Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated

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"Tax dodge nothing! You take one nap in a ditch in the park and they start declaring you this and that!"
Professor Hubert Farnsworth, Futurama

When a character who is alive is mistakenly believed to be dead. Quite often includes the character being shown his own death certificate. Often includes being declared Legally Dead, but isn't necessarily restricted to that.

Named after a statement that Mark Twain didn't actually say—but should have.

As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.

Examples of Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated include:

Anime & Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Madara Uchiha/Tobi, in Naruto, since everyone in the story thought that he died a long time ago. Some fans theorize that he actually IS dead; the story proper hasn't yet revealed exactly what's going on with him.
    • Turns out to be Averted Trope in the Chapter 559-560 now that the real Madara has been brought Back from the Dead. Tobi's identity thus goes back to unknown.

Film[edit | hide]

  • In the Starship Troopers movie, Johnny Rico's friends bring him a copy of his own death certificate, while he's still in the hospital recovering from his wounds. They all have a big laugh over it, except for Rico's Love Interest, who doesn't know the report was incorrect.
  • In Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne goes on a multi-year incognito journey to find himself, and when he gets back Alfred tells him he's been thought dead. It's mostly played as a throwaway joke, though, and is sorted out between scenes with no lasting complications. Alfred mentions that there have been moves to have him declared legally dead, and Bruce says it's a good thing he left everything to Alfred then.
  • Everybody in Escape from New York, when meeting Snake Plissken, will say something along the lines of "I thought you were dead!".
    • Plissken mutters to the Girl in the coffee store, "I am dead."
  • The same thing was done previously to John Wayne's character in "Big Jake". Eventually, Big Jake gets so annoyed, he promises to kill the next person to say it to him.
  • In Cast Away, Chuck Noland is declared dead after being stranded on a deserted island for years. They even held a funeral for him.

Chuck Noland: "You had a coffin? What was in it?"

Heihachi: It feels good to be back. Hiding in the shadows after faking your own death is a bore. In fact it's downright tedious.
Kazuya: I thought I've thrown you into the depths of Hell.
Heihachi: Ha! If you thought that was enough to kill me, you are gravely mistaken.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • In The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie, Saladin Chamcha has trouble with red tape and getting his career back in order after being presumed dead in the plane crash.
  • Romeo and Juliet. Romeo's actions are all based on hearing that Juliet is dead. Of course, she's only faking it, but he doesn't know that.
  • Doc Daneeka from Catch-22 is listed as dead because he was on the flight roster for a bomber that flew into a mountain. The fact that he was standing there in person, telling them he wasn't dead, failed to convince the army bureaucracy.
  • In JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit, when Bilbo Baggins finally returns to his house, he finds a huge crowd gathered for his estate auction. Since he had left without telling anyone, and not returned for a year, everyone in the Shire had assumed he was dead. His heirs, the Sackville-Bagginses, were rather disappointed when he turned up.
  • Nicoma Cosca in the Joe Abercrombie novels has this happen many times over the course of his life, and declares it "wishful thinking on the part of my enemies."
  • In John Steakley's Armor, the protagonist is the only survivor of a military unit that gets wiped out. The confusion of circumstances results in parts of the computerized record-keeping system thinking he's also dead, while other parts are aware he's alive; this, to put it mildly, does not make his life any easier.
  • Honor Harrington says a variation on the line when she returns to Manticore in Ashes Of Victory. In this case, not only has she been gone for the better part of two years, but the People's Republic of Haven actually faked footage of her execution and broadcast it throughout the galaxy. This causes a lot of complications, not least of which that her estate has been divided up according to her will. Honor is less bothered by this than by certain memorials to her...
  • In Lewis Carroll's Sylvie and Bruno, the Vice-Warden arranges for a false report of his brother's death.

"Is the Warden supposed to be dead?"
"Well, it's supposed so: but, mind you, I don't believe it! The evidence is very weak—mere hear-say. A wandering Jester, with a Dancing-Bear (they found their way into the Palace, one day) has been telling people he comes from Fairyland, and that the Warden died there. I wanted the Vice-Warden to question him, but, most unluckily, he and my Lady were always out walking when the Jester came round. Yes, the Warden's supposed to be dead!" And more tears trickled down the old man's cheeks.

