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The Hoax Files: The Truth Isn't Out There

Can't Sing, Can't Dance

by Elissa Haney

Paul is Dead

In 1969 rumors of the death of Beatle Paul McCartney spread rapidly around the world. According to the story, he was the victim of a deadly car crash in late 1966 or early 1967. The surviving members of the former Fab Four covered up Paul's death, hired a look-alike named William Campbell, and continued to play and record together as the Beatles. "Proof" of the hoax lay in the group's lyrics and cover art. In the song "Strawberry Fields Forever," for example, John Lennon supposedly says "I buried Paul" (though John and other insiders claim he said "cranberry sauce"). Countless other intriguing interpretations were generated by fans after the story got out.

All four members of the Beatles denied that Paul was killed and that they had intentionally planted the "clues" in their music. They also denied accusations that they invented the hoax themselves in order to generate more attention for the group. While the original source of the story was never pinpointed, the first instances of press coverage have been traced to the mid-western United States. Rumors of Paul's death in a car accident had surfaced in England previously, but did not include speculation that hints were written into the lyrics by the other band members.

Although no one has ever produced concrete evidence that the "original" Paul died, some refuse to let go of the belief that, like Elvis, his vital status is questionable.

Milli Vanilli: Not Pop Perfection

Many a pop group has lip-synched its way through a concert or television performance. Few, if any, however, have matched the popularity of the 1980s group Milli Vanilli without having contributed to their own albums.

At the end of 1989, a year in which the good-looking European duo reached #1 with three different hits, sold millions of albums, and won the Grammy for Best New Artist, it was leaked to the press that their songs were actually recorded by different singers. Producer Frankie Farian had hired the two men, both appealing and charismatic with their shoulder-length braids and buff bodies, to form the image he thought would bring the music to success. The fact that neither Rob nor Fab was musically talented wasn't about to deter any of them.

Though they initially denied the allegations, Milli Vanilli admitted to the scandal months later. Their Grammy was rescinded and a number of lawsuits were filed against them. Rob and Fab later recorded an album together—for real, this time—but the two were never able to win back the respect of their fans. Rob Pilatus made headlines again in April 1998 when he died after a drug overdose.

The Church of Kurt Cobain

Kurt Cobain surely would have appreciated the humor in it. In 1996 a Portland, Oregon, man set out to pull one over on the media. In a cleverly devised press release, Reverend Jim Dillon invited members of the local and national press to attend a rally in support of the new "Church of Kurt Cobain." When the day of the rally arrived, the young minister stood before the crowd of reporters and professed his hope that Gen-Xers joining the new church (there were 12 present at the rally) would find meaning in the late Nirvana singer's tragic life and in his music. He spoke of a new religion in which sermons would draw on the grunge group's lyrics. He claimed that the young people of today were in need of a new faith that spoke to their generation.

Soon after the rally was held, "Rev. Dillon," whose real name was Jerry Ketel and who was actually 34 years old, announced that the church was nothing more than a hoax. Its target was the mass media, which had both built Cobain up to idol status and contributed to his ultimate demise. Cobain, who was tormented by his stardom as well as his drug addiction, committed suicide by shooting himself in April 1994.






Did you know?  William O. Douglas served the longest term (36 years and 209 days) on the Supreme Court.

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