On Wednesday, a fake news story about Alan Thicke’s final moments surfaced online.
A story posted by entertainment website TMZ claimed that actor Michael Vartan spoke with Thicke moments before the “Growing Pains” star suffered a fatal heart attack on Tuesday night. According to the gossip site, Thicke joked with Vartan about the quality of the coffee at the ice skating rink in Burbank, Calif. The site reported that Vartan later saw Thicke sitting on a bench surrounded by people.
According to the original TMZ post, which has since been taken offline, Vartan said that Thicke was in good spirits and was cracking jokes as he was loaded into an ambulance and taken to the hospital.
Except all of that was a lie.
According to Vartan’s publicist, Nancy McCarty Iannios, Vartan was in attendance at the hockey event on Tuesday night, but he did not speak to Mr. Thicke. He also did not give an interview to TMZ about the actor’s final moments.
“Although they were at the same ice skating rink, he didn’t have the opportunity to speak to Alan Thicke yesterday,” Iannios told Rare in a phone call.
After the TMZ story was published, many websites (this one included) reprinted the quotes and told the fake story of Thicke’s alleged final moments. After much work from Vartan’s publicity team, many of those stories have been taken down, though some still remain.
So whom did TMZ speak with?
Enter a street artist from Los Angeles known as Midas Lives, who told Rare over the phone Wednesday afternoon that he was woken up by a phone call early Wednesday morning by someone looking to speak to Michael.
After the first call, Midas went to work and was creating an art piece when he got another call. Midas says this call was from Gary Trock a senior producer at TMZ. Trock allegedly sent Midas a text under the belief that Midas’ number belonged to actor Michael Vartan.
When the two finally spoke on the phone, Midas began formulating a performance art piece on the fly, where he pretended to be Vartan and told TMZ his version of Thicke’s final moments.
“I just kind of played along with it […] I just kind of let it go a little too far,” Midas admits.
According to Midas, he was curious what would happen, though he didn’t expect it to go as far as it did.
“I felt like it would be a prime example of the media’s responsibility to make sure they are spreading the truth,” Midas tells Rare.
After a few hours and the publication of dozens of articles containing his fake quotes, Midas decided enough was enough and identified himself in a video posted to his social media accounts.
“At a certain point […] just because of the nature of why I was being called, I realized this has gone far enough,” Midas explains, while he cautions that he means no disrespect to TMZ, Gary Trock, Michael Vartan and most certainly the late Alan Thicke.
“I didn’t have any malice intent, and I didn’t mean any disrespect to the late Alan Thicke, and absolutely none to his family,” Midas explains
Though he received several calls looking for Michael Vartan, Midas has no idea why the phone number he has had for eight years was associated with the actor. It’s possible he has an old number of the actor’s, though the Vartan camp does not recognize the number.
Many websites, such as TMZ, the New York Daily News and Rare have taken down the original story.
Midas also spoke with the New York Daily News who had a similar interaction as TMZ. TMZ told the paper that Midas “pulled the same stunt on us.”