It’s hard to imagine a time when there wasn’t an internet, and yet for the long majority of human history, we couldn’t get yelled at by random kids over Twitter. Crazy.
Even crazier is how many weird little stories everyone knew. These stories, from the alligator in the sewers to the escaped killer with a hook hand, all made their way across the country. Person by person, town by town, city by city, state by state, country by country, these tales, these amazing myths and legends moved and grew. Some have been forgotten, some have been proven false, and some live on to this day.
Some of the myths and legends that I love lie within pop culture. Like did you know Marilyn Manson played Paul on THE WONDER YEARS? He didn’t, but that was what a whole lot of people believed in the 90s. So how about you join me as we take a look at a few of these great, hilarious, and weird pop culture myths…
PAUL IS DEAD
In January of 1967, a rumor started to spread across the streets of London – Paul McCartney, the cute Beatle, died in a car crash. In February, the official Beatles fan club magazine, THE BEATLES MONTHLY BOOK, published a quick two sentence item under the title “False Rumor” making it clear that Paul was fine. There was no accident, and he was not dead. Still, some people didn’t buy it. The Beatles were covering up the death of McCartney. There was no other reasonable explanation.
On October 12, 1969, Russ Gibb of WKNR-FM got a call from someone with a rather garbled voice. The caller, who went unnamed, claimed that there were messages hidden on THE WHITE ALBUM that could only be heard if you played the album backwards. Gibb, instead of laughing it off, pulled out his copy of the now classic record and gave it a go. Among the things Gibb heard, the most famous is John Lennon, at the end of I’M SO TIRED saying “Paul is a dead man, miss him, miss him, miss him.”
Gibb took to the airwaves and spread the word – Paul is dead. Soon enough, other DJs covered the rumor, finding more “evidence” in other Beatles albums. SGT. PEPPER’S and MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR, both of which were released in 1967, were back on the Billboard charts as fans and curious radio listeners bought new copies to give the backwards listen a go. Even Batman got involved…
Paul wasn’t dead. He gave an interview to LIFE MAGAZINE in November of 1969 to try and get the truth out there, but some people still didn’t believe it – the rumor shifted to Paul is dead and he was replaced by a look-alike. Five months later, in April 1970, Paul would announce that he had left the Beatles.
ELVIS IS ALIVE
Everyone knows that Elvis Presley died on August 16, 1977 but what this rumor presupposes is, maybe he didn’t?
Unlike Paul’s death, there’s no agreed upon start for this rumor. Reports of Elvis still being alive started up almost as soon as the King was pronounced dead. What gave the rumors fuel was Orion.
Orion Eckley Darnell of Ribbonsville, Tennessee sounded almost exactly like Elvis, and this would give him a short career that started a million rumors. The world was first introduced to this crooner when he sang a duet with Jerry Lee Lewis in 1978. Still mourning Elvis fans heard the song and were positive that Orion was Elvis. The album sold like hot cakes, which we all know sell really well.
Elvis’ label saw an opportunity, so they signed Orion to a contract and quickly put out an album titled REBORN. The album cover really fed into the fan theory…
The album was a hit, and was quickly followed by a second, BY REQUEST ELVIS SINGS ELVIS. For live events, Orion dressed just like Elvis, but wore a bejeweled harlequin mask. For a brief time, Orion lived the life of Elvis – hit singles, sold out shows, and lots of groupies.
By 1983, it was over. Orion left Sun Records and admitted to the world that he was not Elvis. He also admitted that he was not Orion – Orion Eckley Darnell, and his hometown of Ribbonsville, Tennessee didn’t exist. Orion, in reality, was Jimmy Hughes Bell, a struggling musician who had put out a number of singles that went nowhere for over a decade before he became a fake Elvis.
To this day, there are people who believe Elvis faked his death in 1977. Sightings of Elvis happened frequently in the 80s and 90s, but these days it’s hard to still push the idea that the King is out there.
As for Orion, he retired from music and opened a pawnshop in Alabama. In December 1998, Orion was shot and killed in the pawnshop.
Or was he?
He was. He’s dead. Elvis too. Paul is not.
