Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated
"Tax dodge nothing! You take one nap in a ditch in the park and they start declaring you this and that!"
— Professor Hubert Farnsworth
, addressing claims he declared himself legally dead as a tax dodge
When a character who is alive is mistakenly believed to be dead. Quite often includes the character being shown his own death certificate. Often includes being declared Legally Dead
, but isn't necessarily restricted to that. May result in a case of Attending Your Own Funeral
and hearing a Premature Eulogy
. Compare Faking the Dead
, where the character deliberately misleads people into believing that he's dead, and No One Could Survive That
, where the character incidentally creates this impression by doing something that by all rights should
have killed him.
Named after a statement that Mark Twain didn't actually say
— but should have.
See also First Law of Resurrection
, where character was meant to be Killed Off for Real
, but was brought back from the dead in sequels.
As a Death Trope
, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
- Madara Uchiha/Tobi, in Naruto, since everyone in the story thought that he/they died a long time ago. Turns out to be averted in the case of Madara, who was brought Back from the Dead, but Tobi is Obito, who was crushed "to death" in Kakashi's Gaiden. He was saved (half of him, anyway) by Madara. Who was still alive for a long period of time after he was believed to be dead anyway.
- Goku seems to be written off as dead by his friends for most of the King Piccolo saga, even though there's no indication of him actually dying. He just went after the mutant that killed Krillin and Bulma already declares him killed in action, not even considering the possibility that he might still be alive.
- Lyon in Fairy Tail. After his supposed demise, he returns to the group very nearly invoking this trope by name.
- In the Starship Troopers movie, Johnny Rico's friends bring him a copy of his own death certificate, while he's still in the hospital recovering from his wounds. They all have a big laugh over it, except for Rico's Love Interest, who doesn't know the report was incorrect.
- In Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne goes on a multi-year incognito journey to find himself, and when he gets back Alfred tells him he's been thought dead. It's mostly played as a throwaway joke, though, and is sorted out between scenes with no lasting complications. Alfred mentions that there have been moves to have him declared legally dead, and Bruce says it's a good thing he left everything to Alfred then.
- Everybody in Escape from New York, when meeting Snake Plissken, will say something along the lines of "I thought you were dead!".
- Plissken mutters to the Girl in the coffee store, "I am dead."
- The same thing was done previously to John Wayne's character in Big Jake. Eventually, Big Jake gets so annoyed, he promises to kill the next person to say it to him—who, of course, turns out to be the Big Bad...
- In Cast Away, Chuck Noland is declared dead after being stranded on a deserted island for years. They even held a funeral for him.
Chuck Noland: "You had a coffin? What was in it?"
- Played with in Star Trek: First Contact. "Reports of my assimilation are greatly exaggerated."
- In Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Jack Sparrow relates the (Real Life) myth of how the body of Blackbeard swam three times around a navy vessel after it'd been decapitated. As he relates this story to Blackbeard, who's alive and intact, this trope presumably applies within the PotC Verse.
- Heihachi Mishima is not as dead as most people think. He shows up for the three-way brawl between himself, his son and grandson.
Heihachi: It feels good to be back. Hiding in the shadows after faking your own death is a bore. In fact it's downright tedious.
Kazuya: I thought I've thrown you into the depths of Hell.
Heihachi: Ha! If you thought that was enough to kill me, you are gravely mistaken.
- In The Jungle Book: Mowgli's Story, Shere Khan is shot and presumed dead early in the film. When he returns later, he reveals that he was merely Shot in the Ass.
- 7th Heaven: Chico comes home from World War I just as his wife Diane is being told he was killed. As they embrace, he says that they said he was dead, but he'll never die. It's a heartwarming moment.
- Gallagher opened the morning newspaper and was dumbfounded to read in the obituary column that he had died. He quickly phoned his best friend, Finney. 'Did you see the paper?' asked Gallagher. 'They say I died!!' 'Yes, I saw it!' replied Finney. 'Where are ye callin' from?'
- In The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie, Saladin Chamcha has trouble with red tape and getting his career back in order after being presumed dead in the plane crash.
- Doc Daneeka from Catch-22 is listed as dead because he was on the flight roster for a bomber that flew into a mountain. The fact that he was standing there in person, telling them he wasn't dead, failed to convince the army bureaucracy.
