It was reported that 300 people attended Kaufman’s funeral. A handful were sex workers.
Many of the Late Night staff thought it was another classic Kaufman stunt.
Andy Kaufman Appearances on David Letterman
Former Letterman executive produer, Robert Morton was one of the few people to attend Andy’s funeral.
Carol Kane was the only Taxi cast member to attend his funeral.
His manager, George Shapiro, refused to attend, and no one knows why.
Bill Zehme – Lost in the Funhouse, the official Kaufman biography:
“Andy would begin doing things he did not tell George about, such as plotting his own death, which was nothing if not the penultimate bombing.” “Throughout the next year he would posit the idea to other people – to Zmuda, certainly, as well as his sister and his brother and also Mimi Lambert.”
Saturday Night Live:
SNL producer Bob Tischler and two writers, Barry Blaustein and David Sheffield were let in on the concept, “…the hoax I’d really like to pull off is my death. But I’m afraid of doing it – because when I do these things, I do them for real, and so I wouldn’t even be able to tell my parents,” Andy confided.
Bob Thompson (a professor of pop culture at Syracuse University):
“I still try to hold onto a little bit of hope that he didn’t really die. But I have to say, if he is going to come back and still have an audience, he’d better do it pretty soon.”
[were you friends?] “OF COURSE and still is, Legendary!”
Merle Kessler (a hoaxer and founding member of the Duck’s Breath Mystery Theater):
“When Kaufman died I thought it was a joke. People on the street would approach Andy (sitting in his wheelchair) and say, ‘Andy, come on man. This dying bit is just too much!’ Andy would turn to friends and just shrug in astonishment, ‘Can you believe it? They think I’m making this up!'”
I really never met Andy, but once I saw just him in the crowd at the California State Fair. Teller said, “There’s Andy Kaufman!” He was dressed like a redneck-style trucker, and he was yelling at the guy behind the counter, “I’m not that faggot on Taxi, asshole, what the fuck is wrong with you? I don’t play no fucking faggot on no fucking TV show, you piece a horseshit.” And we watched him, and Teller said, “yeah, that’s Andy Kaufman,” and I said, “It sure is.”
“During our first season, Judd and I ran into Andy in New York. We were doing some publicity for the show. And we saw him panhandling in the Bowery. He was bum, a total bum. I mean, we had a hit sitcom on the air, and there he was, panhandling, because he wanted the experience.”
“Oh, my gosh. I’ll tell you one that wasn’t in the movie. One time Andy came in with the most humongous boil you’ve ever seen. It was three inches in diameter at least. It was disgusting. He said, ‘Watch this.’ He made an announcement to the audience. He said that for a dollar they could line up and touch Andy’s boil. A hundred and eight people lined up and did it. That’s how crazy he was, but crazy fun.”
“Andy was the master of the comic switch; at his tribute, people were expecting Tony Clifton to speak.” (on death/funeral service)
“He would come into a room, no matter where, and the psychological room would become his room. You were participating in his drama. Whether he was going to pick a fight with a waitress or whatever. It was always exciting. If there was anybody who manifested the phrase, all the world is a stage, this was the guy. Everything he did was his art.”
“I’ve always had this strange feeling that i was being set up- that Andy was in cahoots with [director] Milos [Foreman]… Even now, I wonder sometimes…”
Vernon Chatman (South Park producer, curated Andy and his Grandmother tapes):
“If there’s one American personality who could fake his death in the last 60 years, it would be Andy. The fact that he died of lung cancer at 35 is just crazy. On the [unreleased] tapes he would talk about going on meditation retreats. He had a level of patience and commitment that he practiced from the age of 20.”
John Moffitt (producer of Fridays):
“Andy asked to speak privately to both me and Jack [Burns]. We moved into a quiet room away from the others, and Andy closed the door, making sure no one besides us could hear. He told us he was about to embark on the greatest prank of his career and made us swear we would never repeat it to a living soul. He then told us it would be the biggest thing in the history of show business, then he lowered his voice and said, ‘I’m going to fake my death, go into hiding for 10 years, and then reappear.’”
“Andy said, ‘Come downstairs. I want to talk to you.’ So Jack and I went down there with him. And Andy closed the door and said, ‘Okay. I have another idea, something I really want to do.’ And he started telling us that he was going to fake his own death. And it seemed very logical to us. We just thought, you know, Okay — that’s Andy, that’s the next thing he’s gonna do. You know, we’d faked the fight on the set of Fridays. And then he’d done this whole evangelical thing, where he wanted this evangelist to marry him to this woman, and he was gonna come on and pretend he’d Seen the Light and was Born Again . . . Andy was always into those things.
