Every time news organizations report the death of someone who isn’t dead, that’s an automatic media story.
This one starts out with a Nov. 23 tweet from @DaveStroup:
Just got word that Black Cat Bill passed away. Rest in peace.
That’s big news for scenesters in the District. Black Cat Bill is the Black Cat’s “unofficial doorman.” The reason this “sweetheart of a guy” hovers around the club, he once said, is to “experience life a little bit.”
To WeLoveDC top editor Tom Bridge, Stroup looked like a solid source on the matter. He’s a former Black Cat employee, after all, and thus should know about the fate of Black Cat Bill. So Bridge on Thanksgiving Day threw up an item:
Dave Stroup reported on Twitter last night that Black Cat Bill, unofficial doorman for the Black Cat on 14th street, has passed away. Bill was an institution on 14th street for years and years, panhandling in front of the rock club, his signature call of “Black Cat, Black Cat, how bout a little change for the homeless,” is familiar to anyone who ever caught a show at the Cat.
DCist followed suit: “We Love D.C. shares some sad news — Black Cat Bill, an institution of a man known for being the club’s unofficial doorman, passed away this week.” Borderstan also passed along the sad tidings.
The story took a turn for the positive just this morning, when Washington City Paper’s Ryan Little reported two important facts. One, that Black Cat Bill’s name is William “Willy” Turner. Two, that William ”Willy” Turner was alive though not too well and living in a nursing home in Deanwood:
These days, Turner isn’t in great health, he’s lost a fair amount of weight, and he no longer makes it out to the club. He’s been living at the Deanwood residence for about two years, and before that was in and out of shelters. He told me he enjoys visits from his daughter and granddaughter, and he regularly watches old movies on the small television set by his bed.
Little’s scoop on Turner’s beating heart took a lot more work than repurposing a tweet. Over the course of a few days, Little: started working on an obit; found that “no one had anything solid” on Bill’s death; circled back to Stroup, who said, “Well, you know, I heard it from some people at the club” (Stroup denies saying that); talked with at least three Black Cat staffers, who said they had nothing official; went to the Central Union Mission to see if he could nail down a last name; checked with the medical examiner’s office to see if the guy had died; picked up a rumor from a club employee that a club regular may have visited Bill in a Deanwood nursing home; called the home and found that there was a “Willy” Turner on the premises; tried to speak with the guy on the phone but the home didn’t have a phone that would reach Turner’s bed; visited, got interview and photo.
Turner, according to the Washington City Paper account, appreciates the “support” he’s gotten following the rumor. The feel-good ending, though, doesn’t make Bridge feel too good. “I feel terrible,” says Bridge. He says that Stroup, “given his connection to Black Cat,” would be a strong source on the matter. Stroup says this: “My tweet was based on hearing it from two sources I believed. Clearly, we were wrong. I am glad the City Paper was able to track him down.” He says that neither WeLoveDC nor DCist contacted him before running with the story.
No point in beating up on Bridge, since he’s doing plenty of that on his own: “I’d say probably the worst thing you can do is report somebody dead who’s not.” Nah, that’s too extreme. Wrongly accusing someone of an evil act is far worse. Death is something we all do; it’s just a matter of timing.