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The 70 Greatest Conspiracy Theories in Pop-Culture History

Photo-Illustration: Maya Robinson

For decades, the conspiracy theorist shouted his suspicions on the fringes of society, never ascending to a position of such prominence as, say, the presidential nominee of a major American political party. Now that’s changed, and conspiracy theories are having a yuge moment in the mainstream.

Conventional wisdom puts the beginning of modern conspiracy-theory culture at the JFK assassination. But it probably makes more sense to think of it evolving in its aftermath, in the years following the shooting, once the shock wore off. In the late 1960s, that is, which just so happen to be the years when the country radically polarized along the political lines we now know so oppressively well. The assassination wasn’t just a chaotic, spectacular, improbable event that Americans desperately wanted explained, even if the explanations were terrifying (conspiracy-theory culture being essentially willed into being by those for whom nothing was more terrifying than randomness and meaninglessness). It was also the locus of an ideological battlefield over who were the heroes and who the real villains in American life: pro-Castro and anti-Castro leftists; Russian operatives; the CIA; LBJ; the Mafia; the Camelot Kennedys — the list goes on. We floated conspiracy theories, in other words, as a way of projecting politics.

While there were both political and pop-culture conspiracy theories in the 1960s and 1970s — Elvis is still alive, you may have heard — conspiracism as a phenomenon didn’t come into full flower until the 1990s. That was thanks to the internet. Message boards and chat rooms of that era gave us the golden age of political conspiracy theory, which we are still living in. They were also the birthplace of pop-culture paranoia — when doubts about the real identities of singers and actors, whether they had actually died or truly written that particular song, gave rise to real debate and “forensic” scrutiny. (Is Stevie Wonder really blind? We’ll have to consider the relevant video … ) These days, pop-culture obsessives are quick to cook up conspiracies anytime a celebrity dies, changes her appearance, or even stands next to a triangle, and ideas can now be passed from the edges of sanity to your Facebook feed in a matter of minutes, converting more of the easily influenced into paranoid believers. Not to say that pop-culture conspiracies live only in the present — they are often most delicious when they reach back in time, even way back in time, to propose we consider, say, whether it was George Lucas who actually directed Return of the Jedi (which was, you have to admit, worse than Empire) or whether it was actually Emily Brontë’s brother who wrote Wuthering Heights (exhibit A: fucking Heathcliff!).

Vulture has spent the past few months undertaking an exhaustive cataloguing of these conspiracy theories of pop culture. Music, film, literature, TV, and anything else a celebrity might touch are organized by “genre” (do you like reading about zombie pop stars or Illuminati Svengalis or secret authors of famous books?) and presented pure — that is, not as investigative claims but conspiracy theories. And as a sort of “review of the literature,” the “data” below do contain some lessons and insights. We did, in other words, learn some things!

First, that when viewed from a certain perspective, pop-culture conspiracy theory is the phenomenon in its purest form — paranoia without ideology, or anyway without partisanship. And what you get when you peel back the partisanship, it turns out, are pure theories of power. Why would Beyoncé and Jay Z lie about the birth of Blue Ivy? It’s hard to come up with a motive better than “Because they could.” The most common theory amounts to the same thing — that it has something to do with their being Illuminati and the presumably paranoid logic of any self-perpetuating elite.

Second, pop conspiracies have changed over time. It used to be, at least in the pre-internet era, that people were most suspicious about post-facto cover-ups. Who really killed Natalie Wood, or Bob Marley, or Albert Camus? Especially delectable were those theories about people who hadn’t, as far as the public knew, actually died, but whom the paranoid suspected had in fact died, probably quite suddenly, only to be haphazardly “replaced” by the people around him or her who didn’t want to lose their cash-flow source. (Consider, for instance, “Paul is dead.”) This subcategory of conspiracy theory suggested a particular worldview: Stars were special people with special skills who had won special attention from the public that could nevertheless be maintained by special post-death stagecraft.

In the boy-band and corporate-Hollywood 1990s, though, the famous started to seem a lot less special, and contemporary conspiracy theory followed suit. This is the era of the Illuminati worldview — that everyone who is famous, or close to everyone, owes that fame to the power of a secret cabal. It is also when the theory arose that gangster rap was concocted by the private prison industry. Later, we’d “learn” that Britney Spears was a tool of the Bush administration, Katy Perry was really grown-up JonBenét Ramsey, and J.K. Rowling was just an actress impersonating an author. The meta-level lesson of all these theories is that the whole system of celebrity, which may confuse or madden you as a consumer of culture, makes sense — that the arbitrariness of, say, Miley Cyrus’s rise to fame could be explained by the influence of secret power brokers (rather than talent or popular taste). In fact, when you add the Illuminati, the arbitrariness of somebody’s success becomes a kind of circular-logic explanation for it (how else could Andrew W.K. have made it?).

And then there is perhaps the most interesting new-model conspiracy — most interesting because the category often includes the most plausible claims. These are about authorship, and credit — that Bob Dylan stole “Blowin’ in the Wind” from a New Jersey high-school student, say, or that Paul Thomas Anderson actually directed A Prairie Home Companion. These may seem, at first, old news and old-fashioned conspiracy theorizing. And in ways they are — people have been arguing about who wrote Shakespeare’s plays literally for centuries, of course. But those arguments about secret authorship are also artifacts of the present and recent past, since until quite recently (and excepting real outlier cases like Shakespeare), it simply wasn’t the case that debates about artistic credit became matters of genuine paranoia (as opposed to just, well, debates about credit). You don’t argue about who “really” wrote the classic songs of the Delta blues, for instance, and probably wouldn’t argue about whether someone other than Francis Ford Coppola was behind the movies he directed in the auteur era of 1970s Hollywood. But pop culture is confused these days about authorship, wanting to elevate “geniuses” but also litigate credit (which often amounts to royalty payments) and apportion responsibility between, say, the eight or ten producers who worked on a particular pop song, or the six screenwriters who labored over versions of a script, or between the showrunners whose names appear below television shows almost like bylines and the writers’ rooms responsible for the words their characters actually speak. In that kind of environment, second-guessing official stories isn’t just natural, it’s inevitable. Which means, we think, you should be able to argue about everything on this list — from whether Nicki Minaj is just sped-up Jay Z (you’ll notice a gendered component to a lot of these theories) to whether Avril Lavigne actually died in 2003.

Before you start, though, one last note on methodology: We considered something a conspiracy theory if it alleges the covering up of an official story. Unlike political conspiracies, the motives here aren’t necessarily devious, although there’s plenty of that. Choosing what made the cut was not a scientific process. We looked for theories that have a following of more than one and those that have been offered in earnest. That is to say, someone somewhere believes each of these. You might be one of them. And you might be right.

These celebrities have been replaced by clones (or look-alikes)

The Beatles never existed.

Have you ever examined the Beatles’ ears? How about their eyebrows, teeth, and height? The people behind the website The Beatles Never Existed have. And what they concluded is that the most famous band in the world was an elaborate hoax pulled off by an endless array of actors and conspirators. The only way four boys from Liverpool could execute the manic schedule of the Beatles is if there were many more than four (or they were on amphetamines). Skeptics of this theory only need to consult the site’s meticulous cataloguing of height, eyebrows, teeth, and ear photos. Then they will be convinced that it’s all nonsense.

Or, they did, and Paul McCartney is dead.

In 1966, Paul McCartney died in a car crash and was secretly replaced by a look-alike named Billy Shears. So says one of rock music’s most enduring conspiracy theories, based largely on what believers see as clues left by the surviving members of the Beatles. Take, for example, the cover of Abbey Road, which resembles a funeral procession, with John Lennon as the clergyman dressed in white, Ringo Starr as the mourner in black, McCartney as the dead man with no shoes, and George Harrison as the grave digger in denim. There are also clues buried in the band’s songs, including Lennon saying “I buried Paul” at the end of “Strawberry Fields Forever” (he’s actually saying “cranberry sauce”) and the line “He blew his mind out in a car” in “A Day in the Life.” Play the songs in reverse and you get even more evidence, like the nonsensical phrase “Turn me on, dead man,” which you can hear, if you strain, while listening to “Revolution N. 9” backward.

Avril Lavigne committed suicide in 2003.

The story of Avril Lavigne’s death in 2003 and the subsequent cover-up begins a few years prior, when she hired a look-alike named Melissa Vandella to confuse the paparazzi. This, at least, is what the some hard-core Avril Rangers think. When Lavigne succumbed to depression in 2003 and killed herself, her record label couldn’t accept the loss of a cash cow, so it did what anyone would do and replaced Lavigne with Vandella, who will now be known as New Avril.

