List of premature obituaries

This is a dynamic list and may never be able to satisfy particular standards for completeness. You can help by expanding it with reliably sourced entries.
Pope John Paul II was the subject of three premature obituaries.

A premature obituary is an obituary published whose subject is not actually deceased at the time of publication. Examples of premature obituaries include that of arms manufacturer Alfred Nobel, whose premature obituary condemning him as a "merchant of death" may have caused him to create the Nobel Prize;[1] black nationalist Marcus Garvey, whose actual death was apparently caused by reading his own obituary;[2] and actor Abe Vigoda, who was the subject of so many premature obituaries that a website was created to state whether he was alive or dead.

This article lists the recipients of incorrect death reports (not just formal obituaries) from publications, media organisations, official bodies, and widely used information sources such as the Internet Movie Database; but not mere rumours of deaths, nor reports from sites which feature automated death hoax stories designed to draw in page clicks from specific web searches. People who were presumed (though not categorically declared) to be dead, and joke death reports that were widely believed, are also included.


Each premature obituary listed below has one of the following causes (where the cause is known):




Fidel Castro, inaccurately described by CNN as 'lifeguard, athlete, movie star'.


Graffiti on Fats Domino's home from his rumored death during Hurricane Katrina.
Drusus Julius Caesar: A premature poem in his memory led to the poet's execution.




Marcus Garvey died after reading his own obituary.


  1. In 1998 his obituary appeared on the Associated Press web site, leading to the announcement of his death in the United States House of Representatives, broadcast live on C-SPAN.[135][136]
  2. In the 2003 incident. Hope's draft obituary, which had used the Queen Mother's as a template, described him as 'Queen Consort' and the 'UK's favorite grandmother'. Hope died just three months later.
  1. In September 1995 a government press spokesman announced that Humphrey was presumed dead, as he had been missing since June. After the ensuing publicity, he was found to be alive and residing in the nearby Royal Army Medical College where he had been taken in as a stray. A statement was issued quoting Humphrey as saying: "I have had a wonderful holiday at the Royal Army Medical College, but it is nice to be back and I am looking forward to the new parliamentary session."[139]
  2. In November 1997, there were media allegations that Cherie Blair disliked the cat so much that she had had him killed; the government claimed he had merely gone into retirement away from the public spotlight. In Parliament, Alan Clark MP demanded that the government prove Humphrey was still alive. As a result, the government released photographs of Humphrey posing with the day's newspapers as proof.[140] Humphrey's actual death was announced by Tony Blair March 2006.[141]





A death hoax website reported false news of Lee Kuan Yew's death.


Paul McCartney was reported dead on American radio in 1969.


Alfred Nobel bequeathed his fortune to institute the Nobel Prizes after reading a damning premature obituary






Mark Twain: "The report of my death was an exaggeration".
  1. In 1897 when a journalist was sent to inquire after Twain's health, thinking he was near death; in fact it was his cousin who was very ill. Though (contrary to popular belief) no obituary was published, Twain recounted the event in the New York Journal of 2 June 1897, including his famous words "The report of my death was an exaggeration" (which is usually misquoted, e.g. as "The rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated", or "Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated").[280][281]
  2. On 4 May 1907, when people lost track of a yacht he was traveling on, the New York Times published an article saying he might have been lost at sea.[282] In fact, the yacht had been held up by fog, and Twain had disembarked. Twain read the article, and cleared up the story by writing a humorous account in the New York Times the following day.[283]
Twain died in 1910.



Erroneous reports of the death of Abe Vigoda became a running joke




The incident

CNN's obituary of Dick Cheney, identifying him as the "UK's favorite grandmother".

Multiple premature obituaries came to light on 16 April 2003, when it was discovered that pre-written draft memorials to several world figures were available on the development area of the CNN website without requiring a password (and may have been accessible for some time before).[325] The pages included tributes to Fidel Castro, Dick Cheney, Nelson Mandela, Bob Hope, Gerald Ford, Pope John Paul II, and Ronald Reagan (all of which claim they died in 2001).

Some of these obituaries contained fragments taken from others, particularly from Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother's obituary, which had apparently been used as a template. Dick Cheney for example was described as the 'UK's favorite grandmother', the site noted the Pope's 'love of racing', and described Castro as 'lifeguard, athlete, movie star' (a reference to Ronald Reagan). Though the Queen Mother was already dead, in an unrelated incident she had previously received a premature obituary of her own.

Premature obituaries in fiction

See also


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