Andy Kaufman: The Truth, Finally
Andy Kaufman: The Truth, Finally, is co-written by Andy Kaufman's best friend and writing partner Bob Zmuda and the love of his life, Lynne Margulies. The premise of the book goes something like this: Thirty years ago, at Cedar Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles Andy Kaufman died of lung cancer at the tragically young age of thirty-five—except Kaufman did not die at all, Zmuda sensationally proclaims in this new tell-all, from Ballantine Books.
I read the entire book in practically one sitting, my eyes glued to the pages, attentive to Zmuda's every word about his friend Andy Kaufman—and how Kaufman had manipulated the press, friends and fans into believing the greatest ruse ever in show-business history: Andy Kaufman's death. Ever since Elvis Presley's death in 1977, and the doubtful, desperate rumors that surrounded it, Andy Kaufman had been intrigued with the notion of faking his death. "Faking my death is going to be my greatest stunt ever," Kaufman reportedly told many friends, who included Jack Burns and John Moffit, writers for the ephemeral weekly comedy sketch series Fridays. In addition to his juicy revelation to Burns and Moffit, Kaufman also confided to his then-girlfriend Mimi Lambert that, "If I do go through with my plan, I will do so by pretending to have cancer.
And pretend to have cancer Kaufman did, swears Zmuda in The Truth, Finally.
I'm not exactly a dilettante when it comes to this Andy Kaufman lives stuff. In fact, just last year, I was interviewed by The Huffington Post about the subject of Andy Kaufman still being alive. And, days after the resulting article was published, I was interviewed by KRQE News in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to discuss grainy black-and-white footage that surfaced of a man walking around an apartment complex in The Land of Enchantment. And, just last month, I was interviewed by British filmmaker John Lundberg for his upcoming documentary on the life and death of Kaufman, Kaufman Lives. I have told anybody and everyone I have come into contact with, whenever the subject arises, that yes, I sincerely do believe Andy Kaufman pulled off the greatest hoax in showbiz history in 1984. So, naturally, I wasn't entirely shocked to read in this book that Andy Kaufman's best friend, Bob Zmuda, is now officially on the record as stating he believes Kaufman faked his death.
And it makes perfect sense that Andy Kaufman would fake his death, too. Kaufman had freely admitted to interviewers on numerous occasions that the entire goal of his act was to force his audiences to question reality. "What's real? What's not real? That's what I do in my act: test how other people deal with reality," Kaufman once said during an interview. And that's precisely what Kaufman did with his act. Did Andy Kaufman really despise people from the south? Was he really the jerk that wrestled and demeaned and hurled insults at women? Did Andy Kaufman really get pummeled on Late Night with David Letterman by Jerry Lawler, or was that, too, staged? What about Tony Clifton—the lounge lizard who was Kaufman's opening act and was verbally abusive to Kaufman's audiences— was he, too, an act? Kaufman is remembered by most as the guy who played the cute-and-lovable mechanic Latka, on ABC's "Taxi." But that was a role that Kaufman despised, explains Zmuda Andy Kaufman: The Truth, Finally.
Perhaps the most salient piece of information disclosed about Kaufman in The Truth, Finally is Zmuda's juicy revelations about how Kaufman faked his death. "He found a fan in San Francisco that was dying of large cell carcinoma, and he made an offer the fan could not refuse," Zmuda says. Fascinatingly and perhaps even ingeniously, Kaufman swapped identities with a dying fan. The fan died as Andy Kaufman at Cedar Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. Kaufman is most definitely still alive and probably roaming around somewhere in plain sight, Zmuda speculates.
There are some extremely startling revelations about Kaufman's "death" in Andy Kaufman: The Truth, Finally. And they might seem far-fetched and downright impossible to some people. But being the huge Andy Kaufman fan that I am, I have learned how to believe in the impossible a long time ago.