When Andy Kaufman succumbed to lung cancer at 35 in 1984, rumors swirled that the erratic comedian faked his own death. But as the years went on, fans began to accept that the iconic funnyman had truly passed on.
However, in his new tell-all Andy Kaufman: The Truth, Finally, Kaufman’s best friend and writing partner Bob Zmuda reveals that the Taxi actor plotted to fake his death and reappear 30 years later.
“Everyone knows I’m always pulling pranks. They’d expect me to disappear for a year or two, maybe even three of four,” Kaufman allegedly confided in Zmuda. “But if I’m gone for say, twenty to thirty years, they’ll really believe I died.”
Zmuda adds that Kaufman didn’t reveal his wacky plan to anyone else, including his girlfriend Lynne Margulies (who co-authored Zmuda’s new book).
“It’s the best idea I’ve ever had. There’s nothing else I can ever do to top it. How do I not go for it? Bob, I’ve thought about this for two to three years. Now there’s no turning back. I’m gonna die,” Zmuda claims Kaufman said.
So how did the young comic fake his own death? Zmuda says he has a theory based on many conversations they shared.
Kaufman, he claims, found a body double in an actual cancer patient who looked just like him, including his eye color. He began imitating the man’s changing body, down to his rapid weight loss and graying skin color.
“Now that the match up was close enough to fool the average person, and the body double’s days were quickly drawing to a close, this is when Andy went to the Philippines for “psychic surgery” as part of the plan to convince the American public that he was really dying,” Zmuda continues. “When Andy got word that the body double only had a short time to live, he flew back to the States and eventually checked himself into Cedars-Sinai Hospital, all the time monitoring the body double, who was coming closer to the end at some undisclosed location. The second accomplice would be used to stay in communication with Andy and transport the near-death body double to the hospital at just the right time.”
Zmuda suggests that the accomplice switched the dying man in for Andy at a moment when friends and relatives were out of the room. Andy then was wheeled away unnoticed in the massive medical center, never heard from again.
Though it sounds implausible, Zmuda insists the plan would be much easier to execute than one would initially think.
“It is estimated that over 6,000 people fake their deaths annually, over 400 in the U.S. alone. Like any great illusion, the trick is simpler than one can imagine,” he argues.
Though Margulies believes her former boyfriend actually did die in 1984, she does have her own secret to reveal in the book. Kaufman, she claims, was bisexual.
After Kaufman disappeared for hours multiple times in San Francisco’s Castro district, “I finally just point-blank asked him if he was gay,” Margulies recalls. “He looked at me for a long time as he was formulating his answer, probably trying to decide if he wanted to tell me. He finally lowered his head and said in a small voice, ‘Yeah.’”
Zmuda claims he was the only other person to whom Kaufman told his secret.
Margulies says she promised she wouldn’t tell anyone until both of his parents passed away. After Kaufman’s father died at 90 in 2013, she felt free to share the truth.
Margulies also reveals that a gay friend in San Francisco told her that “everyone knew” Kaufman actually died of AIDS.
“They saw him in the Castro district constantly,” she writes.
“It’s time for all the skeletons to come out of the closet,” Zmuda concludes.
Do you believe that Andy is still alive? Sound off in the comments.