Last week, the actress Anne Heche died at the age of 53 after a devastating car crash in her Los Angeles neighborhood. Heche was a celebrated actor with film credits like Six Days, Seven Nights and Donnie Brasco under her belt, and had also turned in acclaimed performances in shows like Men in Trees and Hung. Yet her accomplishments had consistently been overshadowed by two things: her three-year relationship with Ellen DeGeneres in the late 1990s; her struggles with substance abuse and mental illness; and her erratic behavior, such as an interview she gave to Barbra Walters about embodying an alien named Celestia, often garnering headlines.
From what we know thus far about Heche’s death, it seems that she continued to struggle up to the last moments of her life. Footage from the accident shows that she had been driving at high speeds at the time of the crash, and a blood test taken shortly afterward found the presence of drugs in her system. The story of her life and death seems like a tragic yet clear-cut case of an explosive talent struggling with addiction and mental illness, who ultimately succumbed to her demons.
Yet conspiracy theorists on the internet did not see it that way. Instead, they saw the death of Anne Heche as proof of something else: that she had been murdered to cover up the crimes of Hollywood power players and “elites” like Jeffrey Epstein and Amber Heard.
Shortly after Heche died, a post started circulating on Twitter that garnered about 4,000 shares before it was deleted. The post read: “So actress Anne Heche, who died in a fiery car crash, was working on a movie titled The Girl In Room 13 about the Jeffrey Epstein ring.” The claim also circulated on Facebook, where many speculated that Heche had been murdered to cover up the truth about the disgraced billionaire financier, whose 2020 death by hanging in a New York prison has been ruled a suicide.
There was one problem with the claim: The Girl In Room 13, which is set to air on Lifetime in October, is not about Epstein, as a network spokesperson later confirmed. According to an IMDB synopsis, the film is about sex trafficking in general, as it tells the story of a woman (Heche’s daughter in the film) being held captive in a hotel room for the purpose of being sold for sex. But it’s not at all clear that the story is based on him (there is no evidence, for instance, that Epstein ever held a woman in a motel room against her will).
The Epstein rumor is not the only one surrounding Heche’s passing. QAnon influencer Liz Crokin, who has promoted the claim that Chrissy Teigen is connected to Pizzagate as well as the ludicrous idea that John F. Kennedy, Jr. faked his own death, recently posted that at the time of her death, Heche was working on the HBO show The Idol, which is produced by the Weeknd and is rumored to be inspired by Britney Spears (a prominent figure in the QAnon ecosystem). Crokin then baselessly speculated that Heche — who had publicly spoken in support of Heard’s ex and her former costar Johnny Depp earlier this year — was killed days after online rumors had started circulating that Heard used to throw Satanic sex parties in the apartment she’d shared with Depp. “What did Anne know?” Crokin’s post ominously concluded.
The confusion of Crokin’s specific conspiracy theory about Heche’s death aside — is she implying that Heche had insider knowledge about Britney Spears or about Amber Heard, two Hollywood celebrities with no apparent connection to each other? — it’s not uncommon for misinformation purveyors online to project their own ideas onto celebrity deaths. In the past few years, many of these conspiracy theories have centered around the Covid-19 vaccine, with some on the far right suggesting that DMX and Bob Saget had died of vaccine complications (which was untrue in the cases of both men). But such theories are not specific to the right, nor are they even specific to young and seemingly healthy people who die under unclear circumstances. Last month, for instance, similar speculation arose on the left after Ivana Trump, Trump’s ex-wife, died after a fall down the stairs in her Manhattan brownstone — with accidental falls being the leading injury-related cause of death for people aged 65 or older (Ivana was 73 at the time of her passing).
In this specific case, Anne Heche was young — but emerging evidence suggests she was unfortunately not terribly healthy. She openly struggled with addiction and mental illness her entire life, and though we are still learning about the circumstances of her death, all available evidence points to the fact that she still struggled with those issues at the time she passed. Sadly, there appears to be little mystery surrounding Heche’s death. It makes little sense to focus the conversation around who “killed” her, or why, when there’s another valuable discussion to be had: what we as a culture could have done better to support her while she was living.
This week on Don’t Let This Flop, Rolling Stone‘s podcast about internet news and culture, cohosts Brittany Spanos and Ej Dickson discuss Heche’s underrated career and the outrageous conspiracy theories around her death, as well as the cancellation of William Shakespeare, Demi Lovato’s “29” trend, and an X-rated rumor about Barry star Bill Hader.