Reality television star Austin Russell, better known as Chumlee of ‘Pawn Stars’ fame, is the latest victim of Hollywood’s constant obsession: the celebrity death hoax. It is a tool that makes the most of social media, with one falsified story able to spread across all social mediums at a breakneck pace, garnering thousands upon thousands of reads before anybody is able to confirm whether said celebrity is, in fact, dead.
This has been going on for years, and has become more and more common. A particular point of interest is that certain celebrities seem to be repeatedly targeted for the hoax: Jeff Goldblum has died while filming in New Zealand in both 2009 and 2012. Natalie Portman and Tom Hanks have also been the victims of fatal clumsiness, with both of their deaths being reported under the same circumstances and in the same location: New Zealand. Chumlee’s death was attributed to a heart attack, possibly as a result of rapid weight loss, verified by a dubious doctor, and the article took social media platforms by storm.
One of the most ludicrous examples of a celebrity death rumor happened in the spring of 2013, when the real death of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher led to serious confusion about the possible death of American singer Cher. How did this hoax happen? With a misread hashtag, as reported by the International Business Times.
Thankfully, Austin Russell is alive and well, and Jeff Goldblum has yet to actually fall to his death on a film set. Despite the fact that tabloids are known to be an unreliable news source, they are able to fuel not only online publication, but paper publications (a growing financial struggle for even the most reputable news sources) with this never-ending mix of rumor, speculation and complete falsehood. The irony of the celebrity death hoax is that it is, in fact, becoming an immortal tool – a quick, surefire way to stir up social media and get the readers rolling in. As dishonest as it may be, it is successful every time. After all, Jeff Goldblum’s death has happened the same way two or three times, but the hoax keeps coming back!
The question then becomes: if this trick seems to be part of the toolkit, instead of celebrity denial upon the emergence of such a rumor, why not turn the tool on its head? If a star’s show or film seems to be faltering, if the press becomes disinterested and drifts away, it could easily be led back – even if only for a short period of time – by the celebrity covertly releasing such a story themselves. Of course, if it came back that they had participated in such dishonesty, there would be backlash. But as the tabloids have proven over and over, if you just give it some time, and possibly do something else a little crazy, all thoughts of credibility will be forgotten as we voraciously read the latest scandal.
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