Why Do Celebrity Death Hoaxes Fascinate Us?

Or are death hoaxes hoaxes

Created by Anu Anniah using Canva

It is a strange global phenomenon — this penchant to declare ailing or healthy celebrities as dead while they are still alive and kicking. Why do we do that?

What morbid fascination do we share with so many other humans in proclaiming someone as dead before they are? This happens all the time with poor celebrities. Some folks have been in and out of hospitals, well-recovered, but have been declared dead on social media so often that they might not believe it even if they really died. A strange case of wolf! wolf!

I have not quoted specific cases or listed any celebrity names in this article because, hey, haven’t they died enough already?

Death hoaxes are rampant across the world. Celebrities are usually unwitting targets. Maybe it is just easier to virtually kill off a celebrity. Or maybe no one cares if a non-celebrity dies. But poor celebrities have it hard. Some actors have had to release news reports with photos and videos confirming that they are indeed alive and well to calm their grieving fans. Imagine facing news of one’s death and then having to prove that in fact, you are alive. A double-whammy!

Recently, the Kannada film industry lost a favorite young actor. It was pretty shocking and unbelievable because he seemed perfectly fine until the time he collapsed with a massive heart attack. An upcoming celebrity posted the news on her Twitter account with her condolence message. Nothing wrong, right? She got trolled by tons of the young actor’s fans. She had posted the news before his death was confirmed on official news channels. Fans were aghast that she could have been so callous. But this is probably a one-off reaction. More often than not, fans jump on the bandwagon and bemoan the death of a star long before there is official confirmation. This reaction to the news was an aberration to the pattern.

Some folks seem to revel in fabricating celebrity deaths. Maybe that’s their hobby. I read about a guy who runs a website that allows people to manufacture such death hoaxes. You can create juicy news of the death of your favorite celebrity and also pick 4–5 fascinating ways in which they died. XYZ fell off a cliff and died is apparently the top pick. What? The news story looks authentic, is posted on the site, and has microscopic text at the bottom claiming that the news is a hoax. The site garners a lot of traffic, naturally.

Then there are those self-appointed superspreaders whose job it is to take the news forward. I am guilty of that too. As soon as I hear about a celebrity death, I HAVE to tell someone. Usually, it is someone at home so I don’t really start a global rumor mill. But not everyone keeps it inside the house.

When a famous Tamil actress passed away a few years ago, we called random aunts, old acquaintances, and such like to discuss the news. We knew the actress because we watched her movies. There is no personal connection. She did not know us from Adam. Yet, she passed on and we had so much to talk about? Wow!

One actress (who is no more) had been killed by rumor mills several times in the past. Strong woman that she was, she survived those attempts and finally succumbed to some vague illness. Can you imagine how she must have felt every time she read or received news of her death? Did folks call her direct number and ask, “Hey, are you still alive?” Did she feel pressured to die at once? Did she check her pulse? Did she think she was in some surreal parallel world where dead people go? How did she prove to herself that she was still alive? When she finally died, did she feel any different?

I watched a show where a small bomb goes off at an office and everyone escapes unhurt. But one of them is not so sure. She wonders if they are dead but trapped at the scene. Do death hoax victims feel like that?

Suppose you are a celebrity and you are chilling at home with your feet up on your favorite pouffe, a glass of wine in hand, and watching the late evening news. Suddenly you hear your name on the news, see some hazy photos from long ago, and find out that you are dead. You died a couple of hours ago, apparently. How would that scene unfurl? You look at your cat. But cats can see dead people, and you find the cat staring unblinkingly at you. That doesn’t tell you anything at all. It scares you.

You think about calling a friend. But you hesitate. What if she can’t hear you, you being dead and all. You finally give yourself up to fate. Whatever happens to the dead will happen. Maybe the angels will come in a bit to cart you off. Meanwhile your phone rings. You answer, and oh such a blessing, you can hear and be heard by the other person. They confirm that you are alive since they can hear you. Relief washes over you. You finish the entire bottle of wine and pass out. Your assistant comes in the morning, sees your passed-out self, and raises an alarm. Neighbors hear the ruckus and information leaks out that you may be dead, again.

I always wonder how celebrities face this aspect of stardom — this constant urge of fans and foes to see you dead. This weird fetish to discuss celebrity deaths.

Are celebrities in on it? Is it a ticket to instant fame?

“Hello? Is it the death hoax service? Can you run a news item about my death, please? My ratings are low currently. I could use some publicity.”

“We can run a video of me trying to cope with the angst of reading about my death a day later.”

“What overkill? I’ve died only two times so far in my entire career. MNX has died 4 times already. If she can die 4 times, why can’t I? Now please run the news.”

Who knows the intricacies of celebrity deaths and death hoaxes?

Psst: Did you hear? PQR has been in the ICU for 3 days now. He may even be dead already. Apparently, all footage of him attending events is fake just to keep fans from getting hysterical. One of the nurses at the hospital is my aunt’s neighbor’s driver’s wife’s sister.

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