10 Completely Untrue Pop Culture Urban Legends


This morning, Slate put a preemptive pin on all those 75th-anniversary posts commemorating Orson Welles’s broadcast of War of the Worlds by reminding readers that, contrary to popular belief, almost no one believed aliens were actually invading the earth at the time. Yet the urban legend will no doubt persist. Which brings us to our brief survey of rumors from around pop culture that never seem to die despite not having much in the way of truth to them. Read on for all kinds of fascinating non-facts about musicians, movies, actors, and pop cultural icons, reminding us that while truth may be stranger than fiction, fiction’s often plenty strange.

“If You Play ‘Stairway to Heaven’ Backwards, It’s a Prayer to Satan!”

As Christian right forefather Paul Crouch revealed in the early ’80s, if you play certain parts of “Stairway to Heaven” on rewind, close your eyes, and listen real hard, the high-pitched noises sound kinda like “Here’s to my sweet Satan” and “He will give those with him 666.” The only problem is that the weird squeaky playback sounds vaguely resemble any number of words in the English language, and the Satanic “message” is more a result of Crouch’s paranoia than any master plan on Led Zeppelin’s part.

“Marilyn Manson Had a Pair of Ribs Removed!”

The better to fellate himself, supposedly. There’s a few problems with this particular urban legend: not only did Marilyn Manson never have this questionably motivated elective surgery, it wouldn’t actually work even if he had. So, uh, don’t get any weird ideas. (Also, Manson may have an over-the-top public image, but those of us who’ve seen Bowling for Columbine know he’s actually rather sensible when he opts to drop the act.)

“Irene Ryan Died Onstage!”

Remember the grandma from the original Pippin? Who was also the grandma from Beverly Hillbillies? Ryan suffered a stroke onstage during a Pippin performance in March 1973, and though the rumor that she subsequently died in the wings is fittingly dramatic for such an accomplished actress, there’s unfortunately no truth to it. Ryan passed away in a Santa Monica, California hospital from stroke-related complications six weeks later, earning her an accurate obituary in the New York Times that did little to put the kibosh on the died-onstage myth.

“The Lion King Has a Dirty Word in It!”

That’s S-F-X spelled out in the sky over a down-in-the-dumps Simba, you 12-year-olds. Not S-E-X. Get your mind out of the gutter! Also take a moment to appreciate the tech and visual effects people to whom this Easter egg was meant to pay tribute. Unfortunately, it’s been co-opted by the rumor mill in a futile attempt to ruin our collective childhoods. Not that a thinly veiled Hamlet adaptation chock-full of fratricide isn’t adult enough…

“Lauryn Hill Didn’t Want White People to Buy Her Music!”

Allegations made on the Howard Stern Show are, as a rule, less than credible. But for some reason, this one caught on. Hill supposedly told MTV she’d rather let her own children starve than have white people buy her albums, a statement both MTV and Hill (who called into the Howard Stern Show herself to put the rumor to rest) deny ever happened. The singer’s been vocal about black pride and anti-racism in the past, but that’s a far cry from saying she’d rather not take white people’s money than have them enjoy her tunes.

“There’s a Ghost Haunting Three Men and a Baby!”

Except there’s not; that “little boy” hovering in the background as Ted Danson and his mom carry the titular baby is actually a cardboard cutout of Danson himself. It’s a never-used prop for a subplot that didn’t make the final cut, so it ended up “haunting” the background of a few other scenes in the movie sans context. Considering the whole comedy was filmed on a soundstage, the idea of a ghost lingering around an “apartment” didn’t make much sense anyway.

“Hello Kitty Was Commissioned for a Nuclear Power Plant!”

There are a few weird stories surrounding the origins of Sanrio’s best-selling toy franchise, but among the most plausible was the rumor that Hello Kitty was originally conceived as a warm-‘n’-fuzzy mascot for a nuclear power plant. Though Hello Kitty herself wasn’t designed for the purpose, that story’s not too far off from the troubling practice of using cutesy toy displays as PR tools for nuclear power that’s fairly common in Japan.

Dark Side of the Moon Matches Up With The Wizard of Oz!

Generations of stoners have reveled in the gimmick known as “Dark Side of Oz,” but it turns out the weird logistics — should the album start when the MGM lion roars? when the first shot of Kansas goes onscreen? — aren’t the only problem with trying to make the classic album and even-more-classic film sync up. The members of Pink Floyd have gone on record with the tragic confession that their 1973 masterpiece and the beloved L. Frank Baum adaptation were never meant to match up after all. Doesn’t mean there aren’t some cool coincidences, though!

“Anton LaVey Was in Rosemary’s Baby!”

As fitting as it would be for the founder of the Church of Satan to play the demon that impregnates Mia Farrow in Roman Polanski’s seminal horror film, some things are just too on the nose to be true. Polanski and LaVey never even met, let alone got to know each other well enough for LaVey to be cast in an uncredited role in one of Polanski’s movies (the devil’s actually played by an extra in a mask). Other common misconceptions about LaVey: he didn’t actually worship Satan, or even believe in God.

“Ohio Players’ Cover Model Was Murdered on Tape!”

In the spirit of Halloween, we saved the craziest and creepiest for last. As if the completely nude model on the cover of their single “Honey” (slathered in, you guessed it, honey) wasn’t scandalous enough, the rumor persisted for years that said model had been horribly disfigured by the fake honey used in the photo shoot and that the Ohio Players’ manager had then murdered her when she confronted him, with her screams immortalized forever on the group’s single “Love Rollercoaster.” Luckily for ’70s funk fans, those “screams” are actually from a keyboard, meaning “Love Rollercoaster” can be enjoyed with a clear conscience.