South African leader) in the CNN.com incident. 25867
10 Ronald Reagan (former US President), in the CNN.com incident. CNN also included fragments of Reagan's life history in a premature obituary of Fidel Castro in the same incident. Reagan died in 2004. 23745
11 Kurt Cobain: the rock musician was reported dead by CNN (though was in fact in a coma) after an overdose in Rome in March 1994, shortly before his actual death in April. 22975
12 Betty White: On July 7, 2009, a Today Show on-site correspondent covering Michael Jackson's memorial service from Forest Lawn Memorial Park erroneously named White as one of the famous celebrities buried there. Today host Meredith Vieira was quick to correct the error at the end of the report, stating that the correspondent likely meant to name Bette Davis instead. White is still alive and continues to actively work in the entertainment industry. 17658
13 Mark Twain: on two occasions the writer was incorrectly feared dead. Though only the second case counts as a premature obituary, the first is often erroneously cited as the most famous case: 15366
14 Ernest Hemingway: after the author and his wife Mary Welsh Hemingway were involved in two African plane crashes in 1954, newspapers reported that both had died. Hemingway survived, but suffered extensive injuries which affected him for the rest of his life. AE Hotchner claimed that Hemingway read a scrapbook of his obituaries every morning with a glass of champagne after the incident. Hemingway committed suicide in 1961. 14967
15 Margaret Thatcher: Text-message reports of Thatcher's death caused a stir at a Canadian political event, and officials in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office were preparing to issue a statement of condolence, until it was determined that the deceased Thatcher in question was actually Transport Minister John Baird's cat. 14678
16 Alfred Nobel (arms manufacturer and founder of the Nobel Prize): in 1888, the death of his brother Ludvig caused several newspapers to publish obituaries of Alfred in error. A French obituary stated Le marchand de la mort est mort ("The merchant of death is dead") [link]</ref> and that Nobel "became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before". Nobel died in 1896. 13371
17 Will Ferrell (comedian), reported by iNewswire to have died in a paragliding accident in March 2006. The press release was a hoax; Ferrell has never been paragliding. 12750
18 Fidel Castro (Cuban leader) in the CNN.com incident. The draft obituary, which had used Ronald Reagan's as a template, described Castro as 'lifeguard, athlete, movie star'. 12616
19 Pope John Paul II is the only known triple recipient: 10524
20 Alice Cooper: in the early 1970s, Melody Maker magazine confused readers by publishing a satirical concert review of the rock musician in the form of a mock obituary. So many fans took it literally that Cooper had to issue a statement, reassuring them: "I'm alive, and drunk as usual." 9742
21 Rudyard Kipling: His death had been incorrectly announced in a magazine, to which he wrote, "I've just read that I am dead. Don't forget to delete me from your list of subscribers." 9480
22 Gerald Ford (former US President) in the CNN.com incident. Also, comedian Dana Carvey used Ford as an example when satirizing pre-prepared obituaries in a Saturday Night Live sketch in which he impersonated Tom Brokaw on NBC Nightly News. Ford died in December 2006. 9389
23 Russell Crowe: the actor was reported as dead on a Z-100 broadcast in New York City on June 10, 2010; this was later refuted by a representative for the actor. 9101
24 Joe DiMaggio (baseball player), broadcast by NBC in January 1999 as a text report running along the bottom of the television screen. The text, which DiMaggio saw himself, had been pre-prepared following newspaper reports that DiMaggio was near death, and was transmitted when a technician pressed the wrong button. DiMaggio died in March 1999. 7603
25 Bertrand Russell: the philosopher was reported dead in the Japanese press in 1920 when he was suffering from pneumonia. Some sources say the reports were a deliberate form of revenge by Japanese journalists whom Russell had refused to meet due to his illness. His supposed death may also have been reported in The Times. (It is also sometimes said that by way of apology, The Times allowed Russell to pre-write his own obituary for publication on his actual death. But the obituary does not read as if it could be by him; the confusion may be that in 1937 he wrote an imaginary Times obituary for his own entertainment, which is briefly quoted at the end of his obituary in the New York Times.) Russell died in 1970. 7462
26 Lou Reed (musician), by numerous US radio stations in 2001, caused by a hoax email (purporting to be from Reuters) which said he had died of an overdose. 6306
27 Sharon Osbourne: in October 2004, a draft obituary of rock star Ozzy Osbourne's wife was accidentally published on the ABC News web site owing to a technical error. 5813
