The BET Awards on Sunday evening included former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown in an “In Memoriam” tribute segment to people who died in the last year.
Just one problem: He’s very much alive.
Brown, 86, was surprised to field a flood of calls from friends and family members checking on his well-being.
“I couldn’t figure out why the phone was all lit up,” Brown said Sunday night. “Finally, my niece called and she was pissed off — she said, ‘If you’re going to die, you’re supposed to tell me.’”
Screenshots of the broadcast shared over social media showed a photo of a smiling Brown with the title: “Willie Lewis Brown Jr., Politician.” It seemed the network might have confused Brown with Hall of Fame former Oakland Raiders cornerback Willie Brown, who died in October at 78.
BET issued a statement Monday morning that noted the mistake had been corrected.
“Our sincerest apologies go to Willie Lewis Brown Jr. , a dedicated public servant for over 30 years, and former mayor of San Francisco,” company officials said. “The in memoriam package was immediately corrected before the rebroadcast, and BET has been in direct contact with Mr. Brown and his family.”
Brown, who writes a weekly column for The Chronicle, said he hadn’t been watching but heard first from friends on the East Coast — where the awards aired earlier — and then from a BET executive who “profusely apologized” for the error.
Brown said he was told BET would correct the segment for its West Coast airing. He said he was “surprised” nobody had fact-checked his supposed demise but generally laughed it off.
“I also said, ‘Whatever you do, please don’t fire anybody,’” Brown said.
Brown said one friend who’d called Sunday had mused about the reaction generated by “news” of his passing. “I said, ‘That doesn’t mean I’m cared for,’” Brown joked. “‘Those are people that owed me money.’” He said the calls had left him partly bemused.
“I said, ‘Let me ask a question: If you thought someone died, why would you be calling them?’” Brown said. “One my guys said, ‘Knowing you, I’d call you.’”
Chronicle staff writer Tony Bravo contributed to this report.