- In J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, when Bilbo Baggins finally returns to his house, he finds a huge crowd gathered for his estate auction. Since he had left without telling anyone, and not returned for a year, everyone in the Shire had assumed he was dead. His heirs, the Sackville-Bagginses, were rather disappointed when he turned up.
- Nicoma Cosca in the Joe Abercrombie novels has this happen many times over the course of his life, and declares it "wishful thinking on the part of my enemies."
- In John Steakley's Armor, the protagonist is the only survivor of a military unit that gets wiped out. The confusion of circumstances results in parts of the computerized record-keeping system thinking he's also dead, while other parts are aware he's alive; this, to put it mildly, does not make his life any easier.
- Honor Harrington says a variation on the line when she returns to Manticore in Ashes Of Victory. In this case, not only has she been gone for the better part of two years, but the People's Republic of Haven actually faked footage of her execution and broadcast it throughout the galaxy. This causes a lot of complications, not least of which that her estate has been divided up according to her will. Honor is less bothered by this than by certain twenty-foot-tall memorials to her. Even the Peeps thought she had died in a failed attempt to escape. But no one was going to believe that, so they claimed to have formally executed her, to put a badass face on the debacle.note
- Roughly half a decade later, Honor's best friend Michelle Henke is seemingly killed at the Battle of Solon. Turns out she actually made it off the ship and was tucked safely away in a Havenite POW camp. When the two meet again, Michelle remarks that "now we're even for that jaunt to Cerberus you took."
- In Lewis Carroll's Sylvie and Bruno, the Vice-Warden arranges for a false report of his brother's death.
"Is the Warden supposed to be dead?"
"Well, it's supposed so: but, mind you, I don't believe it! The evidence is very weak—mere hear-say. A wandering Jester, with a Dancing-Bear (they found their way into the Palace, one day) has been telling people he comes from Fairyland, and that the Warden died there. I wanted the Vice-Warden to question him, but, most unluckily, he and my Lady were always out walking when the Jester came round. Yes, the Warden's supposed to be dead!" And more tears trickled down the old man's cheeks.
- A footnote in one of the Ciaphas Cain, HERO OF THE IMPERIUM!!! books reveals that Cain was listed as "killed in action" and then showed up alive (and typically saving the day) so many times that the Munitorum finally gave up trying to keep track and kept him on the payroll regardless — even long past his confirmed death ... and burial with full military honors.
- Possibly as a Shout-Out to Mark Twain, one book in Animorphs sees a new alien race that according to Ax was killed off millennia ago. "Reports of their extinction may have been exaggerated" indeed, they're trying to kill us right now.
- In the Star Wars Expanded Universe, Corran Horn has been reported dead and turned up alive again so often (3 times in the five X-Wing novels he features in alone) that it has been joked that when he really dies, nobody will believe it and will assume he's just in hiding and will turn up again sooner or later.
- The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Nighttime: Christopher's father told him his mother died. Then Christopher finds all the letters she's been writing to him since she left his father.
- In Victory of Eagles, Laurence is thought dead by Temeraire after the ship he was imprisoned on is sunk by the French (a stray cannonball opened his cell, and he tried to help the crew before making it to the lifeboats with the survivors).
- Near the end of The Conformist, Marcello discovers that Lino, the man he shot as a child after he attempted to molest Marcello, is still alive, and that the obituary he read in the paper shortly after the event was erroneous.
- In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Tom and Huck are mistakenly thought dead until they show up at their own funeral.
- In A Series of Unfortunate Events, we have Lemony Snicket.
This obituary is filled with errors. Most importantly, I AM NOT DEAD.
- The Cat Who Lived High: While vacationing, Qwill's car is stolen and the driver turns up dead. The local law enforcement where the car is found, who don't know Qwill, assume the dead man is the owner of the car and issue an incorrect report. While most of Moose County is thrown into deep mourning, Arch goes to where Qwill is staying to get the cats and almost has a heart attack when he finds Qwill sitting there.
- All Things Under the Moon: Referenced. The day before the London Detective Agency goes to face a werewolf, they get into a discussion that involves quotes on death; Paul Morcey says he prefers Mark Twain's famous quote on death, and hopes to be around to say it in a few days.
