The Quick 10: 10 People Pronounced Dead a Bit Prematurely

Pope Benedict XV died on January 22, 1922, which isn't all that notable by itself "“ after all, he was 67 and had been suffering from a pretty bad case of pneumonia all month. What is notable is that he had been declared dead several days before he actually died thanks to a foible by a New York newspaper. Benedict is just one of a select group of folks who have been declared dead before their time "“ here is his story and nine others.

BENEDICT1. Pope Benedict XV was, as mentioned, quite ill with pneumonia and the whole world was on a rather morbid death watch, much like we were a few years ago when Pope John Paul II got sick. A "New York newspaper," which is always unnamed when the story is told, jumped the gun a little and declared that Benedict had died in large, boldface type. The problem? He was still kicking. The next day, this "New York newspaper" allegedly declared "Pope Has Remarkable Recovery," without acknowledging their previous error. Since the name of the newspaper can't be verified, I think this one is a job for Snopes. I just might have to submit it!

2. In 1973, British magazine Melody Maker published a satirical article that announced Alice Cooper's death due to a faulty guillotine he was using in his stage act. It was supposed to be funny, but Cooper's fans weren't quite amused. Apparently they missed sarcastic phrases such as, "Apart from the incident, the show went well and as normal," and "The body of Ms. Cooper, who was 46, is currently on show at the Charles Addams funeral parlour, Hollywood. The head, it is understood, will be the subject of a competition in one of Britian's pop magazines." After the article caused so much outrage, Alice released a statement, saying, "I'm alive and drunk as usual." You can read the original "obituary" here.

3. Ernest Hemingway and his wife, Mary, were involved in not one, but two plane crashes during a 1954 African safari. But newspapers around the world were a little too eager to report that they had both died from those crashes. Hemingway suffered a ruptured kidney, a sprained arm and leg and temporary loss of hearing and eyesight, but his vision had improved enough to allow him to read his own premature obituary while sitting in a café in Venice just a few days later.

4. Most of us have heard the famous Mark Twain quip, "The report of my death is an exaggeration," but here's the story behind the quote. A journalist was incorrectly informed that Twain was knocking on death's door in 1897, but when he showed up to inquire about the writer's health, he was informed that it was, in fact, Twain's cousin who was dying. The reporter had gotten his Clemens boys confused. Samuel Clemens lasted another 13 years.

5. Sharon Osbourne's battle with cancer was pretty highly publicized in 2002 and 2003, so I guess decided to prepare for the worst by getting her death announcement ready. This is pretty common practice, actually, but it becomes problematic when the announcement is published and the person in question is actually still alive and doing quite well. ABC News retracted their error ASAP and claimed it was due to a technical glitch.

6. Imagine reading your obituary and finding it less than glowing. That's what happened to Alfred Nobel in 1888. When Nobel's brother Ludvig died, a French newspaper erroneously reported that it was the dynamite inventor who died, almost gleefully declaring, "The merchant of death is dead!" They also stated in the article that Nobel had become rich by "finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before." Nobel, understandably, was not too happy with the way the media had portrayed him and set out to do something to improve his image "“ thus, the Nobel Prize was born.

7. Rudyard Kipling's premature death announcement is along the lines of Pope Benedict XV "“ the magazine involved is never named, so feel free to remain a bit skeptical. The quip is too good not to mention though: when Kipling's obituary was published in a magazine while he was still very much alive, he made sure to drop them a note, saying, "I've just read that I am dead. Don't forget to delete me from your list of subscribers." Zing!

cheney8. I don't care what way you swing politically; there probably aren't too many people who think of former Vice President Dick Cheney lovingly. That's why it was doubly strange when published his obituary on April 16, 2003, stating that he was "The UK's favorite grandmother." Clearly they had used the Queen Mother's obituary as a template for Cheney and several others who accidentally had their obits published the same day. It was an interesting insight into who CNN thought was due to kick the bucket soon, though "“ other people included in the incident were Nelson Mandela, Gerald Ford, Pope John Paul II, Fidel Castro, Bob Hope and Ronald Reagan. Their guesses weren't too awful "“ by the end of 2006, only three of those seven were still alive.

