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Debunked: 10 Pop Culture Myths and Rumors Some Think Are True

Elisabeth Edwards
Photo Credits: Robert R. McElroy / Donaldson Collection / Michael Ochs Archives / Kevin Mazur / Fotos International / Getty Images
Photo Credits: Robert R. McElroy / Donaldson Collection / Michael Ochs Archives / Kevin Mazur / Fotos International / Getty Images

Gossip columns and scandalous rumors are common nuisances for celebrities, but sometimes a harmless myth takes on a life of its own. These are some of the wildest pop culture conspiracies around. How on earth did we ever believe Mister Rogers was a sniper?!

Stephen King killed John Lennon

Side-by-side portraits of novelist Stephen King and musician John Lennon
Left: Portait of American horror writer Stephen King, mid 1970s. (Photo Credit: Alex Gotfryd / Corbis via Getty Images). Right: John Lennon of The Beatles, 1971. (Photo Credit: Michael Putland / Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

The Beatles have been the subject of several famous conspiracy theories over the years, and while “Paul is Dead” certainly sounded outlandish, another crazy myth began to spread thanks to an eccentric fan who declared that famed horror novelist Stephen King – and not convicted killer Mark David Chapman – shot John Lennon in 1980.

The man who started the conspiracy, Steve Lightfoot, interrupted a Florida city council meeting by announcing his theory, announcing that “Stephen King is the worst criminal the state of Florida has ever harbored.” Lightfoot claimed that King must be the real murderer considering he looks very similar to Mark David Chapman.

He also believed that King was given permission to kill Lennon by Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, who were both frustrated by Lennon’s pacifist influence.

Debunked? Mark David Chapman was arrested on the scene following Lennon’s assassination. He was found guilty in 1981 and sentenced to 20 years to life in prison.

Walt Disney’s body was frozen

Walt Disney with a dog
Walt Disney signs an autograph with a dog. (Photo Credit: Bettmann / Getty Images)

After Walt Disney’s death, rumors began to circulate that the Mickey Mouse creator had his body cryogenically frozen and stored underneath what is now the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland in California – awaiting the day technology can defrost the deceased animator.

Believers of the theory think that the news of Disney’s death was delayed long enough to prepare his body for preservation. Disney also had a lifelong interest in the future and technological progress – including cryogenics. This could seem to legitimize the conspiracy as one of Disney’s futuristic projects like the proposed mini-town EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow), which was later turned into a Disney attraction.

Debunked? According to historians, Walt Disney’s body was cremated before it was interred at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in California –  not beneath the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.

Stevie Wonder isn’t blind

Stevie Wonder plays piano on stage
Stevie Wonder performs onstage at an event in 2011. (Photo Credit: Larry Busacca / WireImage / Getty Images)

Stevie Wonder is considered by many to be one of the greatest musicians of our time, and many already know that he is blind. Some conspiracy theorists believe that Wonder isn’t actually blind, thanks to some third-person stories of the singer doing things someone without eyesight wouldn’t likely be able to do.

Some say he caught a falling microphone before it fell to the ground, others cite a comment Wonder made about wanting to be a photographer while using a camera, and the craziest reason: he likes to attend basketball games.

Debunked? All three of these stories don’t point to Wonder having sight – they stem from misinformation about blindness. Stevie Wonder was born premature, which caused a condition that weakened the blood vessels in his eyes, triggering blindness.

Wonder likely heard the microphone falling and caught it. Wanting to be a photographer and taking photos can be an experience explored with other senses beyond sight, and basketball games are just fun to attend regardless of abilities – especially since announcers have long since provided live commentary on games before we could see them on TV.

Mister Rogers was a deadly sniper

Portrait of Fred Rogers
Portrait of American educator and television personality Fred Rogers of the television series ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,’ circa 1980s. (Photo Credit: Fotos International / Courtesy of Getty Images)

For some reason, a myth began to circulate that beloved children’s TV host Fred Rogers (AKA Mister Rogers) was hiding a dark past as a Navy SEAL sniper in the Vietnam War who was covered in tattoos hidden beneath his sweaters.

While Rogers did register for the draft in 1946 and reported for a physical in 1950, he was ultimately deemed unfit for military service. Some believe the rumor began when a former Marine and sharpshooter also named Fred Rogers created a website for his new security business with the domain Luckily, the website was immediately taken down but the rumor of Roger’s violent past stuck.

