Premature Death by Premature Obituary; in the Latest in His Series on Striking Images, Our Columnist Reflects on the 'Passing Away' of People Who Are Very Much Alive

The Evening Standard (London, England), April 23, 2015 | Go to article overview

Premature Death by Premature Obituary; in the Latest in His Series on Striking Images, Our Columnist Reflects on the 'Passing Away' of People Who Are Very Much Alive


Byline: Charles Saatchi the naked eye

MARCUS Garvey died upon seeing his own obituary, printed inadvertently, in the Chicago Defender newspaper. It clearly made such distressing reading for the Jamaican political activist, describing him as "broke, alone and unpopular", that he promptly dropped dead on the spot from a massive stroke.

The newspaper must have congratulated itself on something of a scoop -- not only breaking the news of his death first, but simultaneously causing it.

Poor George Soros, the far-frompoor billionaire financier, was also distressed to read his own less than flattering obituary published by Reuters in April 2013. The news agency withdrew the story, apologising to Soros, and made a statement regretting "erroneously publishing the obituary, and that Soros was alive and well".

In media circles, where forward planning is to be expected, it is standard practice to have obituaries prepared to cover the deaths of prominent people.

It is more unusual to publish one before the subject has actually passed away -- but it appears to be not altogether uncommon.

Der Spiegel, the leading German magazine, mistakenly published a draft obituary for former US President George Bush in December 2012.

The CNN incident of April 2003 became legendary because of the mash-up of obituaries the television network accidentally placed on its online pages. When the pre-written draft memorials for several world figures appeared, it was apparent that templates for their obituaries had been clustered together.

Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother's memorial was muddled into the Pope's, with his "love of horse racing". In CNN's confusion, Bob Hope's obituary told us he was the UK's favourite grandmother. He died three months later. Fidel Castro's obituary had taken on aspects of Ronald Reagan's -- Castro was "a lifeguard, athlete and movie star".

Another lengthy CNN memorial also had to be quietly removed because the subject was still alive at the time: Nelson Mandela.

Among the "living dead" in the music world, whose demise has been reported on various TV and radio programmes, are Madonna (on a BBC News video) and Lou Reed (across many US radio stations following a rogue Reuters email, circulated years before his actual death). …

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