A woman claiming to be the daughter of Andy Kaufman, the "Taxi" star and trailblazing comedian known for elaborate pranks, has reignited long-standing conspiracy theories surrounding his death at the age of 35 in 1984.
At the Andy Kaufman Awards held Monday in New York City and hosted by Andy's brother Michael, a young woman came forward saying that her father staged his own death in order to escape the limelight and live as a stay-at-home dad.
"He was a great dad and raised us, and our mom has her own business and stuff," said the woman, who did not identify herself. Judging from the woman's fidgety body language in the video above, she seems about as trustworthy as Manti Te'o's girlfriend, but her on-stage appearance ended with a hug from a moved-looking Michael Kaufman, who urged the audience to respect her privacy.
Michael Kaufman was not available for comment, but Al Parinello, the executive director of the Andy Kaufman Awards, confirmed to The Times that he was present at Monday's show and that the young woman was added to the night's lineup by Michael Kaufman minutes before the awards began.
He said that Michael Kaufman's suspicions about his brother date back to approximately the late '80s, when Michael discovered among Andy's letters an elaborate plan for staging his own death. They were heightened in 1999 when Michael received a letter alluding to a "traditional Christmas dinner," an inside joke between the siblings, and claiming that Andy was still alive and raising a daughter. Correspondence has continued intermittently over the years, according to Parinello.
"My gut tells me there's a possiblity this is real. My common sense tells me it's ridiculous," said Parinello when asked his opinion of the situation. "To know Andy and to befriend him, you should always expect the unexpected. It's just that simple. That's the way it was with Andy. He was a very special human being."
As for how Andy might have convinced his family that he was dead, Parinello theorizes that his dedication to Transcendental Meditation could have allowed him to lower his pulse to nearly undetectable levels.
Of course, it's distinctly possible that Parinello and Michael Kaufman are simply taking a page from the Andy Kaufman playbook and have deliberately concocted this whole thing as a ploy for publicity. If so, it's worked, though Parinello denies that's the case. ("If this is a hoax, this is not a hoax that we've designed or gotten behind," he said.)
Wherever the truth lies, the young woman's outlandish claim has helped revitalize urban legends about Kaufman's death that have persisted in the 29 years since he died of kidney failure related to a rare form of lung cancer.
Over the course of his brief but influential career, Kaufman frequently blurred the line between comedy and performance art, provoking audiences as much as entertaining them. His commitment to staying in character frequently left people wondering just what was "true" and what wasn't, as with his infamous female wrestling routine.
So it makes sense, in a way, that many have questioned whether his demise wasn't one last ruse. In 1999, following the release of the Kaufman biopic "Man on the Moon," which hinted at the possibility the comedian was still alive, the website the Smoking Gun posted a copy of his death certificate. That failed to stop speculation, which has continued to flourish online. One of the more popular theories (see video below) holds that Kaufman is living in Albuquerque -- presumably with Walter White, who survived that gunshot wound after all.