Miley Cyrus and Urkel have something in common. They're both not dead.
When a YouTube hacker announced the Hannah Montana star's untimely demise last weekend, the very much alive Cyrus joined a nonexclusive club.
Over the years, young stars, old stars and Abe Vigoda have been killed off before their time. If teen celebrities, like Cyrus, seem especially targeted by morbid rumor, that's because their peer group—fellow teens—are more likely to start and spread the tales, according to Snopes.com urban-legend tracker Barbara Mikkelson.
"They're not going to make up a Jay Leno death rumor," Mikkelson says. "That's not who they identify with."
A rundown of other teen stars, past and present, killed off by the gossip mill:
- Scott Baio: In 1997, the Happy Days heartthrob, now 47, was said to have died in a car crash—no, make that, he was reported to have died in a car crash. Fortunately, Baio's sobbing parents were reassured of their son's well-being by Baio.
- Mayim Bialik Alcohol poisoining supposedly did in the Blossom star, now 32, during college.
- Dustin Diamond: Saved by the Bell's Screech, now 30, was said to have been killed in a motorcycle crash. With costar Mark-Paul Gosselaar. During an earthquake. An even more persistent story has Gosselaar, now 34, dying in a solo chopper accident. (No mention of the earthquake in that version.)
- John Gilchrist: If you grew up in the 1970s, you grew up on Life cereal's Mikey commercial. And you grew up grimly aware that if you washed down Pop Rocks with Coke you'd explode—just like Mikey. "The death of little Mikey has been around forever," says Mikkelson. The alive Gilchrist has been around about 40 years—and counting.
- Jerry Mathers: The late Oscar winner Shelley Winters has been blamed for informing Tonight Show fans of the Vietnam War combat death of Leave It to Beaver's Beaver, now 60. Winters herself may have been victimized by an urban legend—there's no hard evidence she made the announcement, per Snopes.com.
- Alfonso Ribeiro: IMDb.com notes that the dance prodigy and Fresh Prince preppie, now 37, did not die "while doing a head spin" in the 1980s.
- Ben Savage In 2006, the popular car-crash scenario befell the Boy Meets World star, now 28.
- Britney Spears In 2001, two Texas DJs killed off the pop star, now 26, in, yes, a car crash. The radio jocks got credit for spicing up the story with a coma for then-Spears boyfriend Justin Timberlake, and quotes from a hospital rep. They also got fired.
- Jaleel White: In 2006, the Family Matters über-nerd, now 31, thanked "all who have chosen to spread the truth about [his] mortality." In short, no, he didn't commit suicide. No matter what a bogus wire story "reported."
No, death rumors don't die easy.
"It’s important to be in the know, " says About.com’s urban-legends expert David Emery, "even if what you 'know' doesn’t have an ounce of evidence to support it."