Update: Phoenix New Times spoke with the Maricopa Medical Examiner’s office on Monday, September 25, and confirmed Paul Horner's death. The Maricopa Country Sherrif’s Office has also released new details regarding the possible cause of death in the case.
Paul Horner, the local comedian, writer, and prankster who became famous for his satirical internet hoaxes and fake news stories, has died from what the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office suspects was an accidental drug overdose. He was 38 years old.
Horner reportedly died in his sleep on Monday, September 18, at his mother’s house in Laveen. News of his death was announced on Facebook a few nights later on Friday, September 22, by his brother, local artist JJ Horner.
JJ told Phoenix New Times that the cause of his brother’s death is currently undetermined.
“It is with a heavy heart that I must share the sad news of the passing of Paul Horner,” JJ wrote. “He left us peacefully in his sleep.”
According to a statement from Maricopa County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Mark Casey released on Tuesday, Paul Horner’s body was found lying in a bed at the residence.
Evidence reportedly found at the scene by MCSO officials suggested a possible accidental drug overdose.
Horner’s family members reportedly told MCSO officials that Paul “was known to use and abuse prescription drugs” in the past.
No signs of foul play were discovered and an autopsy conducted the Medical Examiner had similar findings. Results from a toxicology report are still pending.
Casey says that the matter is still under investigation by the MCSO.
According to Maricopa County Superior Court records, Horner was arrested in January 2011 on multiple drug-related and money-laundering charges after reportedly being caught with an estimated $15,000 in narcotics.
He later pled guilty to one count of possession of dangerous drugs for sale as a part of a plea deal and served four months in jail.
JJ Horner told New Times several days prior the release of MCSO’s findings that family members were more concerned with dealing with the aftermath of Paul’s death than determining the cause.
“It's too early to tell. There's nothing official or anything,” JJ says. “He died in his sleep and it was a painless death. Whatever happened, it's kind of irrelevant at this point.”
News of Paul Horner’s death shocked and saddened his friends and fans. Many posted memories on his Facebook wall recounting his humorous performances at local comedy events and his gonzo antics and stunts.
He co-hosted the “Mystery Show” stand-up session at The Lost Leaf every month for the past few years. Occasionally he’d show up dressed as Fappy the Anti-Masturbation Dolphin, a satirical character of a Christian bent who was dedicated to “educating both children and parents about the dangers and consequences of masturbation and the benefits of genetically modified foods.”
It wasn’t all fun and games, however, as Horner also spent his free time handing out clean pairs of socks and water to members of the homeless community around the Valley as a part of his charity, Sock It Forward.
“He was, honestly, the most loving and generous person I'd ever come in contact with next to our mom,” JJ says.
But while Paul was known locally for his comedy and charitable efforts here in the Valley, he had become infamous all over the internet in recent years for his hoaxes and fake articles.
Starting in 2012, Horner created a series of fake news websites including Super Official News and News Examiner, all of which featured stores touting a variety of wild claims.
Some of his greatest hits included reports about Bill Murray launching a "party crashing tour," a small town in Louisiana banning twerking, or former Governor Jan Brewer implementing a mandatory gay conversion program in Arizona schools.
It was all clickbait fodder that played well among the gullible on Facebook, earning Horner a decent living from ad revenue, although he never disclosed how much he was making. He also got plenty of lulz from duping major news outlets, like when Fox News believed that President Obama was bankrolling a Muslim museum.
Horner rose to even greater fame following the growing prominence of "fake news" in the 2016 presidential election, particularly after Donald Trump became President of the United States. He even managed to rope in Eric Trump, who tweeted about Horner’s story claiming that protesters were being paid $3,000 to demonstrate against his billionaire dad.
Since December of last year, profiles of Horner ran in the Washington Post, Rolling Stone, and Vice. Earlier this year, he was interviewed by Anderson Cooper on CNN, where he defended his stories as being satires and parodies.
“It's pretty obvious the stuff I write is very political satire. There's a lot of humor and comedy in it,” Horner stated during the interview. “I do it to try to educate people. I see certain things wrong in
Over the summer, he traveled to Brussels, Belgium, to speak in front of the European Parliament at a seminar on the rise of fake news and also appeared on Charles Barkley’s four-episode series American Race.
JJ says that while he’s emotionally crushed to lose his brother, he’s happy that Paul got to spend the last few months of his life in the spotlight.
“He left on a really good note. He was working all the way to the end. He did so much with his life, he really packed it in. He was just on Charles Barkley's show and they ran into each other at the [National Association of Black Journalists] convention in New Orleans where he was a speaker at,” JJ says. “And months before that, he sat at the European Parliament in the same chair the pope did the week prior to that, talking about fake news. It's unbelievable all the things he did.”
He also feels like all the stories his brother wrote are a part of his legacy.
“It's all just strange when you're an internet king and your legacy can kind of
Editor's note: This post has been updated throughout.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.