A history of celebrity death conspiracy theories, from Kate Middleton to Paul McCartney

Tom Cruise’s deadly plumbing accident, Cher’s case of mistaken identity and Tupac Shakur's body double

The prolonged absence of Kate, Princess of Wales, from public life has sparked an array of rumours. Getty Images
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It’s been named #kategate.

As the number of days Kate, Princess of Wales remains out of the public eye grows, so too does the outlandishness of the rumours surrounding her absence: her medical condition is worse than Kensington Palace is letting on; she and her husband Prince William are getting divorced; she has quit the royal family. Some unsubstantiated posts have speculated even further.

These apocryphal stories admit the princess into the pantheon of people who have been the subject of death hoaxes and false conspiracy theories.

Upon reading his obituary in the newspaper in 1897, US writer Mark Twain famously said: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer author went on to live another 13 years before dying from a heart attack in 1910, leaving behind one of history’s most enduring quotes.

Here are 11 other stars who have been the subject of hoaxes, conspiracies and temporary deaths…

Sir Paul McCartney

One of the most famous and enduring celebrity death conspiracies is that the “real” Sir Paul McCartney died in a car crash in 1966 at the height of Beatlemania and was replaced with a lookalike.

The theory originated in 1969 when a caller to WKNR radio station in Michigan told listeners McCartney had died three years earlier and that, fearing mass hysteria and loss of earnings, the band’s record label drafted in a new member called Billy Shears to replace him.

Over the years, fans have found myriad “evidence” of McCartney’s death, including that the Hindu god Shiva “The Destroyer” is pointing at him on the Sergeant Pepper album cover.

They also cite the Abbey Road album cover, which has been called the “funeral procession” because “Paul” is the only one shoeless and out of step with John, Ringo and George.

Of the theory, McCartney said: “I am alive and well and concerned about the rumours of my death. But if I were dead, I would be the last to know.”

Sir Sean Connery

The Scottish actor died in 2020 aged 90 but had been the subject of a death hoax many years before.

The Oscar winner went on the Late Show with David Letterman in 1993 and told the host: “I’m here to quell these rumours about my death."

Connery revealed that the death of his friend, British racing driver James Hunt, had been mistakenly written in the press as James Bond, news which was reported in Japan at the same time that Texas governor John Connally died, leading to confusion.

“John Connally is like Sean Connery in Japanese,” the actor said. Adding: “Then [the story] went to France and Spain.”

Tupac Shakur

Although the rapper was declared dead in September 1996 aged 25, conspiracies about him, most notably that he is still alive, have been raging ever since.

Theories include that Tupac faked his death and the body found was a lookalike; that he is under government protection, which led the CIA to take to X (formerly Twitter) to refute the allegation, posting: “No, we don’t know where Tupac is”; and that he moved to Cuba.

The 2020 documentary 2Pac: The Great Escape from UMC reignited the conspiracy, claiming Tupac was hiding out in New Mexico.

Tom Cruise

In May 2010, the Mission: Impossible star was the subject of rumours he had died in New Zealand, the victim of – no lie! – a plumbing accident.

The story quickly went global and the actor poked fun at the rumours, telling MTV News: “I’m a hologram,” when they asked if he was still alive during a phone interview. Adding: “Yes, you can send the message out [that I am still alive].”

Russell Crowe

The New Zealand-born Oscar winner was mistakenly declared dead after supposedly falling off a mountain in Austria in 2010. The Gladiator actor’s Wikipedia page was even briefly updated to include the news, which turned out to be false.

Luckily, Crowe had a sense of humour about the hoax, posting on X: “Unable to answer tweets, fell off a mountain in Austria, all over red rover. Don't know how I got there, but the media are never wrong. G’Bye.”

Hilary Duff

Like Cruise, the actress and singer also supposedly died in New Zealand.

Rumours swirled in August 2011 that Duff had died while visiting the Kauri Cliffs in Matauri Bay – cliffs over which Orlando Bloom, Jeff Goldblum, Natalie Portman, Dwayne Johnson, Cruise, Brad Pitt and Tom Hanks are all reported to have taken a fatal tumble over at some point in their lives.

Duff was actually in Los Angeles at the time.


Grammy and Oscar winner Cher found herself declared dead and mourned on social media in 2013 when a hashtag about former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s death sparked confusion.

The hashtag #nowthatchersdead (“now Thatcher's dead”) was misread as “now that Cher's dead”, causing tributes to the star to pour in.

Jackie Chan

Chan has been mistakenly declared to be no longer among the living quite a few times, most famously in 2013, when he “died” twice.

After #RIPJackieChan started trending on X the Chinese film star released a statement, saying: “Today, everybody called to congratulate me on my rumoured engagement. Afterward, everybody called me to see if I was alive.”

Macaulay Culkin

The Home Alone star was killed off in November 2014, when a story posted to MSNBC.website (not to be confused with the US news site MSNBC), read: “Sources are reporting that Macaulay Culkin, best known for his role as Kevin McCallister in Home Alone and sequel Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, has been found dead at the age of 34.”

The story quickly spread, leading Culkin to tell Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show in 2018, “I die all the time … I’m just a spectre right now.”

Avril Lavigne

The Canadian singer was forced to prove she was not only alive but also that she was the real Lavigne when stories resurfaced online in July 2022 that she was a doppelganger.

Rumours had been around for years that Lavigne was really a girl called Melissa who was substituted for the Sk8er Boi singer after she died in 2003.

The conspiracy was traced back to a 2011 blog post from Brazil, titled Avril Esta Morta (Avril is dead). Lavigne took to social media, writing: “Every comment on my Instagram … Are you the real Avril?”

Lil Tay

Canadian teenage rapper Lil Tay (real name Claire Eileen Qi Hope) was killed off in August when a message appeared on her Instagram announcing that she and her brother had succumbed to a “sudden and tragic passing”.

The internet went wild for 24 hours as news sites tried to verify the story, with Tay telling TMZ the following day that she and her brother were alive and her Instagram had been hacked.

Both her father and brother were later accused of starting the rumour for publicity.

Updated: March 19, 2024, 6:05 AM