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Web site keeps track of a very vital statistic of celebrities - their mortality

Monday, August 24, 1998

By L.A. Johnson, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

"Remember what's his name? He played the guy in that dumb movie with so and so. Whatever happened to him? Is he dead, yet?"

 
  Laurie Mann maintains the Dead People Server Web site from her Mt. Lebanon home. (Bob Donaldson, Post-Gazette)

If you've ever wondered whether an entertainment legend has met a timely or untimely demise, click on to the Dead People Server to learn whether a celebrity is dead or alive.

"It's informative and amusing," page curator Laurie Mann, 41, of Mt. Lebanon, says. "If you don't see someone regularly, suddenly they're out of sight, out of mind and you're like, 'Gee, whatever did happen to Chet Huntley?' " (He died March 20, 1974).

If you want to pick up some handy trivia to share around the office water cooler, to settle a bet, or to find out whether Bob Denver and John Denver are dead, turn to the Dead People Server.

"I try not to get overly morbid about it," says Mann, a technical writer who has been a trivia buff since her University of Pittsburgh College Bowl days. "It's irreverent."

Entries include:

Dick Clark (world's oldest teenager) - Immortal. Born Nov. 30, 1929.

DeForest Kelley (actor) - He's alive, Jim. Born Jan. 20, 1920.

 
    Related article:

Are they dead or alive?

 
 
Kenny (character) - Dead, again. Died 1997, 1998 . . . Born 1997. ("South Park's" bad-luck boy.)

William Shatner (alleged actor, alleged director, alleged author, alleged singer) - Alive. Born March 22, 1931.

Sally Struthers (actress) - Alive. (Only her career seems dead.) Born July 28, 1948. (Gloria on "All in the Family.")

John Cameron Swayze (TV reporter/wristwatch pitchman) - Stopped ticking. Died Aug. 15, 1995. Born April 4, 1906.

John Tesh (music maker) - Alive. Born July 9, 1952. (But some Dead People Server fans "remain hopeful.")

It's all meant in good fun. Sure, some of the entries are a tad harsh, but Mann says, "If you don't offend a few people here and there, you're probably not saying anything."

You can search for celebrities by name or scan alphabetical listings. Many entries include wry and witty little pop culture references. Some entries even have links to more information about celebrities. For example, the Grace Kelly entry includes links to a Grace Kelly home page and an Internet Movie Database biography of her.

The Dead People Server debunks false death reports, too, like the one about Bob Hope a couple of months ago, or the one from April when, during a baseball game, Pittsburgh Pirates' play-by-play man Lanny Frattare told fans actor James Earl Jones had died when it actually was convicted assassin James Earl Ray.

The page features links to other Web sites in a similar sick vein, such as Find-A-Grave, Celebrities For Whom the Bell Tolls, and the Lee Atwater Invitational Dead Pool. The page includes a dead queries category.

"There are just four or five people we're just not sure about," she says.

A friend of Mann's came up with the idea for the page. He turned it over to someone else who passed the baton to Mann in March 1997. She plans to expand the page, adding more links, by the middle of next month.

Weird and unusual Web pages like the Dead People Server abound and thrive on the World Wide Web, where lots of people have the ability to disseminate information to hundreds of thousands of people at once, says Philip Kain, a net culture expert for the New York-based Mining Co., miningco.com, which has real people mining the net for the best information available on almost any subject.

"The Web gives people the power to indulge their eccentricities, show off their quirks, and indulge themselves," says Kain, a New York University on-line culture instructor who has his own odd web page, Toilets.nyc, an on-line guide to New York City's public toilets. "The net allows you to find a very specific niche of information."

Mann thinks the appeal of her page is more basic.

"People are interested in celebrities, and frankly, it's something you don't really think about a lot with some of the older actors or writers," Mann says. "It's really easy to lose track of people like [Harlem Renaissance writer] Dorothy West."

Mann welcomes suggestions from the public about who she should add to her list. Some followers even send her death advisories, but they're not always accurate.

"I can't tell you how many reports of Frank Sinatra's death I had before last May," Mann says with a chuckle. "I used to get one a month."



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