Why Do So Many People Believe That Andy Kaufman Faked His Own Death?

Andy Kaufman was considered a lot of things. Some fans consider him a comedic genius, others think of him as the world’s greatest performance artist. His longtime writing partner, Bob Zmuda, considered him something of a behavioral psychologist. If the rumors about his 1984 death are correct, he might be the greatest prankster of all time. Kaufman died of cancer in California in 1984, at least, that’s what his death certificate says. Still, there is a large group of fans and even longtime friends who believe Kaufman faked his death and has been living out his best life, away from the spotlight, in hopes of pulling off the greatest prank of all time.

How did Andy Kaufman die?

In the fall of 1983, Kaufman developed a cough. He visited several doctors over the course of a few months. When doctors couldn’t find anything wrong, he checked himself into the hospital for a series of medical tests.

Andy Kaufman during an interview with host Johnny Carson on January 21, 1977
Andy Kaufman with Johnny Carson | Fred Sabine/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

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It was then that he was diagnosed with cancer. Kaufman, who was just 34 at the time of his diagnosis, had a rare form of lung cancer. He reportedly tried to heal himself with natural remedies, then went for radiation. In a last-ditch effort to save his life, Kaufman allegedly tried alternative therapies in the Philippines. By May 1984, at just 35 years old, he died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Why do so many people believe Andy Kaufman is still alive?

Kaufman’s quick demise from a relatively rare form of cancer, coupled with his young age, left many shocked. That’s not what fueled the rumors that he may still be alive, though. Kaufman himself may have lit that match. According to CNN, Kaufman reportedly joked about faking his own death as the “ultimate prank.”

Andy Kaufman arrives to host the latenight sketch comedy show 'Fridays' on February 20, 1981
Andy Kaufman | Joan Adlen/Getty Images

According to those close to him, Kaufman, a comedic genius, enjoyed a good prank, and believed faking his own death and popping back up years later would be the greatest prank of his life. He joked about how he’d pull off the prank, and how he’d return, too. It’s been 36 years, though, and Kaufman has yet to resurface.

Kaufman’s writing partner, Zmuda, and girlfriend, Lynne Margulies, revealed in their 2014 book, Andy Kaufman: The Truth, Finally, that the famed comedian had put a 30-year limit on the prank. May 2014 was exactly 30 years after his death, but Kaufman has yet to resurface.

Bob Zmuda still believes Andy Kaufman is alive

Kaufman may not have reappeared after 30 years, but Zmuda seems to think there is still hope that Kaufman is out there. In an interview with The Washington Times, Zmuda was adamant that Kaufman is alive, or, at the very least, he didn’t die back in 1984. Zmuda stated that he knows Kaufman is alive because he helped him plan the big stunt.

Andy Kaufman and Bob Zmuda on October 20, 1979
Andy Kaufman and Bob Zmuda | Alan Singer/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

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How much of that is simply Zmuda hanging his hat on a hope, remains to be seen. Kaufman hasn’t surfaced, but that isn’t conclusive evidence that he is dead, to some believers. Fans and friends seem to fall into one of three camps when it comes to Kaufman. People either believe he died tragically from cancer in 1984, or they think that he is alive and well somewhere in the United States. A third possibility has recently emerged, though. Some fans believe that Kaufman did pull off the great prank but died before he could resurface. If he did fake his death, Kaufman would be 71 now.