28 Zach Braff (TV actor) In 2007, a webpage was set up by a Scrubs fan announcing that Zach Braff had committed suicide. It was an attempt to fool some friends and film their reactions, however he neglected to take the web-page down and it became a Facebook and Twitter sensation. 5683
29 Dick Cheney (US Vice-President) in the CNN.com incident. The draft obituary, which had been based on the Queen Mother's, described Cheney as 'Queen Consort' and the 'UK's favorite grandmother'. 5611
30 Pat Burns (NHL Coach), reported in September 17, 2010 by the Toronto star. 5341
31 Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother<nowiki>'</nowiki>s death was erroneously announced in the Australian media in 1993 after a London-based Sky News employee saw an internal rehearsal for her future death (one of many conducted by the UK media over the years). Thinking it was for real, he phoned his mother in Australia with the 'news', who passed it on to the media. The time zone difference may have made it difficult for the Australian media to check the story during UK night-time. The employee was dismissed for the mistake, but then won a lawsuit for wrongful dismissal. (Fragments of the Queen Mother's life history also appeared in several other world figures' premature obituaries in the CNN.com incident.) 4940
32 James Earl Jones: in 1998 the actor was erroneously pronounced dead during a radio broadcast of a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game by play-by-play announcer Lanny Frattare; Frattare had confused him with James Earl Ray, Martin Luther King's assassin, who had just died. 4606
33 Jeff Goldblum: On June 25, 2009 — the same day actress Farrah Fawcett and musician Michael Jackson died — actor Jeff Goldblum was reported dead on Australia's Channel Nine news. The report was quickly debunked, and traced back to a hoax website. 4486
34 Bob Hope, twice (aided by his great longevity). In both cases a pre-written obituary of the entertainer was accidentally published on a news web site: 4469
35 Marcus Garvey: after suffering a stroke in , the black nationalist read his obituary in the Chicago Defender which described him as "broke, alone and unpopular". Apparently as a result, Garvey suffered a second stroke and died. 4353
36 Kel Mitchell was falsely declared dead in widely-circulated internet messages in July 2006 due to unknown causes. 4344
37 Arthur C. Clarke, science fiction writer, had his obituary published by the G.R.A.A. (Goddard Retirees and Alumni Association) newsletter in 2000 (April). The obituary says he died on 10 February 2000, and even specifies the cause of death as pulmonary fibrosis. To date, no correction seems to have been published. Clarke died in 2008 of "respiratory complications and heart failure". 3890
38 Artie Lange, comedian from The Howard Stern Show, was reported dead in May, 2004 by KLAS-TV in Las Vegas. The show was being broadcast from Las Vegas, and Stern show prank caller Captain Janks capitalized on Artie's debauched reputation by telling the news station that he was a representative from the Hard Rock Hotel, and that Artie had been found dead in his hotel room. 3231
39 Harold Pinter: on 13 October 2005 the newsreader on Sky News, apparently relaying information she was having difficulty hearing on her earpiece, announced that the writer had died. (She also mispronounced his name, and described him as a 'play writer'.) She rapidly corrected this to report that in fact he had won the Nobel Prize for literature. Pinter lived until December 2008. 3147
40 Samuel Taylor Coleridge: in 1816 the writer heard his death mentioned in a hotel by a man reading out a newspaper report of a coroner's inquest. He asked to see the paper, and was told that "it was very extraordinary that Coleridge the poet should have hanged himself just after the success of his play [link]; but he was always a strange mad fellow". Coleridge replied: "Indeed, sir, it is a most extraordinary thing that he should have hanged himself, be the subject of an inquest, and yet that he should at this moment be speaking to you." A man had been cut down from a tree in Hyde Park, and the only identification was that his shirt was marked 'S. T. Coleridge'; Coleridge thought the shirt had probably been stolen from him. Coleridge died in 1834. 3088
41 Abe Vigoda (actor): in 1982, People magazine referred to him as 'the late Abe Vigoda'. He then posed for a photograph showing him sitting up in a coffin, holding the magazine in question. Vigoda claims that during the 1980s the widespread belief that he was dead cost him work. </ref> Erroneous reports of Vigoda's death have become something of a running joke, such as in television sketches. An unofficial web site, [link], continuously provides Vigoda's 'current status' (alive or dead) to avoid doubt in future. 2888
42 Lena Horne, the legendary singer-actress, Entertainment Weekly online did post a premature obit and said that information is to be forthcoming. Horne died on May 9, 2010. 2850
43 Peter Boyle (TV and movie character actor), was briefly and incorrectly declared deceased in 1990, a few weeks following a massive stroke where he was nearly paralyzed and could not move or speak for nearly six months. His incorrect lifespan of 1933-1990 is listed in the book Cult Movie Stars by author Danny Peary (ISBN 0-671-74924-2). Boyle made a complete recovery and continued acting despite multiple and persistant health problems. He died in December 2006. 2828
