I See Dead People
(Or do I put too much stock in what I read on the Internet?)
In a classic illustration of how rumors and hearsay work, Mark Twain described in his autobiography how news that a cousin was dying quickly metamorphosed into the "scoop" that Twain himself was dead. His response became instantly famous: "The report of my death was an exaggeration."
Were he alive today, Twain would probably be amused to observe how, in the Internet age, celebrities are confronted by "news" of their own demise on a regular basis. Examples over the past few years have included Bob Hope (who actually did pass away in 2003), Scott Baio, Steve Burns and rap artist Eminem.
And the premature obituaries just keep coming. For example:
One of the items in my inbox this week was a terse note from a reader, asking: "Is Bill Nye the Science Guy dead?"
I was taken aback. I thought everyone was aware by now that the plucky kids' show host was tragically killed last year in a massive vinegar and baking soda explosion. Nye had reportedly performed the same experiment many times on a smaller scale without incident, but this time it produced fatal results.
I'm kidding. And so was the satirical Net newspaper The Onion when it published the "news" of Nye's passing in August 2000. Though the story was plainly tongue-in-cheek, it was apparently the source of subsequent rumors.
For the record, Mr. Nye is just fine. You can watch him on Noggin TV.
I got this curious note a couple of weeks back:
I think I read something in my local newspaper yesterday (I threw it out by mistake) that mentioned a rumor about Bill Gates - that he was supposedly dead. Can't find anything on your website about it, just wanted to know if this is a rumor you have heard?
Followed a few days later by this:
Have I been in the dark or was Bill Gates (as in Microsoft) really killed last year? I am a busy mother of three and I work out of my home. I don't have a lot of time to listen to the evening news. I can't believe I didn't hear something about his death if it is true and you would be the ones to know if something is true or not. Thanks.
After a solid five minutes of Internet research, I've come to the conclusion that the pressing question is not "Is Bill Gates dead?" but rather "Who killed him?"