The people behind ''Man on the Moon'' wonder if the comic's death is a hoax

By Liane Bonin
Updated December 30, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST
Credit: Courtesy Universal Pictures

As unlikely as it seems, ”Man on the Moon” doesn’t rule out the possibility that Andy Kaufman, who died of lung cancer in 1984, may have pulled off the ultimate prank of faking his own death. ”Andy was the boy who cried wolf,” says ”Moon” producer Stacey Sher. ”At his funeral, people were poking the body. That’s why nobody’s prepared to say with 100 percent certainty that he’s gone.”

Bob Zmuda, the writer who helped Kaufman concoct his most outrageous stunts, says there are some weird coincidences that have helped keep the rumor afloat. ”One day Andy was reading this review that said he was a geek act, that he should bite the heads off chickens and, better yet, just kill himself on stage,” Zmuda recalls. ”He said to me, ‘This guy is brilliant. That’s what I should do.’ ” Zmuda told Kaufman that he wanted nothing to do with the plan because it was illegal and it would be too difficult for him to face Kaufman’s family after his ”death.” ”I said, if you ever do this, it’s the one prank you’d have to do on your own,” Zmuda says. ”Six weeks after I had that conversation with Andy, he went to see John Moffitt, the producer of (the late-night TV show) ‘Fridays.’ He made John swear on a stack of bibles to keep his secret, then said, ‘I’m planning the greatest hoax of all time. I’m planning my own death.’ ”

Kaufman also consulted with his girlfriend, Lynne Margulies, as to how long he should pretend to be dead. ”We had decided on 10 years, and it’s been 15 years now,” says Margulies. ”But he would make it 15 just to fool me.” Manager George Shapiro also remembers Kaufman’s death hoax plot. ”When he heard that John Belushi was dead, he came into my office and said, ‘S–t, he stole my bit. I can’t do it now!’ He was always talking about his plan.”

An unproduced screenplay Kaufman cowrote eight years before his death has added fuel to the fakery fire. ”The thing that’s really weird is that we wrote a script called ‘The Tony Clifton Story’ for Universal Pictures,” says Zmuda. ”On page 112 of that screenplay, it states that his alter-ego, Tony Clifton, dies of lung cancer at Cedars Sinai Hospital. Andy would die of lung cancer at the same hospital.” Despite the coincidences, Zmuda is certain that Kaufman is no longer living. ”I’m going on record, Andy is dead,” he says. ”But if he had lived, he would have faked his own death.” That should clear everything up.

Man on the Moon (Movie - 1999)

  • Movie
  • R
  • 118 minutes
  • Milos Forman