ActivePaper Archive Justice for Laura Branigan - Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 4/18/2017


Justice for Laura Branigan


I hadn’t thought about Laura Branigan in years.

You probably haven’t, either. But she had her time in the spotlight. You may recall her biggest hit, a song called “Gloria” which isn’t the “Gloria” associated with Van Morrison and Patti Smith but an English language version of a 1979 Italian hit by Umberto Tozzi. It was a power anthem with a disco beat and the otherworldly feel of an Eurovision Song Contest winner. There was an interesting tension between the re-written English lyrics, which described a delusional woman with imaginary lovers and “voices in her head,” and the upbeat spirit of the singer.

Somehow I got it in my mind that Branigan—despite her Irish surname—was an Italian singing phonetic English. I was wrong about that; I soon realized she was a handsome New Yorker with a five-octave range.

I loved the track and still do. I followed Branigan’s career with some interest into the ’90s, when she dropped off my cultural radar. (She cut back her schedule to care for her husband, who died of cancer in 1996.) Her name blipped back briefly in August 2004 when she died in her sleep of a brain aneurysm. According to the Associated Press she was 47 years old.

Every once in a while I’d hear one of her songs and it would make me a little wistful, remembering the ’80s and how bright and pretty we all were back then.

Then on Feb. 17 of this year the AP issued a correction to the 2004 obituary.

To be accurate, the February story was a second correction; AP issued one in December 2016 correcting Branigan’s age—to 52—and New York hometown (Armonk, not Brewster.). It went on to say they that after a thorough review they’d discovered other errors in the 2004 obit.

For example, “Gloria” didn’t top the U.S. pop chart for 36 weeks, it was on the charts for that period, reaching its peak position of No. 2. And the singer had been nominated for two Grammy Awards, not four. The original obit wrongly referred to her songs “Solitaire” and “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You” as albums, and incorrectly credited Branigan with co-writing the latter.

Also, she’d signed with Atlantic Records in 1979, not 1982. And she attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, not the Academy of Dramatic Arts.

The AP said it had relied on misinformation supplied by Branigan’s management company.

Branigan wouldn’t have been the first showbiz kid to shave a few years off her age, and publicists aren’t known for laser accuracy and restraint. But it’s odd that a correction should come more than a dozen years after a story originally ran. In the February addendum to the December 2016 correction, the AP noted it had begun a review of the story after “being contacted by one of Branigan’s fans.”

I found that fan. He is Stig-Ake Persson of Halmstad, Sweden, and is the world expert on Laura Branigan. He’s also a remarkable researcher who can tell you all about the time in 1969 when three high school girls—Branigan and her friends Ali Ryerson (who grew up to become a renowned jazz flutist) and Lisa Podell accidentally sailed to Southampton, England, after missing the “all ashore” whistle on an ocean liner while bidding a friend bon voyage. He can show you Branigan’s hand-written application for a Social Security number, filled out on Sept. 29, 1970, when she was 18—not 13.

You can see a lot of Braniganalia Persson has collected over the years on his Pinterest page, He also wrote a remembrance of Branigan for her hometown newspaper, the Armonk Daily News, that was published on what would have been her 64th birthday.

For years he’s worked to correct the errors in Branigan’s various biographies in places like Wikipedia, Encylopedia Britannica and the Internet Movie Database, with varying degrees of success. He tracked down the reporter who wrote the original AP obituary.

“I am sorry, but this is a story I did as a brief more than 10 years ago,” the reporter emailed Persson. “So I don’t really remember much about it. If memory serves me correctly, I got the information I wrote from a press release sent out by her management, but I’m not quite sure.”

There are times when reporters working on deadline rewrite press releases. The guy who wrote the original obituary was an overnight general assignment reporter whose focus was on crime reporting. The obit was probably not the most important thing he did that evening. Most publications that ran it didn’t credit him with a byline.

This made sense to Persson, who has had runins with Branigan’s former manager. He says she banned him from commenting on the singer’s “official” online site, for bringing up inconvenient biographical facts. He began working on the AP in early 2016.

“They didn’t believe me in the first place,” Persson writes. “But I kept on sending emails into the dark AP office in New York . . . So I started to send over all material I had about Laura’s childhood in the early ’50s, her Catholic school in Chappaqua in the late ’50s early ’60’s. Silence!!”

But then, last fall, an AP editor got back to him.

“After 65 emails he understood I was right in my corrections and he should take it further,” Persson says.

I can understand AP’s position. In our business there’s always some obsessive lunatic Swede claiming you got it all wrong. Most of the time, all you can do is listen politely, then go with the more authoritative source.

But this time the obsessive lunatic Swede had the goods. And, as they say in Alabama, it took a while but the system worked. Truthtelling prevailed. Branigan’s error-riddled obituary has been corrected.

When the Internet first became a thing two decades or so ago, some of us thought it meant it would make it harder for lies to survive. Turns out that was a naive notion, and the Internet enables the manufacture and curation of all sorts of false narratives. But people like Mr. Persson give me hope. They affirm my faith in one of the fundamental truths of the news business—you cannot get away with making things up for very long. You cannot pretend to knowledge you don’t have. There are always obsessive lunatic Swedes out there who know better.

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Philip Martin is a columnist and critic for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at and read his blog at