Debunked? Actual former Navy SEALS chimed in on the issue and released a formal statement: “While there are rumors that Mr. Rogers, the host of internationally acclaimed TV show for children – Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, served as a Navy SEAL or a Marine Scout Sniper during the Vietnam era with a large number of confirmed kills, we have to state it is false.”

Not to mention, Mister Rogers was already a successful television personality when the show first aired in 1968 – right in the middle of the Vietnam War.

Stanley Kubrik helped fake the moon landing

Director Stanley Kubrick overlooks cameramen while filming
Stanley Kubrick on a movie set, circa 1975. (Photo Credit: Film Publicity Archive / United Archives via Getty Images)

On July 20, 1969, 530 million people tuned in to watch Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin take the first ever human steps on the moon. It didn’t take long for rumors to circulate that the moon landing was really a hoax filmed on a fake moon somewhere in Hollywood to help the United States win the Space Race against Soviet Russia.

The year before the moon landing, celebrated sci-fi filmmaker Stanley Kubrick released his space-age masterpiece 2001: A Space Oddysey. 2001 wowed audiences with its seemingly realistic depiction of space. In fact, Kubrick’s film was so convincing some began to speculate that the US government hired him to film the fictitious moon landing.

Debunked? Many people denied the moon landing ever took place because the footage seemed to look “fake” due to strange excuses like the lack of shadows or the way the American flag hung in the strange new atmosphere.

The reason why the moon landing footage looked “fake” to some people wasn’t that Kubrick filmed it, it was because 2001 recruited a team of aerospace experts to help the movie appear as realistic as possible. If anything, Kubrick helped to make the moon landing even more credible!

Mama Cass choked to death on a ham sandwich

Portrait of Mama Cass on a sofa
Cass Elliot (Mama Cass) of The Mamas And The Papas, 1972. (Photo Credit: Michael Putland / Getty Images)

Cass Elliot, also known as Mama Cass, – famed singer of The Mamas and The Papas – saw her friend Sue Cameron just days before she would be found dead in her London apartment on July 29, 1974. According to Cameron, she dialed Elliot’s phone number when she heard the awful news and was greeted by Cass’ frantic manager Allan Carr.

Carr told Cameron, a writer with The Hollywood Reporter, “You’ve got to tell them that she died choking on a ham sandwich. You must go to your typewriter and write that. There’s a half of a ham sandwich on her nightstand.'” Even though Cameron didn’t believe the ham sandwich story, she published it anyway and watched as it became worldwide news.

“Many people don’t realize that it’s not even true. Even though I have said — and written — it’s not true, it still goes on” she told PEOPLE magazine, “I never thought it would last as long as it has.”

Debunked? An autopsy later revealed that 32-year-old Mama Cass died from a heart attack. And while no drugs were found in her system at the time of death, it was also discovered that Cass had a substance abuse problem. Compounded by a series of restrictive crash diets, her heart became weak enough to ultimately stop beating.

Marilyn Monroe had an IQ of 168

Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe. (Photo Credit: Frank Povolny / Twentieth Century Fox / Sunset Boulevard / Corbis via Getty Images)

Marilyn Monroe was much more than just a “dumb blonde.” An avid reader, her personal library was filled with over 400 books written by the world’s most celebrated authors, including James Joyce, Albert Camus, Aristotle, and Marcel Proust. But one unfounded rumor about Monroe’s intelligence still floats around the internet: that she had an IQ of 168 – a level of genius shared by some of the world’s most brilliant people.

Debunked? It is possible that Marilyn had a high IQ, but she never had her IQ tested. The modern IQ test was introduced in 1949 when Monroe was in her early 20s.

Paul McCartney died and was replaced

Portrait of Paul McCartney sitting on a bed
Bassist Paul McCartney of the rock band “The Beatles” poses for a portrait, circa 1964. (Photo Credit: Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images)

Perhaps one of music’s most well-known conspiracy theories, “Paul is dead” became a mainstream myth that claimed the real Beatles frontman Paul McCartney died in a car crash on November 9, 1966, and was replaced by a look-a-like. Several other celebrity look-a-like hoaxes have made their way through the rumor mill, but this one is just plain crazy!

