(March 24, 1973)
Originally Published: March 24, 1973
A fierce onslaught of phone calls - more than Osmondrama or Cassidymania produced - struck the MM office following last week's "obituary" story which was a satrical review of Alice's American concert.
Within hours of the paper reaching the streets, it seemed half of Britain was mourning Cooper's beautifully reported "croak".
"Is he dead? Is he really dead?" was the breathless question every MM reporter had to face on picking up a phone.
On telling grief-stricken fans that he was in fact not dead, and that it was a piece of intelligent "send- up" MM staff faced a barrage of sometimes obscene remarks.
"You're sick. You're all sick," was the general tone of reply.
After two solid days of this, it became blatantly obvious that a large section of MM readers had swallowed the article down the wrong hole.
Mass hysteria followed.
To all intents and purposes it bore a frightening similarity to the mass hysteria created by the radio broadcast of H.G.Wells' "War Of The World" in the States during the 1930s.
It was then that Orson Welles - as the narrator - delivered the book in "newscast" form. Within hours half the nation were "believing" that Martians had landed on Earth. There were even reports of "sighting" and cities being destroyed.
Cooper - dead or alive?
By Friday, even the rock and roll world was beginning to ask the same question.
MM gulped, took a deep breath, and realised that the intended satire, had now turned into an uncontrollable monster.
It was no use sitting back and questioning the intelligence of readers. The word was out - and the word was "He's dead."
The phone calls became more and more intense - and on occasion frightening. Several people had been "moved" to physical illness.
We gulped again.
The the first letter.
"Could you please, please tell me if Alice is really dead. You stated that Cooper had been killed. If this is not so could you define the article's meaning" - Cheltenham, Glos.
"I'm very sorry, but I don't share your sense of humour. Fancy saying that Alice had been killed. Do you realise how many hearts you've broken. I couldn't have been more heartbroken had one of my own family died" - Julie Varley, Wollasey, Cheshire.
Well, what did go wrong?
It's quite simple. The writer, our man in New York, Michael Watts intended the piece as a satire befitting the outrageous antics of Alice.
When a paper has a sense of humour, the staff automatically expect all its readers to have one too. This is where we went wrong.
The article was taken as a straight news story - even though careful reading would convince the reader otherwise. We even gave it a "straight" headline.
So, I've named the guilty.
Said Watts: "Alice will love it. But on a serious note, I can only regret that the finer points of dramatic irony aren't appreciated.
"That was what it was intended to be - a satire."
Meanwhile, in Jackson, Mississippi, Alice was told of his "death." The reply he gave the MM on Tuesday was: "Gee, I wish it was all true!
"I lost $4,000 to Glen at blackjack last night. I could have died!
"Am I alive? Well, I'm alive and drunk as usual."