Like all of these clone-replacement theories, this one is predicated largely on photos that purport to show the facial differences between Old Avril and New Avril. They’re far from convincing. And yet they make a better case than the lyrical evidence that is supposed to show New Avril admitting the con. And no one who espouses this theory even seems to point to the most obvious bit of evidence — the girl who once sang about the merits of a “sk8ter boi” would never marry the dude from Nickelback.

Eminem looks nothing like he used to.

This conspiracy has a few different forms, some of which suggest that the real Slim Shady died of an overdose or in a car crash, perhaps after spurning an invite to join the Illuminati. There’s no evidence of any of that, though he is known to have suffered through several years of pill addiction and did overdose in 2007. The Eminem we see today is a cloned or android version of the original, they say. The case is made with photos of Eminem’s changing face, changes that could more reasonably be chalked up to weight gain, weight loss, addiction, and aging. Then again, how do you explain this “glitch”?

Celebrities who aren’t exactly who they say they are

Stevie Wonder isn’t blind.

When Stevie Wonder was born six weeks premature in 1950, doctors didn’t yet know that the highly oxygenated environments of newborn incubators could damage the human eye. Wonder suffered the consequences and would go through the rest of his life blind. At least that’s what he says. Over the years, skeptics have poked holes in that story. Sportswriter Bomani Jones, a noted Stevie truther, points to the visual imagery in his songs, his preference for sitting courtside at NBA games, and his reputation as a childhood prankster. The late NBA star Darryl Dawkins, whose nickname “Chocolate Thunder” came from Wonder, had claimed that the music legend can see. Then there’s the visual evidence, which includes this picture of Wonder taking a photo of a Michael Jackson wax statue, and, most convincingly, this video of Wonder catching a mic stand mid-fall.

The “J.K. Rowling” you know is an actress, not a writer.

When the Norwegian filmmaker Nina Grunfeld looks at Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling, she doesn’t see one of the all-time great rags-to-riches stories. She sees a cover-up. Grunfeld posited her theory in a newspaper article that asked incredulously, “Is it possible that one person can write six thick books that are translated into 55 languages and sell more than 250 million copies in less than 10 years?” Grunfeld says “No.” What’s more likely, she writes, is that the woman we know as Rowling is an actress hired to be the face of the franchise that was cooked up by “highly professional players” intent on creating a multimedia cash cow.

Andrew W.K., too, has been played by different actors.

In 2001, a party-loving kid from California named Andrew W.K. released an album so dumb that it was brilliant. “So let’s get a party going / Now it’s time to party and we’ll party hard,” he sang. Simple, straightforward, and, if you believe the conspiracies, concocted in a lab by music industry pooh-bahs. Andrew W.K. is not a man, they say, but an idea, “the ultimate front man,” who has been embodied by different actors in the decade and a half since he arrived on the scene. They’ve even got the photos to prove it.

The Andrew W.K. truthers point to one mysterious name in the credits of his debut album, I Get Wet. Steev Mike, they say, is the mastermind behind this project. He may also be Dave Grohl, a group of puppet masters or another of Andrew Wilkes-Krier’s pseudonyms. In November 2004, the name Steev Mike popped up on a series of websites claiming that Andrew W.K. was a fraud. A month later, W.K. played a show in New Jersey where fans say an impostor appeared as their party-loving rock god. The real juice for this conspiracy comes from W.K. himself, who has always been cryptic when addressing the issue and, in 2008, said, “I’m actually not Andrew W.K.” It’s not entirely clear what he was talking about, but the explanation for the confusion seems rooted in a contractual dispute over his name and image and his own interest in stringing along gullible fans. In 2010, he held a “press conference” to clear up the rumors and instead, by his own admission, “made it worse.”

Lorde is lying about her age.

Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor, better known as Lorde, was born on November 7, 1996. At least that’s what her birth certificate says. But if that’s true, why does she sometimes look like she’s in her late 30s? Why did she tell Vanity Fair she’s 45? Why did she tell Rookie that she enjoyed the 1999 film The Virgin Suicides “as a teenager”? Here’s why: She thinks this theory is funny and she was goofing on those who believe it.

Katy Perry is actually a grown-up JonBenét Ramsey.

This bizarre idea was birthed in a YouTube video from a guy named Dave Johnson. He says Ramsey’s parents sacrificed the young beauty queen so that she could become famous later in life. Then he “proves” his point with photos purportedly showing that Ramsey’s parents are the same people pretending to be the parents of the “Katy Perry character.” He also blends pictures of a young Ramsey into pictures of a grown-up Perry, arguing that their features line up perfectly. They don’t.

Michael Jackson was really the same person as La Toya.

Perhaps more of an urban legend or dumb rumor than a conspiracy theory, some people seemed to actually believe this during the ’80s and ’90s. The evidence was nonexistent, with believers relying mostly on the plastic surgery that gave the siblings a similar appearance. La Toya Jackson was actually asked about this in 1988. Her response: “I’ve always been a very big supporter of Michael’s career. We’ve always been there for each other, but we are definitely not each other.”

Lewis Carroll was Jack the Ripper.

What was Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland, doing while the notorious serial killer Jack the Ripper committed the murders that made him famous? Committing murders, says Richard Wallace, author of Jack the Ripper: Light-Hearted Friend. Wallace makes his case through anagrams found in Carroll’s books The Nursery “Alice,” an adaptation of his classic story for children, and the novel Sylvie and Bruno, both written at the time that Jack did his ripping. The theory is less than conclusive. The decoded messages Wallace produces do not convincingly implicate Carroll and, calling the whole endeavor even further into question, he sometimes finds it necessary to alter the original text to make his anagram. At one point Wallace chops eight letters out of a 50-letter passage to create the 42-letter anagram he’s after.

Celebrities who aren’t who they say they are: False family tree edition

Blue Ivy is not really Beyoncé’s baby.

Let’s start with the why, because that’s really the biggest mystery here. At 30, Beyoncé was firmly in her childbearing years, married, and rich when daughter Blue Ivy was born. There was no reason for her to choose an elaborate ruse over a legitimate pregnancy. Except, some say, that she’s barren. Indeed, Beyoncé has admitted to one miscarriage, but that hardly signals infertility. Still, the doubters press on, citing Beyoncé’s loose grasp of her own due date, her on-again-off-again baby bump and, most famously, the video of her sitting down on Australian TV that appears to show her stomach folding in half. Beyoncé’s own tepid denials have only encouraged the doubters. She used a surrogate, they say. But if that’s true, it was a surrogate who looked an awful lot like Beyoncé.

But Solange is.

She may have been forced to use a surrogate to have Blue Ivy, but Beyoncé was plenty fertile as a young teenager, if some conspiracy theorists are to be believed. The proof is Solange Knowles, commonly thought to be Beyoncé’s sister. She’s actually Beyoncé’s daughter, they say. To buy this, you also have to buy the theory that Beyoncé was born in 1974, not 1981 as she claims. That means she would have been in her early teens when Solangé was born. The basis for this theory is an anonymous posting on a message board from someone who claims to have heard the truth from Beyoncé’s cousin.

Khloe Kardashian is O.J. Simpson’s daughter.

On a 2009 episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Khloe, the youngest daughter of Kris Jenner and Robert Kardashian, asked her mom if she’s adopted. Kris said no, and a maternity test later revealed that she was telling the truth. But Khloe’s paternity continues to raise questions. According to some family friends and the woman Robert Kardashian married after Jenner, Khloe, who was born in 1984, is the daughter of O.J. Simpson, a longtime friend of her father’s. Jenner says that’s nonsense. She did cheat on Kardashian, but she says it came years after Khloe was born and the man was not O.J. Kardashian died in 2003, before his family became famous enough for anyone to ask him about it, so for now, all we have to go on are these pictures of Simpson’s daughter Sydney next to Khloe.

Suri Cruise is actually Chris Klein’s child.

Here’s the timeline: Katie Holmes breaks up with Chris Klein in March. She starts dating Tom Cruise in April. They’re engaged by June, and in April of the next year, their daughter, Suri, is born, and they marry that November. Or maybe she was born sooner and conceived during the last throes of Klein’s relationship with Holmes. The proof of such shenanigans? Holmes’s incredible shrinking and growing belly.

Creative conspiracies: Stolen credit edition

Bob Dylan stole “Blowin’ in the Wind” from a random New Jersey high-school student.

