For better or worse, celebrity culture has consumed America. From film icons and music moguls to reality TV empires and sports stars, Americans just can’t get enough news about fame and fortune. So when a celebrity dies, it makes sense that fans follow that storyline too. Except the obsessions are not always fact-based.
In some shocking cases, celeb deaths turn into quirky and even disturbing conspiracy theories. No matter what the official line may be, certain fans stick to their guns about outlandish allegations. In these cases, conspiracy theorists have claimed crazy tales about celebs passing on. Some say late celebrities aren’t actually dead but in hiding. Others claim stars took on new identities. Whatever the case, in these ten instances, fans have thrown mystery into the mix.
10 Avril Lavigne
Canadian singer Avril Lavigne broke through in 2002 with her hit “Sk8r Boi.” The performer became an unlikely pop princess with her alt look and emo songs. Fans immediately loved her. But is she actually dead? And was she secretly switched out for a replacement?! That conspiracy has persisted for nearly two decades at least.
A group of fans called the “Avril Rangers” claim the Lavigne that concert-goers see on stage isn’t the real deal. They allege Avril died at her home not long after the release of her debut album, Let Go. In the subsequent twenty years, they say, she was replaced by a lookalike actress named Melissa Vandella. The doppelgänger was originally hired to confuse paparazzi photographers, the conspiracy goes. But when Avril supposedly died, Vandella stepped in for good.
The bizarre theory about Vandella really took hold in a popular Brazilian fan blog. The site, which was called “Avril Está Morta” (“Avril is dead”), chronicled alleged inconsistencies between Vandella and Lavigne. Its authors analyzed the womens’ supposedly different skin blemishes and clothing styles. They also paid attention to cryptic lyrical allusions that came in newly-released songs after the real star’s supposed death.
The conspiracy took hold as social media rose in prominence. In recent years, the blog’s creator has walked back the outlandish theory. Still, that hasn’t stopped fans from running with the crazy caper. On social media, new theories still surface about Lavigne’s supposed death and replacement.
9 Buddy Holly
February 3, 1959, will forever be known as “The Day the Music Died.” That night, rock stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and JP “The Big Bopper” Richardson all perished in a plane crash in an Iowa cornfield. They had chartered a private plane to fly to a show in Minnesota when adverse weather brought the plane down. Or did it? Years after the young stars’ shocking deaths, rumors persisted that the tragic crash hadn’t been accidental.
The theory alleges Holly had been carrying a gun with him for protection. After the crash, it was found at the site. Conspiracy theorists claimed the weapon had been fired in the air. Some claimed an accidental gunshot was what brought down the aircraft. Others said Holly supposedly murdered his fellow passengers and the pilot to bring the plane down. The rumors made their way back to Holly’s loved ones, who struggled with the grisly theories.
By 2007, the Big Bopper’s son was sick of all the supposition. Seeking to free the family from the allegations, he hired an anthropologist to exhume his father’s body. The scientist carefully re-examined the rock star’s remains. When the autopsy came back, it was conclusive: Richardson had no traces of ammunition in his body. He died instantaneously as a result of the crash. While the reveal didn’t conclusively confirm the fates of the other passengers, family members hoped the new information would be enough to put the crazy gunshot claim to bed once and for all.
8 Elvis Presley
If you’ve been to Las Vegas, you know Elvis Presley is supposedly still alive. While the real King of rock ‘n’ roll died in 1977, no shortage of impersonators have worked his brand in Sin City. The joke about Elvis’s apparently eternal life is a long one. In fact, it picked up almost right after his death. His father, Vernon, ordered his autopsy sealed, hoping to avoid its release into the public domain. And it was, for fifty years. But soon, in 2027, the autopsy will finally be revealed to the world. That may nix many of these rumors about Graceland’s supposedly everlasting guru once and for all.
Two of the most hare-brained allegations about Elvis center on incredibly unlikely events. In one, the rocker was supposedly abducted by aliens. That conspiracy was first made famous by Ray Stevens’s 1994 song “.” The song was a gag recording meant to skewer people who believed Elvis was still alive, but it backfired. Fans produced increasingly oddball theories about an alien experience. Some suggested spacemen finally took him home in 1977 after years of helping his career here on Earth.
