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Home > Bizarre > Premature obituaries

Premature obituaries have various causes, such as hoaxes or mix-ups over names, and they usually produce great embarrassment or sometimes more dramatic consequences for the publisher. Here is a collection of some of the most notable premature obituaries that have been published over the years.

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1) Onoda-young

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.

Onoda-young

2) Steve Jobs

On 27 August 2008 Bloomberg accidentally published a 17-page obituary of Apple CEO Steve Jobs. 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".

steve jobs death
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3) Whitney Cerak

Whitney Cerak was mistakenly identified as another person, following a car accident that killed five people on Interstate 69 in Indiana. Cerak was misidentified as Laura Van Ryn, a fellow student from Taylor University, following an accident on April 26, 2006. Both of them were in a van that violently collided with a semi-trailer, killing five people and critically injuring four others. Due to the severity of the injuries which included severe head trauma as well as some physical similarities between the two women, Cerak was taken care of by the Van Ryn family in the belief that she was their daughter. (Meanwhile, Van Ryn was buried in a grave with Cerak's name on it.) Suspicions were only aroused when during her recovery in the hospital, VanRyn started making strange comments and using names wrongly. When concerned hospital staff asked for her name, she wrote 'Whitney Cerak', which was confirmed by dental records. Photograph: Left: Lauea VanRyn Right: Whitney Cerak.

whitney cerak

4) Marcus Garvey

Marcus Garvey, the journalist, entrepreneur, and Black Nationalist who founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League, suffered his first stroke in January 1940 at the age of 52. After hearing this and presuming his death, the Chicago Defender published his obituary, which turned out to be quite negative, (they said he died "broke, alone and unpopular". Upon reading this during his recovery, Marcus suffered a second stroke and died.

marcus garvey

5) Paul McCartney

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.

Paul McCartney dead

6) James Brady

Brady was among those shot during John Hinckley, Jr.'s March 30, 1981, assassination attempt on Reagan, suffering a serious head wound. During the confusion that followed after the shooting, all major media outlets erroneously reported that Brady had died. Later, when ABC News anchorman Frank Reynolds (a friend of Brady's) was forced to retract the report, he angrily stated on-air to his staff, "C'mon, let's get it nailed down!" — resulting in Ted Koppel joining him after commercial. During the hours-long operation, surgeon Dr. Arthur Kobrine was informed of the media's announcement of Brady's death, to which he retorted, "No one has told me and the patient." Although Brady survived, the wound left him partially paralyzed for life; he requires the full-time use of a wheelchair. Brady was unable to continue as Ronald Reagan's press secretary, but he retained that title for the duration of Reagan's presidency.

james brady

7) Luca Barbareschi

Luca Barbareschi was one of four actors whom the Italian police believed had been murdered while making the 1980 horror film Cannibal Holocaust. The film was so realistic that shortly after it was released its director, Ruggero Deodato, was arrested for murder. The actors had signed contracts to stay out of the media for a year in order to fuel rumours that the film was a snuff film, and the court was only convinced they were alive when the contracts were cancelled and the actors appeared on a television show as proof.

Luca Barbareschi

8) Frank Gorshin

Frank Gorshin, best known for his role as The Riddler in the 1966 film "Batman: The Movie", was in 1957, after driving to a screen test for 39 hours without a break to avoid having to fly, fell asleep at the wheel through exhaustion 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.

frank gorshin

9) 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; 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.

SamuelTaylorColeridge

10) Harry Gordon

In 2000, this Australian businessman faked his own death in a boating accident so his wife could claim a fortune in life insurance, though he claimed it was to evade business and relationship problems. He assumed a new identity and fled to Spain, then to England (where he worked in a potato crisp warehouse), South Africa, and New Zealand. He explained gaps in his past to a new girlfriend by telling her he was on a witness protection programme. He was discovered in 2005 and later jailed when, by extraordinary coincidence, his brother encountered him on a mountain path in New Zealand. Gordon published a book about his exploits, titled How I Faked My Own Death.

Harry Gordon
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