Did Bob Dylan actually write his classic folk anthem “Blowin’ in the Wind”? The answer, my friend, is no, according to this theory. Made famous by a 1963 Newsweek article that “threw Dylan into a depression for months,” according to his biographer, the song was supposedly written by a New Jersey high-school student named Lorre Wyatt. Dylan bought the song from Wyatt, or stole it, depending on which version of the story you believe, and put it on his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.

Believers in this theory will point to a 1962 performance of Lorre Wyatt’s band at his New Jersey high school. The band played “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and Wyatt told the school paper he had written the song, so when it appeared on Dylan’s album the following year, those who heard it before assumed it was theft. The theory was further bolstered by the song’s copyright date, which came after Dylan recorded the song. Theorists say he realized after recording it that the copyright was up for grabs, so he grabbed it.

If anyone is a position to squash this theory, it’s Wyatt. And he has. In 1974, he wrote an article admitting that he was the only liar in this story. He had found the lyrics and music to “Blowin’ in the Wind” published in a 1962 issue of Broadside, a folk magazine. He passed it off as his own and inadvertently created a legend that would stick for decades while, as he put it, making “Pinocchio look like he had a pug nose.”

Emily Brontë didn’t write Wuthering Heights; Branwell Brontë did.

Those who have a hard time believing women are capable of writing classic novels will find this theory appealing. It suggests that Emily Brontë’s brother, Branwell, a painter with a weakness for booze, was the true author of Wuthering Heights. The evidence for this claim existed entirely in the pants of both Brontës. Some believed that Emily, as a woman, could not have written a book with the sophistication and maturity of Wuthering Heights, so her brother must have. As one critic put it, “masculine expressions occur in the first chapters which no gentlewoman of the prim and prudish ’40s would have dreamed of using.” Add to that a rumor that Branwell had read to his friends a story that sounded much like Wuthering Heights years before the book was published and so began a conspiracy theory that still won’t die.

Nicki Minaj is just lip-syncing to sped-up Jay Z vocals.

Onika Tanya Maraj, better known as Nicki Minaj, has no shortage of nicknames and alter egos. But some conspiracy theorists believe her entire persona is something of an alter ego for Jay Z. The argument here is that Minaj provides the image and Jay Z provides the rapping. Of course, it’s sped up to sound like a woman. And how was this proved? By slowing down Nicki Minaj songs and observing that they sound exactly like Jay Z. And what about Jay Z songs sped up? They say those sound like Minaj.

Shakespeare didn’t write his plays (you already knew that one).

Could William Shakespeare, a lowly commoner from Stratford, have actually written the plays attributed to him? How would he have known the intricacies of the legal system or had the knowledge to sprinkle his works with references to Latin and Greek sources? These are the questions that vex those who believe Shakespeare did not and could not have written the works attributed to him. So if Shakespeare didn’t write his plays, who did?

Sir Francis Bacon: A philosopher with the credentials to boast the knowledge necessary to write Shakespeare’s works, Bacon actually wrote the plays with a couple buddies, believers say. All disgruntled politicians, they shielded their identities because writing plays was undignified. And the proof? It’s in the secret codes embedded in Shakespeare’s work.

Christopher Marlowe: An accomplished playwright under his own name, Marlowe has also been identified as the man behind Shakespeare. The theory involves another conspiracy — that Marlowe’s reported death in 1593 was faked. It was just weeks after this “death” that the first works attributed to Shakespeare showed up and “Marlovians” suggest that the Marlowe wrote under Shakespeare’s name for the next 21 years.

Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford: First proposed in 1920, this theory holds that the life of the Earl of Oxford pairs nicely with events described in Shakespeare’s works. Oxford’s Bible is also said to have contained marked passages that were mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays. Oxfordians believe Hamlet is essentially an autobiography because the events of the play so closely mirror Oxford’s life.

Britney Spears is credited for at least one song her backup singer sings.

What we know is that Myah Marie has appeared as a backup singer for Britney Spears on several albums. What some speculate is that Marie is actually singing the lead vocals on a handful of Spears’s songs. The subtle vocal differences on songs such as “Passenger” and “Alien,” both from Spears’s 2013 album Britney Jean, have raised doubts among even Spears’s biggest fans, who suggest Marie is singing in her “Britney voice.” Nearly a year before Britney Jean was released, Marie’s father told Star magazine that his daughter sings for Spears. “The truth is, Myah can sound just like her. She has a knack,” he said. He added that Spears’s studio hired his daughter to sing seven of the 12 songs on Spears’s 2011 album Femme Fatale and that Spears didn’t even know it. “Maybe Britney doesn’t know whose voice is on her album and it doesn’t even interest her,” he said. “Maybe she just comes in, lays down the track and leaves, and doesn’t care.” Marie, of course, denies it all, but she would, wouldn’t she?

Creative conspiracies: Svengali edition

Kurt Cobain wrote Hole’s Live Through This.

Courtney Love’s band Hole put out four albums during its run, but 1994’s Live Through This is its undisputed masterpiece. So naturally, it must have been the work of a man. And what man is better positioned to write the album than Kurt Cobain? There’s little evidence that Cobain wrote Live Through This, though he was involved in a couple minor ways, singing backing vocals on two songs and writing one B-side. That hasn’t stopped some fans of the Nirvana front man from giving him credit for the album, which was so much better than anything else Hole ever did that Cobain’s involvement, they say, is the only possible explanation.

Damon Albarn wrote Elastica’s debut album.

The British version of the Cobain rumor has Blur’s Damon Albarn penning the lyrics for the self-titled debut album from Elastica, which was fronted by his onetime girlfriend Justine Frischmann. The evidence here is essentially nonexistent, except that the songs on Elastica sound like Blur and the band’s second album, released in 2000, didn’t pack anywhere near the punch of its debut.

Steven Spielberg actually directed Poltergeist.

According to the credits that follow Poltergeist, the 1982 horror classic directed by Tobe Hooper, Steven Spielberg’s role was as writer and producer. But persistent rumors that started circulating before the movie was even released suggest that Spielberg, and not Hooper, actually manned the director’s chair. The theory is based on a series of statements made by Spielberg and others who were on set during the film’s production. In May 1982, he told the L.A. Times that he had a hard time turning over control of the movie, given that it sprang from his mind. Add to that, as he said, “Tobe isn’t what you’d call a take-charge sort of guy,” and Spielberg ended up making many of the decisions on set. Actress JoBeth Williams told the AP that she “felt Steven had the final say on everything.” One of her co-stars, Zelda Rubinstein, said the same. Spielberg and Hooper both deny the accusation, insisting it was collaborative process.

George Lucas directed Return of the Jedi.

After handling both writing and directing duties on Star Wars, George Lucas took a step back for the film’s first two sequels. Irvin Kershner, Lucas’s old teacher at USC film school, directed The Empire Strikes Back. Lucas, who declined to direct so that he could spend his energy building LucasFilm into what it has now become, became annoyed when Kershner fell behind schedule and overbudget. So he vowed to not let that happen again. Enter Richard Marquand, a little-known Welsh director who seemed more willing to listen to Lucas. And so Lucas took over, spending lots of time on set and demanding that Marquand film a master shot, which would give Lucas more control in the editing room. Marquand is said to have constantly deferred to Lucas and ultimately collected footage for Lucas to assemble into a film. As the director and Jedi art director Joe Johnston said in a 2013 interview, “My guess is that George saw Marquand as a guy who could go out and amass the great-looking footage that George would mold into the film in post.”

Paul Thomas Anderson directed A Prairie Home Companion.

Robert Altman was 80 years when he was translating Garrison Keillor’s nonsense into a motion picture. So old, the rumors go, that the studio insisted he bring on a backup director, just in case. Paul Thomas Anderson was that director and is said to have done the majority of the directing of the 2006 film. While Altman would bark his orders into a microphone, PTA would talk directly with actors. Of course, the alternative to this theory is that Anderson did indeed serve as a standby director, tagging along with Altman and ready to take over should he need to. That’s how Altman told it. “He was at my side every moment I was shooting and he was a fantastic help. He never intruded, he never overrode me,” the legendary director said.

Klaatu was really the Beatles.

Four years after the Canadian prog rock band Klaatu formed, they were given a tremendous gift by a critic for the Providence Journal who suggested that the band was actually a front for the Beatles. This theory begins in 1966 when the Fab Four supposedly recorded a follow-up to Revolver that wasn’t released because the master tapes were lost. When the tapes were discovered in 1975, the band decided to release them as a tribute to the late Paul McCartney (see “Paul McCartney is dead”). Along with sounding as if it were by the Beatles, Klaatu’s debut album gave conspiracy theorists plenty of reason to believe something was up. The album listed no band members, no songwriting or producing credits, and included no photos of the band. And that was only the beginning. Unfortunately for Klaatu, the theory, which boosted sales, wouldn’t last forever. By the time their third album came out in 1978, their true identities had been revealed and few fans were interested.

