Hope, who was 95 at the time, was eating breakfast when he heard the news and had a good laugh about it. He would live to celebrate his 100th birthday before passing away.
"The media is very focused on celebrities. They typically begin preparing obits before a star passes away, and these advanced obits sometimes reach the public before they are intended to be released," Mann says.
"But in these days of blogging, it's very easy for a baseless rumor to run wild. In the old days, people would start speculating that a celebrity was dead simply because they'd been involved in controversy or weren't looking well. Now, with the Internet, you can tell 20,000 people or more in a single flash. Whitney Houston has been reported dead many times."
The report of Ferrell's death -- a clear hoax -- represents a different matter. It was a deliberate attempt to deceive the public with a false press release. As devious as it was, however, it wasn't unprecedented.
Last January John Basedow, famous for his "Fitness Made Simple" infomercials, had reportedly died in Thailand, where he was vacationing during the tsunami. The story, published on PRWeb, was quickly retracted, and he's still pumping iron.
The annals of dead wrong death rumors are indeed thick, but here are a few of the strangest:
1. Paul McCartney -- Conspiracy theorists ran wild in the late 1960s, chasing rumors that Paul McCartney had died and the surviving Beatles were covering it up to keep the band together. According to one rumor, John Lennon is whispering, "I buried Paul," at the end of "Strawberry Fields Forever." To others, it sounded as if Lennon was saying "I'm very bored," although Lennon later claimed it might have been "cranberry sauce."
The Paul is Dead rumor led many fans to play the song, "Revolution #9" backward. Some claimed they could hear a mysterious chilling voice muttering, "Turn me on, dead man." Others simply damaged their record players.
McCartney finally felt compelled to let people know he was alive. "Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated," he told Life magazine in November 1969, paraphrasing Mark Twain. "However, if I was dead, I'm sure I'd be the last to know."
2. Bobby McFerrin -- If you haven't heard a lot of the man who sang "Don't Worry, Be Happy," it isn't because he committed suicide. According to rumors spread by e-mail in the early '90s, the one-hit wonder took his own life. Perhaps it was all started by people who just assumed that no one could really be that happy.
3. Scott Baio -- The headline could have been "Joanie Mourns Chachi," but thankfully, the Internet rumor never got that far. But it wasn't so funny in 1999 when a misleading e-mail reached his family. "My parents called me, crying," Baio told The New York Times Magazine. "They heard it from my brother, who heard it on the radio. And they're crying, and I'm thinking, 'Someone died in my family!' Little did I know it was me."
4. Jared Fogel -- The former 425-pounder who shot to fame in 1998 with the "subway diet" was rumored to have turned into a cocaine fiend. Jared Fogel subsequently poked fun of the swirling controversy on a 2002 episode of "South Park" called "Jared has AIDS"
5. William Hung -- The "American Idol" reject became a novelty song sensation with his cringe-inducing version of "She Bangs." But just as his career was built on a national joke, rumors of his death were created in jest.