“And so when he said he was gonna fake his death, we thought, Great! And, of course, I thought, If you’re gonna come back again, do it on our show. Because . . . Andy was really like a lightning rod. He could do things that everybody would pay attention to. So we thought, Yeah, that’s a great idea. So after talking it through, we went upstairs, and that was the end of that.
“And then the show got canceled. And then, all of a sudden I heard Andy was sick. And I’m thinking, Okay — here we go! He’s doing it! And then someone said, ‘No, really. We saw Andy, and he’s really, really sick. He’s lost his hair, he’s thin as a rail, he’s really sick.’ And I again thought, ‘You know, Andy would go to any kind of extreme to fake this, to do his prank. He would starve himself, he’d tear out his hair, he would undernourish himself. He would do it. That’s what Andy would do.’ He was always testing how far he could go, testing the limits of comedy and beyond.
“I mean, it was just the perfect next prank. Where would he go next? He’d done the whole wrestling thing and all of that, so what would he do to make a huge splash, get a lot of press, a lot of attention? It’d have to be something really big, and what could be bigger than that?”
“People were saying, No, Andy really is dead,and I came around to kind of believing, Gee, maybe he actually is. A lot of people didn’t believe it, because they knew Andy’s pranks.
“Is he or isn’t he? You never can tell. You just can’t completely dismiss it. There’s nobody like Andy. Nobody has done things like him. Nobody has gone out that far. Nobody has tested the audience and the limits of laughs, of comedy, as Andy has. So if anybody would do it, it would be Andy.
“It’s not that I believe he’s still alive — but every once in a while I think maybe he is going to pop up. And if he does, it may be the greatest prank of all time, but what’s he done with 20 years of his life? He had to have another life somewhere.”
“Anybody who was associated with him has some little, minute-but-still-present hope in their hearts and minds. I don’t think any of us really believe it. But there’s still that strange hope. Because he never broke any act, he never let on when he was up to something, he never winked at anybody ever. I don’t think anybody was completely in on everything except Andy.”
“He did talk about faking his death. He was driving over to my office when he heard John Belushi died. And he said, Belushi stole my bit! He’s faking his death! That’s what he felt.”
Kaufman was “extremely interested” in Abel’s death hoax. “He was asking Alan all about how he did it.”
“Andy always said he wanted to fake his own death and disappear. He’s probably been off somewhere waiting tables for the last 15 years, waiting when the right time was to reappear.”
Ed Cavanagh (Gotham Comedy Club):
“You could see by the look on [Michael’s] face that it had an emotional impact on him. I don’t know whether somebody is perpetrating something on him or not. I’m truly 50-50 on this one.” (about the “daughter” incident)
Michael Stipe (REM):
“What I was doing with the lyric for Man on the Moon was pulling in various crackpot conspiracy theories of our time, like Elvis Presley was still alive somewhere. And, even more absurd and ourageous, that when they sent a man to walk on the moon that he actually went to a stage set up somewhere in Arizona and the moonwalk never really occurred. And these were the comparisons I was drawing to the people who were not able to believe that Kaufman was dead, that, to the end, he was pulling a prank. That that idea is just as outrageous as those other theories. That he, for me, as a fan of his, puts himself on that level by being such a prankster that people actually thought that.”
READER OF THE DAY: Dear David Poland,
I read with keen interest your article about the strange WWW site known as andylives.org.
As the creator and keeper of The Andy Kaufman Home Page, I couldn’t be more displeased with this site. The Andy Kaufman Home Page has been live on the Internet since October 3, 1995, and although I’m happy to see other Web sites devoted to keeping Andy’s memory alive, I strongly believe that the andylives.org site is a sham and an insult to Andy Kaufman.
Having said that, I hope you’ll find the time to visit my site located at:http://andykaufman.jvlnet.com.
By the way, it is hosted by an Internet Service Provider (JVLNET) based out of Janesville, Wisconsin. The company is owned by Bob Kerman. Bob is Rick Kerman’s brother. Rick is married to Andy’s baby sister, Carol.