Creative conspiracies: Alibis and fall guys

George P. Cosmatos directed neither Tombstone nor Rambo.

Though his name appears on the posters for both Tombstone and Rambo: First Blood Part II, the late Italian director George P. Cosmatos was nothing more than a “ghost.” So says Tombstone star Kurt Russell, who was asked to take over as the film’s director when screenwriter Kevin Jarre was fired from the job. As he told True West in 2006, he was interested in the gig, but he didn’t want the responsibility. So Cosmatos was brought on, and each night during shooting, Russell would give him a shot list for the next day. As Russell tells it, he found out that Cosmatos was a good man for a gig like this after talking to Sylvester Stallone, who used him in a similar fashion on the 1985 sequel to First Blood.

Tommy Wiseau didn’t direct The Room.

One would think that if the director of the worst movie ever made had a chance to shunt that honor onto someone else, he’d do it. And yet Tommy Wiseau continues to deny claims that he did not direct his 2003 masterpiece, The Room. Longtime Hollywood script supervisor Sandy Schklair tells the story differently. He says Wiseau hired him as script supervisor and also to “tell the actors what to do, and yell ‘Action’ and ‘Cut’ and tell the cameraman what shots to get.” Entertainment Weekly also tracked down an actor who backed up Schklair’s claim. “The script supervisor ended up sort of directing the movie. Tommy was so busy being an actor that this other guy directed the whole thing,” the unnamed actor said.

Zombie celebrities who faked their deaths so they could live mundane lives out of the spotlight


Did the King really leave the building on August 16, 1977? Ginger Alden, who was engaged to Elvis at the time and found his body on a bathroom floor in Graceland, would surely say so. As would the coroner who examined his body and said Elvis died of cardiac arrhythmia. But for doubters, that’s where the trouble starts. Cardiac arrhythmia, or an irregular heartbeat, can’t be diagnosed in the dead, which is one of the many aberrations in the official story that gave rise to the Alivers, the nickname given those who think Elvis is alive. Their evidence includes the misspelling of his middle name on his tombstone (it says “Aaron” instead of “Aron”), the 50-year seal on his autopsy, and the rumored life-insurance policy they say was never cashed. Taken together, these “facts” lead Alivers to claim that Elvis must has faked his death.

More important than any of the evidence, though, are the many instances in which Elvis has been spotted living out the boring life that fame took from him. When he was the King, Elvis could never get away with eating at a Burger King in Kalamazoo or sweeping up a bar floor in Stockholm — two of the many places he’s supposedly been seen in the last few decades.

If you’re wondering why Elvis would do this, outside a desire to eat a Whopper in peace, it could be because he was a federal agent forced to go into witness protection. This strain of the Elvis conspiracy starts with a famous picture of the day he went to the White House to meet Richard Nixon. The King, who requested the meeting by dropping off a handwritten letter, was there to express his disgust with the hippie movement and ask the president for a Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs badge to add to his growing collection. Nixon made it happen, and thus began the rumor that Elvis was a federal agent. From this springs the conspiracy theory that Elvis’s death was faked by the FBI to protect him from a group of con men called the Fraternity.

Elvis was the FBI’s key witness in its case against the group, the theorists say. The Fraternity had swindled the King and his father out of $400,000, and they wanted him dead for working with the Feds. So the FBI “killed” Elvis to protect him. Proof for this story is supposedly contained in the 663-page FBI file on Elvis, which includes correspondence from the King on dates after his death. Also, that body in his casket? Wax, which was melting as people filed by at his funeral. Dead men don’t sweat.

Michael Jackson

Don’t buy the pictures of Jackson lying dead on a gurney. Those were faked, believers of this theory say. Anyway, they conflict with details in the autopsy, which, among other things, said Jackson’s head was bald. This video of someone who looks like Jackson jumping out of a coroner’s van and walking into the hospital has caused suspicion, as has this video of a person who looks like Jackson attending his own funeral. In fact, Jackson has been seen in a lot of places since his death, believers say, each time providing evidence that he faked the whole thing so his family could reap the financial rewards that would follow. The smoking gun for many of those who believe this theory came a few months after Jackson’s death, when he showed up on Larry King in disguise calling himself Dave Dave.

Tupac Shakur

On September 7, 1996, a couple hours after a Mike Tyson fight in Las Vegas, Tupac Shakur was the passenger in a BMW when a white Cadillac rolled up and shot 14 rounds into the car. Four of those bullets hit Tupac, none of them hit the driver, Suge Knight, and that’s only one of the reasons skeptics think there’s more to what happened that night. Others include Tupac’s last picture having the date September 8, 1996, printed on it (he was shot a day before); the many mentions of his own death in his lyrics; his obsession with Italian philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli, who people say faked his own death; and all the posthumous releases, which suggest he’s still around making music. But where? In Cuba, some say, where his step-aunt, Assata Shakur, received political asylum in 1984 after escaping a U.S. prison five years prior. Of course, a star of Tupac’s caliber can’t remain in complete hiding, even when he’s trying to convince the world he faked his death. At least, that’s what those who saw him in a 2013 Outlawz video think.

David Bowie

The recently deceased rock god hasn’t been spotted eating at Popeye’s yet, but there are some who believe he’s still breathing. The evidence lies in the bounty Bowie willed to his longtime friend and assistant Coco Schwab, who received $2 million and all of Bowie’s shares in a company called Opossum Inc. Problem is, fans have failed to find an Opossum Inc. What they have found is the Wikipedia entry for opossum, which says, “When threatened or harmed, they will ‘play possum,’ mimicking the appearance and smell of a sick or dead animal.” So, Opossum Inc. plays possum, Bowie’s playing dead!

Jim Morrison

In a 2013 interview, longtime drummer for the Doors, John Densmore, said, “Jim was a crazy guy. No one I ever met would be more capable of faking their death than him.” But Densmore added, “He’s dead.” That won’t change the minds of those who think James Douglas Morrison faked his death on July 3, 1971. As the theory goes, Morrison was overweight and in a creative rut when he and his girlfriend Pamela Courson went to Paris to recharge. Instead of emerging with a new outlook, Morrison ended up dead in a bathtub. The official cause was listed as heart failure. Courson says he was done in by heroin, ingested accidentally, but many Morrison fans don’t find her very reliable. They question the lack of an autopsy and find it suspicious that the only three people to see Morrison’s body after his death were Courson, a friend of hers, and a doctor who left an illegible signature on the death certificate. Courson also apparently told the U.S. Embassy Morrison had no family, a lie that allowed for a quick burial. These problems have led some to believe Morrison is still out there, perhaps dancing in the streets of New York.

Andy Kaufman

The death certificate says Andy Kaufman died at the age of 35 in 1984. Lung cancer the culprit, although some have suggested that Kaufman, a rumored homosexual, was an early AIDS victim. But others insist he never died at all. His death in ’84 was another one of his elaborate gags, they say. In fact, Kaufman was known to crack jokes faking his death. In 2013, his brother Michael claimed at a comedy club that he received a letter from Andy and that his brother had a daughter who was born in 1989. This briefly convinced some that the great comedian had truly pulled one over on the world. But Michael Kaufman quickly revealed that he was being hoaxed and the woman claiming to be Andy’s daughter was a fraud. Still, as often happens with these theories, many who caught the first part of this story missed its debunking.

Like Elvis and Tupac, Kaufman has also been “sighted” since his death. One man believes he’s alive today in New Mexico. His close friend Bob Zmuda has claimed that Kaufman is not only alive, but that he’s going to return to the public eye in a dramatic reveal. That was supposed to happen in 2014.

Richey Edwards

In 1995, the Welsh guitarist for Manic Street Preachers disappeared. With a flight to the U.S. planned later that day, Edwards absconded from his London hotel and two weeks later his car was found near a bridge where people often killed themselves. Edwards’s body, however, was never found, leading some to believe he didn’t die. Conspiracy theorists point to quotes of his stating suicide “does not enter my mind” and the lack of a suicide note for such a “literate guy.” Combine that “evidence,” with reported sightings in Goa markets and the Canary Islands, and there’s enough for theorists to go nuts.

