The Willie Nelson death hoax is back. It seems like every weekend for the past couple of months, search engines such as Google have recorded a spike in searches for the phrase “Willie Nelson death” or similar phrases, and this weekend is no exception.
Before this article progresses any further, here’s the answer to the question on everyone’s mind: Willie Nelson is not dead. He is, as of the time of this writing, very much alive and is, in fact, poking fun at the death hoaxes. But more on that in a few paragraphs.
The recurring Willie Nelson death hoax, according to Snopes, seems to have originated from a 2015 fake news article. In February of that year, 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, the same website rehashed the fake story, while at the same time mentioning the previous rumors that that very website had promoted.
The story wasn’t true in 2015, and it wasn’t true again in April 2017, when the rumors surfaced again. Nor was it true on any weekend in May 2017, nor is it today, this first weekend of June 2017. In fact, Willie Nelson will probably never die – he’ll just sort of evaporate into a cloud of marijuana smoke.
— MICHAEL TAYLOR (@maddogblues) May 31, 2017
Willie, for his part, is having a great laugh at the death rumors, and even wrote a song about it, entitled “Still Not Dead.”
“I woke up still not dead again today.
The internet said I had passed away.”
So why does Willie Nelson continue to pop up as the target of celebrity death rumors?
One reason is believability. If someone told you that a young, healthy celebrity in the prime of their life – say, Harry Styles or Ariana Grande – had died, you’d be inclined to check it out and see what happened for yourself. But if someone told you that an 84-year-old man – one who had consumed mountains of drugs and rivers of whisky (Willie Nelson? Whisky River? Get it?) – had died, you’d be inclined to believe it without question.
— Detra _Tenor (@Detra_Tenor) June 4, 2017
Sharing memes, news stories, and other ideas on social media without users first checking them out is one of the main reasons these things take on a life of their own. So, yeah, you’re doing the right thing in reading this article and checking things out for yourself first.
Another reason these hoaxes propagate and gain traction has to do with how purveyors of fake news can disguise themselves as legitimate news organizations – in this case MSNBC. Carefully imitate the real news organization’s fonts, masthead, and website layout, and you’ve got a pretty convincing fake news story.
There is, of course, another component to the spread of hoaxes and rumors, and it’s a psychological one (and, depending on whom you ask, a metaphysical one). It’s called The Mandela Effect. Basically, it works like this: across the world, millions of people are convinced of things that simply aren’t true. The biggest example, and the one for which the effect is named, is the belief that Nelson Mandela died in a South African prison in the 1980’s. He didn’t; he was released from prison and even served as President of South Africa in the 1990’s, and died in 2013 at the age of 95. But people around the world are convinced he died in the 80’s.
So, applying the Mandela Effect to Willie Nelson, there must be some number of people across the world who are convinced they read or heard somewhere that Willie Nelson died.
But he didn’t; unless he died at some point during the time this writer started typing the words of this article and the time you read it, Willie Nelson is still very much alive.
[Featured Image by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Essential Broadcast Media]