Will Ferrell is not 36 years old, he's not a graduate of the University of California, and he's not dead. After a press release riddled with mistakes reported his death two weeks ago, the only ones grieving are the ones who sent flowers.
In the latest celebrity death hoax, the 38-year-old comic reportedly died in a paragliding accident. The March 14 report, posted on the iNewswire Web site, was quickly withdrawn, but not before creating a small tremor in the Hollywood media.
"Not much to say other than we heard and read about it this morning and reacted accordingly," says Matthew Labov, Ferrell's publicist, who reported that Ferrell is in Canada shooting a movie. "There was no point in trying to track [the source] down as it was obviously a hoax."
It's unlikely we'll ever know who is responsible. INewswire says the story was posted by someone using a Web address that can't be traced. And Airtek Paragliding -- the company Ferrell reportedly hired for a thrill ride -- also claims it was punk'd.
"I have no knowledge of Will Ferrell paragliding," says Airtek president Josh Meyers.
And so, one more celebrity death rumor is put to rest, only until the next one comes along.
You can blame the media, you can blame the Internet, and you can blame a society that is hopelessly obsessed with its stars. But the twisted tradition of death hoaxing has a long history.
And even when a star is actually dead, the details are so often twisted to make the story more dramatic.
Jerry Mathers -- the cute kid on "Leave It To Beaver" -- didn't die in Vietnam as many believe. Mathers, now 57, did serve in the Air Force National Guard during the war and in his 1998 biography, he says someone with his name did die in combat, and he's been explaining that in interviews ever since. If you need living proof, Mathers even makes an appearance in the new film "Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector."
Likewise, it was easy for the public to believe that 250-pound singer "Mama" Cass Elliot of the Mamas and the Papas died after choking on a ham sandwich. She actually suffered a heart attack.
The news media is often blamed when death rumors get started, and that's often the case. But often, these rumors take on an unstoppable life of their own.
"People magazine mentioned in passing that Abe Vigoda was dead, and 25 years later, he's 85 and still laughing about it," says Laurie Mann, who runs the Internet's Dead People Server, which includes a database of celebrities who've been erroneously reported dead.
Mann's list includes such luminaries as James Earl Jones. When a Pittsburgh sports announcer heard that James Earl Ray had died, he immediately confused him with the man best known as the voice of Darth Vader. Nevertheless, Jones is 75, and the force is still strong with him.
Such mistakes are not uncommon. Tom Bosley, the TV actor known to many as Mr. Cunningham on "Happy Days" has been confused with David Doyle, who played Bosley on "Charlie's Angels." Bosley is a robust 78, but the man who played "Bosley" died in 1997.
Perhaps the most famous media gaffe came in 1998, when several news organizations reported briefly that Bob Hope was dead. Before it could be corrected, the erroneous report reached Congress, and Rep. Bob Stump of Arizona made the announcement on the House floor, with the proceedings broadcast across the country via CSPAN.