Celebrities who were secretly murdered

Marilyn Monroe

That Marilyn Monroe was found dead in her home on August 5, 1962, is not disputed. But how she died is. The police said suicide by barbiturates, but doubters say different. Why weren’t there any traces of the pills in her stomach? Would someone who had so many plans for the future actually kill herself? What of the claims by LAPD sergeant Jack Clemmons, the first officer on the scene, who said her body looked staged? And why were the police called hours after she was found dead? Also, wouldn’t someone who’d swallowed dozens of pills have a glass of water nearby? Though they have many of the same questions, conspiracy theorists have come up with a handful of different answers to what killed Monroe. Some say Robert Kennedy had her killed to keep her from revealing her dalliances with him and his brothers. Others say she was killed by the CIA to punish JFK for the Bay of Pigs. Or maybe her doctor did it, accidentally, and covered it up with the help of her maid. Then again, there’s always the possibility of aliens.


Lest you think it’s only the death of modern-day stars that inspires outlandish conspiracy theories, here’s one about the most famous English writer of the Middle Ages. It’s easy to cook up conspiracies for Chaucer’s death because no one claims to know how he really died. So why not go with the theory laid out by Monty Python alum Terry Jones in his book Who Murdered Chaucer?

Jones makes his case by arguing that Chaucer’s cause of death should be known. He was the world’s most famous writer in his day, but his death went unrecorded. “Isn’t that a bit odd?” Jones asks. He writes that Chaucer was done in by his politics, which made him an enemy of high-ranking church officials. Eventually Jones accuses Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Arundel of offing Chaucer. Arundel hated Chaucer’s writing and the criticism the poet leveled against the church and the clergy. Jones finds evidence, among other places, in the retraction at the end of The Canterbury Tales, which could have been written under duress. Unfortunately, as even Jones admits, we’ll never know.


“Mozart! Mozart! Mozart! Forgive me! Forgive your assassin! Mozart!” If the lines that open Amadeus are to be believed, it was not rheumatic fever, pneumonia, tainted meat, or kidney stones that killed Mozart, but his fellow composer, Antonio Salieri. Though experts have debunked the theory and proposed many, many others, only one of the supposed culprits has ever admitted to killing Mozart, and it wasn’t the pork chop. Sure, Salieri was suffering from dementia when he said he killed Mozart, and he later recanted, but conspiracy theorists only see the details they want to see.

Bruce Lee

Could a tiny painkiller really have taken down one of Hollywood’s fittest fighters? It could if that man was allergic to it, as Bruce Lee was to the analgesic Equagesic. In 1973, a 32-year-old Lee took the painkiller and settled in for a nap at a friend’s place. He’d never wake up after an allergic reaction caused his brain to swell, killing him the same day. That is, if you believe the doctors. Other theories abound. Maybe it was the Chinese mafia that murdered Lee as punishment for exposing the secrets of karate to the West. Or perhaps it was an unknown martial-arts master who hit him with dim mak, a touch of death that kills days or even weeks after it’s delivered. But a painkiller? Many of his fans refuse to accept that.

Brandon Lee

Unlike his father’s death, which happened with no one around, Brandon Lee’s was public and caught on-camera. The 28-year-old was tragically shot while shooting The Crow. The official line says ill-advised improvisation by the props team left the tip of a bullet in the barrel of a prop gun. When it was later loaded with blanks and fired during filming, that bullet tip shot out of the barrel and into Lee’s abdomen. He died hours later. Like his father, Brandon Lee’s death has been linked to the Chinese mafia, which, the theory goes, had it out for the younger Lee because of his father’s sins. And so they ensured that the film’s weapons supervisor was sent home on the day of the shooting, doctored the gun, and boom, Lee was murdered just before the release of his biggest film, just like his father.

Natalie Wood

On the night November 28, 1981, Natalie Wood disappeared into the Pacific Ocean. Her body was discovered the next morning, fresh with bruises, a blood alcohol level of 0.14 percent and painkillers in her system. The three people on the boat with her that night — then-husband Robert Wagner, actor Christopher Walken, and captain Dennis Davern — all thought she fell off while trying to board a dinghy. But are they lying? Wood’s bruises suggest foul play, and Davern admitted in 2011 that Wood and Wagner fought that night, contrary to what he told police 30 years prior. One possible reason for a lover’s quarrel: She reportedly found Wagner and Walken in bed together.

Brian Jones

A month after he was kicked out of the Rolling Stones, guitarist Brian Jones was found face down at the bottom of his swimming pool, his body pumped full of drugs and booze. Efforts to revive him quickly proved pointless, and the 27-year-old was pronounced dead. Did Mick and Keith have something to do with it? Some have suggested as much, but most who doubt the official line point to Frank Thorogood, Jones’s contractor and one of the few people at his house on the night of the his death. As the theory goes, he and Jones got into a fight over money and the builder drowned the rock star. Though Thorogood stuck to his story for years, on his deathbed he told former Rolling Stones driver Tom Keylock, “It was me that done Brian.” At least that’s what Keylock says. But he may have a reason to be lying. Some say he was involved too.

Jimi Hendrix

Drugs and vomit, that’s what they say killed Jimi Hendrix in a London hotel room. A former roadie of his says different. James “Tappy” Wright wrote in a 2009 book that Hendrix’s former manager, Michael Jeffrey, admitted to killing the guitar god by filling him full of pills and wine. “I had to do it. Jimi was worth much more to me dead than alive,” Wright says Jeffrey told him. The manager, who apparently feared that Hendrix would soon leave him, also told Wright he had a life-insurance policy on Hendrix. Another theory holds that Wright, a former MI6 agent, orchestrated Hendrix’s death as a part of a broader conspiracy related to the CIA’s MKUltra program.

Elliott Smith

Anyone who’s ever listened to his music knows that Elliott Smith was a tortured man, but tortured enough to shove a knife into his own heart? Some think not. On October 21, 2003, Smith committed suicide by puncturing his heart with a knife, but some fans think that’s unlikely. They point to inconsistencies in his autopsy report. They cannot believe the bizarre method he chose. And they say his then-girlfriend Jennifer Chiba, who has said she and Smith were fighting the day of his death, was the one who killed their hero.

Paul Walker

Just before he died in a fiery car crash, Paul Walker was hosting an event for his charity Reach Out WorldWide to benefit victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. He started the charity after volunteering in Haiti in the wake of the massive 2010 earthquake that ravaged the nation. Its goal was to assist people after massive disasters. Conspiracy theorists say Typhoon Haiyan was the wrong disaster to help with. Walker, they say, learned of an evil plan to secretly sterilize Filipinos by hiding a medicine in food. Or maybe he was aware of “dirty money” in the relief efforts. Both theories suggest that the brakes were sabotaged on the Porsche Carrera GT that Walker’s friend Roger Rodas drove.

There doesn’t seem to be any evidence that the brakes were tampered with. Or even any conjecture. In fact, the “evidence” is stronger that the car was hit by a drone. Of course, there’s also evidence that what happened is exactly what the public was told. Rodas drove the Porsche too fast, crashed it into a light pole, and the car caught fire, killing both men. As ever, though, that won’t stop those who leap to blame the Illuminati for every celebrity death. In Walker’s case, the secret society wanted him dead because he wanted to leave acting. And they simply could not have that.

Kurt Cobain (killed by Courtney Love)

Kurt Cobain died on April 5, 1994, after he was shot in the head in his Seattle home. And while police say he was the one who pulled the trigger, Nirvana fans have been arguing otherwise for decades. The culprit, they say, is the woman who was supposed to love Cobain most: Courtney Love.

The case against Love begins a month before Cobain died, when he was hospitalized in Rome after taking too many pain pills. After his death, Love would say that this was a suicide attempt, but others have disputed that over the years. According to conspiracy theorists, Love said Cobain tried to kill himself in Rome because it allowed people to believe he killed himself in Seattle. He was already suicidal, so he must have killed himself. There are other examples of Love speaking publicly about how sad and depressed Cobain was, which they say was more of her laying the groundwork for a suicide motive. But as others who knew Cobain have claimed, he was actually happier than he’d been in quite some time. These inconsistencies and claims that Love was shopping around for a hit man, have made her the prime suspect.

The leading advocate for the theory that Love was involved in her husband’s death is Tom Grant, a private investigator she hired to find Cobain after he left an L.A. rehab facility and returned to Seattle just days before his death. Grant’s website makes the case that Love and live-in nanny Michael Dewitt “were involved in a conspiracy that resulted in the murder of Kurt Cobain.” He cites the suicide note that he believes wasn’t a suicide note at all, the lack of fingerprints on Cobain’s gun and the amount of heroin in Cobain’s system (three times the lethal dose), which Grant and many others believe would have left him incapable of cleaning up his drug kit, putting a gun on his mouth, and pulling the trigger.

