New York City-born comedian Andy Kaufman, little known outside the United States but well-remembered in the U.S. by those who watched the late ’70s / early ’80s television series Taxi, is alive, married, and has a (previously unknown) grown daughter who goes by the name of McCoy. Well, if — and that’s a big if (or perhaps a small one, considering people’s willful gullibility and/or downright stupidity) — you believe the story reported in numerous outlets in the last couple of days: Andy Kaufman may have faked his own death of lung cancer at age 35 in 1984 so he could escape the limelight. (Photo: Andy Kaufman)
At the New York-based Andy Kaufman Awards last Monday night, November 11, 2013, a woman claiming to be Kaufman’s daughter — calling herself "McCoy" (reportedly the name Kaufman used when checking himself into hospitals) — appeared on stage with Michael Kaufman, Andy’s brother. Michael explained that years ago he had found an essay in which his brother detailed plans to fake his own death.
"I don’t know how much longer he can keep everything away," the McCoy Woman told the audience. So, could Andy Kaufman really be alive? Could the McCoy Woman really be his daughter? Could Corinne Griffith really be her younger sister? WTF? (More on that below.)
Andy Kaufman ‘life hoax’
Adam Sandler, Eddie Murphy, John Travolta, Justin Bieber, Madonna, Angelina Jolie, Tom Cruise, Lady Gaga, Rudolph Valentino (dead since 1926), and others have all passed on recently according to death hoaxes found online and duly reported by trolls and the braindead via social media and "news" outlets. A while back, in fact, Adam Sandler seemed to be dying every other week.
In the case of Andy Kaufman, instead of a "death hoax" we got a "life hoax." Alexandra Tatarsky, a New York actress "inspired by Russian absurdism," seems to be The Fake McCoy.
But how could Michael Kaufman fall for this type of nonsense? Well, perhaps he didn’t. Although Kaufman claims he is the victim of a hoax, according to The Smoking Gun he recruited Tatarsky to play the daughter of his long-deceased brother. The site explains that "Tatarsky met Michael Kaufman earlier this year while working at a Manhattan gallery exhibiting a collection of Kaufman ‘ephemera and artifacts’ from the comedian’s personal and professional life." The reasons for the Andy Kaufman hoax remain unclear.
Andy Kaufman’s actual daughter, Maria Colonna, lives in Upstate New York. According to reports, she was not in any way involved in this story.
Andy Kaufman ‘Taxi’ and movies
Co-created by future Best Director Oscar winner James L. Brooks (Terms of Endearment), the multiple Emmy-winning Taxi ran from 1978-1983. Besides Andy Kaufman, the Taxi cast included Judd Hirsch, Tony Danza, Danny DeVito, Marilu Henner, and Jeff Conaway, and later on Christopher Lloyd and Carol Kane.
As per the IMDb, Andy Kaufman was featured in only three movies:
- Larry Cohen’s God Told Me To (1976), a horror thriller with Tony Lo Bianco, Deborah Raffin, Sandy Dennis, and veteran Sylvia Sidney.
- Actor-director Marty Feldman’s dreadful comedy In God We Tru$t (1980), featuring Feldman, Peter Boyle, Richard Pryor (as G.O.D.), and Andy Kaufman as a character named Armageddon T. Thunderbird.
- Allan Arkush’s box office flop Heartbeeps (1981), in which Kaufman and Bernadette Peters are household servant robots in love.
Jim Carrey played Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon; Michael Kelly played Michael Kaufman while their father, Stanley Kaufman (no connection to film critic Stanley Kauffmann), was played by Gerry Becker. Directed by two-time Best Director Oscar winner Milos Forman (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Amadeus), the Andy Kaufman biopic — a box office bomb — was released in 1999.
Also worth mentioning is Christopher Maloney’s 2008 documentary The Death of Andy Kaufman. According to the IMDb, its tagline was: "Was It the Greatest Hoax of All Time?"
Long before the Andy Kaufman hoax: Corinne Griffith, Ann Savage, Anastasia Romanov
The Andy Kaufman hoax — his being alive, not his death — is only the latest bizarre story involving dead-or-alive celebrities. Apart from Elvis Presley, who keeps being spotted just about everywhere in the United States, there’s the curious story of silent movie star Corinne Griffith (The Garden of Eden, The Divine Lady). While testifying in divorce court in the mid-’60s — Griffith was parting ways with her husband of a few days, Broadway actor Danny Scholl — the multimillionaire former actress claimed she was actually her (two decades) younger sister, asserting that the Real Corinne Griffith had died years earlier. Griffith’s testimony was contradicted by those of fellow silent film actresses Claire Windsor and Betty Blythe. Her story, however, remained unchanged.
A few decades ago, a woman in Florida claimed to have been second-rank silent film actress Vera Reynolds (Cecil B. DeMille’s Feet of Clay, The Road to Yesterday), who had died at age 62 in 1962. In the mid-’80s, a woman claiming to be actress Ann Savage showed up at a screening of the cult noir Detour at a Los Angeles revival house — only to be denounced as an impostor at the same theater the next day by another woman claiming to be the real Ann Savage.
Perhaps even more interesting is the case of actress Eva von Berne, who played opposite MGM superstar John Gilbert in Masks of the Devil. Von Berne reportedly died in 1930 — only to die again (for real) at age 100 in November 2010.
And let’s not forget Anastasia Romanov, whose impersonator was played by Best Actress Oscar winner Ingrid Bergman in Anatole Litvak’s 1956 movie. "Russian absurdism" at work indeed.