Anatomy of a Hoax: Andy Kaufman's 'Daughter' Explained
It would have been the ultimate hoax — Andy Kaufman faked his death and has been living happily out of the public eye for the last 30 years — but, sadly, it turns out to be a ruse.
On Sunday at the Andy Kaufman Award Show at the Gotham Comedy Club in Manhattan, a woman claiming to be the funnyman's 24-year-old daughter told the audience her dad faked his death to escape the spotlight and became a stay-at-home father for her and her siblings. The fidgety woman appeared with Andy's brother, Michael, on stage and told the crowd that her dad was considering showing up that night, but changed his mind.
Michael seemed to corroborate the story. He talked about how, while going through his brother's possessions after his death, he found essays about how Andy planned to fake his own death, and would eventually reappear. On the date in 1999 when Andy was supposed to materialize, Michael said a stranger handed him a letter, which was supposedly from Andy, saying he wasn't ready to come out of hiding because he had fallen in love, started a family, and he liked his new quiet life.
Because of all the conspiracy theories regarding the death of the "Saturday Night Live" and "Taxi" star, who lost his battle with lung cancer in 1984 when he was 35, the story quickly grew legs and was all over the Internet on Monday. However, it turns out it's a prank even the quirky comic himself would admire.
Debunking the theory first and foremost is Lynne Margulies — Andy's girlfriend at the time of his death — who has gone public to say this story is impossible because she was with the comedian at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles when he died.
"I was in the hospital room. I was there. They would have had to switch bodies," she told TMZ.
Margulies, who suggests Michael is behind the prank, also said Andy had just one daughter — her name is Maria Bellu-Colonna. (The girl was born in 1969 to Andy's high school girlfriend and was subsequently put up for adoption. In 1992, after Andy's death, Maria learned the identity of her birth father.)
George Shapiro, who was Andy's manager, was also there when Andy passed away.
"Andy's very much alive in our hearts, but I don't think his body is around," he told CNN Thursday. "He died. I was in the hospital."
In addition to those two witnesses, the Los Angeles Country Coroner took the unusual step of re-releasing Andy's death certificate as speculation that he was alive started to snowball this week. The official papers list the actor who played Latka Gravas's death as May 16, 1984.
"Andy Kaufman is dead," the coroner's office said in a statement.
As for the young woman claiming to be Andy's daughter at the awards show, well, she's actually a New York actress. The Smoking Gun reports that her name is Alexandra Tatarsky and the website claims she was recruited by Michael, whom she met at a Manhattan gallery featuring an exhibit about Andy's life, to play the part at the show. Further, her actual father, Andrew, is a 58-year-old psychologist specializing in substance abuse treatment.
While Margulies, the Smoking Gun, and others suggest Michael is one behind the hoax, he has yet to fess up to it.
"Now that it's Thursday, not Monday anymore, I believe I am part of a hoax," he said during an interview on CNN's "The Lead With Jake Tapper."
"I don't believe she's acting on her own though," Kaufman said of Tatarsky. "But, you know, that's all I know."
On Friday morning, he was back on the network's "New Day" and flatly denied to the show hosts that he was in any way involved in the drama. He also said he thinks his brother is dead.
"I was there when he died. I saw him emaciated with cancer," said Michael, who has many of the same eccentric mannerisms as his look-alike brother. "I have a glimmer of hope, but if I had to bet on it, I would say no."
If Andy were still alive, he'd certainly be having a laugh about all this right now.