  • A footnote in one of the Ciaphas Cain, HERO OF THE IMPERIUM!!! books reveals that Cain was listed as "killed in action" and then showed up alive (and typically saving the day) so many times that the Munitorum finally gave up trying to keep track and kept him on the payroll regardless—even long past his confirmed death ... and burial with full military honors.
  • Possibly as a Shout-Out to Mark Twain, one book in Animorphs sees a new alien race that according to Ax was killed off millennia ago. "Reports of their extinction may have been exaggerated" indeed, they're trying to kill us right now.
  • In the Star Wars Expanded Universe, Corran Horn has been reported dead and turned up alive again so often (3 times in the five Star Wars: X-Wing novels he features in alone) that it has been joked that when he really dies, nobody will believe it and will assume he's just in hiding and will turn up again sooner or later.
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time: Christopher's father told him his mother died. Then Christopher finds all the letters she's been writing to him since she left his father.
  • In Victory of Eagles, Laurence is presumed dead after the ship he was supposed to be on is sunk by the French.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • My Family: Ben Harper gets listed in the obituary by accident.
  • Fries With That?: Ben Shaw files himself as dead to get out of being beaten up. His friends quickly take advantage of this by pointing out that they don't pay dead people.
  • There's an episode of The Golden Girls in which Blanche's spurned boyfriend, an obituary editor, runs her obituary to get back at her. Blanche is more upset that he claimed she was 68 than being listed as dead.
  • One My Two Dads episode has a typo in an obituary causing everyone to think Joey was dead. He goes along with it for a while to sell art, because Dead Artists Are Better.
  • The Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Doppelgangland," in which meeting Vamp Willow causes Angel to report that Willow is dead. He then says hi to human Willow who is standing right behind him.
  • In the M*A*S*H episode "The Late Captain Pierce", the U.S. Army mistakenly declares Hawkeye dead.
  • In Coronation Street Jerry's father put his own obituary in the newspaper.
  • The eventually-oft-killed Daniel Jackson had this happen to him in an early episode of Stargate SG-1 -- they hold a eulogy for him and start going through his stuff before they realize they've just been tricked into thinking he's dead. And at the beginning of season 7, he reclaims a good many items which Jonas Quinn was using... You weren't using them was Jonas' (understandable) explanation.
    • Of course, he differs from most of these examples in that most of the time he actually was dead. Later on, though, his teammates get Genre Savvy about it, and O'Neill outright refuses to hold a memorial service one of the later times he gets killed, noting that he'll probably be back any time now.
  • Archie Bunker was misreported as dead by the Veterans Administration for one episode of All in The Family.
  • In Babylon 5, John Sheridan was thought to be dead. "I was. I got better." He spends a long time cleaning up the consequences of this.
  • In iCarly, Spencer is thought to be dead in an episode. It results in Spencer's artwork being worth a lot more money, which causes him to continue the illusion.
  • In The Sarah Jane Adventures episode "The Death of the Doctor"...well, you can guess.

The Doctor: Have you been telling people I'm dead?

  • Game of Thrones: "I see that the rumors of your demise were unfounded."
  • Happens on more than one occasion in Doctor Who:
    • The Series 2 two-part finale "Army Of Ghosts"/Doomsday begins with a voiceover from Rose telling the viewer "this is the story of how I died." At the conclusion, it's revealed that she's actually alive and stuck in a parallel universe, but she's been declared legally dead in our universe.
    • In the Series 5 finale "The Big Bang", the Doctor, Amy and Rory meet a mortally wounded version of the Doctor from 12 minutes into the future, and watch him die. Turns out he was only faking it to allow the trio to create a diversion for 12 minutes, allowing the future-Doctor to use those 12 minutes to wire up the Pandorica.
  • Jonathan Doors is shot by a sniper in the pilot of Earth The Final Conflict, protecting the Taelon ambassador Da'an. Turns out, it was all a setup. The sniper was working for Doors and was shooting blanks, as was the doctor who confirmed his death. The goal was to set up La Résistance to figure out the real reason the Taelons came to Earth. A few episodes later, Doors publicly outs himself, using a similar line to this trope.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Escape from Monkey Island starts with Elaine discovering that because she spent so much time out of the government of her islands, she was declared dead and had to get re-elected.

Elaine Marley: I'm going down to city hall to see about getting declared un-dead.
Guybrush Threepwood: Won't that make you a flesh-eating zombie?

