It was Mark Twain who first observed that a lie could be halfway round the world before the truth had got its boots on. Scroll forward a century or so, and the power of the internet combined with the closely guarded private life of one of rock'n'roll's most reclusive stars provides the perfect recipe for a modern-day hoax.
Yesterday, Van Morrison ended three days of speculation to reveal that – contrary to claims made on his official website – he has not become a dad again at the age of 64.
The Belfast-born singer, known to his millions of fans worldwide as Van the Man, said he had been the victim of cyber hackers and was "dismayed" and "flabbergasted" at the announcement, which was immediately pounced upon by the rest of the world's media, including The Independent.
In a statement issued through Irish broadcaster RTE, Morrison, whose eldest daughter is 39, said reports of the birth of "George Ivan Morrison III", said to be his fourth child and the "spitting image of his daddy", were "completely and utterly unfounded". He also denied even knowing the name of the woman, Gigi Lee, credited with giving birth to the boy, insisting he was still satisfactorily hitched to his second wife, Michelle Morrison, the mother of two of his children. It was perhaps a testament to how little is known about the artist's private life and the penchant of other ageing rock stars to sire children late in life that the story was so readily believed.
Morrison said he had ordered an immediate investigation into the hacking attack, the second to affect his website in three months. He said: "The comments which appeared on my website did not come from me. They are completely and utterly without foundation. For the avoidance of all doubt and in the interests of clarity, I am very happily married to Michelle Morrison, with whom I have two wonderful children."
Morrison dispatched his friend John Saunders, a Dublin-based public relations executive, to elaborate on the characteristically terse statement. Mr Saunders admitted that the "Moondance" singer was a "mystery man in many ways" and that his genius for music had never been replicated in his PR – a fact readily attested to by fans who have often had to make do with the sight of his back during performances.
When news of the birth was reported, Gigi Lee was described as Morrison's manager and executive producer of a forthcoming live DVD of the 2008 live performances to mark the 40th anniversary of his seminal album Astral Weeks. But Mr Saunders said the two were strangers.
"I spoke to Van a short while ago and I said do you even know this person [Gigi Lee]? He's never heard the name at any stage."
Morrison had spent Christmas with his family, apparently mulling over the excitement generated in the outside world over the birth of a child instantly hailed as "Mini-Van" by fans.
"I think he's within his rights to feel that he shouldn't have to come out and comment on something that is completely false, but given the seriousness of this he has made this statement and he's emphatic that this story is completely and utterly without foundation," said Mr Saunders.
He suggested Morrison was well prepared to deal with the unexpected turn of events. "Many things have happened to him over the years. He has lived a lot of his life in the limelight. This is just another episode along the way," he said.