Okay, so, Andy Kaufman died on May 16, 1984 at the age of 35. The thing is, though, that, even though his death certificate is on file at the Los Angeles County Department of Health services (and online, here), many devout Kaufman fans are convinced that homeboy pulled a Keyser Söze and convinced the world that he didn't exist.
Appearances by Kaufman's "Tony Clifton" character spurred rumors for a while, but can mostly be explained away by the fact that Kaufman passed the character to his sidekick Bob Zmuda. Further speculation came thanks to the open-ended conclusion of the Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon, starring Jim Carrey. There's even a website dedicated to the "hoax" because of course there is.
Now, those rumors are again sweeping the nation thanks to an appearance by a strange woman at the 9th Annual Andy Kaufman Comedy Awards at the Gotham Comedy Club in New York City. Basically, Kaufman's brother Michael is usually a judge, but opted out this year to, instead, make a special announcement before the winners were announced.
That special announcement was that his brother had left a note detailing the process of faking his own death and promised to appear at a diner on Christmas Eve in 1999, if he were still alive. Michael recounted the tale of having visited the diner on that night and watching a man run out of the restaurant and peel out of the parking lot.
Vice's Jonathan Smith had spoken with Michael Kaufman before and was at the event, as he was asked to take Michael's place on the judge's panel.
Years later, Michael said, he found a note in some of Andy’s belongings that mentioned, among other things, his plan to fake his own death. It didn’t go into specifics about how exactly he expected to carry out the act, but it did say that in 1999 he would reappear on Christmas Eve at the restaurant he went to with Michael all those years ago. Michael, feeling a bit gullible but unable to suppress his curiosity, made his way to the diner that night and got a table under a fake name that Andy sometimes used. For a while nothing happened, but then a shadowy figure walked out the front door of the diner, got into a car, and dramatically peeled out of the parking lot. A server came over and handed Michael a typed note, which he claimed had been given to him by the gentleman who had just left the restaurant and hauled ass down the highway.
Then, Michael began explaining that the waitress handed him a note from the mystery man that offered a few details about Andy Kaufman's new life as a father out of the Hollywood spotlight. It supposedly said that he had a daughter and didn't want his hoax to be revealed until after his father died.
Well, Michael and Andy's father died in late July at the age of 90. Five days later, Michael Kaufman says he received a call from a young woman claiming to be his niece, the daughter of his brother Andy.
At the Andy Kaufman Comedy Awards, Michael appealed to the audience allegedly hoping that the woman was in the audience. She was and went up onstage and spoke with her alleged uncle.
She got up there and talked to Michael for about ten minutes. She said she didn’t know he was going to ask her to come up onstage, that she wasn’t prepared, and that she was still sort of in shock about the whole thing. It was, again, awkward as hell. Michael asked her personal things about Andy, like how many toothbrushes he keeps in the bathroom (six (???)), if he had a job at the moment (he’s a stay-at-home dad), and what he looks like now (he has a bunch of facial hair). A lot of the time she was trying to avoid eye contact and seemed really uncomfortable. She said she had no idea about her father’s past until he told her, at which point she had googled the hell out of him and watched all the videos she could find online (no word on what she thought of Jim Carey’s performance in Man on the Moon). At the end Michael said he would walk her out, and they left the stage together.
To me, the woman had come off like an unconvincing actor playing a part in a very weird, fairly convoluted prank.
The even has the rumor mill swirling, as the world clamors to decipher whether or not the interaction was an elaborate gag meant to keep people on their toes nearly 30 years after the comedian's death or an actual revelation that one of the greatest comics of all time actually managed to fake his own death.
TMZ has posted a video of the woman's appearance.
Still, though, it's hard to believe that Kaufman managed to pull it off and then only managed to reveal the hoax through an appearance by his daughter at an untelevised comedy event.
Is Andy Kaufman still alive, and did his daughter come onstage Monday night? Probably not. But who the hell really knows? If anyone were going to fake his own death, then have his brother publicly read a fake letter about him planning to fake his own death 19 years later, then have that brother reunite with his “fake” niece onstage, all to obscure the truth that the girl’s father actually had faked his own death and started a new life, it would be Andy Kaufman. [Vice]
UPDATE: The Smoking Gun has the deets on Kaufman's "daughter." You'll be incredibly surprised to learn that she's an actress. Her real dad is a doctor. Sad trombone.
According to a source familiar with this week’s Kaufman stunt, Tatarsky met Michael Kaufman earlier this year while working at a Manhattan gallery exhibiting a collection of Kaufman “ephemera and artifacts” from the comedian’s personal and professional life.