44 Hoax: when a death is falsely reported as a prank. 2606
45 John Wooden: an online picture gallery of the legendary basketball coach on The Washington Post's website on June 3, 2010 was headlined "John Wooden dies at 99". Wooden was at the time hospitalized in grave condition. Wooden died the next day. 2473
46 Maureen O'Hara: the film actress was listed as dead on the Internet Movie Database in 1998, apparently due to confusion with Maureen O'Sullivan. [link]</ref> 2323
47 Mara Wilson (actress) was listed as dead on the Internet Movie Database in 2000, with the cause being "broken neck". 2285
48 Thuy Trang: who rose to fame in the mid-1990s playing Trini Kwan/The Yellow Ranger in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, was incorrectly reported dead following an automobile accident in 1997. Ironically, Trang did subsequently die in a car accident, four years later. 2266
49 Ken Kesey: in 1966, the author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest faked his own suicide in an attempt to escape drugs charges. He had friends leave his truck and a suicide note on a cliffside road in California, while he fled to Mexico. He later returned to the US, but was arrested and jailed for five months. Kesey died in 2001. 1974
50 Ian Dury (musician), pronounced dead on Xfm radio by Bob Geldof in 1998, possibly due to hoax information from a listener disgruntled at the station's change of ownership. The incident caused music paper NME to call Geldof "the world's worst DJ." Dury died in March, 2000. 1748
51 Jimmy Savile (broadcaster) in 1994, when then-DJ Chris Morris announced on BBC Radio 1 (as a joke) that he had collapsed and died. Savile began legal action against Morris. (See also Michael Heseltine.) 1494
52 Robert Graves: the writer was left for dead in 1916 after receiving life-threatening injuries at the Battle of the Somme. He made a remarkable recovery, and read a report of his death in The Times. Graves died in 1985. 1484
53 William Hung: in 2004, a satirical news report on the Broken Newz web site claiming that the American Idol contestant had died of a heroin overdose was widely believed, forcing Hung to issue a denial. 1215
54 Joshua Chamberlain (American Civil War officer and Governor of Maine): when he was shot through the hip and groin in the 1864 Siege of Petersburg, he was thought to be on the point of death, and so was reported dead by at least one newspaper (perhaps The New York Times). However, he gradually recovered in hospital. Chamberlain was shown the newspaper report 'when they thought he was able to take it', and reportedly 'got a great kick out of seeing his obituary'. He died in 1914. 1161
55 Jeffrey Combs (actor) was confused with a businessman named Jeffrey Coombs who was aboard hijacked American Airlines Flight 11, which crashed into the World Trade Center during the September 11 attacks. Combs the actor was pronounced dead by news media outlets and had to announce publicly that he was still alive. 1071
56 Missing in action: soldiers who go missing in war are sometimes incorrectly declared dead if no body is found. In particular, a number of Japanese soldiers thought to have died in World War II in fact survived – typically hiding in remote jungle for years or even decades, believing that the war had not ended. 989
57 Hiroo Onoda: this Japanese soldier survived for decades in the Philippines jungle, believing that World War II had not ended. Onoda, with three other soldiers who accompanied him for some years, continued to fight the war, killing many local Filipinos. Though numerous attempts were made (e.g., by leaving leaflets) to persuade them that the war was over, every such effort was regarded as an enemy trick. Onoda – who was officially declared dead in 1959 – only gave himself up in 1974 when his commanding officer, who had long since retired from the military and become a bookseller, was sent to the island to order Onoda to surrender. He returned to Japan a national hero, and wrote a book No Surrender: My Thirty-Year War. 913
58 Michael Heseltine MP in 1994, when then-DJ Chris Morris implied on BBC Radio 1 (as a prank) that the British politician had died. This led to an on-air tribute by fellow MP Jerry Hayes (during which Morris managed to make Hayes laugh inappropriately), and Morris' subsequent suspension. (See also Jimmy Savile.) [link], BBC News web site, 27 July 2001.</ref> 894
59 Velupillai Prabhakaran: the Tamil Tiger leader was reported by the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation as being among the dead or missing in the December 2004 tsunami. This was taken by many to suggest that he was specifically dead. The corporation later retracted the report. He was killed in a battle against Sri Lankan Army troops in May 2009. 876
60 Jerry Mathers: rumours that the Leave it to Beaver actor had been killed in Vietnam spread to newspapers by December 1969. (Claims that Associated Press and United Press International put out the story, and that it arose from confusion with the death of another soldier called Mathers, appear to be false.) 861
