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AP mistakes impersonator on ESPN 980 for Christopher Walken in Natalie Wood story

Christopher Walken. Photo: David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons
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WASHINGTON (AP) - An Associated Press reporter mistook an impersonator of actor Christopher Walken on a sports-talk radio program Friday for Walken himself, leading the news cooperative to include comments mistakenly attributed to the actor in its coverage of the Natalie Wood death investigation.

The AP corrected the story about an hour later and told its members not to use the incorrect information.

The radio station, Washington, D.C.-based ESPN 980, informed the AP that the Walken impersonator appears weekly to discuss sports-related topics for a humorous segment. Walken has a distinctive, staccato style of speaking.

Walken was sharing a yacht with Wood and her husband, actor Robert Wagner, when the actress drowned on Nov. 29, 1981. The death was ruled an accident. But this week, authorities in Los Angeles reopened their investigation into Wood's death based on new information but said that Wagner is not a suspect.

The Walken impersonator, Marc Sterne, appeared Friday afternoon on "The Sports Fix," an afternoon talk show hosted by Kevin Sheehan and Thom Loverro.

Chuck Sapienza, ESPN 980's program director, told the AP on Friday evening that Sterne has made regular Friday appearances impersonating Walken during the past few football seasons. While playing Walken, Sterne gives fantasy football advice and sometimes discusses other topics.

"It's not set up as real. It's not like we're trying to fool anybody," Sapienza said. "We say it's the person on the air but we never believe that someone actually thinks the person's actually there."

After the story was published, an AP reporter phoned the station and left a message. A station employee called back to say a Walken impersonator, not the actor, had been on the air.

ESPN 980 is owned by Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder.

During Friday's appearance, Sheehan asked Sterne about the Wood case. Sterne, impersonating Walken, remarked: "We had a lot to drink that night. There was Sambuca. There was shouting. And then there was tragedy. And that's all I can remember."

The Walken impersonator added that he went to bed after reading "one of the Hardy Boys novels" and awoke to learn that Wood was dead.

The AP incorporated those comments into its story Friday afternoon, attributing them to Walken.

"It was a mistake," AP spokesman Jack Stokes said in a statement.

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