  • In Mass Effect 2, Shepard was dead for two years, which leads to trouble when (s)he returns to the Citadel and is picked up by the security scanners as being dead. Fortunately, a friendly C-Sec officer changes the records without making him/her jump through all the hoops (s)he would normally have to go through.
    • You can also have them keep you out of the system, so to security you don't exist. This may have benefits in the third game, as Cerberus is listed as a terrorist organization, which doesn't normally help people stay out of the eyes of the law, Spectre or not.
  • In the first chapter of Disgaea 2 Dark Hero Axel is reported as dead (Adell and Rozalin just knocked him out), and he spends several chapters trying to convince people he's not. His own mother goes into mourning and then chews him out when he calls to reassure her, because she thinks he's an unusually cruel prankster; even after he MCs the Coliseum battle to jumpstart his career, the newscast "lose" the footage and claims that he's an escaped asylum inmate who thinks he's Axel. Much later his producer is revealed to have been behind it all to cover up his embezzlement.
  • Doctor Halsey quotes this trope in Halo: Reach. The casualty reports had listed her as K.I.A., or so Noble Team thought.
    • Near the beginning of the level "Uprising" in Halo 2, the Arbiter runs into some friendly forces. He's greeted with "The Arbiter! I thought he was dead!"
  • In Spyro: Year of the Dragon, Spyro goes through a portal and ends up in a faraway land where dragons were thought to be extinct. He replies with "Rumors of our extinction were greatly exaggerated."
  • The Fallout: New Vegas add-on, Lonesome Road adds a perk, "Thought You Died", which is basically this.
  • Albert Wesker and later, Jill Valentine both fall under this trope; Wesker in Code: Veronica and Jill in Resident Evil 5.
  • In the Original Trilogy, Irene Lew is thought to have been killed in the opening of the third game. She shows up later on and she is not very happy with her former boss trying to kill her.

Irene: Did you think that I would die that easily?

Web Comics[edit | hide]

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Mickey's April Fools, has Mickey Mouse pretending to die in front of Mortimer as an April Fools prank. Mickey then gets a letter declaring he's inherited a million dollars, but he can't get it because he's supposed to be dead.
  • In one episode of Hey Arnold!, Dino Spumoni faked his death and had this problem when he realized he couldn't get paid if he was dead.
  • Homer Simpson did it to escape a day of work. It eventually led to him discovering his long-lost mother, whose own death had been greatly exaggerated decades previously by Homer's father. She then fakes her death AGAIN at the end of the episode.
    • Lisa was also presumed dead at one point, owing the fact that she was supposed to be camping an ancient redwood when it got hit by lightning (which, as it turns out, was caused by the bucket she had in the tree). She refused to come clean because her "death" was inspiring the people, but finally did when it was twisted by the rich Texan guy (whose name is actually Rich Texan) into publicity for his new amusement park.
    • And Bart also once had Milhouse help him fake his death on some cliff.
  • On Family Guy this happened three times. The first time with Peter, who got out of a hospital bill by writing that he was dead. The rest of the episode involved him making a deal with the Grim Reaper. The second time was when they got Quagmire out of a marriage with a psycho woman. Since her last name was also Quagmire by marriage, and she grabbed the Grim Reaper's hand (killing herself in the process), it all worked out nicely.
    • The third time also involved the Grim Reaper, but he was just there, he didn't harvest. Peter, Cleveland, Joe and Quagmire all get stranded on a deserted island for quite some time, and are declared dead. Peter has to save his marriage since Brian married Lois during that time.
  • In Futurama, Cubert was able to take over Planet Express because the Professor had been declared dead as a tax dodge.

Farnsworth: Tax dodge nothing! You take one nap in a ditch in the park and they start declaring you this and that!

  • Dilbert had all of his benefits cut at work after spending a short period of time dead.
  • An episode of South Park featured a guy being frozen for almost three years. He comes back to his wife who says that she assumed he was dead and married someone else and now had two kids, aged 8 and 15. After awhile, the guy says, "Wait, 8 and 15?".
  • In Megamind, Metro Man goes so far as to fake his death before retiring to live alone. He makes a return for the finale in a spiritual sense, as it's actually Megamind using a hologram disguise, and quotes the trope name word-for-word.

Real Life[edit | hide]

  • The Trope Namer is Samuel "Mark Twain" Clemens, who gave the trope title as a statement in response to hearing that his obituary had been published in the New York Journal. The Journal had mistakenly reported the illness of his cousin James Ross Clemens (who wasn't actually dead, either) as Twain's own death. The original quote was:

James Ross Clemens, a cousin of mine, [...] is well now. The report of my illness grew out of his illness; the report of my death was an exaggeration.