Believers think that hidden messages revealing the true fate of Paul McCartney are hidden by clues like small symbols featured on the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album art or in “backmasking” tracks. Backmasking was sometimes used by the Beatles to hide alternative messages that can only be heard when the record is played backward.

Certain tracks on The Beatles, more widely known as The White Album, supposedly hint at McCartney’s death. These include a section of “Revolution 9” which sounds like “Turn me on, dead man” when played in reverse. Others believe John Lennon’s mumbling between songs “I’m So Tired” and “Blackbird” sound like “Paul is dead man. Miss him.”

Debunked? The Beatles have released official statements several times over the years saying the myths were complete rubbish. John Lennon even liked to egg on the conspiracy theorists with confusing lyrics like “And the Walrus was Paul” in “I am The Walrus” from the 1967 album Magical Mystery Tour.

Elvis faked his death

Elvis Presley performs live in 1972
Rock and roll singer Elvis Presley performs on stage in 1972. (Photo Credit: Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images)

The King of Rock n’ Roll Elvis Presley was found dead in his bathroom at his Tennessee estate Graceland on August 16, 1977. An autopsy ruled the cause of death was a heart attack. However, conspiracy theories surrounding a possible fake autopsy report, involvement with the FBI, and Elvis’ strange relationship with President Richard Nixon have fueled a rumor that Presley faked his own death.

Some believe that Elvis had ties to the Mafia, faking his death to go into a witness protection program and become an undercover FBI agent. Official “Elvis sightings” have also captivated conspiracy believers who say they have seen the King alive, out and about.

Debunked? Toward the end of his life, Elvis became increasingly paranoid of potential attackers and threats to his security. He also apparently loved to impersonate a police officer to pull over and prank unsuspecting friends. His fascination with law enforcement ultimately led him to the Oval Office, where he showed up to meet President Nixon on December 21, 1970, decked out in a purple velvet suit complete with a belt and a .45 Colt pistol.

He presented the president with a note he had penned on the way to the White House which read: “I have done an in-depth study of drug abuse and Communist brainwashing techniques and I am right in the middle of the whole thing where I can and will do the most good.” He then asked the president if he could name him a “Federal Agent at Large” and give him a Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs badge. Nixon did give Elvis an honorary badge, but many people in his inner circle claimed Presley believed it was the real thing.

Katy Perry is actually JonBenét Ramsey

Left: American child JonBenét Ramsey was murdered at age 6 in Boulder, Colorado. (Photo Credit: Axel Koester / Sygma via Getty Images). Right: Katy Perry performs onstage during her Las Vegas Residency at Resorts World Las Vegas. (Photo Credit: John Shearer / Getty Images for Katy Perry)
Left: American child JonBenét Ramsey was murdered at age 6 in Boulder, Colorado. (Photo Credit: Axel Koester / Sygma via Getty Images). Right: Katy Perry performs onstage during her Las Vegas Residency at Resorts World Las Vegas. (Photo Credit: John Shearer / Getty Images for Katy Perry)

The horrific murder of six-year-old JonBenét Ramsey in 1996 shocked the nation. The case remains unsolved after more than 25 years , but one of the strangest theories about what actually happened to Ramsey involves pop singer Katy Perry. Conspiracy theorists believe that Perry is actually Ramsey all grown up.

More from us: Did Yoko Ono Brainwash John Lennon Into Getting Back Together With Her?

Some cite Perry’s lyrics and music videos as proof, while others say that having similar eyebrows is proof they are the same person. If the theories are true, why would JonBenét “fake” her death? Believers think the whole thing was orchestrated by the Illuminati to make Perry rich and famous.

Debunked? Even though the theories are founded on very little proof, it’s Perry and Ramsey’s age difference that would make this hoax impossible. Perry is six years older than Ramsey, making it highly unlikely to confuse a 12-year-old for a six-year-old!

Elisabeth Edwards

Elisabeth Edwards is a public historian and history content writer. After completing her Master’s in Public History at Western University in Ontario, Canada Elisabeth has shared her passion for history as a researcher, interpreter, and volunteer at local heritage organizations.

She also helps make history fun and accessible with her podcast The Digital Dust Podcast, which covers topics on everything from art history to grad school.

In her spare time, you can find her camping, hiking, and exploring new places. Elisabeth is especially thrilled to share a love of history with readers who enjoy learning something new every day!

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