Has Willie Nelson died? That’s the question fans are asking after a years-old rumor surfaced yet again in late May 2017. The answer is still the same, however: Willie Nelson is not dead (at least, not as of the time these words are being written). Heck, Willie Nelson will probably never die, he’ll just kind of fade into a cloud of marijuana smoke.
As Snopes reported, Willie Nelson appears to be a frequent target of death rumors and hoaxes. It’s understandable: the guy is 84 years old, for Pete’s sake. And he’s got some miles on him. Any report of his death is easily believable. And in 2015, a fake news story got the ball rolling on what would become a semi-regular thing – that is, alleging that Nelson had died when in fact he’s still very much alive.
Back in February 2015, shysters using the website MSNBC.co (which is just one letter off from a real news site, MSNBC.com, causing confusion in the readers, as was the plan), got the rumors rolling. A few weeks later, in what might possibly be the most meta thing that ever happened, the same website rehashed the fake story, while at the same time mentioning the previous rumors that that very website had promoted.
“Rumors of Nelson’s death first circulated early April 11, 2015 on social media outlets…”
— Live For Live Music (@L4LM) May 17, 2017
The story wasn’t true in 2015, and it wasn’t true again in April 2017, when the rumors surfaced again.
At the time, the hoax amused the heck out of Willie himself, who wrote a song about it, entitled “Still Not Dead.”
“Well I woke up still not dead again today. The internet said I had passed away. But if I died, I wasn’t dead to stay.”
So why does Willie Nelson continue to pop up as the target of celebrity death rumors? Two reasons: believability combined with the ease in which shysters can peddle fake news. In other words, if someone told you that someone you know – someone who was comfortably in their middle 80’s and who had consumed mountains of drugs and rivers of whisky in their life – had died, you’d be inclined to believe it without question. Combine that with a link that contains parts of a legitimate news organization – in this case MSNBC – plus some careful spoofing of the real news organizations fonts, masthead, and website layout, and you’ve got a pretty convincing fake news story.
Willie Nelson, Whoopi Goldberg to launch pot brands in California https://t.co/5bHIlEhCEN pic.twitter.com/U3ruoIvgvf
— SFGate (@SFGate) February 25, 2017
There is another component to the celebrity death-hoax phenomenon, and it extends beyond fake news and into the realms of quantum physics and philosophy, and it’s called The Mandela Effect.
Named for former South African president Nelson Mandela, the Mandela Effect refers to the fact that millions of people around the world swear up and down that they remember hearing about Mandela dying in a South African prison in the 1980s. The problem is, Nelson Mandela did not die in a South African prison in the 1980s. He was released from prison in 1990, went on to serve as president of South Africa in the 1990s, and died in 2013, at the age of 95, of a respiratory infection.
The psychological explanation for this phenomenon is false memory. But to philosophers and physicists, perhaps there’s more to it.
Imagine that, instead of one universe, there are an infinite number of parallel universes, and each time something happens, a new parallel universe manifests based on the result of that thing happening. So, for example, maybe in one parallel universe, Nelson Mandela really did die in a South African prison in the 1980s. And you and I live in a universe where it didn’t happen, but people who insist that they remember it live in a universe where it did happen. And when you cross paths with such a person, you are standing at the intersection (metaphorically, of course), of two parallel universes.
So maybe in a parallel universe, Willie Nelson really did die. But not in this one.
[Featured Image by Jason Davis/Getty Images for SiriusXM]