5 Myths About Celebrity Deaths Everyone Believes

#2. Oscar Wilde Did Not Die of Syphilis

Hulton Archive / Stringer / Getty

The Myth

Oscar Wilde was more promiscuous than a whole army of former Disney Channel stars combined. In 1895, he was charged with butthole indecency and sentenced to two years of hard labor, and not even the fun kind.

"Oscar Wilde, this court finds you ... FABULOUS! No, but seriously, you're going to jail."

Wilde took it easy in his later years, but his promiscuous past caught up with him, and, according to several biographies (respectable ones, this time), he died of meningitis as a direct result of syphilis. His sexual debauchery cost him his life. A cautionary tale for sure, kids!

But Actually ...

True, saying that Oscar Wilde was killed by syphilis wasn't a huge stretch -- an estimated 25 percent of Victorian men had it at the time. Also, he was Oscar Wilde. He probably gave it to that 25 percent in the first place. However, Wilde's actual symptoms didn't match up with syphilis, or any seedy STD, for that matter. Today, medical experts agree that he most likely died of an ear infection.

A sexy ear infection?

When Wilde died, there was not much medical information on what caused his meningitis. Wilde's early biographers assumed that he got it from syphilis because, well, it made sense. "It made sense" was also the whole reason the syphilis story was included in Richard Ellman's "definitive" Oscar Wilde biography in 1987 -- Ellman wrote the entire book on the theory that Wilde had contracted the disease as a young man and that it somehow influenced his writing.

However, the truth is that there's no evidence that Wilde ever had syphilis in his life. His friend and lover Lord Alfred Douglas sued the writer of Wilde's first biography for libel, and as a result, the writer removed the syphilis claim from later editions (despite winning the lawsuit). But it was too late: The syphilis explanation became an accepted part of Wilde's persona and turned him into a cautionary tale against hard living. Wash your ears, kids!

W. and D. Downey / Stringer / Getty
"Avoid my terrible faaaaaate!"

#1. Edgar Allan Poe Did Not Die of Alcoholism

David Livingston / Getty

The Myth

In October of 1849, Edgar Allan Poe was found wandering the streets of Baltimore in a drunken stupor and taken to a hospital, where he died. Everyone who knew him probably saw it coming: It's well-known that Poe was addicted to booze and opium, and according to his obituary, he was a tormented madman who was frequently seen wandering the streets in delirium, muttering to himself. His death was like a moment straight out of the darkest of his poems, minus the rhyming and talking birds.

As with Oscar Wilde, it fits the narrative. Writers are drunks, and people who write weird horror stories are surely on drugs. It was only a matter of time until it all caught up with the guy.

His contribution single-handedly funded Baltimore's drug industry for the next 200 years.

But Actually ...

Poe did pass away after being found delirious under bizarre circumstances, but there's no evidence that his state had anything to do with alcohol, or any drug -- his symptoms actually point toward a bad rabies infection.

Poe definitely had problems with drinking at different moments in his life, but by the end of it he avoided alcohol, because it made him violently sick. He was also a member of the temperance movement at the time. As for other drugs, he never even touched them.

Comstock / Photos.com

Poe's stories were full of mentions of opium, but the only evidence that he ever actually used it was one letter to a lady friend where he claimed he tried to commit suicide using laudanum, and he was probably just making shit up to look interesting.

He was the original emo kid, after all.

So how did he go from an occasional drunk to a raving lunatic in the eyes of the public? That was all the work of his nemesis, editor Rufus Griswold, who anonymously wrote Poe's infamous "everyone hated him" obituary and later expanded it into a book. Griswold despised Poe and went as far as to forge his letters to discredit him. His work was referenced by Poe's early biographers, despite being the literary equivalent of smearing shit on someone's grave (which he probably did, too).

But as with all of the entries on this list, the story is still repeated today because it's just seen as a more fitting ending to his "character." We need Mozart to end his life as an unappreciated genius, and Walt Disney to go out clinging to a whimsical fantasy. And it's more appealing to think of Poe as a tragic, dark, self-destructive figure (much like his own characters) than some schmuck who was probably bitten by a Chihuahua or something.

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