9. Just after one of his plays had debuted to rave reviews, writer Samuel Taylor Coleridge was found dead, having hanged himself from a tree in London's Hyde Park. The problem? It wasn't Coleridge. I guess detective work has come a long way since 1816, because the body was identified by using the initials stitched in the back of the body's shirt "“ "S.T. Coleridge." The real Coleridge overheard people discussing his death and asked to see the newspaper they were looking at, which contained his obituary. One of the people remarked that it was strange that Coleridge would kill himself after such a success, but then again, he had always been known as a little bit strange. Coleridge allegedly replied, "Indeed, sir, it is a most extraordinary thing that he should have hanged himself, be the subject of an inquest, and yet that he should at this moment be speaking to you." He suspected the shirt had been stolen from him.

10. Joe DiMaggio wasn't very happy when he saw that NBC was broadcasting the news of his death in January 1999. He was watching Gunfight at OK Corral with friend Morris Engelberg and happened to switch to NBC just in time to see the error. "Joe, we must be in heaven together," Engelberg told the Yankee Clipper. DiMaggio released a statement saying that not only was alive, he was not in "hopeless condition," even though he had lung cancer. Unfortunately, DiMaggio died less than two months later.

I know Paul McCartney is another good one "“ if you're interested, I touched on it a little bit in my Sgt. Pepper post last year. And as several readers have pointed out, Abe Vigoda has been pronounced dead plenty of times. Do you remember any others were announced dead a little (or a lot) prematurely?

10 Sweet Facts About Candy Canes

The sweet and striped shepherd’s hooks can be found just about everywhere during the holiday season. It's time you learned a thing or two (or 10) about them.


While the origins of the candy cane are a bit murky, legend has it that they first appeared in hooked form around 1670. Candy sticks themselves were pretty common, but they really took shape when the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany got the bright idea of twisting them to look like shepherd’s hooks. He then handed them out to kids during church services to keep them quiet.


It’s no surprise, then, that it was a German immigrant who introduced the custom to America. The first reference we can find to the tradition stateside is 1847, when August Imgard of Wooster, Ohio, decked his home out with the sugary fare.


Candy canes without the red don’t seem nearly as cheery, do they? But that’s how they were once made: all white. We’re not really sure who or exactly when the scarlet stripe was added, but we do know that images on cards before the 1900s show snow white canes.


Most candy canes are around five inches long, containing only about 50 calories and no fat or cholesterol.


The world’s largest candy cane was built by Geneva, Illinois chef Alain Roby in 2012.  It was 51 feet long, required about 900 pounds of sugar, and was eventually smashed up with a hammer so people could take home a piece.


Fifty-four percent of kids suck on candy canes, compared to the 24 percent who just go right for the big crunch. As you may have been able to guess, of those surveyed, boys were nearly twice as likely to be crunchers.


According to the National Confectioners Association, about 1.2 billion candy canes are made annually, and 90 percent of those are sold between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Which honestly begs the question: Who’s buying the 10 percent in the off season?


Bobs (that’s right; no apostrophe) Candies was the first company to really hang its hat on the sweet, striped hook. Lt. Bob McCormack began making candy canes for his kids in the 1920s, and they were such a hit he decided to start mass-producing them. With the help of his brother-in-law, a Catholic priest named Gregory Harding Keller (and his invention, the Keller Machine), McCormack was eventually able to churn out millions of candy canes a day.


December 26 is National Candy Cane Day. Go figure.


Here’s how they make candy canes at Disneyland—it’s a painstaking (and beautiful) technique.

10 Actors Who Hated Their Own Films

1. Sylvester Stallone, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. Sly doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to his film career. Despite co-starring with the delightful Estelle Getty as the titular violence-prone mother, Stallone knows just how bad the film was:

"I made some truly awful movies. Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot was the worst. If you ever want someone to confess to murder, just make him or her sit through that film. They will confess to anything after 15 minutes."

