The Heche family revealed that she was brain dead late last week after a car accident on August 5. This prompted some news organizations to report her death, based on a reading California law. The law reads, “The individual who has suffered… an irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brainstem, is dead.”
But Heche remained on life support for another two days so that her organs could be harvested for donation. When Heche’s publicist confirmed that she had been taken out of life support machines late Sunday night, news organizations published a new round of news stories reporting her death.
This isn’t the first time that a celebrity’s death has been accompanied by public confusion. But Heche’s case was particularly unusual, as the date of death is based on competing definitions of what it means to die.
Heche was, by all accounts, in serious condition on Friday morning, a week later Mini Cooper crashes into a house in Los Angeles, causing a fire. With no apparent brain activity, she was kept on life support machines pending evaluation of her organs.
However, TMZ, the entertainment news site that is often the first to report celebrity deaths, posted a news story at 11:19 a.m. L.A. time on Friday. under the title, “Ann Heck is dead at 53.” The story noted, “Her representative tells TMZ that Ann is ‘brain dead’ and under California law this is the definition of death.”
People magazine soon followed up with a similar report, as it did Los Angeles Times. Both note in the body of their stories that Heche is legally dead, even though her body is still functioning. (The Daily Mail, IN Reuters alert, inaccurately stated that Heche died on Friday after being removed from life support devices; A spokesperson for the Daily Mail said the editors have updated her story, but have not issued a correction.)
Other news sources explained the distinction up front. The Hollywood Reporter The title of his story On Friday: “Anne Heshe announces brain dead, still alive after car crash, rep says.” The Washington Post did the same.
Some early reports helped with statements by Heche’s family members announcing her death. News organizations typically rely on family members to confirm the death of a relative.
“My mother Atlas and I have lost our mother,” Heche’s son, Homer Laffoon, said in a widely reported statement Friday. “After six days of almost unbelievable emotional upheavals, I left a deep, silent grief…..Rest in peace Mom, I love you.”
diverse, Who indicated that Heche was still technically alive, posted a statement attributed to Heche’s “family and friends” on Friday: “Today we lost a bright light, a kind and cheerful soul, a loving mother, and a loyal friend,” read in part. The publication posted a follow-up story Sunday night stating that she had been taken off life support devices, ending all signs of life.
Hilary Manning, a spokeswoman for the Times, said California law and family statements prompted the Los Angeles Times to keep up with news of Hechey’s death on Friday. She said the newspaper’s reporters had “confirmed” with her family that she had died.
But this was not good enough for others. The New York Times said it had suspended publication Heche’s obituary Until Sunday when her death was “officially confirmed” and “out of respect for the family,” according to her spokeswoman, Nassim Amini.
That left Heche fans and the general public at a loss over the weekend.
Hitch Wikipedia page It underwent a series of revisions as users discussed her condition, changing her date of death before deleting her completely at some point. As of Monday night, her entry records the date of her death only as “August 2022,” with a footnote explaining, “There is some confusion about when she really died until the official death certificate is made public.”
Adam Bernstein, obituary editor for The Washington Post, said the paper does not recognize brain death, sometimes partial, as a clear sign of death.
“It’s black and white. There’s no gray area here. If you’re on life support, you’re still alive,” Bernstein said. Other publications can make their own judgment about when you feel comfortable posting. I feel comfortable when he dies Somebody “.
Others saw it that way, too, despite statements from family and California law. “We chose to wait until she was taken off life support,” said Mike Barnes, senior editor at The Hollywood Reporter, who has written hundreds of obituaries for publication, including Heche.
A person close to the Heche family, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the sensitive conversations, was sympathetic to the reporters. I don’t think anyone has done anything journalistic or ethically wrong. “The family is not angry with anyone,” this person said. “It was a complicated situation when you keep a body alive to harvest organs. But that was Anne’s wish. It’s part of her legacy.”
Bernstein suggested that the rush to spread the news might tell a bigger story about the value of being the first to report a celebrity’s death in the age of the internet.
Obituaries were once a quiet corner of the daily press, but the death of a prominent figure nowadays can generate massive flows of readers. As a result, some news organizations store Hundreds of “applicants”A pre-written obituary to known persons can be posted within minutes of a confirmed death.
But some deaths are not deaths at all. There is a long history of early reports of the demise of celebrities, stretching back decades. Causes range from deceivethe occasional publication of advance exemptions and inaccurate information, typically from family members, business partners, and government officials.
News agencies, for example, prematurely reported the death Rock star Tom Petty In 2017, according to a source in the Los Angeles Police Department. Actress Tanya Roberts She was reported dead the day before her death last year due to misinformation from her publicist, who relied on Roberts’ partner. ‘Leave It to Beaver’ star directors Tony Dow He had to pull a premature Facebook post that announced his death last month after his wife mistakenly told them that the seriously ill actor had been pronounced dead. He died a day later.
“You have to be careful not to be first but to be wrong,” Bernstein said. “If you play it conservatively, you may sacrifice a few clicks, but your readers will trust you more in the long run.”
An earlier version of this article referred to the case of Terri Schiavo, a woman who spent seven years in a vegetative state before her death. Reference removed because it appeared to create an equivalence between brain death and vegetative state. A sentence that The Washington Post does not recognize brain death as a clear sign of death has also been updated to clarify that brain death can be partial.