We’re all sick of death hoaxes. I think it’s safe to make that statement. They’re not funny, they’re not clever, and they achieve nothing. There have been so many celebrity death hoaxes in recent years that when a famous figure actually does die, it takes two or three days for the media to convince people it’s true.
But what about the times when celebrities have managed to deceive us with a hoax?
You wouldn’t think that deceiving the public would be met with a positive response but these 10 examples prove the best way to create buzz around a subject is to just start lying about everything until you’ve dug yourself into a troubling hole that you can’t get out of.
If no one likes your music, just tell everyone that your songs are old Elvis Presley B-sides no one’s ever heard before and you managed to find them in some old archives tucked away somewhere. By the time anyone calls you on it, your album will be number 1 on the charts and you’ll never have a problem selling concert tickets again!
Whether it’s sitting down for a televised interview in front of millions of people in character for a film no one knows about yet, publishing a book and then telling the media it’s the worst book ever written, or pretending that the lead in a play about kidnapping has actually been kidnapped, these are the most outrageous hoaxes ever pulled off for the sake of publicity or humor.
10. The Invention Of “Allegra Coleman”
You might know this woman as Ali Larter, the actress from Heroes and movies like Legally Blonde, House on Haunted Hill and American Outlaws. But just as 1996 was drawing to a close, people everywhere recognized this face as Allegra Coleman, the hot new “dream girl” who Esquire promised was going to be the next big thing.
So how come you’ve never heard of Allegra Coleman? Because she doesn’t exist.
Esquire came up with a fictional up-and-coming star complete with hobbies, pet peeves, and turn-ons. The Esquire office started getting inundated with phone calls from other media outlets wanting the inside scoop on this hot new sensation and talent scouts desperate to dig their claws into Allegra Coleman before anyone else did.
Eventually the magazine came out and humiliated them all by explaining that Allegra Coleman was a fabrication they’d created to poke fun at how other publications bow down at celebrities’ feet and spew out nonsensical puff-pieces.
9. Will Ferrell Knocking Out A Cheerleader With A Basketball
When Pelicans and Lakers fans alike showed up at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans in January, they were delighted to be told Will Ferrell would be making an appearance on the court at half-time.
Okay, not just an appearance… he was filming a scene that involved pretending to be hammered while he attempted a half-court shot, throwing the ball straight into a cheerleader’s face instead, and subsequently getting escorted out of the stadium by security guards.
Needless to say, the Internet exploded with tweets, vines, Instagram videos and Facebook posts of the scene barely ten seconds after the crew had filmed it, and it seems the footage beat the explanation behind it to some areas of the Internet because many people thought it was for real!
Inaccurate stories of Will Ferrell’s obnoxious behaviour and poor basketball skills started sprouting up before hastily being withdrawn when the facts emerged shortly afterwards.
8. Joaquin Phoenix Quitting Hollywood To Become A Rapper
When legendary actor Joaquin Phoenix publicly announced his retirement from acting to pursue a rap career in late 2008, the world was shocked… well, those of us who follow Hollywood gossip were, anyway.
It seemed so strange that a 35-year-old with an incredible reputation in the industry would suddenly throw in the towel at the height of his career.
Of course, it later emerged that the whole year-long debacle was one gigantic elaborate hoax for the sake of a mockumentary film poking fun at how people actually believe that reality TV shows aren’t scripted.
People watched in horror as Phoenix descended into a highly public meltdown of Charlie Sheen proportions, stepping on many famous toes along the way, including Ben Stiller, P. Diddy and David Letterman. All the while, no one had any clue that Phoenix was just playing a fictional “off-the-rails” version of himself that we wouldn’t find amusing until the film came out.
7. Orson Welles Convinces The World A Martian Invasion Was Taking Place
Okay, let’s take things back a few decades to when Orson Welles – one of pop culture’s most notable figures of the mid-20th Century – placed himself in front of the Columbia Broadcasting System’s microphone and began narrating his adaptation of H.G. Wells’ famous 1898 novel, The War of the Worlds.