2. Alec Guinness, Star Wars.

By the time he played Obi-Wan Kenobi in 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope, Guinness had already appeared in cinematic classics like The Bridge on the River Kwai, Great Expectations and Lawrence of Arabia. During production, Guinness is reported to have said the following:

"Apart from the money, I regret having embarked on the film. I like them well enough, but it's not an acting job, the dialogue - which is lamentable - keeps being changed and only slightly improved, and I find myself old and out of touch with the young."

The insane amount of fame he won for the role as the wise old Jedi master took him somewhat by surprise and, ultimately, annoyed him. In his autobiography A Positively Final Appearance: A Journal, Guinness recalls a time he encountered an autograph-seeking fan who boasted to him about having watched Star Wars more than 100 times. In response, Guinness agreed to provide the boy an autograph under the condition that he promise never to watch the film again.

3. Bob Hoskins, Super Mario Brothers. He was in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. As far as I’m concerned, Bob Hoskins is forgiven for Super Mario Bros. Hoskins, though, doesn’t seem to be able to forgive himself. Last year the Guardian spoke with the veteran actor about his career and he summed up his feelings rather succinctly:

What is the worst job you've done?
Super Mario Brothers.

What has been your biggest disappointment?
Super Mario Brothers.

If you could edit your past, what would you change?
I wouldn't do Super Mario Brothers.

4. George Clooney, Batman & Robin. Sure, Batman & Robin made money. But by every other imaginable measure, the film was a complete failure, and a nightmare to the vast majority of the Caped Crusader’s most fervent fanatics. Star George Clooney recognized what a stinker he helped create and once plainly stated, “I think we might have killed the franchise.”

5. David Cross, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked. When actors have a movie out, it's customary that they publicize the film by saying nice things about it. Earlier this year David Cross took a different approach. When it came to describing his new film Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, the veteran comedian — better known for Mr. Show and Arrested Development — went on Conan and called the film a “big commercial for Carnival Cruise Lines” and told people not to go see it.

6. Katherine Heigl, Knocked Up. Judd Apatow’s unplanned pregnancy comedy was a huge hit and helped cement her status as a bankable film actress. After the film’s release, however, Heigl didn’t have all good things to say. In fact, what she specifically said about it was that the film was:

"…A little sexist. It paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys.”

7. Charlize Theron, Reindeer Games. The 2000 action film Reindeer Games starred Ben Affleck, Gary Sinese and Charlize Theron and was directed by John Frankenheimer. But it all somehow failed to come together. In the end the film lost a lot of money and compiled a wealth of negative reviews – including one from its star actress who simply said, “Reindeer Games was not a good movie.”

8. Mark Wahlberg, The Happening. Mark Wahlberg doesn’t exactly seem like a guy who lives his life afraid of trees. But that is the odd position M. Night Shyamalan’s 2008 film The Happening put him in. Wahlberg, as it turns out, doesn’t look back too fondly on the film. He went on record during a press conference for The Fighter when he described a conversation with a fellow actor:

"We had actually had the luxury of having lunch before to talk about another movie and it was a bad movie that I did. She dodged the bullet. And then I was still able to … I don’t want to tell you what movie … alright “The Happening.” F*** it. It is what it is. F***ing trees, man. The plants. F*** it. You can’t blame me for not wanting to try to play a science teacher. At least I wasn’t playing a cop or a crook."

9. John Cusack, Better Off Dead. John Cusack reportedly hated his cult 80s comedy so much that he walked out of the screening and later told the film’s director Steve Holland that Better Off Dead was "the worst thing I have ever seen" and he would "never trust you as a director again."

10 Christopher Plummer, The Sound of Music. The Sound of Music is considered a classic and has delighted many generations of fans. But the film's own lead actor, Christopher Plummer, didn't always sing its praises. Mr. Von Trapp himself declined to participate in a 2005 film reunion and, according to one acquaintance, has referred to the film as The Sound of Mucus.



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