  • On August 27, 2008, Bloomberg accidentally published a 17 page obituary regarding Steve Jobs' death. In a subsequent public appearance Jobs joked about the accident by displaying on screen, "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated."
  • A newspaper mistakenly published an obituary for Alfred Nobel, instead of his deceased brother. Nobel was shocked to see himself called "merchant of death" for his invention of dynamite, and was inspired to start the Nobel Prize so that he would be remembered for something else. It worked.
  • Britney Spears' Myspace page was recently[when?] hacked (or so they claim) with a fake death announcement.
  • In India, it's popular to bribe an official to declare a relative dead so that you can inherit his property. It has all the advantages of murder without the unpleasant messiness.
    • Lal Bihari had this happen to him and it took him years to literally get his life back. He was awarded an Ignobel Prize for his foundation of the Association of Dead People. One tactic of Association members is to get arrested at protests, leaving the authorities to explain how dead people can be arrested.
  • On June 25, 2009, Jeff Goldblum was reported dead of a fall on a movie set in New Zealand. On June 30, 2009, Jeff Goldblum went on The Colbert Report (on which he had made several appearances) to deny the (fake) reports of his death. He then subsequently caved to the evidence, (news program clips reporting his death) confirmed his own death, and gave his own "eulogy."
  • In the aftermath of the 17th November 1989 demonstration, a rumor has spread that a student named Martin Šmíd was killed during the event. This turned to be a misinformation; a student of that name was at the demonstration, but left before the police intervention began. He was interviewed in the television, presumably to dispel the rumor...and the transmission started at just the wrong moment when he was saying, referring to the events of the day: "Death touched me." (In case this figure of speech doesn't translate well to English, he meant: "I was horrified.")
  • Some accidental premature publishings on cnn.com revealed that CNN at least has outlines and some graphics prepared for obituaries of famous people, like Dick Cheney and Queen Elizabeth, who have yet to die in anticipation of eventually having to get one up on short notice.
  • In 1964, news bulletins widely broadcast a report that Nikita Khrushchev had died of "hecaphylphocatirosisus". Apparently, this went out when someone did not notice the notation "Can you confirm this?"
  • For a complete list of premature obituaries, check out The Other Wiki.
  • Although he was never officially declared to be dead, a very popular meme in the late 1960s suggested that Paul McCartney had died in a car accident around the mid 1960s and was replaced by a lookalike, which really took off in the underground media. The fact that the 'evidence' for this theory largely seemed to stem from a number of obscure and oblique 'references' on Beatles album covers and in song lyrics suggested that large quantities of drugs being ingested probably had something to do with it, but the rumours bedeviled McCartney for years no matter how many times he denied them, including a variation on the Mark Twain 'quote' above: "Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated. If I were dead I'd be the last to know."

"I wasn't really dead." (Paul to Chris Farley on Saturday Night Live)

  • A few years ago, there were a number of rumors that actress Natasha Lyonne was at death's door, due to various drug addictions. According to IMDb, she's still alive.
  • A popular rumor in the 70's and 80's was that Jerry Mathers (of Leave It to Beaver fame) had been killed in Vietnam. Not only is he quite alive and still acting, he never even served in Vietnam.
  • At the Battle of Hastings in 1066, a rumour suddenly swept through William The Conqueror's army that Duke William had been killed. The Duke heard of this and took his helmet off so that his army could recognise his red hair. He proceeded to win the battle and complete the Norman Conquest.
  • When Queen Victoria was in her final years, it was frequently reported that she had died and implied that they were just pretending she was still alive to keep her son off the throne.
  • In 2008, an internet Troll began circulating reports that voice actor Jerry Jewell had died in a car accident. Jewell remarks on it in the DVD commentary for Baccano! episode 9, which was being dubbed around that time: "Yes, I died in a car accident. But I had to record. That's what I'm willing to go through to get the job done." Ironic considering the anime in question, and the fact that such things happen to the characters in it regularly.
  • Lulz Sec recently[when?] placed a false story on The Sun's website claiming that Rupert Murdoch had died from a drug overdose. It was quickly removed, but still managed to be reprinted by The Times and a number of other news sites.
  • Steve from Blue's Clues was surprised to hear he had died and been replaced with a lookalike. No matter how many times he said he was still alive, some people still believed he was dead.
  • In describing the assessments of his medical condition once given to him by various doctors, composer Frederic Chopin commented "I have been sick as a dog during these past two weeks. Three doctors have visited me. The first said I was going to die; the second said I was breathing my last; and the third said I was already dead."