Songwriter's death report was a teenie weenie bit wrong

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The Independent US

Paul Vance was just an itsy bitsy teenie weenie touch surprised to learn from the television news this week that he had died. As anyone might be.

The cable channels, newspapers and wire services all announced that Mr Vance, the writer of a certain one-hit wonder about a yellow polka-dot bikini back in 1960, had died earlier this month at his home in Florida.

Now, it was true that Mr Vance lived in Florida. And it was true that he co-wrote the song "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini" many moons ago. But nothing else added up. His house was in Coral Springs, near Fort Lauderdale, not Ormond Beach, as the reports claimed. He was 76, not 68. He'd never contracted lung cancer, cited as the cause of death. And, most important, he was very much alive.

The story, obviously, was a hoax. And it now appears that the hoax was perpetrated by none other than the dead man, a certain Paul Van Valkenburgh, who told his family and friends for decades that he had written the "Itsy Bitsy" song under a pseudonym.

Mr Van Valkenburgh claimed he gave away the rights to the song when he was young and stupid, and so never made a penny off it. (Mr Vance, meanwhile, has received millions of dollars in royalties and describes the song as a "money machine".)

Mr Van Valkenburgh spent much of his life working as a house painter. It was his widow, Rose Leroux, who unwittingly spread the hoax when she contacted the Associated Press a few days ago and told the news agency about her husband's claim to fame. AP saw no reason to doubt her, and neither did the rest of the US media.

The life of the real Mr Vance, meanwhile, was turned upside down. So many people started calling him that his mobile phone ran out of juice.

"Everyone is crying. My kids are crying. My grandkids keep calling me, crying," he told the Orlando Sentinel. "This is horrible."

On Wednesday, AP put out a bulletin to retract its story. The real Mr Vance produced royalty cheques to prove he was the songwriter and his publisher at the Music Sales Corporation also confirmed his identity.

Mr Van Valkenburgh's family appears to have been taken in by him as much as anybody else. His widow, Ms Leroux, told AP she was "kind of devastated" by the news that his songwriting claims were false. "If this other man says he did it then my husband's a liar, or he's a liar." She has since stopped taking phone calls from the media.

Mr Van Valkenburgh's 18-year-old grandson, Peter Holmes, became abusive when confronted with the news, telling a reporter that the living Mr Vance was a liar "trying to make money off of my grandfather".

As the shock has worn off, Mr Vance has tried to recover his sense of humour. The volume of calls has not let up, but he has become less indignant. "I'll pick up and I'll say, 'This is Heaven. Who do you wish to speak to? Paul Vance? Oh, yeah, he just got up here'," he said.