It was a dark day on the hair color front.

Media outlets around the world, from CBS, ABC and CNN to the British tabloids, delivered the sad news: Blondes are dying out.

"The decline and fall of the blonde is most likely being caused by bottle blondes, who researchers believe are more attractive to men than true blondes," said CBS "Early Show" co-host Gretchen Carlson.

"There's a study from the World Health Organization -- this is for real -- that says that blondes are an endangered species," Charlie Gibson said on "Good Morning America," prompting Diane Sawyer to say she's "going the way of the snail darter."

They must be dyeing now. The World Health Organization says there is no such study -- and that most journalists didn't call to check.

"We've certainly never conducted any research into the subject," WHO spokeswoman Rebecca Harding said yesterday from Geneva. "It's been impossible to find out where it came from. It just seems like it was a hoax."

The health group traced the story to an account Thursday on a German wire service, which in turn was based on a two-year-old article in the German women's magazine Allegra, which cited a WHO anthropologist. Harding could find no record of such a man working for the WHO.

For the media, though, the blondes-are-toast yarn was too good to check.

"According to the World Health Organization, blondes, natural ones, may be extinct within the next 200 years," CNN anchor Carol Lin said, tossing to a piece by the British network ITN.

"Study Is a Blonde Bombshell," said a New York Post headline.

"Gentlemen who prefer blondes will have to move to Finland -- or make do with 'bottle blondes,' " London's Daily Star reported.

"Too few people are carrying the blonde hair gene to continue reproducing through the generations, says the World Health Organisation," the Daily Mail reported.

"Future generations will never need to wonder whether a blonde bonce is natural -- because every one will be from a bottle," said the Express, adding that blondes such as Britney Spears "do have to endure jokes about being vague and a little short on brain cells."

Apparently that applies to some journalists as well.

In the ITN report, correspondent Roland Burke interviewed an Edinburgh dermatology professor who didn't exactly endorse the study. "In the near future, although the number of blondes might drop a little, I wouldn't expect it to die out," Jonathan Rees said.

CBS spokeswoman Jennifer Tartikoff said the study "was brought up in a casual, offhand manner, not as a hard news story." She says it came up in an "Early Show" segment not carried by 99 percent of CBS affiliates and would be "clarified" for those stations that broadcast it.

ABC spokesman Jeffrey Schneider said that "a London producer called the WHO, which didn't turn him off to the story, unfortunately." The WHO official simply offered to check it out but "didn't knock it down," said Schneider, adding that "Good Morning America" will air a correction.

A CNN statement said it carried the report "from one of its highly reputable international broadcast partners," ITN, and would correct it as many times as the story aired. "CNN regrets the error," the statement said.

Harding says the WHO made no attempt to contact the news outlets that went with the bogus report but decided to issue a news release yesterday.

"Honestly, we have better things to spend our time on," she said.

Andy Warhol's "Orange Marilyn," proving she wasn't always a blonde, even in the pictures.Pop stars Britney Spears, left, and Christina Aguilera: Don't worry, there'll be plenty of natural blondes, too.