An infamous professional prankster who once went to great lengths to get his own fake obituary published in the New York Times is now actually dead, the Times reports, noting in its headline that it has the news "on good authority." Alan Abel, who has been called "America's greatest hoaxer" and said to be the precursor to such celebs as Stephen Colbert, died at his Connecticut home Friday at age 94 from, according to his daughter, complications of cancer and heart failure. The Times also confirmed his death with a hospice care center and a funeral home. Abel, who worked as a jazz drummer and stand-up comic before turning to a life of pulling off incredibly complex gags starting in 1959, needed a dozen cohorts in order to pull off his fake 1980 passing; they played roles including his widow and an undertaker (using a dedicated phone line with its own directory-information business listing) to confirm the death. After the obituary was published, Abel held a press conference and the Times retracted its obit.
All of Abel's pranks involved similarly epic levels of planning, actors, costumes, and more. Among the gags: the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals, a group purportedly pushing to clothe all animals that staged activities for four years before it was outed as fake; "Omar's School for Beggars"; "Euthanasia Cruises"; "Citizens Against Breastfeeding"; and the "KKK Symphony Orchestra." The media was taken in again and again, covering the Abel-concocted activities, organizations, and characters—which were sometimes meant as performance art, sometimes social commentary—as factual. The Connecticut Post sums it up thusly: "Long before 'Fake News,' there was Alan Abel." As Abel, who made a modest living by writing books and articles, making speeches, and producing mock-documentaries, once noted, the media "need an audience, and the only way they’re going to get an audience is to have perversions and calamities galore. They want excitement; they want drama. And I give them that." (Read more obituary stories.)