Since April Fools' Day is this weekend, we thought we'd stay away from playing tricks on our readers. Instead, we look at five of the greatest practical jokes of all time. From a musical act that fooled the entertainment world to a radio broadcast that convinced listeners of a Martian invasion, here are some of the biggest hoaxes of all time.
Rob Pilatus and Fab Morvan made up the German pop duo known as Milli Vanilli. With their long hair, catchy rythms and powerful voices, Milli Vanilli soared to the top of the pop charts. Their debut album Girl You Know It's True earned them a Grammy for Best New Artist in 1990. But then it all came crashing down when footage of a live performance Morven and Pilatus had given in 1989 surfaced. While singing their hit song "Girl You Know It's True," the track jammed and it became clear the two were lip-synching. Pilatus and Morvan ran off stage in the middle of the song. The backlash was fierce: Arista Records dropped Milli Vanilli from its label, and their Grammy was withdrawn.
Howard Hughes Biography
Aviator, filmmaker and business tycoon Howard Hughes was one of the wealthiest and most mysterious men of his generation. Despite his many achievements, the eccentric Hughes spent much of his life as a recluse. He lived on the top floor of the Desert Inn in Las Vegas, and rarely left his hotel suite. He was said to be obsessive compulsive, and possibly addicted to drugs. In 1972, just a few years before his death, a biography of Hughes was released. Author Clifford Irving claimed the book was authorized and co-written by Hughes himself. Because of his detachment from public life, it took Hughes time to denounce the book and Irving's claims. After Hughes came forward, Irving was sentenced to 17 months in jail for his offense. Not surprisingly, numerous phony wills surfaced after Hughes' death.
In 1983 Gerd Heidemann, a German journalist for the magazine Stern, came forward with what he claimed were the diaries of Adolf Hitler. The magazine paid nearly 9 million German marks for 60 volumes of the diaries, which Heidemann claimed were recovered from a plane crash near Dresden in April 1945. They were authenticated by highly respected Hitler historians, who were allowed to see only small excerpts of the diaries before publication. As soon as the entire diaries were released, suspicions arose. Besides being printed on modern paper with modern ink, the diaries included excerpts from some of Hitler's well-known speeches. Heidemann was sentenced to four and a half years in prison, but not before he spent the money he'd been paid.
Turns out we're not the only ones who enjoy a little mischief on April Fool's Day. On April 1, 1992, audiences who tuned into National Public Radio heard a shocking announcement. Disgraced former president Richard Nixon said he was running for office again. "I didn't do anything wrong, and I won't do it again," was his campaign slogan. NPR was flooded with calls from outraged listeners. It wasn't until halfway through the show that host John Hockenberry told listeners they'd fallen for an April Fools' Day joke. Nixon's voice had been impersonated by Rich Little, a comedian famous for his uncanny imitations.
The Nixon broadcast wasn't the first time the radio has been used for big practical jokes. On a special Halloween broadcast of the radio series Mercury Theatre on the Air, listeners were informed that the impossible had happened: Martians had landed on Earth. A meteorite had landed in New Jersey, the broadcast said, and an update a few minutes later reported that it housed a rocket ship of Martians. Soon, the radio show was describing a battle between the New Jersey state militia and the alien invaders. Toward the end of the broadcast, future filmmaker and director Orson Welles announced to listeners that he had just played a practical joke on them. That wasn't enough to reassure the listeners who missed the disclaimer at the end. It was reported that some people in the northeast and Canada panicked and even fled their homes. The broadcast was based on H.G. Wells' novel The War of the Worlds, and it's considered one of the most famous hoaxes of all time.
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