When mocking goes viral: ‘Falling man of Hoboken’ is a cautionary tale

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An image of a Hoboken man falling down a flight of stairs, which was captured by a passing Google Streetview camera, went viral this month.

The image prompted several news outlets to write articles about it and spurred people all over social media to make jokes. But the story behind the image and the man offer a lesson that many of the people depicted in internet memes are real people, with real lives.

News 12 New Jersey’s Brian Donohue went in search of the so-called “falling man of Hoboken” and knocked on the door of 725 Willow Ave., where the image was taken.

Donohue found that the man’s name was Irving de Jesus Espinal – and unfortunately, he had passed away. Espinal was not injured in the fall that made him internet-famous. But at the time, he was deep into a battle with terminal cancer.

Friends and neighbors say that they weren’t sure why he fell that day – but he did get right back up. He died three months later on Nov. 26 at 67 years old.

“He started to get sick and after a couple of weeks they put him in a nursing home and after that, he passed,” says neighbor Cruz Rodriguez.

Espinal was born in the Dominican Republic and came to the United States as a young man, raising one child with his wife. Friends say that he liked to paint, but that music was his true passion, singing in various bands over the years. He held different jobs before retiring and was once superintendent of 725 Willow Ave., where his wife still lives.

“He was always asking me for fish because I'm a fisherman, so I used to give him fish,” says Anthony Punzo. “Hell of a nice guy. He was the super of the building for years. Beautiful person, you know? He really was a beautiful man.”

So now we know the “falling man of Hoboken” and it turns out he is not just a falling man. He is a man who lived and loved and was loved. And he deserves to be remembered by more than just his worst moment captured by some passing Google truck.

It is something to remember next time we're tempted to press the share button.

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