Please note, in the past year I’ve worked closely with Bill Zehme as he wrote the only authorized biography of Andy Kaufman, “Lost in the Funhouse: The Life and Mind of Andy Kaufman.” Bill’s book will be available at the end of this month, and it is fascinating.
I think I’ve successfully built an Internet shrine to Andy’s short and extraordinary life and to see other WWW sites steal blatantly from mine — not to mention trash Andy’s memory causes me great sadness.
E ME: The more “AndyLives” posters show up, the more clear it is that Universal is the source of the financing for the venture in Blair Witch-like misdirectional promotion. Let’s hear about the movies, folks! What have you seen, what have you felt, what have you remembered?
Which leads me to my other recent peeve, Andylives.org, an allegedly “underground” Web site devoted to keeping alive the memory of comedian Andy Kaufman. The site, we are told, was erected by a band known as AKA (Andy Kaufman’s Army) for no other aim than to give fans of the late star of “Saturday Night Live” and “Taxi” a place to rant and pay tribute.
But as Sharon Waxman recently reported in The Washington Post, Andylives.org was paid for with $100,000 from Universal and was designed solely to promote Universal’s new movie about the life of Mr. Kaufman, “Man on the Moon,” starring Jim Carrey.
One of the movie’s producers told the Post that she and others urged Universal to pursue this “unconventional approach” because it would be a good source of buzz for a movie thought to be buzz-deficient. The studio found four self-proclaimed fans of Andy and signed them up, telling them they could say what they wanted on the site — just don’t sell “Man on the Moon” directly.
Andylives.org certainly carried out its marching orders well. The front page opens with a long, rambling essay about whether Mr. Kaufman really did die in 1984 of lung cancer. “But as you read this,” it says, “if you are smart, you will probably consider that these very words too are part of the conspiracy. Maybe Andy Kaufman is writing them himself, or has employed us to do so. As the web gets more and more intricate, all the more satisfying the final joke will be. Right?” Uh, right.
Discerning surfers can probably see through the ruse. For one thing, despite its highly polished appearance, Andylives.org is remarkably light on the things that make up your average fansite: photos, episode guides, news, etc.
“Not only were they totally clueless about Andy, but their profane, hip-hop-influenced Generation X ramblings were a total disgrace,” says Brian Momchilov, whose outstanding site (andykaufman.jvlnet.com) is everything Andylives.org isn’t.
“I’ve worked hard for many years to create and maintain The Andy Kaufman Home Page and I was highly offended by Universal’s bogus `andy fan’ website and its pathetic attempt as a marketing ploy,” Mr. Momchilov says. (Needless to say, he was not contacted by Universal prior to the film’s release.)
Pathetic or not, it’s obvious to me that this “Man on the Moon” campaign is just the beginning. I fully expect to see bogus home pages cooked up this summer to promote new fall TV series, created by anonymous “fans” with untraceable e-mail addresses. Worse, because studios can afford the time and expense to promote the site online, these pages will likely pop up on search engines everywhere, annoying us for years after the actual shows are cancelled.
Huey Williams Notes
Kaufman is quoted in Oui Magazine saying that Zmuda was his writer, and they met in 1973 at the Improv.
Zmuda writes that Andy asked him if he thought Ken Chase could make a wax figure of him to put in a coffin.
“I really believe that Andy is pulling the strings for all of this . . . for the books, the movie, even for Bev being here. I feel that big time, more than I’d like to recognize, because I don’t really want to believe in that kind of stuff.”
“For two or three years before he died, he was telling people he was going to fake his death,” Zmuda says. “He called me up saying, ‘I want to know how to get a cadaver.’ He would fake a car accident. I said that wouldn’t work because they’d check dental records. . . . Then he started thinking about how he’d be lost at sea.”
“Andy was the kind of guy who, when he came up with an idea in the middle of the night, he had to talk with you right then. So we met at Canter’s, and I said, ‘So what is it?’ He said, ‘This is the greatest idea ever! This is the greatest put-on of all time!’ Now, at this time, Elvis had died, and there were already rumors going around about did Elvis fake his death, did Jim Morrison fake his death.
Andy said, ‘You know, if some celebrity really did this, do you know how big it would be? How legendary it would be?’And don’t get me wrong: Andy was always looking to be legendary. Always looking to be legendary. So I knew where he was going with this, but I was tired. I said, ‘So…?’ And he said, ‘I’m thinking about faking my death. What do you think about that concept?’ I said, ‘Andy, I think it’s absolutely brilliant. But count me out. I don’t wanna hear any more about it. ‘He said, ‘Why?’ I said, ‘Because it’s illegal to fake your death — I think it’s a felony.