As Welles launched into the sixty-minute broadcast, which started off with a whole series of fictitious news reports and emergency updates regarding Martians invading our planet, he had no idea of the mass panic and widespread hysteria he was about to cause.
It’s believed that because this particular broadcast had no intermissions or ad breaks, and a popular broadcast on a different station would have caused many listeners to miss the show’s introduction (which clearly stated the following is a work of fiction), the news reports came across as authentic and that’s why people took them seriously… so seriously that they flocked to the streets with guns and pitchforks to protect their families!
The incident led to public outrage over the next few days and numerous media outlets condemned the radio station’s deceptiveness… all this managed to do, however, was ensure that Orson Welles would go down in history as an exceptional dramatist.
6. Borat Kidnapping Pamela Anderson In A Parking Lot
Of all the shocking, absurd and crude scenes in Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan that have remained burned into our brain long after the final credits rolled in the cinema, none push the boundaries further than the Pamela Anderson scene.
You know, the one where Sacha Baron Cohen tries to stuff her into a bag and kidnap her out the front of a Virgin Mega store in broad daylight…
If it were anyone else, you’d watch that scene and immediately accept that the whole thing must have been scripted, but when it comes to Sacha Baron Cohen you can never be sure; he’s done some pretty wild things in his career, and he’s not exactly known for asking permission first.
Even after the movie was released and people started asking questions about the Baywatch star’s role in the film, the questions went unanswered. It was only much later that Anderson finally addressed the scene via her website, stating: “Of course Sasha and I planned this years ago. And it turned out perfect… I’m so happy for him.”
5. Fritz Kreisler Convincing Everyone He’d Found Famous Composers’ Long-Lost Masterpieces
While Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962) was an awe-inspiring violinist in his own right, a huge factor in his success was his knack for digging up old, forgotten compositions or long-lost classics by prestigious composers like Pugnani and Vivaldi.
People would flock to Kreisler’s concerts from all over Europe to hear what new wonderful works of art he’d managed to find from their favourite composers’ previously unknown collections. It eventually emerged (much too late, and much to the shock of his many fans) that all those “long-lost classics” he’d revived were actually original pieces he’d written himself.
You can call him sly, but maybe it’s everyone else’s fault for not asking – after all, he was pretty quick to come clean when someone finally called him on it in 1935, at the age of 60 when his name was well and truly cemented in the musical history books as a successful composer.
New York Times music critic Olin Downes didn’t so much call him out as she did just crack a light-hearted joke about how funny it would be if he’d actually composed all those lost classics he’d brought back to life over the years… to which he replied, “yeah I actually did.” Whether you’re into classical music or not, I think Fritz Kreisler deserves a round of applause for such a successful and elaborate white lie.
4. Mike McGrady’s Raunchy Book That Everyone Took Seriously
Newsday columnist Mike McGrady might not have been particularly famous at the start of this hoax, but he sure was by the end of it. At some point during the mid-sixties, McGrady decided that the American media had become so saturated with mind-numbing dribble that it was robbing everyone of any “literary and artistic taste”.
But rather than complain about it over Friday evening drinks at the bar with his coworkers, he enlisted their help in a clever little experiment he’d hatched.
McGrady presented 24 of his Newsday colleagues with a four-page outline for a story about a disgruntled housewife who goes on a mission to sleep with every single married man in her neighborhood as vengeance after catching her own husband cheating on her.
Naked Came The Stranger was published in 1969 with McGrady’s sister-in-law, Billie Young, posing as “Penelope Ashe” – a fictional character McGrady created to play the sexy author behind the raunchy book. Penelope went on various talk shows to promote “her” book, always scantily clad and oozing with seductiveness as she sprinkled sexual innuendos into her answers. She played the part brilliantly.
3. Nicole Riche’s Elaborate Police Alibi
First and foremost, let’s be very clear that this is Nicole Riche, a French actress prominent in theatre throughout the ’50s… not Paris Hilton’s Simple Life buddy. Anyway, Riche played the leading role of Miss Blandish in an adaptation of James Hadley Chase’s thriller novel “No Orchids For Miss Blandish” at Paris’s Grand Guignol Theatre in 1950.
