An earlier report indicated that Gene Shay had died of coronavirus. He remains hospitalized at Lankenau Medical Center, his daughters Elena Benasutti and Rachel Vaughn said Wednesday.
“He is definitely still alive,” Benasutti said late Wednesday morning.
An announcement of Shay’s supposed death appeared early Wednesday morning on the Facebook page of the Philadelphia Folksong Society, the organization that presents the Philadelphia Folk Festival, which Shay hosted from 1962 to 2015. Justin Nordell, the organization’s executive director, apologized Wednesday afternoon for the error.
“We went live with it at 8:01 when we shouldn’t have,” Nodell said, saying that decision “was based on information we had gotten from reputable people in the community who said they had spoken to the family."
"I [messed] up,” Nordell said. “I’ll say it once and I’ll say it a thousand times, because I was just trying to do the right thing by Gene ... trying to get ahead of it in the early morning hours.”
Shay’s death was then reported at 8:15 a.m. on The Key, the music blog of WXPN-FM (88.5), the radio station where Shay hosted the Folk Show until 2015. The Inquirer followed within the hour, then corrected its online post when Vaughan confirmed Shay had not died.
Vaughan, who lives in California, said she began to receive condolences before dawn on the West Coast.
“It was shocking when people were calling me at 4:30 a.m. in the morning to say how sorry they were that he had passed,” she said. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, did I not find out from the hospital, did somebody else find out before me about my own dad?' "
While the legendary DJ’s condition remains dire, “as of yesterday, he was still holding strong according to our hospice co-ordinator,” Vaughn said.
After the initial shock of the early-morning calls, she said, "I thought, ‘OK, it’s probably wrong. Let me contact the hospice lady and find out.’ " When she reached out this morning about his condition, she was reassured that nothing had changed overnight, and that her father was alive.
Vaughan said Shay’s family appreciates the outpouring of love for him and the prayers for his comfort in the coming days.
Lisa Schwartz of the Folksong Society had originally attributed the error to a message received from Tom Vaughan, Rachel’s husband, who has been updating Shay’s fans and followers on his own Facebook page in the weeks since Shay first texted positive for COVID-19 in March and was placed on a ventilator. On Monday, he reported that Shay was no longer on a ventilator, but had suffered a stroke and was moved to hospice care.
Rachel Vaughan said that her husband had not sent a message to the Folksong Society, and “there must have been some misunderstanding.”
On Facebook, the Folksong Society put up an updated post after word had spread that Shay was still alive, announcing “GENE IS STILL WITH US” and calling for fans’ thoughts and prayers.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
Editor’s Note: The Inquirer wants its news report to be fair and correct in every respect, and regrets when it is not.