Because there’s insurance fraud, there’s premiums paid, you’re a member of AFTRA, of SAG. People fake their deaths all the time for insurance money, or they don’t wanna pay child support or whatever. If you’re really serious about this, you gotta take that into consideration. “‘And besides that, I’m not gonna lie to your parents that you’re dead when you’re not. I don’t think you could ask anyone to do that. I think it’s a great idea, but don’t ever bring it up to me again. Get it?’ And he said, ‘Got it.’ And that was it.”
“When I wrote the book, that’s what I thought he’d decided. But after Lynne Margulies read it, she called and said, ‘You got that wrong.’ I said, ‘Whaddya mean?’ She said, ‘Don’t you remember? Andy was always debating whether it should be 10 or 20 years,’ and that he decided, as he put it, to ‘separate the men from the boys.’ If he was going to be a boy about it, it’d be 10 years. If he was going to be a man, it’d be 20 years.”
“Did I mention? We’re taking out hundreds of personal ads in newspapers across the country and abroad, reminding Andy of the date, and what he said. So hopefully he’ll see one of them.”
“After Taxi was cancelled, Andy seriously considered becoming a wrestling manager,” Zmuda commented, before disappearing backstage. Margulies concurred. “He really didn’t care what the rest of the world thought. If he were alive today, he‘d probably be doing cable access, happy living off residuals.”
“Andy had supposedly died of lung cancer, at Cedars-Sinai. So Tony Clifton Live was to be a fund-raiser.”
Comic Relief initially collected funds for cancer research, but has since raised over 50 million dollars for the homeless.
“Kaufman continues to shake his head in disgust and disbelief that such a thing can be happening. I escort him around like a frail grandma. Lynne pointed out that he had gotten just like this when his parents were in town (L.A.) and perhaps it was somewhat of an act for us. I had wondered the same thought and took note of the coincidences.”
“On the way back he talked about the problems he and Lynne were having sexually. ‘We’re just not attracted to each other,’ he said. ‘She didn’t think it was working out months ago, but then I got sick, and she wouldn’t tell me.’
‘ How do you know that?’ I asked. ‘She just told me.’ ‘How do you feel?’ I asked. ‘It’s okay. I wasn’t totally honest with her, either. We haven’t really been attracted to each other for a while. She’s here for me, and that’s okay. I’m glad she is.'”
Zmuda says Andy preferred bigger, muscular girls who were more equipped for wrestling. He also speculates that satisfied his gay fantasies.
An anonymous prostitute from the Mustang Ranch told Zmuda that Andy was an “ass bandit” who was bi. She also reported that the other sex workers would gossip about how he always wanted the girls to lay flat on their stomachs, motionless, as to resemble a young man.
Toward the end of the book, Zmuda recalls how at Kaufman’s funeral, he “didn’t shed a tear” but “had to bite my lip a few times to keep from exploding in laughter.” “Everyone was expecting Andy to jump out of the casket at any time,” he says.
“If Bob Zmuda says Andy Kaufman is dead — and he does — then I believe him.” – Joe Conforte (Mustang Ranch)
But now Bob says Andy is alive and will return.
However, Zmuda also says he and Andy were almost in a plane crash, but the storm quickly dissipated. He reports that Andy said he astral projected to a waterfall in Paraguay to speak to a Hindu water goddess.
So he is not beyond telling elaborate tall tales.
Andy Kaufman: Wouldn’t it be great if she killed me, and then you have the tapes?…It would be better if I’m more famous.
Bob Zmuda: He took his own act into his own hands. He played with people’s heads, not only on stage, but off and it cost him in the end.
AK: Wow. That would be great. Except I don’t want to be killed. When I’m more famous, we could fake it…Wouldn’t people hate me if it turns out I’m alive?
Zmuda goes on to suggest that Kaufman should fake his death every few years and come back as a different act.
BZ: …Then, when you really die, nobody will believe it. Years will go by and they’ll go, nah.
AK: Like when Jack Benny was always 39, and he really was 40. They didn’t believe him.
BZ: They won’t believe your own death, you’ll be immortal, you’ll go on forever.
AK: That’s great.