Another notable theory about Elvis centers on the FBI. Some skeptical fans claim the King was secretly working for the bureau. He supposedly got so deep into crime-fighting that they were forced to place him in the Witness Protection Program to keep his status at the agency a secret. Of course, that theory spoiled after the agency released more than 750 reports on the late singer—with none linking him to a job at Quantico.
Aaliyah was a rising star in the music industry when she died in a tragic plane crash in the Bahamas in 2001. An investigation later found that the private jet she’d been riding in was overloaded. She was just 22 years old. After her death, the singer’s estate enjoyed a string of hit singles. Those popular songs raised her profile in the music world posthumously. Of course, nothing could bring the singer back to life. Even decades later, fans still recall her beautiful voice and unique R&B persona.
But not everybody was on the same wavelength with Aaliyah’s cause of death. In 2005, fellow croonergave a cryptic interview to The Guardian. During her chat about the late songstress, Blige warned the world that “they” were coming for her next. “When I saw her die, that’s when I discovered the fact that I’m next,” Blige told the outlet. “I don’t know how or when, but I’m next. I don’t know what kind of freak accident they’re going to put me in, or what kind of overdose of heroin they’re going to sort out, but at the end of the day, I knew I was next.”
Of course, Blige is still alive nearly two decades after that interview. She’s thriving now, too, so it would appear her deadly theory was wrong. Even so, recent information has come to light about the abuse R. Kelly levied upon Aaliyah in her early teen years. That shocking storyline continues to have fans wondering whether Aaliyah’s death was truly an accident.
6 Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs transcended tech after founding Apple and developing its rock-solid brand. The rock star-like tech exec enjoyed an amazing run, bringing the company into the digital age. Brilliant products like the iPod, iPhone, and iPad enjoyed massive success in the 2000s. Along the way, Apple (and Jobs) developed a well-earned reputation for sleek design and effective computing. Sadly, in 2011, Jobs perished from an aggressive bout of pancreatic cancer. His legacy with Apple is all but guaranteed to live on forever, but his unexpected passing shocked fans and customers to the core.
In the years since Jobs’s death, lookalikes keep popping up. In 2019, a social media post appeared to show someone who very closely resembled Jobs living in Cairo, Egypt. It quickly went viral, pushing fans to wonder whether he was still alive. The real Jobs was of Syrian descent, and in his life, he supposedly had a love of the Middle East. The internet took those facts and ran wild, deducing he must have faked his death and moved to Egypt for privacy.
That’s not the only time Jobs has been supposedly spotted alive after death, though. In 2016, eagle-eyed Brazilians wondered whether he was secretly living in Rio de Janeiro when a doppelgänger popped up there. Of course, it’s all hearsay. Jobs’s legacy lives on only in Apple’s tech offerings. Still, that hasn’t stopped fans from claiming to see him all over the world.
5 Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson was supposed to be primed for his big comeback when he passed away unexpectedly in 2009. The King of Pop had been gearing up for a 50-date residency at London’s O2 Arena in July of that year. But weeks before the comeback was to begin, Jackson died. A months-long investigation found he perished from an overdose of the medication propofol. His private physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, was later found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in a shocking trial. Murray’s conviction grabbed headlines at the time. Five years later, it was upheld on appeal.
Jackson’s tragic death wasn’t the end, though. In the years since his passing, fans have put forth numerous rumors about what really happened. Some theories include questions about whether the singer was actually murdered. Jackson’s daughter Paris gave credence to that take in 2017. That year, she claimed “a lot of people” wanted her father dead. Cryptically, she warned that she was seeking justice for it.
Not much has come of the murder theory in the years since Paris’s cryptic justice claim, though. Lately, a different allegation has made the rounds: Jackson supposedly faked his own death because he was half a billion dollars in debt. Conspiracy lovers claim Jackson snuck away from the spotlight to avoid a nine-figure payment. Some even allege the pop star is now conceptual artist Dave Dave, an old friend of Jackson’s from his earlier music biz days.
4 John Lennon
It wouldn’t seem like one person can spread a totally unsubstantiated rumor about a celebrity’s death, but here we are. When John Lennon was assassinated by Mark David Chapman in 1980, the music world went into shock. But one man named Steve Lightfoot claimed the killing was the product of an insane government plot. According to Lightfoot, Lennon was murdered by horror author Stephen King. The crazed conspiracy theorist first published long pamphlets alleging his fact-free accusation. He also infamously decked out a van and drove around, drawing attention to his cause.
