All the way back in 2007 I created a fake CNN news article stating that actor Zach Braff had taken his own life. Although many online "news" sources that got wind of this story aren't sure how its possible, this page was created as a joke and was only intended to be seen by my close friends as they gathered around the computer in shock and awe at the statement, since we are all huge fans of both Scrubs and Zach Braff as an actor.
I left the page deep within my website. I never thought it would be seen by the public, but 2 years after it was created and left to die, someone on Twitter got ahold of the link - and the madness started. If you're interested in what came out of this prank, the details are below. If not, thanks for visiting, and rest assured that Zach Braff is still very much alive.
One day in October of 2009, two full years after this fake article was created, used, and discarded with 'gotcha!' moment and all, I saw that there was over 100,000 hits to this page - braff.html - which was hidden within a few folders on my web server. I was so confused as to what was going on until I saw that most of the hits were coming from Twitter.com. I quickly logged in to Twitter to see that "Zach Braff" was the top trending topic on Twitter at the time. That was the very moment I put two and two together and realized that someone had gotten ahold of this page and was spreading it like a cancer.
Since I had braff.html hosted on Chrisbox.com - which in 2009 was serving as my professional portfolio, anyone could go to the website and contact me, or click a link to my Facebook page.
I was still reading through the few news articles that started to pop up on the internet about the story when I received a Facebook message from someone at CNN asking if there was a good time I could be reached on the phone. I thought then and there that CNN was going to take legal action against me for using their logo and website template to create this "hoax".
Despite the obvious inaccuracies on the page such as the "Story Highlights" section containing information about actor Heath Ledger's divorce from Michelle Williams (the article was made pre-Dark Knight), as well as the statement made by "officials" that Braff had died in his 32,000 square foot home, people believed the article. For the record, this is what a 20,000 square foot mansion looks like.
I set up a time with a reporter at CNN (I can't remember her name). She called me and asked me all about what I had done. I answered her interview questions, and at the end of the phone call I asked one simple question:
"Do you know if anyone at CNN is thinking of taking legal action over the article?" I asked, with a hint of nervousness in my voice. I couldn't afford to be sued by CNN.
"Oh I don't know anything about that, I'm just writing an article about it. You'll have to contact our legal team" she replied.
Needless to say, I didn't contact any legal team about it. I never heard from CNN again, and no news turned out to be good news (no pun intended). CNN never aired the story either.
After the CNN interview, I did a quick Google search for "Zach Braff dead". A growing number of people were writing articles about how Braff is still alive and kicking - which I was relieved to read, because I didn't want anyone REALLY thinking that he had killed himself because of something dumb I wrote.
Perez Hilton took a stab at me, along with various hardcore Scrubs fans who wrote article after article and comment after comment about me and how big of a scum sucking douchebag I am, and how I deserve to be dead for what I wrote. One article had suggested that I'm not an American citizen because I wrote the article. REALLY people?
As I was reading all of these articles and comments about how big of a dickhead I am, Zach Braff kindly posted this video to his YouTube and Facebook pages, calling me a "douchebag" by name:
I was relieved that Zach had come out and made a public statement that he was in fact NOT dead. Although his publicisit made a statement to ABC after the rumor became hot news, I'm glad people got to hear it from the man himself. Despite the fact that he calls me a douchebag.
Entertainment Weekly picked the story up and asked me for an interview as part of a story they were doing on Internet death hoaxes. Now I was joining the ranks of the Jeff Goldblum and George Clooney death hoaxes of the year. Those hoaxes were made by people with intent to piss the public off - I was just getting thrown into that category. I ended up getting my story in an Entertainment Weekly magazine article, and my very unflattering Facebook photo at the time if I'm not mistaken.
I was visiting some of my friends at their college one night after the dust had begun to settle from the story. Needless to say I was a local celebrity at the school that day, which is a really weird feeling if you've never experienced it yourself. People I had just met were acting like they knew me for years, asking me all about how these events went down. We were hanging out in the common area watching TV when EW's show came on. I ended up making it to #5 of the top 10 celeb events of the week. They showed the article, as well as the portion of the video above of Zach Braff going at me, complete with full name and "douchebag comment".
After that I started receiving hundreds and HUNDREDS of Facebook messages from random Scrubs and Zach Braff fans. Some of these were calling me an idiot, some of them were asking me questions, some people said 'that's awesome man!', and others said they wanted me dead and/or raped by some sort of animal. Surprisingly enough, for whatever reason most of the death/rape threats came from people in India and the Middle East. I guess Zach Braff has a large following there.
CASE AND POINT - I didn't mean to drum up a bunch of drama because of a harmless joke no one was supposed to see. I created this article because I've noticed that a full 5 years after I wrote the article and 3 years after the media got ahold of it, there are STILL hits to this page. Thanks for visiting, but Zach Braff isn't dead.
To Zach: The apology that used to be on this page still stands. From one Jersey boy to another, I never intended any of this to blow up as largely as it did. I'm also still sorry for upsetting your mother.
If you want an almost full listing of articles written about the story, just Google it.