It's well-known at this point that newspapers often write obituaries before their subjects die. It makes sense, then, that the occasional obituary writer--maybe one at the end of a long and illustrious career in arts criticism--might die himself before the pre-penned obituary is published. That's what happened yesterday with Elizabeth Taylor's obituary in The New York Times--writer Mel Gussow died in 2005--yet the shock and ensuing giggles reverberated around the web.
"The NYT Has Been Waiting For Elizabeth Taylor To Die Since At Least 2005," said a humorous though also less charitable headline at Business Insider. Numerous other publications picked up the Gussow story, including The Village Voice, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, The Huffington Post, AOL, and Yahoo, despite Gussow's death being no particular secret: the Times itself ran a note at the bottom of the article stating that "Mel Gussow, the principal writer of this article, died in 2005."
The shock expressed whenever the custom of pre-writing obituaries comes up seems to never fade. The AP caught some flack when the news came out that they had an obituary written for the 26-year-old Britney Spears in 2008. In 2003, CNN notoriously published the obituaries of seven world figures including Fidel Castro, Dick Cheney, and Nelson Mandela by accident. Bloomberg financial newswire accidentaly published Steve Jobs's obituary in 2008, which was quickly taken down. "Scandalous" reports later emerged that some media outlets had prepared Lindsay Lohan's obituary in 2010.