Rock’s 12 Craziest Urban Legends: Why Won’t They Die?

Mad myths about McCartney, Morrison, Charles and Marilyn Manson + more.

We’ve all heard the outrageous claims. Most of us have perhaps also spread them. Many may even believe them. Yet even after they get disproven, it can be hard to let go of rock’s juiciest rumors and most enduring urban legends.

Among the salacious scandals and tawdry tales listed below, not a single story is true. Still, even in our present age of instantaneous Internet fact checking, these fantastic fictions continue to be passed among music aficionados by word of mouth.

So the next time somebody mentions seeing a (nonexistent) video of Charles Manson trying out for the Monkees or speaks of a (fake) friend of a friend who was in the emergency room the night Rod Stewart got his gut plunged free of love-goop, please refer them directly to this article.

Reality may not always be as much fun as choosing to believe in surgical alterations for improving oral copulation and/or on-stage “gross-out” competitions, but, alas, the truth does tend to matter—even in the most wigged-out fringes of rock-and-roll.

  1. Gene Simmons’s Cow Tongue

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    RUMOR: Kiss bassist Gene Simmons had his own tongue surgically replaced with the tongue of a cow.

    REALITY: Despite the miracles of eary-1970s medicine, implanting an animal tongue into a human mouth that could be moved and utilized with normal precision—let alone what the God of Thunder does with that thing—would be biologically impossible.

  2. Marilyn Manson’s Missing Rib

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    RUMOR: Antichrist superstar Marilyn Manson had one or more ribs surgically removed in order to more effectively fellate himself.

    REALITY: Rib removal rumors have followed Cher, Britney Spears, Kate Moss, and other fashionable female celebrities who are said to undergo the procedure to shrink their waistlines. That is, of course, nonsense.

    The first talk of such alterations for autoerotic oral purposes arose back in the 1980s regarding Prince. It wasn’t true about his Purple Majesty back then, and it remained so even in the ’90s and 2000s, when the myth picked up speed regarding Marilyn Manson. The only surprise is that the shock rocker didn’t encourage the idea to add to his own legend.

  3. Debbie Harry’s Near-Death Run-In With Ted Bundy

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    RUMOR: Blondie vocalist Deborah Harry hitched a ride with serial killer Ted Bundy in the early ’70s, who was later revealed to murder women at that time that he picked up along the road.

    REALITY: It’s not so easy to debunk this claim as Debbie herself has been repeatedly quoted as having reported the story. First in 1989 and later in 2003, Harry has told extremely detailed accounts of her run-in with Bundy, claiming he picked her up while she was trying to flag down a taxi in New York’s Greenwich Village.

    Describing how she “sensed something wrong” about the insistent driver from whom she accepted a ride, Harry said: ““The hairs on the back of my neck just stood up. I pulled the door handle from the outside. He tried to stop me by spinning the car, but it helped me fling myself out. Afterwards I saw him on the news. Ted Bundy.”

    As much as we adore Debbie and worship her work with Blondie, we have to kindly call her mistaken on this front. Bundy lived (and later killed) in the Pacific Northwest. There is no record of him even getting near New York City, aside from a trip to Philadelphia in 1969, five years before authorities believe he undertook his homicidal horrors.

  4. The Lethal Screams of “Love Rollercoaster”

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    RUMOR: The piercing scream at the middle of the Ohio Players’ 1975 hit “Love Rollercoaster” is the actual sound of a woman being stabbed to death—and not just any woman, but the model on the cover of band’s Honey album.

    REALITY: The scream on “Love Rollercoaster” is a sonic display of shriek prowess by Ohio Players’ keyboardist Billy Back. Another variation on the scream’s origin is that the for Honey’s iconic cover shoot, the titular substance was heated up and the model wailed in agony after dripping some on herself and experiencing third-degree burns.

    Um, no. The Honey cover model is Ester Cordet, a married mom and recent Playboy centerfold at the time of the shoot, who remains alive and well today.

