Reclusive Irish singer Van Morrison said Thursday that a computer hacker planted a false report on his Web site claiming he had fathered a fourth child at the age of 64 with a new partner.
The false report was disseminated Monday by a Los Angeles-based publicist for Morrison, Phil Lobel. The publicist was quoted by an unidentified associate on Thursday as getting the report from the Morrison site.
The false report was picked up by several news agencies, including The Associated Press, as well as celebrity sites and British newspapers. The false report on the Morrison Web site claimed that a woman identified as Gigi had just borne a son with Morrison.
The singer issued a statement Thursday through an international public-relations agency stressing that the report was completely false and the malicious product of a hacker's attack on his official Web site, http://www.vanmorrison.com.
It appeared to be the latest in a rapidly growing string of hoaxes in the Internet age. Digital tricksters increasingly place phony footage, facts and press releases on Web sites and video-sharing sites to see how quickly the falsehoods will spread through traditional and new media alike.
John Saunders, president of the European arm of the U.S. public-relations firm Fleishman-Hillard Inc., said he contacted Morrison and his wife, Michelle, after seeing the reports and finding them hard to believe. He said the couple wasn't aware of them and initially didn't want to respond.
"The reports were complete and utter fiction. None of it was true," Saunders said in a telephone interview. "But Van generally doesn't feel the need to engage with the media, whether the news is good, bad or indifferent. Michelle and Van studiously stay out of the limelight. They wouldn't have been aware of the traction these false reports were getting globally."
Saunders, a longtime friend of the couple, said he persuaded them to make a statement following several calls, texts and e-mails.
Lobel, a longtime Los Angeles publicist who cites scores of entertainment and corporate clients _ including Morrison _ on his company Web site, claimed in an e-mail Monday that Morrison had asked him to disseminate the birth announcement. Before sending its story on Monday, the AP called Lobel to make sure the e-mail was genuine, which Lobel confirmed.
Following Morrison's denial of the report on Thursday, repeated phone calls and e-mails from the AP to Lobel went unanswered.
Finally, a reporter visited the West Hollywood offices of his PR company, Lobeline Communications. A man who looks similar to Lobel answered the door and identified himself as a guest visiting from out of town. The man said he would check to see if Lobel was available, then reported that the publicist was on a plane.
Minutes later, a person claiming to be an associate of Lobel's sent an e-mail message from the publicist's account to the reporter, saying that Lobel "called us from his plane" to issue a statement acknowledging that his office had "passed along information from the official Web site of Van Morrison, which we are now told had been hacked."
"All those with Van Morrison regret any confusion this may have caused," the statement said.
The associate who sent the statement refused to identify himself.
Lobel eventually returned a call to the AP confirming the unidentified associate was speaking on his behalf, but the publicist declined to elaborate on the matter.
Morrison's Web site is being redesigned following the Dec. 28 hacking, the second to hit the site since October. Visitors to the site Thursday were invited to register for an e-mail news service but could not browse its contents.
In his prepared statement, Morrison said he remains "very happily married" to Michelle Morrison, his partner since 1992 and mother of their two children aged 3 and 2.
"Once the claims were brought to our attention, they were taken down from the site but not before news organizations repeated these falsehoods," his statement said. "The comments which appeared on my Web site did not come from me. They are completely and utterly without foundation."
Saunders said Morrison wouldn't talk to the media directly and was celebrating the new year with his wife and children. "He has never done interviews about his personal life. Van's been consistent on that," he said.
Morrison's previous marriage, which ended in divorce in 1973, produced one daughter, the Californian singer-songwriter Shana Morrison. She performs occasionally with her father.
Associated Press Writer Shawn Pogatchnik contributed to this report from Dublin.