Is Andy Kaufman Still Alive?
The genius comedian might've pulled off the greatest death hoax in showbiz history
Andy Kaufman would’ve wanted it this way. Or would it be more accurate to say, Andy wants it this way? The comic’s performances were founded on toying with audiences’ expectations about what’s real and what isn’t, from his Tony Clifton alter ego and Elvis impressions to his wrestling with women. This week, during the ninth annual Andy Kaufman Awards at New York’s Gotham Comedy Club, those who believe Kaufman’s death in 1984 from lung cancer was a hoax got a little more reason to keep living in his alternate reality. Contradictory evidence quickly followed, but where’s the fun in that?
As the Comic’s Comic reports (via Defamer), Andy’s brother Michael was presiding over the ceremonies when he gave the audience a few hints that R.E.M.’s famed “Man on the Moon” song subject might’ve faked his own demise. Michael said he was going through his brother’s things in the ’80s and found an essay about how Andy planned a whole death hoax, after which he’d reemerge at a certain restaurant on Christmas Eve 1999. Michael said he went to the restaurant that night, used one of Andy’s pseudonyms, and although he didn’t see his brother, he received a letter from Andy saying he was in hiding, living a normal life with a wife and daughter.
According to Michael Kaufman’s remarks, Andy’s letter asked him to keep news he was alive secret until their father died. Well, the Kaufman pater familias passed away this summer, and a month later, Michael says, a young woman called him to say Andy was still alive, watching the Andy Kaufman Awards from a distance and reveling in his influence on younger comedians. Michael asked the audience if the woman was there. A 24-year-old reportedly rose and “sheepishly” took the stage.
As Killy Dwyer, one of the year’s awards finalists wrote on Facebook, “Andy Kaufman’s daughter came onstage and claimed he was alive.” Dwyer added: “She said he is watching the award entries, semi and finalists with great interest always. He just wanted to disappear. To be a father. To be an observer. As much as this seems like bullshit as I type it, it was as real as anything I’ve ever seen.” Of course, if Kaufman has a 24-year-old daughter, that would mean he didn’t die 29 years ago, as previously thought.
TMZ has posted a video, which you can see below, showing the woman onstage. She said she reached out to Michael because Andy was “really sad about his dad and the fact that I never got to meet him.” She told Michael, “You don’t feel like my uncle, because I never got to know you, but you have similar eyes.” Based on her remarks, Andy has been a stay-at-home father, and he only recently revealed his fame to his daughter.
The whole event would be fascinating enough if it were part of a stunt extending Andy’s style of humor long beyond his death, but at least one longtime friend of the comedian insists it’s not. Al Parinello, who produces the awards, told The Hollywood Reporter, “I witnessed the entire thing and I can tell you without a doubt this was not a prank.”
Give Parinello credit for trying, at least. Unsurprisingly, the Smoking Gun reports Kaufman’s so-called daughter was really actress Alexandra Tatarsky, whose real father is a Manhattan doctor. Bummer. But given that it’s Andy we’re talking about, someone will probably find some other way to keep believing in the myth of his death hoax.
Incidentally, Andy Kaufman finally released his debut comedy album this year, Andy and His Grandmother, meaning the next time SPIN compiles a list of our 40 Greatest Comedy Albums of All Time, he’ll finally be eligible. But will he be watching?
Check out some of SPIN’s other recent comedy coverage:
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