  5. Frank Zappa Defeats Alice Cooper (or Vice Versa) in a “Gross-Out Contest”

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    RUMOR: Frank Zappa and Alice Cooper challenged one another to an in-concert competition to see who could be the most disgusting. After various transgressions, the showdown climaxed with Alice defecating on stage, and Frank eating it for the win. Sometimes, it’s the other way around and occasionally it’s said that David Bowie may have also participated.

    REALITY: In his 1990 memoir, The Real Frank Zappa Book, the mad genius composer definitively clarified the matter, writing: “For the record, folks: I never took a sh-t onstage, and the closest I ever came to eating sh-t anywhere was at a Holiday Inn buffet in Fayetteville, North Carolina in 1973.”

  6. Mama Cass’s Ham Sandwich

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    RUMOR: 1960s songbird Mama Cass Elliot choked to death on a ham sandwich.

    REALITY: In 1974, Mama Cass died at age 33 due to “fatty myocardial degeneration due to obesity,” which is to say she suffered heart failure related to her being severely overweight.

    Rumors cropped up at the time that she overdosed, had been targeted by government assassins, and may have been carrying John Lennon’s love child. Such talk dissipated quickly enough, but the notion that Cass succumbed to death by ham sandwich.

    Dr. Anthony Greenburgh, who first examined Elliot’s body, is thought to have caused the confusion by pointing out that a partly consumed ham sandwich and a Coca-Cola rested on a table next to her bed, so his initial thought was that perhaps she choked. She didn’t.

    The public clearly didn’t stick around to hear his final findings, and, as a result, multiple generations of hack comedians have attempted to pass off as their own the lame joke, “If only Mama Cass had shared that ham sandwich with Karen Carpenter, they’d both be alive today.”

  7. Phil Collins’ Drowned Friend

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    RUMOR: Non-swimmer Phil Collins composed his 1981 classic “In the Air Tonight” about witnessing friend, who was a strong swimmer, stand idly by and not help someone who was drowning right before their eyes. Years later, Collins invited that friend to a concert, put a spotlight on him in the crowd, and told the tragic story to shame him before breaking into “In the Air Tonight.”

    REALITY: Phil Collins himself has addressed this legend for years, dismissing it time and again as pure fiction. Still, the story has not only never gone away, variously intense elaborations have evolved through the years, some involving hunting down a sex criminal and Phil doing his own private investigation work.

    Among the myth’s true believers, at least back in 2000, was rapper Eminem, who mentions the story in his song, “Stan,” saying: “You know that song by Phil Collins from “In the Air Tonight?” About that guy who could have saved that other guy from drowning? But didn’t? Then Phil saw it all, then at his show he found him? That’s kinda how this is. You could have rescued me from drowning. Now it’s too late.”

    For the record, Phil Collins has stated: “I don’t know what this song is about. When I was writing this, I was going through a divorce. And the only thing I can say about it is that it’s obviously in anger. It’s the angry side, or the bitter side of a separation…. What makes it even more comical is when I hear these stories, which started many years ago, particularly in America, of someone come up to me and say, ‘Did you really see someone drowning?’ I said, ‘No, wrong.’… It’s so frustrating, because this is one song out of all the songs I’ve ever written that I really don’t know what it’s about!”

  8. Rod Stewart’s Stomach Pump

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    RUMOR: Rod Stewart once provided oral sex to so many comers that he had to be rushed to the hospital to have his stomach pumped free of semen. Total extracted amounts vary, with one quart to five gallons being the dominant measurements.

    REALITY: No such thing happened and, to his ever-lasting credit, Rod Stewart has directly addressed the rumor with affable bafflement and witty good humor.

    In his 2012 memoir Rod: The Autobiography, Stewart attributes the myth to his ex-publicist Tony Toon, who started the story after getting fired. Stewart writes: “Toon’s revenge was absolutely inspired. He fed the press a story in which, as a consequence of an evening spent orally servicing a gang of sailors in a gay bar in San Diego, I had been required to check into a hospital emergency room to have my stomach pumped … I have never orally pleasured even a solitary sailor, let alone a ship’s worth in one evening. And I have never had my stomach pumped, either of naval-issue semen or of any other kind of semen. With minor variations … this story has stayed with me ever since. Say what you like about Tony Toon—and God rest his soul—but he was good at his job.”