Lou Reed (killed by Lady Gaga)

This theory may only be believed by the person who concocted it, but it’s too tasty to ignore. The story begins in 2012, when Lady Gaga enlisted Lou Reed as a highly paid consultant while she was working on her album Artpop, which she intended as an homage to some of the Velvet Underground’s greatest hits. But Reed didn’t see it that way. Apparently he thought Gaga’s homages were more like ripoffs, and worse, they failed to capture the provocative nature of VU. Gaga was devastated, and then, after Reed publicly praised Kanye West, she turned furious.

And so she conspired with Interscope head Jimmy Iovine and manager Troy Carter to off Reed. The theory suggests that he was injected with the poisonous element polonium while recovering from surgery at the Cleveland Clinic. This is the kind of conspiracy that comes with no proof, except for a tangential link to the Illuminati. For some, that’s enough.

Eazy-E (killed by Suge Knight)

Even though former N.W.A manager Jerry Heller once wrote that Eric Wright, better known as Eazy-E, was a “rabid” “pussy hound,” some contend that the rapper’s infection with HIV was not a consequence of his promiscuity. Given his violent streak and at-time turbulent relationship with Eazy-E, Suge Knight is an obvious suspect for conspiracy theorists. Among them is Eazy’s son Marquise Wright, or Yung Eazy. Last summer, around the release of Straight Outta Compton, Wright wrong on Instagram that he always knew “my pops was killed.” His evidence included the date of Eazy’s HIV diagnosis, which he says came after a violent confrontation with Suge Knight. But the most damning proof for those who believe this theory comes in a 2003 interview Knight gave Jimmy Kimmel, in which he advocated for killing enemies with an HIV injection. “They get blood from somebody with AIDS — and then they shoot you with it,” he said. “So that’s a slow death, an Eazy-E thing, ya know what I’m saying?”

Others have pointed to Eazy’s many children, none of whom have HIV. His rapid decline — he died with a month of his diagnosis — suggests foul play too, they say. “Have you even heard of somebody dying in two weeks of AIDS, bro?” the rapper Frost recently asked while sharing his version of events. He thinks Eazy-E was infected with tainted acupuncture needles.

Killed by this guy, not that other guy

Tupac and Biggie, killed by Suge Knight

This theory was pushed hardest by former LAPD detective Russell Poole, who was assigned the murder of Biggie Smalls in March 1997. Poole argued that Suge Knight set up Tupac’s murder to avoid paying him royalties. Knight staged a fight in the MGM Grand Hotel a couple hours before the murder to provide a plausible motive. The fight would make police think Tupac’s murder was retaliation, the thinking goes. Months later, Poole suggests, Knight conspired with an LAPD officer to kill Biggie in an attempt to tie the murders together as a part of the East Coast vs. West Coast feud.

Poole said in Nick Broomfield’s 2002 documentary Biggie & Tupac that if the police had been able to “aggressively investigate” Biggie’s murder, the two killings would have been connected. But that wasn’t possible because of the connections Knight had in the LAPD. According to Poole, dozens of officers worked for Death Row and were loyal to Knight, as was deputy district attorney Larry Longo.

John Lennon, killed by Stephen King

Or maybe Chapman was a “paid patsy,” hired to take the fall for Lennon’s real murderer — Stephen King. That’s the argument made on by a man who says Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, and King conspired to kill the peace-loving rock legend. The evidence is in “government codes” printed in newspapers and magazines. The famous photo showing Lennon signing an album with Chapman lurking on the edge of the frame actually shows King. But why would King do it? Steve Lightfoot, the mastermind of this theory doesn’t seem to have an answer for that. But as his van says, “It’s true, or he’d sue.”

Killed by the government

Albert Camus, killed by the KGB

In 1960, the brilliant French writer Albert Camus was killed at the age of 46 in a horrific car crash. Fast cars and roads designed for hooves never have mixed well. At the time, Camus’s death was a tragedy but it did not inspire a conspiracy. That changed 50 years later, when a passage was discovered in the diary of a Czech poet Jan Zábrana, who wrote of a rumor claiming Camus’s car was sabotaged by the KGB. His crime? Publicly denouncing the Kremlin’s intervention in the 1956 Hungarian rebellion and supporting Boris Pasternak, the author of Doctor Zhivago, which was banned in the Soviet Union. The KGB was certainly capable of killing a prominent writer who was sticking his thumb in the Kremlin’s eye, but Camus biographer Olivier Todd looked into the claim and dispelled it. “While I wouldn’t put it past the KGB to do such a thing, I don’t believe the story is true,” he said in 2011.

Joan Rivers, killed for joking that Michelle Obama was born a man

The papers said Joan Rivers died during routine surgery at the age of 81, the victim of a botched operation by doctors who didn’t notice her deteriorating vital signs. Don’t buy it, the theorists say. Her death was an intentional hit ordered by President Obama and the First Lady in retaliation for a seemingly off-the-cuff insult that hit too close to home. Just a couple months before she died, Rivers told a cameraman that Barack Obama is gay and Michelle Obama is a transsexual. Boom. That was it. As Alex Jones later said, as soon as Rivers revealed the Obamas’ secrets, she was “deader than a doornail.” The evidence for this claim rests on reports that Rivers had an unplanned biopsy from a “random doctor” that led to her falling into a coma. That “doctor” must have been sent in by the Obamas to retaliate for the joke, which wasn’t a joke at all, theorists say. How else could one explain an 81-year-old dying during surgery?

Brittany Murphy, as part of a Homeland Security cover-up

The circumstances surrounding the death of Brittany Murphy and her husband, Simon Monjack, which occurred within five months of each other, are weird. While a coroner attributed both to pneumonia and anemia, a rash of other theories emerged in the aftermath of their deaths, including toxic mold in their home. But the most outlandish theory implicates the U.S. government, which became interested in Murphy after her friend Julia Davis blew the whistle on her employers in the Department of Homeland Security. Davis says she was the target of 54 investigations by DHS after exposing problems with security checks related to foreigners coming to the U.S. from countries with ties to terrorism. After Murphy vouched for her, the young actress too became a target.

Davis says Murphy and Monjack were under constant surveillance by the government. They believed this too and covered their house with dozens of surveillance cameras to catch interlopers. So when the couple died in quick succession, Davis immediately suspected the Feds. Murphy’s dad got behind this theory, and with Davis’s help, had a toxicology report done on his daughter. The results came back positive for “ten heavy metals,” leading them to believe she was poisoned. “I have a feeling that there was a definite murder situation here,” Murphy’s father told Good Morning America in 2013.

Tom Clancy, as part of a 9/11 cover-up

According to Dr. Jim Garrow, a self-professed former CIA agent and a darling of the conspiracy-obsessed right, President Obama had novelist Tim Clancy killed in 2011. Garrow, who said he was forced out of the CIA by Obama, spilled the beans a week later to the wacko website Now the End Begins. Over the years, intelligence agents fed Clancy inside information to use in his novels and eventually he simply learned too much, Garrow said. His next book, had he lived, would have exposed President Obama for the “Saudi Muslim plant” that he is. So the president had him poisoned, which Garrow knows because it reportedly took five days for Clancy’s autopsy to be conducted. It “takes that long for the chemicals he was poisoned with to work their way out of his body,” Garrow said.

John Lennon, killed for admitting the CIA invented LSD

In one of his last interviews before Mark David Chapman gunned him down in New York City, John Lennon said this to Playboy: “We must always remember to thank the CIA and the Army for LSD.” And also, “They invented LSD to control people and what they did was give us freedom.” The CIA, which was already prepared to target Lennon for promoting peace, could not stand for him revealing their role in the propagation of LSD. Time to unleash the Manchurian Candidate, Mark David Chapman. Those who believe this version of events, rather than the more commonly accepted notion that Chapman was an obsessed psychotic, point to the murderer’s unsolicited assertion after killing Lennon. “I acted alone,” he said. “Lennon had to die.” Chapman also happened to spend time in Beirut and Hawaii, both apparently home to CIA assassination camps. Why else would be in those two places unless it he was being programmed to kill.

