Three minutes into the trailer for the widely discredited anti-vaccine movie “He Died Suddenly,” comedian Heather McDonald is shown collapsing on stage.
In the background, a voiceover from people identified as “informants” lays out the film’s mission statement.
“It’s the new bullet. It is the new form of war”, says the voice of a man in a dark room about the covid vaccine.
“The dead cannot speak for themselves, therefore I have to speak for them,” says another.
The idea that it can’t speak for itself comes as a surprise to McDonald, who recently sat in his studio in Woodland Hills, California, preparing for his weekly podcast. She has posted it every week since she passed out on stage in February 2022 at Tempe Improv in Arizona.
Since then, videos of his collapse have been viewed millions of times on social media. Joe Rogan talked about it on his podcast. Fox News ran an article about his collapse and tweeted: “Comedian collapses on stage, fractures her skull after declaring she is triple vaccinated.”
McDonald, 52, said she is getting used to being recognized as a piece of propaganda.
“Sometimes there will be people who say, ‘Oh my gosh, I just saw you in something,’” McDonald said in an interview from her bright pink podcast studio. “And I’m like, ‘Unfortunately, I know what it is. I’m the one who faints.’”
McDonald, like half a dozen other people whose medical events are shown in the trailer for the anti-vaccine conspiracy theory movie, did not die as a result of the covid-19 vaccine. Many of them now live their lives with a strange internet notoriety, the kind that didn’t exist even a few years ago.
Since then, the film has been widely discredited, including by Reuters and FactCheck.org. His problems even aroused the concern of people within the anti-vaccine movement who worried because it made them look bad. The person pictured immediately after McDonald’s in the trailer, Keyontae Johnson, collapsed on December 12, 2020, days before Covid vaccines were available or widely administered in the US. This month, Johnson arrived at the Elite 8 of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament with the rest of the Kansas State Wildcats and is a projected NBA Draft pick. (Johnson eventually went diagnosed with a heart condition not related to the Covid vaccine.)
That has done little to hinder the success of “He Died Suddenly,” which has evolved from a movie title to something of a rallying cry in the anti-vaccine world. The hashtag “#DiedSuddenly” trended on Twitter after the film’s release and has become a constant trope on the internet, making a comeback when high-profile medical events occur on TV or in public.
Recounting the night she collapsed, McDonald said she felt dizzy at the start of her performance, and if she hadn’t been on stage in front of friends and family for the first time since the start of the pandemic, she would have simply sat back down. instead of trying to fight through it. Subsequently, Ella McDonald received a series of tests from doctors, who said she did not have an underlying condition and that her fainting spell was not related to the vaccine. McDonald suffered a fractured skull and concussion, and she still sees doctors, but she hasn’t had any lingering problems.
Video of his collapse quickly spread online. Hoping to clear up any confusion, McDonald posted the video along with an update from the doctors on his own social media accounts days after he collapsed. While she initially joked that she didn’t care for the attention, posting the video had the opposite effect and she was overwhelmed by conspiracy theories about her health.
McDonald said he was quickly able to clarify his health status with his own listeners and wondered what it’s like for people “who can’t go on his podcast and say ‘I’m fine.'”
Even with McDonald’s platform, video of its collapse continues to circulate online. Videos tagged with “Heather McDonald breakdown” have more than 17 million views on TikTok, frequently surpassing her own recently posted content in search results she posts for her 370,000 followers.
“That’s what really saddened me: I thought it was a little more well known than that,” McDonald quipped.
McDonald’s has had trouble countering viral misinformation about her, even among people she knows.
Joe Rogan, whom he knew from backstage conversations on comedy sets in Los Angeles, played video of the McDonald’s collapse on his podcast and alluded to the links to the vaccine.
“I sent him a DM and said, ‘Joe, don’t you know who I am?’” McDonald said.
McDonald said Rogan did not respond to his direct message. Rogan and Spotify, his exclusive distributor of podcasts, did not respond to emailed requests for comment.
McDonald, who is vaccinated, said she has done her best to stay apolitical, not to mention politics, on her podcast, which focuses on reality TV gossip, since the 2016 election.
“I am not a politician and I am drawn into this just for doing my job and working,” she said.
After that initial wave of care, things started to go back to normal, McDonald said. Then, nine months after her collapse, “She Died Suddenly” came out. She was back in the distorted spotlight of the internet.
Despite immediate and repeated debunking, the film has had a lasting impact on the anti-vaccine community, even as the film’s producer, Stew Peters, has had to come up with increasingly bizarre ways to explain away its inaccuracies.
Peters promoted the conspiracy theory that Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin, who collapsed on January 2 after receiving a blow to the chest on “Monday Night Football,” was either dead or in hiding as part of a conspiracy theory. global conspiracy to protect vaccine manufacturers.
When Hamlin reappeared and gave public interviews, Peters repeatedly insisted that Hamlin had been replaced by a “body double”.
Since the main thesis of the documentary, that the vaccine is causing mass deaths among young people, is not confirmed statistically, Peters has turned to new conspiracy theories about other diseases that he attributes to the vaccine.
Earlier this month, Peters tweeted that the men who received the mRNA vaccine “are essentially infertile and their penises are rotting away.”
Peters did not respond to a request for comment.
Still, Peters and the “Suddenly Died” crew hold a hearing with lawmakers. Rep. Paul Gosar, Republican of Arizona, appeared on Peters’ video podcast on March 14, above a scroll that implored viewers to see “He died suddenly.”
Interest in the film was renewed in the last month when an Idaho state senator and representative introduced a bill that would make the administration of mRNA vaccines (the kind used against Covid-19) a misdemeanor in the state.
One of the bill’s co-authors, State Sen. Tammy Nichols, has repeatedly pleaded with her constituents and Facebook followers to watch “He Died Suddenly.”
“Everybody talks about He died suddenly in Rumble. Powerful!” she wrote on Nov. 22. “Look Died suddenly and stand up to this trash,” she added the next day. Nichols, who did not respond to a request for comment, used the hashtag #DiedSuddenly as recently as Feb. 19.
Dr. Eric Burnett, an internal medicine physician at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, recorded several videos on TikTok trying to combat the lies in “He Died Suddenly.”
Burnett said he now sees people conflating misinformation about the potential harm of vaccines with the real threat of covid-related illnesses.
“The anti-vaxxers and these myth-mongers operate in this bubble that doesn’t require evidence, that doesn’t require any burden of proof. They could say whatever they wanted and it would have no consequences for them,” Burnett said.
Despite the repeated debunking of “He Died Suddenly”, the lies about the videos featured in it will not die, and will even morph into new ones.
McDonald’s said the release of “Suddenly Died” coincided with a second wave of attention and abuse. People began posting that McDonald, who is a practicing Catholic, was teased and “rejected” by God for the joke she tried to make just before her collapse, in which she said that Jesus loved her because she still didn’t know. had been infected with covid-19.
“They say something bad, like, ‘You shouldn’t be alive because you got the vaccine.’ Or they’ll say, ‘You shouldn’t be alive because you made a joke about Jesus,’” McDonald said.
Despite millions of views on social media platforms, McDonald’s said she was simply stuck with people who questioned her faith, part of an ever-evolving conspiracy theory in which it’s unclear if she’s alive.
“I am in this business. I would like to be known,” she said. “But this was not an advantage for me at all.”