LITTLE MIKEY, POP ROCKS, AND COKE
In 1972, TV viewers were introduced to Little Mikey, the boy who hated everything. The setup was simple – two kids sat at the kitchen table seemingly terrified of a bowl of Life Cereal. With neither one wanting to eat it, they go and get the youngest brother, Mikey who, one boy explains to no one in particular, “hates everything.” Little Mikey sits down, takes a spoonful of Life and proclaims “I like it!”
The commercial was a huge success. So much a success that Life ran the ad for 12 years. Little Mikey entered the consciousness of the world, and his catchphrase was used as the punchline for many a bad joke.
Which is why the world mourned when we learned, schoolyard by schoolyard, that Mikey was dead. It seems that Mikey, who hated everything, but was always willing to give it a shot, was talked into trying the most frightening of snack mixtures – Pop Rocks and Coca-Cola. Every kid knew that if you ate a whole bunch of Pop Rocks and chugged a whole lot of Coke, your stomach would explode and you would die. Proof of it was poor Little Mikey, who died that way.
The fun thing with this rumor is that it existed before Mikey got pulled into it. Every kid had a cousin who knew a kid who died from Pop Rocks and Coke, but at some point, the friend of a friend became the kid from the Life Cereal commercial.
In truth, Little Mikey, whose real name is John Gilchrist is alive and well. He is the director of media sales at the MSG Network.
POKEMON REAL BLUE
POKEMON has been a cultural force for decades now, with no end in sight, even though the franchise sent many of it’s fans to an early death. At least, that’s the rumor.
Released for the Game Boy Advance in 1996, POKEMON RED and POKEMON BLUE were instant hits, selling over 20 million copies worldwide and creating the now 20 year old powerhouse of a franchise. In the games, you could visit the bummer of a place, Lavender Town, where you could find ghost Pokemon. In Lavender Town is the Pokemon Tower, which the player must ascend to get Cubone, a Pokemon who wears his mother’s skull as a helmet. The Pokemon Tower is filled with gravestones and crying trainers who are mourning the deaths of their Pokemon.
Mixed in with all this death and sadness is a song that, according to the rumor, held some high-pitched sounds that only kids could hear. The sounds, mixed with the imagery, would send the little ones into a state of depression. According to “reports” children who played the game, after reaching Lavender Town, would show various odd symptoms, including migraines, nosebleeds, insomnia, violent outbursts, and brain hemorrhages. Some children, as the story goes, were sent into such a deep depression by Lavender Town and the song that they took their own lives.
The… let’s say bug, was caught before POKEMON RED and POKEMON BLUE were released outside of Japan, and the song was changed. Nintendo, as the myth goes, paid off a lot of people to keep the true story secret.
Here’s the song, give it a listen and see how you feel…
ROGERS’ CONFIRMED KILLS
We all, I hope, know Fred Rogers, the kindly man who entertained millions of children while teaching them about the world, and a little about themselves. Every day, wee little ones would sit too close to the TV and watch as Mr. Rogers welcomed them to his neighborhood. He was kind, gentle, and calm. He spoke softly and was always sure to mind his manners.
And, some believe, he was one of the greatest snipers in American history.
As the story goes, Fred was a sniper in Vietnam – either he was a Navy SEAL or Marine, no one can agree – who has over 150 confirmed kills, with a high number of those from over 1500 meters. The rumor appears to start in 1993, the early days of the internet, where claims spread that Mr. Rogers had killed 54 people in Vietnam or Korea. Over the next four years, the story got rid of any chance of it being Korea – Rogers did three tours in ‘Nam as a sniper. He always wears long sleeves because his arms are covered in tattoos.
As with any good urban legends, the story shifted more and more over time. Not only was Mr. Rogers a shockingly impressive sniper, but he was also seriously skilled in small arms and hand-to-hand combat – Rogers, as the story goes, was able to disarm or kill in an opponent in a heartbeat.
Mister Rogers was many things. He was a puppeteer, he was an educator, he was a Presbyterian minister, he was a songwriter, he was an author, and he was an activist. He was not a sniper. Mister Rogers never served in the military.