Meeting this premature fate were the likes of U.S. vice president Dick Cheney, former president Ronald Reagan, Cuban leader Fidel Castro, Pope John Paul II and South African political icon Nelson Mandela. Their obituaries were mockups prepared in advance of the actual events.
CNN spokeswoman Edna Johnson said the obituary pages were never posted among the news items on CNN.com itself.
"The design mockups were on a development site intended for internal review only," said Johnson. "The development site was temporarily publicly available because of human error."
News organizations routinely report and write the obituaries of newsworthy people well ahead of their actual deaths. Then, when that moment inevitably arrives, the news agencies need only update the piece with information about how those people died.
The Smoking Gun gave credit for their discovery to "the intrepid folks at fark.com," adding that the pages on the CNN site had been searchable via Google and were yanked about 20 minutes after being exposed.
The mockups were in the same style as the obituary that CNN ran for the death of Britain's Queen Mother last year.