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Online conspiracy theorists twist singer's COVID-19 death

CHICAGO – Conspiracy theorists are twisting facts online about country singer Joe Diffie's death from COVID-19 complications in an effort to promote their claims that health officials are exaggerating the threat of the coronavirus pandemic.

Diffie, who topped the charts in the 1990s with honky-tonk singles including “Home” and “Pickup Man," died in Nashville, Tennessee, on March 29 after he tested positive for the virus. He was 61.

In the days following his death, Facebook and Twitter users posing as internet sleuths falsely claimed media reports hid that he had lung cancer. He did not. The untrue claims appear to have stemmed from an obituary posted online for Diffie’s father, Joe Diffie Sr., who passed away in November 2018 from cancer.

The inaccurate claim about Diffie is one of many from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube users seeking to sow doubt about the impact of coronavirus. Many of them claim that health officials, government leaders and media outlets have overblown the danger of the virus, millions being infected with it worldwide.

Diffie’s widow, Tara Terpening Diffie, pleaded on Instagram for people to stop sharing the misinformation about her husband. In a statement, she said she hoped to set the record straight about her husband’s death so that their family can focus on grieving for Diffie and celebrating the Grand Ole Opry member’s legacy.

“There have been some untrue statements about my late husband that are false and hurtful," Tara Terpening Diffie said. “Joe did not have lung cancer and was a healthy, loving father, husband and friend. He also kept a very busy touring schedule and loved his fans who’ve supported him all these years.”

Diffie, a native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, died just days after announcing he had contracted the coronavirus. He is survived by his wife, and seven children from four marriages.