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Sunday, July 30, 2017

Andy Kaufman's Post Mortem Bad Joke

     Andy Kaufman became famous in the 1970s as the comedic character Latka Grauas in the popular sitcom "Taxi." He later appeared regularly on "Saturday Night Live." At the height of his fame, after a performance at New York's Carnegie Hall, Kaufman arranged for 24 buses to take his audience of 2,800 out for milk and cookies after the show. As he career petered out, Kaufman took on the persona of a cheesy and abusive lounge singer from New Jersey he called Tony Clifton. During this period the eccentric (and in my view unfunny) comedian participated in a series of bizarre wrestling matches with women. At times he seemed unhinged which in Hollywood often passes for brilliance.

     In May 1984, suffering from a rare form of lung cancer, Andy Kaufman died in a West Hollywood hospital room. He was 35.

     In 2013, the 9th Annual Andy Kaufman Comedy Awards ceremony was hosted by Andy's brother Michael at the Gotham Comedy Club in New York City. That Monday night, November 11, 2013, Michael stunned the audience with the announcement that his brother was in fact alive.

     Michael Kaufman informed the awards show audience that when going through Andy's things following his supposed passing, he had found an essay by Andy detailing how he planned to fake his own death. According to the scheme, Andy would reappear at a specific restaurant on Christmas Eve 1999.

     Michael, on Christmas Eve 1999, showed up at the restaurant to meet his presumably dead brother. Instead, he was met by a waiter who handed him a typed letter from Andy in which he had written that he had fallen in love and had gone into hiding. (The typed letter precludes handwriting identification. And where is this letter, anyway.)

     In the letter, Andy supposedly wrote that he and his girlfriend resided with their ten-year-old daughter at an undisclosed place. The letter led Michael to believe that everything was great in Andy's life. He had faked his death simply to get away from being Andy Kaufman. The reclusive ex-comedian asked Michael not to tell their father, Stanley Kaufman, that he was alive. (Does that mean Stanley Kaufman would not have been pleased to learn that his son was alive and that he had a granddaughter?)

     In July 2013 Stanley Kaufmann passed away. Not long after his father's death, Michael received a call from a 24-year-old woman who claimed to be Andy's daughter. The caller had good news. Andy Kaufman was still alive. (Andy would be 65.) The young woman said she went by the last name McCoy, the name Andy had used when checking into hospitals.

     As the awards audience tried to digest Michael Kaufman's shocking revelations, the host called a young woman onto the stage and introduced her as Andy's daughter. Addressing the comedy crowd, this woman said, "Andy just wanted to be a stay-at-home dad. That's why he wanted to leave showbiz. He's pretty much a great dad. My mom has her own business…he helps her with that kind of thing--paperwork and stuff--so he can work from home and he doesn't have to be hiding out or concealing himself. He just makes us food and takes care of the house."

     Andy Kaufman's friend, fellow comedian Al Parinello, in talking about Andy's secret life after death, said this to a reporter with The Comic's Comic: "Only the family actually saw Andy's body [before the closed-casket funeral]. Andy was an aficionado of meditation. One of the things Andy was taught at the highest level was a process where one could slow down his breath to a point where you can literally fool anyone that you may be dead when in fact you are alive."

     Andy must not only have mastered the technique of death impersonation well enough to fool the hospital pathologist, he must have found a way to tolerate having his blood replaced by embalming fluid. Otherwise, he managed to pull off a tricky body switch. It that's what happened, then there's a body in Andy's grave that's not him. That is unless the substitute corpse was cremated.

     In response to the news that the comedy world's strange duck was not a dead duck, Kaufman's last girlfriend, 56-year-old Lynne Margulles, told TMZ that she had watched him die in the West Hollywood hospital room. According to Margulles, Kaufman's only daughter is a 40-year-old named Maria.

     If Andy Kaufman had in fact faked his own death, is he guilty of a crime? In the United States faking one's own death is not against the law per se. It is, however, a criminal offense to use the ploy to defraud an insurance company or to avoid taxes and other debts. It is also not a crime to publicly announce that a dead man had faked his own death. But it is a bad taste joke. But in life that's what Andy Kaufman had become, a bad taste comedian. 

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