61 James Brady, White House Press Secretary, was shot in the head in the 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. Three hours later, amid confusion about the extent of his injuries, all three U.S. broadcast TV networks erroneously announced that Brady had died, triggering an on-air outburst by ABC News anchor Frank Reynolds when the information was revealed incorrect. This led to greater subsequent caution about issuing death reports during rapidly-developing situations. [link], TIME magazine, 25 May 1981.</ref> 848
62 Rodger Bumpass (voice actor), reported in August 2006 to have died during heart surgery, by Jonesboro, Arkansas station KAIT, the Internet Movie Database, and Arkansas State University's newsletter. This was apparently due to confusion with the 2005 death of a (differently spelled) Roger Bumpass. 783
63 Khushwant Singh: an English writer of India wrote his own obituary in his mid twenties while he worked in Undivided India at Lahore. The title he chose for his obituary; Posthumous. 721
64 Frank Gorshin (The Riddler from Batman): in 1957, after driving to a screen test for 39 hours without a break to avoid having to fly, the actor fell asleep at the wheel and crashed. A Los Angeles newspaper reported him dead. Gorshin was unconscious for four days, and the role went to another actor. Gorshin died in May 2005. 717
65 Kimo Leopoldo, mixed martial arts fighter, was the subject of numerous premature obituaries on July 21, 2009. Internet reports that Leopoldo had died after complications from a heart attack late in the evening on July 20 were picked up and republished by a large number of mainstream media outlets, including The Huffington Post, TMZ, The New York Daily News, The Orange County Register, and USA Today. Medina, Mark. " [link]", The Los Angeles Times, July 22, 2009.</ref> 695
66 Impostor: when an ordinary person who for years has passed himself off to family and friends as a retired minor celebrity dies, it can prompt an erroneous obituary for the real (but still-living) celebrity. 665
67 Jayaprakash Narayan: while hospitalized in March 1979, the politician's death was erroneously announced by India's prime minister, causing a brief wave of national mourning, including the suspension of parliament and regular radio broadcasting, and closure of schools and shops. The mistake arose when the director of the Intelligence Bureau saw a body looking like Narayan being carried from hospital. Narayan died in October, 1979. 600
68 Ali Hassan al-Majid was supposed dead in , after British and US officials reported that he had died in an air strike in Basra; al-Majid had been seen going into the building that was attacked, and corpses of his bodyguards were positively identified, though there was less certainty about the identity of al-Majid's supposed corpse. After obituaries of the Iraqi general, politician and first-cousin of Saddam Hussein were published in many newspapers, reports then circulated that he had escaped by boat, and subsequently been seen joking with staff in a hospital in Baghdad. Al-Majid was captured several months later, and sentenced to death in for war crimes. {{Cite news 589
69 Eduardo Paolozzi: the artist's death was incorrectly reported in a magazine when he suffered a near-fatal stroke in 2001. He died in 2005. 568
70 Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (historian): his death was referred to in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on 29 November 2005. The newspaper retracted the reference on 2 December, saying, "We are embarrassed but happy for Mr Schlesinger." Schlesinger died February 28, 2007. 496
71 Shoichi Yokoi: trapped on Guam when U.S. troops recaptured it near the end of World War II, this Japanese soldier lived in an underground cave in the jungle until 1972, believing that the war had not ended and that leaflets reporting Japan's surrender were enemy propaganda. He had been reported killed in action. On his return home, Yokoi was treated as a national hero for his extreme tenacity and loyalty. However, he felt he had not served the Emperor and army adequately, saying "It is with much embarrassment that I have returned alive" – which instantly became a popular saying in Japan. Yokoi's experiences enabled him to become a television commentator on survival skills. His discovery also prompted a search for other missing Japanese soldiers such as Hiroo Onoda. 473
72 Slim Whitman: the country singer was reported dead in January 2008 by a radio DJ and by the Nashville Tennessean<nowiki>'</nowiki>s website, apparently sparked by rumours he had died. "It seems like every 10 years something weird happens like that", he said; in a previous strange incident, a song of Whitman's was used to repel invading aliens in the film Mars Attacks! 424
73 Thomas Menino: as an April Fool's Day prank in 1998, shock jocks Opie and Anthony claimed on WAAF-FM radio that the Boston mayor had died in a car accident. Several local media outlets picked up on the story and reported it as true, causing a media firestorm that eventually led to the pair being fired. However, fan support resulted in Opie & Anthony getting a job in New York. 392
