Take the Dead People Server (www.dpsinfo.com).
With more than 1,900 formerly alive celebrities and notables categorized, eulogized and accounted for, the Website is a leading source on who's dead--and, more importantly, who's not.
"Every once in a while, you get a question like, 'Isn't Dan Rather dead?'...Like how?" wonders Laurie Mann, since 1997, the keeper of the five-year-old site.
"It's just kind of amazing what people ask you."
But what's more amazing is what people think. Dan Rather, beaming nightly to homes coast-to-coast on The CBS Evening News and various prime-time news mags, long in the grave? Still-singing "Weird Al" Yankovic pushing up daisies? Or the host of Nickelodeon's Blue's Clues kicking the bucket, despite an all-out, "Hey, I'm alive" media tour?
Well, get used to it--rumored death happens. Which is where Mann comes in.
In addition to her site's obit archives, Mann, 42, of Pennsylvania, maintains a "Quash Those Dead People Rumors!" section, where the misinformed can be assured that, praise be, Abe (Fish) Vigoda is still with us.
"These folks are all not, I repeat not dead yet!" Mann writes, kicking off a roll call of nearly 30 supposedly deceased celebs, from Scott Baio (rumored to have been offed in a car crash the day Chris Farley OD'd in 1997) to Yankovic (the subject of a death joke on an episode of Fox's King of the Hill).
"Some of them are like quasi-urban legends," Mann says. Other greatly exaggerated death notices get started the old-fashioned way: Someone makes a boo-boo. That was the case in 1998, when the Associated Press' Website inadvertently posted a pre-written obit for Bob Hope, prompting nationwide reports that the ninetysomething comic legend had left for that big road to heaven.
Mann says she still gets email inquiring about Hope's status (still alive), although the hottest rumored-dead celeb these days is one Steve Burns.
"I didn't even know who he was when I got three or four requests," she says. She soon learned that Burns was the Blue's Clues guy--and that, yes, he was still alive.
Sometimes a case of mistaken identity is to blame for misplaced mourning, hence the listing for actor Tom Bosley on the not-dead list: "Best known as Mr. C in Happy Days, some people confused him with David Doyle (Charlie's Angels) who has died," the site notes.
To check on the whereabouts of supposedly dead people, Mann consults the usual suspects: Newspapers, the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com) and, you know, common sense (as in, if Dan Rather had really died, someone would have mentioned it by now.)
In fact, with so much readily available source material, Mann says she's amazed her service is needed. But it is. Especially as long as fans continue to equate unemployment with death.
Says Mann: "People are very confused about the concept of retirement."