Will Ferrell is not a graduate of the "University of California." He is not the "sonn" of Hubert and Mary Ferrell. He was not born in July 1968, and if he had been, he wouldn't be 36 years old.
And, no, he is not dead.
As hoaxes go, Tuesday's press release which purported to announce a fatal paragliding accident involving Ferrell wasn't a terribly convincing one. The item, posted on iNewswire.com, was filled with glaring errors of the spelling, mathematical and factual kind.
"Not much to say other than we heard and read about it this morning and reacted accordingly," Ferrell's publicist Matthew Labov said in an email. "There was no point in trying to track [the source] down as it was obviously a hoax."
Obvious or no, the bogus press release--a step up from the way such so-and-so-is-dead stories are typically spread (i.e., email, radio, word of mouth)--did prompt calls to Labov's office from news organizations. The standard response: Ferrell, 38, son of Kay and Lee Ferrell, graduate of the University of Southern California, is "alive and well, and filming a movie in Montreal."
To put a finer point on it, Labov told E! News that, no, the Anchorman star wasn't paragliding Monday in the San Diego area, as claimed in the release. In fact, according to the rep, Ferrell "never has" paraglided anywhere at anytime.
Josh Meyers could vouch for the actor's lack of paragliding skill. He runs the paragliding company, Airtek, that supposedly employed Ferrell's guide and fellow fatality, Horacio Gomez.
"I have no knowledge of Will Ferrell paragliding," Meyers deadpanned Tuesday.
Likewise, Meyers has no knowledge of a Horacio Gomez, or, for that matter, a paraglider who would perish, Will Ferrell-style, in a crash in the "dense woods."
"If we hit trees, we're just fine," Meyers said. "We never die in trees."
Meyers was struck by the number of inaccuracies in the release. Mostly, though, he was struck by the number of phone calls he fielded from Ferrell-curious reporters, starting with one from the New York Times.
"Imagine checking your voice mail, and not being able to get through them as fast as they're coming in," Meyers said.
Meyers theorized that he was dragged into the drama because if one is going to write about paragliding in San Diego, one is probably going to find his company in a Google search. (Drilling down further, Defamer.com theorized that paragliding was selected as the cause of death because of a Ferrell-spoken line in Wedding Crashers about a deadly hang-gliding accident. Not that paragliding and hang gliding are the same thing. They're not, Meyers said.)
More than once, Meyers referred to himself as "amazed"--amazed that a person, demonstrating "an 8th grade level of literacy," could post a "phony little thing" killing off a well-known actor, and implicating a real-life company.
Perhaps what happened, however, wasn't so much amazing, as human--iNewswire, an online press release service that posts items from both paying and non-paying customers, admittedly let one get by.
"The editor thought it sounded like a real press release," said Eric Borgos, president of Impulse Communications, the parent company of iNewswire. "Maybe the person didn't know who Will Ferrell was, which didn't help."
The Ferrell release went up on iNewswire at about 12 or 1 p.m. (ET), Borgos said. After being asked about it a couple of hours later by inquiring reporters, he said, it was removed from the site.
"The problem is we never really had serious news stories like this before," Borgos said. "In cases like this in the future, we'll definitely check it out."
iNewswire tried, but failed to find the source of the bogus Ferrell story. The trickster, a non-paying customer, used a proxy server--the ISP address can't be traced, Borgos explained. All that's known about the anonymous user is that he or she tried, but failed to post about 10-15 other press releases on the site Tuesday, he said, including one that clarified that "Will Ferrell is not really dead."
"Obviously, I understand how bad it is for everyone on [Ferrell's] end," Borgos said.
Actually, as the followup release correctly pointed out, Ferrell is fine.