The basis for his theory was confusing: Lightfoot noted King faintly resembled Chapman and thus made a connection. Law enforcement has never been moved by it. Chapman pled guilty to the murder in 1981 and has remained in prison ever since.
As for Lightfoot, his theory took on new energy with the rise of the internet. In the digital age, the conspiracy pusher moved to the web with his take. Internet users have taken to marveling at the outlandish theory. In recent years, it has grown to include allegations about Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. Thankfully for King’s writing career (and the sane among us), very few people take these bizarre claims seriously.
3 Bill Hicks
Bill Hicks was a rebellious child born into a devout Baptist family in a rural part of Georgia. As he grew up, he channeled his displeasure with that conservative upbringing into biting, witty comedy bits. In the 1980s, the chain-smoking southerner became a beloved stand-up star on the comedy circuit. His acerbic tongue drew laughs, and the anti-establishment political commentary in his material was notable at the time. Sadly, the angry young comic never got a chance to become a superstar like George Carlin or Richard Pryor. In 1994, at just 32 years old, he passed quickly and privately after a bout with pancreatic cancer.
In the years since, Hicks’s legacy as a truth-teller has been solidified. It’s also been made suspect. Some overzealous fans claim Hicks actually didn’t die but rather faked his death and became… wait for it… Alex Jones. That’s right! The theory holds that Hicks gave up comedy for right-wing political rants and internet radio broadcasts. Hicks and Jones have some common enemies, like the mainstream media and the general establishment of “elite” culture found in places like Los Angeles and New York.
But Hicks was funny and deeply sarcastic—two traits Jones doesn’t possess. There’s nary a resemblance between the two men, either. Still, internet users desperate to keep Hicks’s memory alive claim the unfounded rumor about his alleged Alex Jones transition.
2 David Bowie
David Bowie’s final album Blackstar was released just two days before his death in January 2016. Immediately, fans wondered about the new music’s timing, especially considering its content leaned heavily into themes of death and transformation. But for conspiracy theorists, things go back a lot farther. Some say Bowie’s 1972 concept album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is where the sketchy stuff started.
That theory claims Bowie used “Ziggy” to foretell the birth of… Kanye West. Yes, really! Believers point to the 1972 album’s artwork, in which Bowie is standing under a cryptic sign that reads “K. West.” Then, the title of the album’s opening track, “Five Years,” points to a time five years in the future (1977), which coincides with Ye’s birth year. Thus, Blackstar is supposedly Bowie’s final act of passing the proverbial torch to Ye—the new Black star destined to lead the music biz. Creepy!
If Ye doesn’t do it for you, there are other Bowie conspiracies out there. The most persistent one focuses on Jack Steven, a music mogul who had been Bowie’s friend for years. After the pop star passed away in 2016, Steven appeared on Sky News and said he “felt that part of [him] had died, too.”
Fans pounced on that seemingly innocuous comment. Now, some believe Bowie and Steven were actually the same person. They point to similar physical similarities between the two men and claim Bowie’s “death” was Steven’s way of wrapping up his alter-ego’s career. Thus, the TV comment was supposedly a coded message for fans who figured it out.
1 The Hollywood Star Whackers
When actor Randy Quaid abruptly moved to Canada in 2010, he left a trail of controversy in his wake. The drama came in the form of a series of bizarre interviews. In them, Quaid claimed he and his wife Evi were on the run to escape a murderous group of people. He dubbed the sketchy organization the “Hollywood Star Whackers” and asserted they had a hit list of stars to kill. He also claimed he previously avoided their wrath with a wild jaunt around Siberia.
According to Quaid, the group has killed several A-list celebs, including Heath Ledger and David Carradine. “I can’t believe that David would commit suicide,” he once told EW. “His wife recently has come out and said she doesn’t believe that… she believes he was murdered. Heath was an athlete. He played Australian football. He was robust.”
Quaid also claimed the Star Whackers were responsible for ruining the careers of many others in the industry. “I’ve had eight friends of mine who have either died mysteriously or had scandals surrounding them in recent years,” he offered the mag. No other proof of the Star Whackers’ existence has ever come out, but Quaid and his wife remain convinced. Thankfully for them, they are both still alive. Thus, it appears the Star Whackers haven’t honed in on the target quite yet.