It’s hard letting go, especially when beloved artists die young. Google the name of any dead celebrity (even those outside The 27 Club) plus “still alive” and you’ll find at least one deranged Reddit post claiming someone’s friend’s uncle’s mechanic kicked it with said dead celebrity a couple months back. However, the most enigma and scrutiny bolsters the legacy of Tupac Shakur’s death.
The rapper sneered, “Expect me like you expect Jesus to come back,” on Better Dayz’ “Outro,” released in 2002 (six years after he was shot and killed in Las Vegas), providing evidence enough for swaths of fans to buy that Tupac would indeed return. Many who believed he was coming back pegged July 7th, 2007 as the significant resurrection date, fueled further by Illuminati theories and the late artist’s fascination with numerology. Then there’s The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, dropped just eight weeks after Pac’s passing – which also marked his posthumous adoption of the Makaveli moniker, an ode to Italian philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli, who was rumored to also fake his own death as a sneaky ploy to get revenge on various enemies. The seventh day of the seventh month of the seventh year looked like as good a time as any for the rapper and actor to come back from the grave.
7/7/07 came and went with the most musically significant event relegated to circumscribed to Rihanna’s “Umbrella” holding down Billboard’s Top 100 for the fifth week in a row. Yet rumors continue to swirl, saying the rapper has been hiding out in Cuba after “he chose to leave quietly” back in 19996.
Be it because of a “missing body” like in Tupac’s case (on top of endless additional “evidence” theorists stew over) or on-hold autopsy reports, some fans cling to the idea that their heroes still roam Earth (and occasionally photobomb selfies at parties).
Andy Kaufman’s collaborator Bob Zmuda suggested the performance artist, notorious for deeply entrenching himself in roles, faked his own death. At the 2013 Andy Kaufman Awards, a woman claiming to be Kaufman’s daughter gave his brother, Michael Kaufman, a letter to read on-stage, reportedly typed by the alive-and-well Andy. Later, Michael told CNN he considered the whole incident a hoax. A more recent theory goes so far as to propose Kaufman lives under a helluva disguise, as Donald Trump.
Paris Jackson’s Instagram ignited fans of her late father, Michael, last fall when she posted a car selfie. Theorists say, hidden in Paris’s backseat, you can see Michael’s hat and face peeking out from a pile of clothes. (Who BeLİEves Michael Jackson is Alive?, a Facebook group of about 12.5 thousand, remained active posting alternative death theories till 2015.) The King of Pop is’’t the only dead celebrity to photobomb a selfie; February reports claimed Pac’s hip-hop nemesis, Biggie Smalls, appeared in the background of another shot (though Notorious’s procession through Brooklyn seems to debunk such a claim).
Monica Ali’s novel Untold Story imagines a world in which Princess Diana faked her death. If Kennedy Lived: The First and Second Terms of President John F. Kennedy: An Alternate History, by Jeff Greenfield, explores a similar, invented history for the late JFK. A satirical website cruelly inspired a rumor Philip Seymour Hoffman’s drug-induced death was a hoax.
The appeal of such conspiracy theories and continued interest in long-deceased celebrities’ whereabouts could be shrouded in denial; refusal to admit that legends could ever die, that they, too, are mere mortals. People don’t want to let dead celebrities die. Regardless of reason, the public has held a long fascinated in the mystery of celebrity, death, and the fusion of the two. (No one forced people to believe Anna Anderson when she claimed to be youngest Romanov daughter Anastasia, who was actually killed at the hands of Bolshevik revolutionaries in 1918. Anderson’s allegation wasn’t debunked till the 1990s.)
This strong, enduring allure is why Tupac returned in holographic form to perform at 2012 Coachella, as did Audrey Hepburn in 2013 for a Galaxy chocolate commercial. So whether or not any of these passed artists will reappear in physical form seems less important. Shreds of hope or faith or imagination are too likely to keep feeding curiosity – and footing $100,000 to $400,000 bills.