Comedian and performance artist Andy Kaufman died in 1984 — or was that just another one of his tricks? CNN reports that rumors are swirling this week that Kaufman faked his death and has been alive all this time.
The rumors were sparked by news that Kaufman’s brother has suggested the whole death thing was just another stunt by Andy. Given the comedian’s fondness for hoaxes, his death was greeted by skepticism at the time, and conspiracy theories have been around ever since.
The conventional version of the story says Andy Kaufman died of a rare form of cancer at age 35. But his younger brother, Michael, said Andy may have faked the whole thing.
"In a tale almost as outlandish as his brother’s skits, Michael Kaufman told an audience at a New York comedy club Monday night that he received a letter from his brother 15 years after his death. He then introduced a woman he said was his brother’s daughter born in 1989," CNN reports.
"Michael Kaufman explained he was going through Andy’s writings many years ago and found a reference to him ‘talking about faking his death,’ including the line, ‘I will reappear.’ It said Andy’s reappearance would take place at a restaurant on Christmas Eve in 1999."
The report adds: "When Michael Kaufman went to the restaurant, he said, a parking attendant gave him a letter purportedly from his brother. Michael Kaufman read the letter to the audience at Monday’s annual Andy Kaufman Awards show."
Michael Kaufman read: "It was too much pressure to be Andy Kaufman. I just wanted to be Andy. I think that’s why I got sick. I had to change completely and quickly. I’m extremely very happily married with the most wonderful wife in the whole wide world and with the two greatest kids: a 10-year-old daughter and a son who is 8."
The story reports: "Michael Kaufman said he was ‘obviously moved by this, but I’m also real skeptical.’ He then introduced a 24-year-old woman as Andy’s now-grown daughter."
CNN adds: "Michael Kaufman told the audience the woman approached him about a month after his father, Stanley Kaufman, died this summer: ‘She told me a lot of secrets that Andy and I had together, like our secret handshake, the way Andy made fun of me for being too nice of a guy.’"
CNN notes that today the website The Smoking Gun "reported that the woman is a young actress who posed as the comedian’s daughter and that she’s really the daughter of a 58-year-old psychologist."
The comedian’s old foil from the world of wrestling, pro wrestler Jerry Lawler, commented on the rumors to CNN, saying: "I would like nothing better than to know that Andy was still alive and been with us all this time. But like anybody else, I really don’t know any more than what I’ve heard.
"It could be a great hoax in his honor, dreamed up by his friend Bob Zmuda and his brother, Michael. That would be something that would be in keeping with Andy’s tradition, but who’s to say. It could really be legit."
The CNN report adds: "Kaufman’s manager George Shapiro was at the comedian’s side at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on May 16, 1984. ‘Andy’s very much alive in our hearts, but I don’t think his body is around,’ Shapiro told CNN Thursday. ‘He died. I was in the hospital.’"
Shapiro added that when he told The New York Times and The Washington Post about Kaufman’s death back in 1984, the papers did not want to report it because of Kaufman’s history of pranks.
Said Shapiro: "They figured it was a ruse, another Andy Kaufman ploy."