Bob Marley, also killed by the CIA (but just for being Bob)

As a part of its effort to destabilize Jamaica’s left-wing government in the 1970s, the CIA set its sights on Bob Marley, whose peaceful message ran counter to its goals. After trying and failing to murder him with assault rifles, the agency got a bit more creative, the conspiracy goes. Documentarian Carl Colby, son of former CIA director William Colby, supposedly gifted Marley a pair of boots that were fitted with poison-coated copper wire protruding near the toe. When Marley tried the shoe on, his toe was pricked and the deed was done. He was later diagnosed with cancer in the toe because of the boots, theorists say. Others blame it on an injury sustained in a soccer game. After refusing to have the toe amputated, Marley’s cancer metastasized and he died. He was only 36.

Michael Jackson, murdered for being pro-Palestinian

The King of Pop is also the king of conspiracy theories, it seems. This one suggests that the U.S. government took out MJ on behalf of Israel to prevent him from releasing a song sympathetic to the Palestinian people. Jackson was set to begin his comeback residency at London’s O2 Arena just weeks after his death, and he would make a big show of support for Palestinians, believers say. Their evidence is minimal, relying on reports of Russian intelligence officials detecting the use of electromagnetic-radiation weapons near Jackson’s home at the time of his death.

Michael Jackson, killed by the Iranian government

In the summer of 2009, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won a second term in a highly disputed election. His opponents took to the streets, setting off protests around the nation that captured international attention thanks to information disseminated on Twitter. This is where the conspiracy comes in. Just two weeks after Ahmadinejad’s election, Michael Jackson died, and the public’s attention quickly switched from a potential political revolution to the mourning of a pop star. In fact, Jackson’s death temporarily crashed Twitter. All because an evil cabal of Iranian officials, hell-bent on squashing dissent, orchestrated MJ’s death to distract the world from the revolt bubbling inside its borders. The evidence of this? The timing. That’s it.

Tupac and Biggie, killed by the FBI

If you buy the idea that Tupac is dead, a case can be made that he was murdered by the U.S. government. The writer John Potash did just that in his 2007 book The FBI War on Tupac and Black Leaders. This article sums up his arguments. He says that the FBI was interested in Tupac because he came from a radical family, both his mother Afeni Shakur and step-aunt Assata Shakur being prominent members of the Black Panthers. When Tupac emerged in 1991 as a rapper with a message, the Feds turned their attention him.

After harassing Tupac over the first few years of his career, the FBI soon grew more proactive. In October 1993, off-duty cops in Atlanta got into a shootout with him. A month later, he was accused of sexual assault, and a year after that, he was shot five times at a recording studio in Manhattan, all events Potash says were set up by the FBI. During his prison stint for the sexual-assault conviction, Tupac was subjected to “Penal Coercion techniques,” Potash argues. And so his first album when he got out, All Eyez on Me, released on Death Row, was angrier and less inspiring than those that came before it.

Death Row was filthy with undercover police agents, Potash says. Those agents conspired to kill Tupac, whose emergence as a powerful voice in the black community made him a target for the Feds. Amazon says Potash’s book contains “100 interviews, FOIA-released CIA and FBI documents, court transcripts” to back up his claims. And then there’s Kevin Hackie, the former Tupac bodyguard who says he was an undercover FBI agent at the time of Tupac’s death and, according to Potash, has “documents proving that other FBI agents were in cars following Tupac when gunmen murdered him.”

Survivors of government conspiracy

Miley Cyrus is a tool of the Obama administration.

This theory first gained traction when the noted political thinkers in Korn released the video for their song “Spike in My Veins.” The video suggests that the public is paying attention to frivolous celebrity nonsense while the world burns and that this is no accident. In an interview with TMZ, Korn singer Jonathan Davis laid out his argument. “I think that our government uses those people to distract from what’s really going on … the thing with Miley Cyrus at the VMAs, when that went down, I think Barack Obama passed a law that he is basically a dictator.”

Davis seems to be referring to the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which gave the president the power of indefinite detention. President Obama signed it into law on December 31, 2011. Miley didn’t make a splash at the VMAs until 2013. But even if Davis is misinformed, he’s not alone in linking the former Hannah Montana to the Obama administration. In the summer of 2013, not long after Miley twerked at the VMAs, InfoWars cited her turn from “girl next door” into “grotesque slut” just as the Obama administration was considering bombing Syria. The suggestion was that the media would use Miley to distract the public as bombs fell on Syria, something the American public wildly opposed. And while half of that is true — the media did focus on Miley! — the U.S. didn’t bomb Syria until more than a year later.

Stanley Kubrick directed the moon landing for NASA.

To believe this is true one must first believe a much larger conspiracy theory: That the moon landing was faked. Let’s take that at face value for a moment and dive into a sub-conspiracy that suggests Kubrick was hired to direct the footage used to trick the world into believing a man walked on the moon. Theorists say 2001: A Space Odyssey provided a model for NASA, which is why Kubrick was brought in by the space agency. But it’s another movie that makes the strongest case for this whole story being true. The Shining is rife with clues that Kubrick did indeed direct the moon landings, according to theory’s chief proponent, Jay Weidner. He says Jack Torrance represented Kubrick himself. His deal with the manager of the Overlook Hotel, which represented America (red, white, and blue; built on an Indian burial ground), references Kubrick’s own deal with the U.S. government to help fake the moon landing. The snowstorm that traps the Torrance family in the Overlook is the Cold War, and the bears throughout the hotel symbols of Russia.

The scene that this theory relies on most heavily is the one that sees Danny Torrance rise from the hotel carpet, which looks like a NASA launchpad, wearing an Apollo 11 sweater. He approaches a room, No. 237, that represents the moon. We know this because the moon is 237,000 miles from the earth, theorists say (it’s actually 238,000 miles away, on average). Kubrick went out of his way to make this reference by changing the room number from 217, its number in Stephen King’s novel. Another noteworthy change is making the daughters of the hotel’s previous caretaker twins. It was only one child in the book, changed in the film to represent Gemini, the NASA mission that preceded Apollo.

This theory was given new life in late 2015 when a video surfaced with what was claimed to be footage of Kubrick admitting his role in the faked moon landings. The video was fake.

Britney Spears was an instrument of the Bush administration.

For a few tumultuous years in the mid-aughts, Britney Spears waged a public battle with fame, and each of her public meltdowns happened to coincide with a Bush-administration embarrassment. Considering the sheer quantity of both, that may sound like a mere coincidence. But conspiracy theorists think there’s more to it, and a clip of Spears endorsing Bush in Fahrenheit 9/11 is their starting point.

That establishes her support. These eerily well-timed distractions are the evidence. The first was in 2004. With United States vs. Libby a week away and the Bush administration on the verge of a very public humiliation, Spears married and unmarried childhood friend Jason Alexander within the span of three days. Who could pay attention to Scooter Libby’s transgressions with that going on?

In February 2006, with Bush’s approval rating edging toward an all-time low, Spears was photographed driving with her infant son on her lap. Cue the outrage, not at the president but at the pop star. In November of that same year, just after the Democrats won a huge victory in the midterms, and a day before President Bush booted Donald Rumsfeld from the DOD, Spears booted Kevin Federline from her life. A few months later, in February 2007, two days before the New York Times reported that Al Qaeda was regaining power across Afghanistan, Spears shaved her head. Only days later, she went on a rampage in at gas station, attack paparazzi with an umbrella. In 2008, Spears mellowed just as the Bush administration was about to disappear.

Government conspiracies way bigger than just one celebrity

The 1960s counterculture movement was a government-orchestrated intelligence operation.

This theory is laid out in painstaking detail by Dave McGowan in his book Weird Scenes Inside the Canyon. It’s based largely on events that took place in Laurel Canyon, the L.A. neighborhood that served as the hub for the city’s hippie movement. McGowan says many of the movement’s stars were the children of military members and there was a “covert military facility right in the heart of the canyon.” These kids, many of whom “had the appearance of being cast,” were then turned into stars by the government intelligent apparatus, McGowan argues.

The purpose of all of his, he says, was to undermine the anti-war movement, which was evolving on college campuses before the hippies came along. When the longhairs who “might as well have been from Mars to people in mainstream America” became the face of the anti-war movement, it was discredited by the mainstream. He finds further proof in the fact that none of the hippie heroes of the era were drafted or sent to jail for their dalliances with drugs. If the state truly had a problem with the movement they were building, then it had the ability to stop them, either by drafting them or sending them to jail. Since they all stayed home, the Man must have been on their side.

