Every five or six weeks, I kill a celebrity. It’s usually a former child star or an aging rocker. Almost always a man. They have to be indisputably famous but not too relevant—otherwise people won’t believe it.
So I start celebrity death hoaxes in my free time, so what? I’m an architect, an engineer. I’ve been at it since even before social media. Did you ever hear that Steve from Blues Clues overdosed on heroin? Yep, that one was mine, my first opus, composed in the cafeteria at Rivercrest Middle School.
These days, all it really takes is a tweet, but I like to go the extra mile, screenshotting the CNN homepage and photoshopping in a banner headline: “BREAKING: Macaulay Culkin Dead in Car Accident.” Car accidents and drug overdoses tend to spread the fastest. People don’t even need a link to click on, the image is enough. I’ve whacked Cory from Boy Meets World, Eddie Murphy, the Taco Bell chihuahua. I measure success by the time it takes for the story to get debunked on Snopes. If it doesn’t make it to Snopes at all, I consider it a failure. I rarely fail.
My ex-girlfriend, bless her rancid heart, inspired this most recent hoax. I wrote her a drunken e-mail last night, asking if she wanted to get back together. I told her in boozy earnestness that the flame in my heart had gone out. Her response: “You sound like a character in a Jim Steinman song. Fuck off.”
She establishes dominance by throwing obscure pop culture references my way. Or at least she tries to. And yeah, I had to look it up, but when I realized who she was talking about, I felt no shame. Jim Steinman, the guy who wrote “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now.” He invented Wagnerian rock: sweeping, raucous songs with mythical characters and karaoke-defying vocals. And we have him to thank for Meat Loaf.
What Jim Steinman did for power ballads, I want to do for celebrity death hoaxes. So why not use the same muse? After crafting and tweeting the screenshot, I log on to one of my many dummy Facebook accounts and create a page: R.I.P. Meat Loaf. “On Tuesday, March 28, 2016, Meat Loaf passed away from a heart attack at the age of 68,” the description reads. “ Like this page in remembrance of one of the top selling artists of all time. Leave your condolences below.” I click “Invite Friends.”
Before you ask: No, I don’t ever feel guilty for toying with the emotions of thousands of strangers. For one, they’re strangers. And two, they’re dumb strangers, dumb enough to accept a friend request from someone they don’t know, dumb enough to believe what they read. It’s not that the story is hard to disprove—a quick Google search will do it—it’s that people don’t even bother to verify. It’s their own damn fault if they’re heartbroken. And another thing: a death hoax is the best thing that could happen to a washed-up famous person. When was the last time you thought about Meat Loaf? The man, I mean.
Twelve minutes after the launch: the posts have started.
“RIP mr. loaf”
“ : ‘ ( “
“I would do n e thing 4 luv”
“I knew he would have a heart attack. All that cocaine and yo-yo weight loss…”
“finally, Meat is resting in paradise at the dashboard light.”
“First Lemmy, then Bowie, now Meat? 2016 sux.”
“ \m/ “
And so on. I’m reading Meat Loaf’s Wikipedia page when I discover that the dude’s cheated death like five times—surviving a car crash, a shot-put to the head, two broken legs after a stage dive gone wrong, and an emergency landing after a gear in his private jet failed. And oh yeah, he has a heart condition, something called Wolff–Parkinson–White syndrome (lucky guess on my part). Yet time and time again, he emerges intact, a bat out of hell indeed. It hits me what a landmark achievement this is, getting people to believe that Meat Loaf actually died this time. Meat Loaf was my Holy Grail, and I didn’t even know it.
A few weeks ago, my girlfriend caught me logging into one of my fake Facebook profiles. I told her about my hobby and she flipped out, calling me a loser, a creep, a sociopath. But really, I’m just a storyteller. Does a rumor not have artistic value? Aren’t novelists and playwrights and songwriters lying all the same?
Like a proud parent, I revel in every share and retweet. The story hits Snopes within three hours. The post includes a comment from Meat Loaf’s rep, and a tweet from @RealMeatloaf:
“not dead yet, thx 4 the luv. now that i have your attention: new record out sept 16”
20k likes, 6k retweets. I gotta start charging for this.
“It’s a hoax guys,” someone posts to Facebook, linking to the Snopes article. I delete the tribute page before anyone else can post their relief.
Three hours to Snopes, that’s a new record for me. I take another swig of Jack Daniels and log in to my real account, the one that bares my actual name. No new notifications. None for weeks.