Thursday, December 4, 2014

I’m Not Dead Yet!

Earlier this week People Magazine posted a well written obituary of Kirk Douglas. It was the kind of tribute that you would expect to read when a Hollywood legend passes away. The only problem is that Kirk Douglas is still alive. I wonder if John Cleese had anything to do with the decision to declare someone dead before they stop breathing. Maybe Eric Idle?

While uncommon, unfortunately this is not the first time that such an error has been made especially in the celebrity sphere. While there was a concerted effort to curb such leaps made in the wake of the Reagan assassination attempt, in an era of the 24 hour news cycle and the ever presence of social media, these kinds of things will almost certainly become more common as time passes. This leaves us asking the question of who is going to be the next person to read about their own demise.

While disturbing in many regards, there can be some good to come from such an egregious error. Mark Twain is the most famous example of the good humor that can come about when one is forced to face their inevitable fate a little earlier than nature or reality has intended. Although, in this instance, no actual obituary was published word spread and Twain eventually found himself on the receiving end of his own departure. Specifically, he is quoted as saying, "The report of my death was an exaggeration."

On the other side of things, some are forced to come to terms with their legacy no matter how good or, as in the case of Alfred Nobel, bad. When it was thought that the inventor of dynamite had departed this world for the next, a French writer did not hold back in his obituary titled “Le marchand de la mort est mort” ("The merchant of death is dead") etching into the mind of the millionaire that he “became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before.

It was this obituary that made Nobel reconsider his life and his legacy. It was because of the premature reporting that he took his considerable fortune and created the Nobel Prize. A bit of misinformation and the world was changed in an instant changing the historical perspective of what many considered a controversial person in his own time.

For now, despite recent rumors and false obituaries, Kirk Douglas, Macaulay Culkin, and numerous other public figure of varying stature as still alive. But, with the inevitable increase of such instances bound to take hold in social media, it makes you think about the changes that could possibly occur as a result of this increased penchant to find the breaking news before anyone else. The question for everyone is, what would your obituary say if you were thought to be dead?