Pokemon Go is government spying program

How closely have you read the ToS on Pokemon Go? Close enough to know that you’ve allowed it to give any information about you to “government or law enforcement officials”? It’s all in there, and it’s got people casting a suspicious eye toward the game, which, it should be noted, was designed by Niantic, a company with ties to the government intelligence apparatus. But what interest would the CIA have in Pokemon Go? It was explained in The Dark Knight — by harvesting the images from all the people playing the game, the CIA has a clearer surveillance picture of the world than ever before.

Private-sector conspiracies

The private prison industry had a hand in the rise of gangster rap.

In 2011, the website Hip Hop Is Read blew the lid open on the relationship between the music industry and private prisons when it published a letter from an anonymous record exec who claimed to know the true origins of gangster rap. The letter told of a secret meeting in 1991 where representatives of the private prison industry urged music executives to promote gangster rap at the expense of socially conscious hip-hop to ensure a new generation of violent offenders to lock up. The record labels and their employees would be able to invest in the prisons, they were told, ensuring massive profits when the music they sold turned kids into criminals. Because of a strict nondisclosure agreement signed by all attendees at the start of the meetings, this anonymous letter, free of names or any other identifying information, was the only way to get the story out.

As Jay Smooth points out, though, while it’s true that the ’90s saw a rise in the private prison industry and the popularity of gangster rap, the crime rate went down. Rap lyrics did not make for a more violent populace. Not that it mattered. The prison population grew anyway.

The Hollywood Star Whackers are whacking stars.

Randy Quaid and his wife Evi have said a group of powerful showbiz types called the Hollywood Star Whackers are out for the blood and money of celebrities, themselves included. Previous victims of the Whackers, they say, include David Carradine, Heath Ledger, Chris Penn, and others Quaid has worked with. He’s also said Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and Mel Gibson have had their reputations destroyed by the Whackers.

He blames an ex-attorney and a former business manager, who he says have conspired to bilk him out of all his money and will eventually murder him to take control of his finances. It also appears that the Whackers have an outpost in the Silicon Valley. According to Quaid, Google helps the Whackers by keeping negative stories at the top of celebrity search results.

Bill Cosby, Oprah, and others forced Dave Chappelle off the air.

Over the years, Dave Chappelle has cited a handful of reasons why he walked away from his hit Comedy Central show at the height of its popularity, including burnout, the pressures of the job, and idiot fans constantly peppering him with quotes from the show. But he never mentioned the diabolical cabal of black cultural leaders who forced him out.

First proposed by a “retired public-relations executive” on the now-defunct, this explanation for the comedian’s departure points to a group of prominent black power players referred to as the “Dark Crusaders.” Counting Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Bill Cosby, and Oprah among their members, the Dark Crusaders wanted Chappelle off the air because his show, as they saw it, perpetuated a negative stereotype of blacks. The group sent Chappelle warnings, including a voodoo doll filled with pins, and sabotaged his credit cards. They nearly drove him mad by infiltrating the show’s production, stealing scripts, and somehow making crew members ill. Eventually this was too much for Chappelle, who killed the show after threats to his children.

The proof for all this? There isn’t any, just the assurance that the info was pieced together from those “closely related to the individuals involved.”

The Catcher in the Rye is a trigger for assassins.

On the night Mark David Chapman shot John Lennon outside his Upper West Side apartment building, the unstable Texan was carrying a copy of The Catcher in the Rye, which he had inscribed with the words “This is my statement.” John Hinckley had a copy of J.D. Salinger’s 1951 classic in his hotel room on the day he shot Ronald Reagan. Robert Bardo was carrying the book when he shot the actress Rebecca Schaeffer. Lee Harvey Oswald, like tens of millions of Americans, also apparently owned the book. And that’s enough for some to insist that Salinger’s book was used by the CIA to trigger mind-controlled sleeper agents and turn them into lethal assassins. Others believe Salinger’s book had nothing to do with the murders. Chapman didn’t even read it, one theory goes. Rather, the phrase “The phony must die says The Catcher in the Rye,” which Chapman says he heard in his head prior to the murder, was used in a government-led brainwashing process to convince him to murder Lennon. Lastly, there are those who say that Salinger’s name should have quotes around it because he never existed and he certainly never wrote The Catcher in the Rye. Who did? “Teams of CIA experts,” of course.

Batman is a trigger for assassins.

There are two possible ways to explain the connection between Batman and crazed murderers who love him: (1) The caped crusader is a popular characters in a popular franchise that lots of young people, crazy and sane, enjoy. (2) It’s the modern day The Catcher in the Rye that the CIA uses to trigger assassins. Conspiracy theorists are going with the latter. Killers including Colorado theater shooter James Holmes, married cop killers Jerad and Amanda Miller, and Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza have at least a tangential connection to Batman. That’s all the evidence InfoWars needs to conclude that it’s “feasible” the CIA is now “using the Batman franchise and the Joker as a template to trigger weak-minded individuals into imagining they’re comic-book villains playing out fictitious events.”

The Illuminati controls the minds of countless celebrities.

No group has birthed more conspiracy theories that the Illuminati, a secret society formed by Freemasons in 1776. Some say it still exists, a shadowy cabal of powerful figures that rules, and corrupts, the world in an attempt to bring about a New World Order. The CIA, which some think was founded by the Illuminati, does its bidding by running a complicated mind-control scheme that has ensnared many celebrities over the years.

Dubbed Monarch Mind Control, this effort is supposedly a part of MKUltra, a CIA program that existed in the ’50s and ’60s and subjected unwitting Americans to illegal experiments involving LSD and hypnosis, among other things. While there’s a record of MKUltra’s existence, the same cannot be said for Monarch, but that’s no surprise given its objective. Theorists say the CIA physically, emotionally, and sexually abuses children so that they will disassociate from reality, resulting in split personalities. Victims are then groomed so that their alternate personalities can be accessed by those who control them. In some case, this is used to create drug mules, sex slaves, and other disposable beings. But in other cases, the victims are elevated to stardom.

The Illuminati’s objective, it is argued, is to normalize the occult through the propagation of satanic imagery, while also lulling the masses into a stupor with movies and music that distract from their plans to take over the world.

Any time a celebrity unveils an alter ego or undergoes a drastic shift in presentation, accusations of Illuminati mind control are never far behind. Britney Spears’s switch from girl-next-door to “Slave 4 U”? Mind control. Same with Miley Cyrus’s switch from Hannah Montana to tongue-waggin’ sexpot. Shia LaBeouf’s descent into madness? Triggered by his minders, they say, ensuring the downfall of his career and preventing him from spreading sensitive national-security information.

If there’s no drastic personality switch like those above, celebrities may be identified as mind-control victims based on some telltale signs. If a singer has an alter ego, that’s her mind-control personality split coming through. If she uses monarch-butterfly imagery, references the all-seeing eye, or displays a preference for occult and satanic imagery, she might be on the list of mind-control victims and ultimately owe her true allegiance to the Illuminati.

The reason the Illuminati want to control the lives of pop stars is to use them to promote their agenda. That means normalizing their symbols and promoting devious behavior but also distracting the public from their behind-the-scenes plotting with half-naked women and bad pop songs.

Celebrities whom conspiracy theorists link to the Illuminati include:

Beyoncé and Jay Z: The power couple rose to fame because of their connections with the Illuminati, which first became clear when Jay Z named his label Roc-a-Fella. The Rockefeller family apparently has a deep history with the Illuminati. Combine that name with the Roc Nation hand sign, which theorists say is a triangle representing the all-seeing eye (it’s actually a diamond), and Jay Z is an obvious member. Beyoncé’s ties come through Jay Z, but she’s done her own work to assault the world with Illuminati propaganda, including her 2013 Super Bowl halftime performance and the video for “Crazy in Love,” which showed her “occult rebirth.”

Blue Ivy: Her name is an acrostic for Born Living Under Evil, Illuminati’s Very Youngest.

Whitney Houston: She was killed by Illuminati as a blood sacrifice for Blue Ivy. You can’t argue with the numbers.

Left Eye: Proof of her connection is in her name, a nod to the Eye of Horus and a reference to the all-seeing eye, which is everywhere in Illuminati imagery. She was killed, perhaps, because she knew natural healing secrets that would take down the pharmaceutical industry.

Aaliyah: Killed by the Illuminati because she didn’t want to be a part of their devious dealings. This theory circles back to Beyoncé, who supposedly would do what the evil overlords wanted. When Aaliyah proved an unwilling member in the Illuminati, she was killed and replaced with Beyoncé, who is now living the life that was meant for Aaliyah.

*This post has been updated to reflect that Randy Quaid, not Dennis Quaid, made a comment about the Hollywood Star Whackers.

The Greatest Pop-Culture Conspiracy Theories