  9. Stevie Nicks’ Butt Cocaine

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    RUMOR: Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks so severely damaged her nasal passages with cocaine that she hired an assistant to administer the narcotic to her rectally, either via enema, suppository, or by blowing it through a straw.

    REALITY: Stevie Nicks did, in fact, grotesquely injure her nose due to drug addiction in the 1970s and ’80s, burning a hole on the inside of it that she describes as “the size of a dime.”

    In January 2015, Stevie acknowledged her physically disastrous drug use and some media sources published that she “confessed” to anal cocaine ingestion, only to then chalk it up to “rumors.” Until we hear it from the lady herself, all those making such claims can go stuff it.

  10. Jim Morrison Lives

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    RUMOR: Doors frontman Jim Morrison faked his death in 1971 and lives today in anonymous obscurity.

    REALITY: Many Doors fans were so eager to believe that their Lizard King hero simply slipped into anonymous existence that their fervor in large part sparked the early-’80s Doors revival that climaxed with the famous Rolling Stone cover line: “Jim Morrison—He’s Hot, He’s Sexy, and He’s Dead.”

    Truer words were never written.

    The rumor also inspired two interesting cult films, the fictionalized Eddie and the Cruisers (1983) that generated the hit song “On the Dark Side” by John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band, as well as the utterly off-the-rails low-budget conspiracy potboiler Down on Us aka Beyond the Doors (1984), which contends that Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin fell prey to CIA assassination.

    Conspiracy theorists and their videos regarding Jim Morrison’s secret post-“death” life continue to crop up.

  11. Elvis Is Alive

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    RUMOR: Elvis Presley faked his 1977 death and lives today in anonymous obscurity.

    REALITY: The King of Rock-and-Roll did in fact vacate his earthly throne (right near his own private throne) back when doctors declared he did.

    Elvis sightings truly took off around the tenth anniversary of Presley’s death, with theorists pointing out how Elvis’s middle name “Aaron” is spelled “Aron” on his tombstone among other supposed evidence. TV specials and bestselling books—at least one containing a cassette tape purported to contain an interview with the living King—asked “Is Elvis Alive?”

    The answer, despite ongoing conspiracy video claims, remains, in the physical sense, no. His music, of course, will live forever.

  12. Paul Is Dead

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    RUMOR: Paul McCartney died in 1966. The Beatles replaced him with a lookalike and left clues all over their music and album art regarding the cover-up.

    REALITY: McCartney, as any of the millions who have witnessed him perform over the past half-century can attest, remains thrillingly, brilliantly alive.

    We’re standing by this as fact, even in the face of contemporary websites such as Paul Really Is Dead.

    The Beatles certainly did have fun with “Paul Is Dead”-mania, though, loading their work with “hints” such as the declaration “I buried Paul” at the end of “Strawberry Fields Forever” and the cryptically encoded images on the cover of Abbey Road—i.e., Paul being barefoot and smoking a cigarette; left-handed Paul being the only Beatle leading with a right-legged stride; a license plate reading “28IF” (in reference to Paul’s age); and the larger notion of a funeral procession with white-clad John posing as an angel; black-suited Ringo being a mortician; Paul as a corpse; and denim-dressed George assuming the role of grave digger.

    In 1969, Paul directly assured fans he remained aboveground, telling Life magazine: “Perhaps the rumor started because I haven’t been much in the press lately. I have done enough press for a lifetime, and I don’t have anything to say these days. I am happy to be with my family and I will work when I work. I was switched on for ten years and I never switched off. Now I am switching off whenever I can. I would rather be a little less famous these days.”

    That may not have worked out so well for Paul, but the rest of us have certainly enjoyed his continuing to be alive.

Mike McPadden is the author of the book "HEAVY METAL MOVIES: Guitar Barbarians, Mutant Bimbos, and Cult Zombies Amok in the 666 Most Ear- and Eye-Ripping Big Scream Films Ever!" (Bazillion Points, 2014).