The plot involved an heiress (Blandish) getting kidnapped and repeatedly raped by an American gangster. As popular as the play was, Nicole Riche’s role in the production came to an abrupt end somewhere between the 2nd and 3rd act on March 29, 1950 when she mysteriously disappeared backstage.
According to stagehands, Riche had been handed a note, went ghostly white in the face, then she’d rushed outside… that was the last anyone saw of her. Parisian police began a citywide search for the missing actress. The only lead they had to go on was the note, which read: “Mademoiselle, my excuses for bothering you, but I wish to see you urgently about your mother. I shall await you in the passage outside. Best wishes.” Authorities thought it was a kidnapping. Two days passed, the police were no closer to finding Nicole Riche, and the news had gone global.
Then, on the morning of April 1st , the missing actress casually stepped into a Paris police station and asked to speak to someone in charge. She was wearing the same outfit she’d been wearing in the 2nd act of the play.
“I went out to meet [the man who gave me the note] and he led me into an automobile saying my mother was with him. When I got into the car I saw my mother wasn’t there but there was another young man who pushed me into the back seat,” she told police.
The police (along with everyone else) immediately dismissed her story as lies and, after some heavy questioning, Riche was forced to cave in and admit the whole thing had been a hoax dreamed up by the theatre manager, Alexandre Dundas, as a publicity stunt.
2. Crispin Glover’s Incredibly Awkward David Letterman Interview
For those of you who can’t put a face to the name Crispin Glover, he’s most famous for playing George McFly in Back to the Future. Believe it or not, that was one of his more normal roles. He once played a very eccentric and unpredictable man named Rubin in a film called Rubin and Ed.
You may or may not have heard of it, but I can assure you no one who was watching the Late Night with David Letterman show on July 28, 1987 had… Which is perhaps why everyone was so baffled when Crispin Glover – who was apparently appearing on the show to promote his new movie River’s Edge – walked out onto the stage in skin-tight pants, platform shoes, insanely geeky glasses and a wig.
Any chance of this odd situation settling down into a normal interview went out the window when Glover started challenging Letterman to an arm-wrestling competition. When the host declined, he karate kicked the air so close to Letterman’s face that the audience gasped.
It eventually emerged (much, much later, when Glover was firmly cemented in everyone’s brain as an absolute wacko) that Glover had appeared on the talk show in character as Rubin from the Rubin and Ed movie. Unfortunately, that movie wasn’t released until 1991, so that was the first hint anyone got that Glover had been pulling some kind of weird stunt that night on Letterman.
1. The Whole “Blair Witch Project” Thing
Okay so this one wasn’t exactly pulled off by a celebrity, but it’s still one of the most successful hoaxes to ever go down in show business, earning it a spot on this list. After all, if you haven’t heard of The Blair Witch Project, you must be living under a rock… or in the woods outside Burkitsville, Maryland maybe.
Most of the independent film’s marketing was achieved through the website set up in collaboration with the “documentary,” www.blairwitch.com. This site encouraged the fictional tale that three student filmmakers went missing in the woods near Burkitsville back in 1994 while investigating the rumours that the forest was haunted.
The story of Elly Kedward – who was condemned to freeze to death alone in the woods for suspected witchcraft and child murder in 1785 – was all anyone could talk about upon the film’s release in 1999. Plenty of impressionable people had fallen for the hoax that everything shown in the film was original, unedited footage from the presumed dead filmmakers’ recently found cameras.
Whether everyone believed it or not became irrelevant. There were enough people on either side of the fence to create huge debate over the film’s authenticity, and this ensured that everyone had to go see it for themselves.
This dark and daring marketing ploy is the sole reason why The Blair Witch Project, which cost a total of half a million dollars to make, grossed nearly $250 million at the box office. No movie studio has managed to generate that level of publicity through Internet marketing ever since, though not through lack of trying.