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  • janetgoncalves

To Vigoda is not a good thing

While it seems like it should go without saying, when posting about a death on social media, it’s especially crucial to make sure your information is accurate. In late October 2022, several news articles erroneously reported that Jerry Lee Lewis had died. Ironically, he did die a few days later after his obituary was posted. That got me wondering if any other famous person suffered the same fate of reading their own obituary when they were still alive. Sadly, it’s been happening for many decades.

“A new verb “to Vigoda”—meaning to announce someone is dead long before they’ve died has been in the vernacular for awhile. The term was coined after James Vigoda’s death was announced prematurely. The Godfather actor “died” at least three times. The rumors started in 1982 when People magazine referred to him as the “late” Abe Vigoda. The actor apparently quelled the rumor by responding via Variety by publishing a photo of himself reading People magazine in his coffin.

Here are 17 other people throughout history who’ve had the uniquely unpleasant experience of reading their own obituary while they were still alive.

Steve Jobs

Paul McCartney

Mark Twain

Fidel Castro

Kurt Cobain

Alfred Nobel

P. T. Barnum

Alice Cooper

Macaulay Culkin

Bob Denver

Zsa Zsa Gabor

Jon Heder

William Hung

Lou Reed

Axl Rose

Kanye West

Shoichi Yokoi

Tanya Roberts

Kirk Douglas

Others who have fallen victim to celebrity death hoaxes, according to my research, are:

Sean Connery

Tom Cruise

Matt Damon

George Clooney


Gene Hackman

Dwane Johnson

James Earl Jones

Russell Crowe

Hillary Duff

Brad Pitt

Morgan Freeman

Steven Seagal

Jackie Chan

Arnold Schwarzenegger

As a death doula, I fully support and encourage the pre-writing of your own obituary. The basics to include are:

• date of birth

• date of death

• city of residence and city of birth

• spelling of the birth name

• maiden name

• Survivors and pre-deceased family members (listed in a specific order)

An obituary follows a specific format. The first line of the obituary tells who has died, when that person died, and often, where the death occurred. Appropriate opening words for an obituary tell the reader the basic information about the person, but they can also include emotion.

Next would be the Biographical Sketch, and would include such things as:

• details about when and where the person was born

• names of the person’s parents

• information about the person’s upbringing

• education and career details

• spouse’s name and date of marriage

• retirement information

Finally, is the Obituary Closing which usually includes wake/ funeral/ cremation/burial information as well as advice on charity donations or floral wishes.

Depending on the wishes of the deceased, obituaries are published in:

• Local newspapers

• Social media platforms

• Online obituary websites

• Community or organization newsletters

In conclusion, obituaries are a memorial to the person who died. They’re a record of their memory that lives on for years to come. Please, only have your obituary posted after your actual death. To repeat- to Vigoda is not a good thing.

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