ByAmy Surprenant, writer at
I Write Therefore I Am...Obsessive and Compulsive
Amy Surprenant

Andy Kaufman was a notorious television prankster. I'd say he matched up pretty well with Crispin Glover on the weirdness scale. Both of them got into fights on television talk shows in front of audiences. The only difference is that Kaufman is dead. Or is he?

Even if you were born at the turn of this century, I'm sure you know Jim Carrey. And I'm sure you've at least heard of Man on the Moon, where he portrayed Kaufman. I know SNL is still on as well. And old episodes are available on Netflix, so I've seen a few of Kaufman's skits. Now, I appreciate weird humor and everything, but...Kaufman was different form of oddity.

While Glover is jerky and nerdy and acts like he's constantly on a mix of crack and heroin, Kaufman used childlike wonder as a premise for most of his jokes and skits. It can actually get kind of creepy when you watch some of them. He built his entire career on playing pranks he thought were funny whereas most audiences and actors thought he was just odd.

See what I mean? Don't do drugs, kids.
See what I mean? Don't do drugs, kids.

Anyway, Kaufman died on May 16, 1984 of lung cancer. Or so his death certificate says. However, suspicions soon arose as to how a seemingly healthy, non-smoking thirty-five year old could simply keel over four months after a diagnosis. Obviously, anyone can get lung cancer without smoking (i.e. Walter White and some poor woman on an episode of House), but it's the other strange details that theorists used as fuel for a possibly non-existent fire.

Of course, Walter went in a different direction...
Of course, Walter went in a different direction...

First off, let's start with Man on the Moon. Kaufman was notorious for creating his own random characters and making it so audiences wouldn't know if it was him or not. He'd also have actors play him on stage to fool people on occasion. So, when one of his personas, Tony Clifton, was still playing for packed clubs mere months after his death, it perked some ears. While it was known that Kaufman's writer, Bob Zmuda would occasionally play Clifton, too, Man on the Moon shows Clifton singing on stage after Kaufman's death while Zmuda smirks in the audience. Obviously the film is up to interpretation, but that's a strong nudge in one direction, isn't it?

Clifton in 2013. Still a charade?
Clifton in 2013. Still a charade?

Both Zmuda and Kaufman's girlfriend confirmed Andy joked about faking his own death, but Zmuda said the subject was dropped. Both parties insisted Kaufman was dead. Until 2014. Andy Kaufman: the Truth, Finally. Heard of it? It's apparently a tell-all novel written by Zmuda and Kaufman's girlfriend. In the book, Zmuda confesses that he and Kaufman had many discussions about faking his death. In fact, Zmuda claims that Kaufman even went so far as to find a dying cancer patient who looked like him and then alter his own appearance to match so it would be believable. When the time came for the patient to die, Kaufman disappeared. Of course, Zmuda says Kaufman would reappear after thirty years as discussed. But May 16, 2014 has come and gone and we're heading into a new year.

So where is he? In the book, Kaufman's girlfriend reveals the comedian was bisexual and actually died of AIDS the same year. So, it's certainly possible he didn't die of cancer, but not because he was playing a prank.

Along with plenty of people claiming to have spoken to Kaufman recently, being his children, and even someone who started an obviously fake blog claiming to be the comedian, the conspiracy theory lives on. In my opinion, this is what Kaufman wanted. The biggest prank ever is to actually die and make everyone think you didn't. So there.


What do you think? Is Kaufman still alive?


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