- Serge, the Tim Dorsey novels' usual protagonist, is on a quest to find out the truth about his grandfather, Sergio's, death after a fiasco with rare stolen diamonds. He believes his namesake is still alive, and is actually quite right. The "dead man" in question even explains that no one bothered to check how deep the water was, he was actually standing up to his chest and watching the chaos unfold on the docks.
Live Action TV
- Escape from Monkey Island starts with Elaine discovering that because she spent so much time out of the government of her islands, she was declared dead and had to get re-elected.
Elaine Marley: I'm going down to city hall to see about getting declared un-dead.
Guybrush Threepwood: Won't that make you a flesh-eating zombie?
Meathook: Guybrush! I'd heard you were killed by a giant clam!
Guybrush: Rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated.
Meathook: Not to mention celebrated.
- In Mass Effect 2, Shepard actually was dead for two years, which leads to trouble when they return to the Citadel and is picked up by the security scanners as being dead. Fortunately, a friendly C-Sec officer changes the records without making Shepard jump through all the hoops they would normally have to go through. It is mentioned that folks fake their own death fairly often as a tax dodge.
- You can also have them keep you out of the system, so to security you don't exist.
- In the first chapter of Disgaea 2 Dark Hero Axel is reported as dead (Adell and Rozalin just knocked him out), and he spends several chapters trying to convince people he's not. His own mother goes into mourning and then chews him out when he calls to reassure her, because she thinks he's an unusually cruel prankster; even after he M Cs the Coliseum battle to jumpstart his career, the newscast "lose" the footage and claims that he's an escaped asylum inmate who thinks he's Axel. Much later his producer is revealed to have been behind it all to cover up his embezzlement.
- Doctor Halsey quotes this trope in Halo: Reach. The casualty reports had listed her as K.I.A., or so Noble Team thought.
- Near the beginning of the level "Uprising" in Halo 2, the Arbiter runs into some friendly Elite forces. He's greeted with "The Arbiter! I thought he was dead!"
- In Spyro: Year of the Dragon, Spyro goes through a portal and ends up in a faraway land where dragons were thought to be extinct. He replies with "Rumors of our extinction were greatly exaggerated."
- The Fallout: New Vegas add-on, Lonesome Road adds a perk, "Thought You Died", which is basically this.
- In the main game, you can meet up with the people that were responsible for you getting shot in the head. Most of them react in shock that you're alive.
- In the backstory, this has happened to Joshua Graham five times. 1st Recon, NCR's elite sniper squad has reported five confirmed kills on him, only for him to show up alive each time. This has led to him becoming The Dreaded and when you meet him in the Honest Hearts DLC, Graham is indeed inhumanly durable and difficult to kill.
- Albert Wesker and later, Jill Valentine both fall under this trope; Wesker in Resident Evil: Code: Veronica and Jill in Resident Evil 5.
- In the Original Ninja Gaiden Trilogy, Irene Lew is thought to have been killed in the opening of the third game. She shows up later on and she is not very happy with her former boss trying to kill her.
Irene: Did you think that I would die that easily?
- In Spec Ops: The Line, Col. John Konrad gives an interesting inversion of this trope. As it turns out, the real Col. Konrad had taken up residence in one of Dubai's towers, and eventually, out of depression over the failure of the evacuation of Dubai's people, committed suicide. The Konrad who has been speaking to Cpt. Martin Walker was just a figment of his imagination, and the moment Walker finds Konrad's corpse, the imaginary Konrad walks up to the body and gives it a genuinely amused look, before stating with a smirk:
"Konrad": It seems that reports of my... survival... have been greatly exaggerated."
- Whenever Scout is revived in a Mann vs. Machine map using the Re-Animator, he has this to say:
Scout: Reports of my death were BULLCRAP!!
- Occurs a couple of times in We Are All Pokémon Trainers:
- In the alternate timeline, a flashback implies Cyrus had the mind controlled Dialga kill DS, and she is reported dead to the other Trainers. Only when she arrives for the finale is revealed that Dialga resisted Cyrus's command long enough to imprison DS along with the other Legendaries instead.
- Later, when DS and the Lake Trio finally find Palkia, who is the only one who can help them escape from the other dimension, they discover that Palkia has been petrified, presumably having been that way since the arc began.