Do Celebrities have their obituaries pre written?

Sharon Osbourne’s death accidentaly got reported because her obituary which had been pre written was mistakenly posted on a major news website.
All the details such as the date of death were filled in with X’s and had she have died the X’s would have been filled in with details such as date of death.
Did they do this because she had cancer and they didn’t know which way it would go or is it something that news organizations keep on file in case of a celebrity death?
I have no cite for this because I read about this in a magazine but I think the ABC NEWS website had leaked the pre written obituary.

For breaking news of a topical celebrity, they are prepared well in advance. They update them periodically, just in case it takes five years for the death to happen. I imagine Christopher Reeve’s had been on file since his original accident.

My apologies, but its late and I really dont feel like typing, so check out these related websites.

So this is only when the celebrity gets hurt or has a potentially life threatening disease?

Nope, this is for anybody in any walk of life famous enough so that they would get prominent mention when they die.

Except for presidents and the like, this is a miserable low-level grind-'em-out sort of assignment.

So, now you finally know what cub reporters do. :smiley:

This has been going on for decades by the way.

The famous Chuckles (?) the Clown episode on The Mary Tyler Moore Show from the 1970’s is partially about that.


Newspapers call them morgue files. When someone famous goes feet up, they pull the file, make some minor changes/additions, and it’s ready to go.

I used that example just because it was an unexpected event. As soon as it happened, they would know to prepare one. Normally, I would think they’d wait until a certain age (50 or 60 perhaps) before assembling one for most celebrities.

In the events of unexpected deaths of people relatively young, like John Ritter perhaps, or River Phoenix, most likely the media didn’t have one prepared. But I could be wrong, they may prepare them much earlier, and for all levels of celebrity, than I’m guessing.

I wonder if there are any for Paris Hilton…

Cite for that.

And as much as I love him, something tells me they’ve had Ozzy’s ready since 1985 or so.

These are all done way in advance. I remember a practice assignment in college where I had to write one for Tiger Woods. Basically I think what you described in the OP is standard procedure. The basic biography is done and updated once in a while, and then when the person actually dies, you usually have to write just the first paragraph or so - explaining what they died of, where and when, and maybe included details about funeral stuff at the end of the piece.

When you think about it a bit, it’s the perfect practice assignment for a young reporter, in that it can be reviewed at leisure, corrected if anything’s wrong, factually or stylistially, and kept on file if it’s okay. Every other practice story is either a total waste of the young reporter’s time (in that you don’t know if any other event is going to happen, but you do know that someday we all will die) or it’s a story that may be used before some senior person can review it.

John O’Hara (in “The Girl on the Baggage Truck”) and Tobias Wolff (in “Mortals”) have both written wonderful stories about being young reporters assigned to this job.

[Nitpick]No, it wasn’t the “Chuckles the Clown” episode. The guy who died in this MTM episode was, I believe, the oldest man in Minnesota. Mary had been given the arduous assignment of updating the station’s morgue files and, by the time she had gotten to oldest man in Minnesota, she was so tired of the project that she added some snarky comments about him. Of course, he dies the next day and his obit–with the snarky comments–is read on the news.[/Nitpick]

Actually, they write the horoscopes and do man-in-the-street interviews.

In the UK, following a change in practice in the last 20 years, most of the “broadsheets” now carry signed obituaries, often written by an expert on the relevant area - and usually with a strong opinion about the deceased. Since the pieces are sitting on file for so long, it’s relatively common for a note to be added to the byline that the named author died several years ago and that some details of the obituary have been updated since then.

When Bob Hope died, The New York Times ran an obituary written by Vincent Canby who had himself died three years earlier.

I thought that morgue files referred to the stored back issues of the paper, not the pre-written obituaries?

Is anybody else reminded of the Dana Carvey as Tom Brokaw sketch where they’re preparing Gerald Ford’s obit?

“Gerald Ford died today when he was attacked by a pack of wolves.”

On the topic, wasn’t there a baseball player who was watching TV and saw one of those crawl feeds about his death?

I remember hearing that when John Lennon was killed, one of London’s top newspapers did not have any obit written for him or the other ex-Beatles.

I know someone who’s obituary was published in the Daily Telegraph - he wasn’t dead (It was Dave Swarbrick of Fairport Convention).

He was pretty ill - and they heard that he had died.

Thankfully the obituary was a really positive and generous one. Imagine if he had found out that everyone hated him (they don’t - but posthumous reporting can be brutally honest).

I love the obituaries in the telegraph - It’s certainly a reason that I buy it.

But to answer theOP - if it’s someone you’ve heard of, their obit is already written.

In the case of someone like the Queen Mother not just the Obit is written but the funeral has been planned; as has the TV programming. There are regular meetings to discuss things like what to do if The Queen dies. No doubt something similar happens elsewhere.

[Trivial Hijack]
Interestingly, it’s for a savage obituary that we have the Nobel award. Alfred Nobel had become rich by inventing a safe, stable form of dynamite. When his brother passed away, a newspaper mistakenly thought that it was Alfred who had died, and so wrote a nasty obituary, calling him a merchant of death and laying blame for the horror of modern war squarely on his shoulders. Nobel, who took great pride in the civil engineering applications of dynamite and expected to be lauded for his contributions to civilization, was so taken aback by this obituary that he made plans for the Nobel Prizes to reward scientific discovery and progression towards peace.
[/Trivial Hijack]
On topic- I believe got into trouble last year when their main page was briefy replaced by a filler page… which was a page from the morgue files announcing Dick Cheney’s death.