74 Lucien Bouchard: the former Quebec premier (who had been seriously ill) was reported dead by CTV in September 2005. The network began broadcasting a live tribute to the politician, but cut it short with a sheepish confirmation that he was in fact alive, blaming Radio-Canada for the error. CTV and Radio-Canada continued to blame each other thereafter. 363
75 Gordon Gee: in March 2003 the then- Vanderbilt University president was declared dead by a fake edition of the university's student newspaper The Vanderbilt Hustler, sparking early dismissal from classes, tears, and moments of silence. Gee issued a press release confirming he was still alive. The hoax was perpetrated by staff from a separate student satirical magazine The Slant, whose managing editor would only say: "I have the right to remain silent, and I am exercising my right of silence". 320
76 Adam Rich: the television actor was reported to have been murdered in a 1996 tribute issue of Might magazine. It was all an elaborate hoax by the magazine's editor Dave Eggers in collusion with Rich, and was intended to satirize the media exploitation of stars who die young. 320
77 George Monbiot (environmentalist and writer) was once declared clinically dead in Lodwar General Hospital in north-western Kenya after contracting cerebral malaria. He recovered. 315
78 Lincoln Hall, an Australian mountaineer who in May 2006 became confused from altitude sickness while descending from the summit of Mount Everest. A rescue attempt was abandoned after several hours when Hall was reported to have died. However, he was discovered alive the following morning and rescued. 298
79 Terri Schiavo: a draft of the brain damaged patient's obituary accidentally appeared briefly on CBS's web site on March 28, 2005, in advance of her death. Schiavo died on March 31, 2005 after removal of life support on March 18, 2005. 296
80 Lal Bihari, Indian founder of the Association of the Dead, an organisation which highlights the plight of people in Uttar Pradesh who are incorrectly declared dead by relatives in order to steal their land, usually in collusion with corrupt officials. Bihari himself was officially dead from 1976 to 1994 as a result of his uncle's attempt to acquire his land. Among various attempts to publicize his situation and demonstrate that he was alive, he stood for election against Rajiv Gandhi in 1989 (and lost). He was awarded the Ig Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for his 'posthumous' activities. [link], TIME magazine (Asia), 19 July 1999.</ref> 294
81 Lonnie Mack, the rock guitarist best known as the founder of the blues-rock guitar genre, was lamented as recently deceased in the Foreword to the 1997 book, Rock Music in American Popular Culture. Although rarely seen in recent years, the notoriously reclusive Mack was still very much alive, and performed as a headliner at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as recently as November 15, 2008. 254
82 Alan Whicker (journalist), while reporting on the Korean War. He was flying with an aerial spotter in a Piper Aztec plane behind enemy lines, as part of a story. Though his plane landed safely, a similar craft was shot down on the same day, and was assumed to be Whicker's plane. The resulting newspaper obituary commented on his lack of achievement (Whicker then being far less well-known than he is now). 250
83 Larry Kramer: in December 2001, the gay rights activist was reported dead by Associated Press following a liver transplant. 249
84 Friedrich Gulda (pianist), who in 1999 faxed the Austrian News Agency claiming he had died of a stroke at Zurich airport. Shortly afterwards he announced he was still alive and would be giving a 'Resurrection Recital', which was accompanied by go-go dancers (he often played pranks to annoy the musical establishment). 216
85 Harry Mulisch: On August 6, 2009, the Dutch writer was falsely declared dead by a Dutch Teletext service, after which some news websites took over the news 215
86 Rich Williams, guitarist in the band Kansas, whose obituary was published in a number of New England newspapers after the death of Eric de Boer of Kingston, New Hampshire. de Boer had been impersonating Williams for decades, claiming that after returning from Vietnam (where he had been held as a POW) he had joined Kansas, using the name "Rich Williams" as a stage name. The real Williams wrote in an e-mail sent to The Topeka Capital-Journal that he had known about the impersonation for five years and thought it was "really wacky stuff", but added that he respected de Boer for his service in Vietnam. It was later discovered that there was no evidence that de Boer had ever been in the military, let alone that he had been a Vietnam POW. 199
87 Francesca Ciardi: see Luca Barbareschi 198
88 Alan Abel reported his own death in a skiing accident as an elaborate hoax on New Years Day, to get his obituary published in The New York Times. {{Cite news 189

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