Cult comedy star Andy Kaufman faked his own death in 1984 and is still alive, his brother has claimed.
Kaufman, best known for playing the incompetent Latka Gravas on the 1970s sitcom Taxi, officially died from lung cancer in 1984.
But, appearing at an award show named in Andy’s honour, Michael Kaufman said he received a letter from his brother, confirming he was alive, in 1999.
He then introduced a woman who claimed to be Andy’s 24-year-old daughter.
Her age would mean she was born five years after his death.
“He just wanted to be a stay-at-home dad, that’s why he wanted to leave the showbiz,” she explained at the New York event.
“He’s pretty much a great dad, and raised us. 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.”
It has since been claimed, however, that the mystery woman is in fact a New York actress whose father is a doctor.
According to website The Smoking Gun, Alexandra Tatarsky was recruited by Michael Kaufman earlier this year to play his alleged niece.
Audience ‘freaked out’
The woman’s arrival on Monday night had been preceded by a long anecdote, in which Michael described how, many years ago, he discovered an essay in which Andy detailed plans to fake his death.
It was accompanied by a note, saying the comedian would reappear on Christmas Eve 1999, in a specific restaurant.
Although Andy failed to show up, Michael was handed a letter explaining that his brother had gone into hiding to live a normal life, and now had a wife and daughter.
It was chilling, upsetting and absolutely intriguing”
Killy Dwyer, audience member
In addition to his role on Taxi, Andy Kaufman was an eccentric performance artist who often staged elaborate pranks that entertained, confused and at times frustrated his fans.
He organised wrestling matches between himself and women, impersonated Elvis Presley and, most famously, created a hideous lounge singer alter-ego called Tony Clifton, who reeked of foul-smelling cheese and verbally abused virtually everyone in sight.
Famously, after he played Carnegie Hall, he hired 24 buses and took the 2,800 audience members out for milk and cookies.
A life-long health fanatic, he was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 33 and died in May 1984. A copy of his death certificate, which lists the cause of death as renal failure, can be seen online.
Nonetheless, a portion of his fan base has always maintained his death was a hoax.
Audience members at the Andy Kaufman Awards were uncertain how to take Michael’s revelation, wondering if it, too, could be a stunt.
“The entire room was freaked out,” wrote comedian Killy Dwyer on her Facebook page.
“I get that it is – could – might all be a hoax… [but] it was as real as anything I’ve ever seen. There is video. It was chilling, upsetting and absolutely intriguing.”
Award show producer Al Parinello told the Hollywood Reporter: “I witnessed the entire thing and I can tell you without a doubt this was not a prank.”
“You could see by the look on [Michael’s] face that it had an emotional impact on him,” said Ed Cavanagh, manager at the Gotham Comedy Club, where the award show took place.
But, he added: “I don’t know whether somebody is perpetrating something on [Michael] or not. I’m truly 50-50 on this one.”
Witnesses said the unnamed woman had explained the catalyst for her appearance was the death of her grandfather, Andy’s father, in July.
In a video of the encounter, posted on gossip site TMZ, Michael is seen asking whether his brother is “getting close to revealing himself”.
The woman covers her face and says, “I don’t know what to say.”
“I mean, he was really thinking about coming,” she adds.
Michael then asks the audience not to follow the woman after she left the building.
“I won’t give you her name. I don’t even know [her] name,” he says. “Let her have her privacy.”
“Send him my love,” he adds.
The woman’s account dovetails eerily with a story Michael told during the ceremony about a letter he found while going through Andy’s stuff — a letter Andy wrote explaining a plan to fake his death.
As for the evidence, here’s what we found:
1. When you look up Andy on the Internet database of record, there is no date of death listed.
2. In 2001, the database shows Andy lived in Cook County, Illinois.
3. There’s another address indicating he lived in Westchester County, NY later in 2001.
Speculations and rumors have swirled ever since Kaufman passed that his death was an elaborate hoax — so while the woman’s story is shocking, it’s not entirely unbelievable.
As for when Andy plans to reveal himself, the woman said he had considered coming out that night — but backed out at the last minute.
So we gotta ask …