Andy Kaufman's brother blasts new book claiming comic died of AIDS
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Andy Kaufman’s death—but his brother, Michael, is anticipating a much lower-key Andy Kaufman Award celebration on Oct. 12 than last year’s. In November 2013, Michael Kaufman introduced a young woman claiming to be Andy’s daughter, who revealed that her father was still alive, living a peaceful life as a stay-at-home dad. Some stubborn conspiracy theorists had always doubted Andy’s 1984 death, assuming it was part of some ultimate prank. Michael Kaufman initially seemed to endorse the young woman’s claims, but quickly backpedaled in news interviews and claimed that he had been the victim of a hoax.
Hoax or not, the Kaufman Lives movement is alive but increasingly unwell. On Oct. 7, Andy Kaufman’s longtime writing partner Bob Zmuda published a new book with Kaufman’s girlfriend, Lynne Margulies. Zmuda hinted further that Kaufman may have faked his death, while Margulies suggests that he was bisexual and died of AIDS, not cancer.
Michael Kaufman would prefer to discuss the Award—but when asked, politely answered questions about what happened last year and why he’s angry about the new book. The 10th Andy Kaufman Award will on presented on Sunday evening at UCB East in Manhattan, after a special 4 p.m. celebration of the legendary comic called Andy Kaufman: We Love You Uncle Andy.
“My motivation for doing this award?” says Kaufman, an accountant and finance consultant. “I think it’s beyond Andy. It’s for the eyes and the smiles and the comments that the contestants give me. One of them wrote to me, ‘I’d rather get a rejection letter from you than win an award with someone else.'”
EW: Are you hoping for a different kind of publicity than last year?
MICHAEL KAUFMAN: I regret what happened last year. I regret that I allowed myself—and it could’ve been because my father had just passed away—that the emotions took the better of me. But to have fallen for what happened last year and to go on a stage with that, I regret doing it, and anybody who asked me questions about that, that’s pretty much what I’ve said. And that I don’t want to revisit it. I’m just uncomfortable. I want to go back to where I was, which is keeping things private.
Have you ever heard again from Alexandra Tatarsky, the woman who claimed to be your niece?
[This one reporter] took it upon himself to make a huge story out of it. He interviewed Alexandra. He interviewed me, and then he finally said, “How would you like to meet her?” And we met at some diner on the Upper West Side somewhere. So I have no animosity towards her
Did she apologize or explain things?
I wasn’t happy before I met her, but I think she was not— I was just going to say I don’t think she was in on it, but then again, maybe she was playing with me that night we met. Who knows? But it sounded like she was also, at least what she portrayed to me that night, that she was also hoaxed.
You saw your brother suffer through cancer and die 30 years ago, yet there are still people who are willing to toy with that—with the notion that Andy is alive and just waiting to pull off the biggest prank ever. Is that painful or amusing?
There’s part of me that, actually, on Andy’s behalf, enjoys it. Andy was unique. So this is a unique thing that it still goes on. So in that vein, I’m happy about it. But I can’t say I’m happy about all of them. It’s one thing when people just do a bit, an impromptu kind of thing. But for someone to invest so much time and energy, as some people have done… There are some where I just go, “That’s sleazy.”
I can’t give you a neat answer because it’s partially, I’m happy for Andy but partially, the way that some people do it is just not happy. It might help me be in denial. When you lose a loved one, even though you know you’ve lost them, you still have different games you play, tricks you play on yourself to be in denial. I would like to think that 30 years later, I don’t have to do that. But who knows.
These rumors won’t go away, of course. In fact, Bob Zmuda and Lynne Margulies have a new book, Andy Kaufman: The Truth Finally, with new “revelations.” Bob and Andy worked together and Lynne was his girlfriend at the time of his death. But it’s not authorized by the family in any way, is it?
Oh, believe me, no way. I wasn’t going to be the first one of us to actually acknowledge that that novel exists. Because I call it a novel. Actually, I shouldn’t even do that. I’m basing any answer I give you on the New York Post article. I haven’t read the book, so I really shouldn’t comment. But Lynne was just a blip. She was there for a year and each of them told other people that they wanted to break up with each other. She was not the love of his life. She just happened to be there at the end, and I give her credit that she stayed with him when he got sick, so I can’t take that away from her. Thank you for doing that, but otherwise everything’s been blown out of proportion, with what their relationship was.
Based on that article, three women who were closer to Andy than Lynne have contacted either my sister or myself telling us how outraged they are. These women who want to protect Andy are incensed. One of them even said to me, “Bob and Lynne have been allowed to get away with what they’ve been doing because we’ve been silent, because we’ve gotten on with our lives. And they haven’t.”
It surprises me that Bob wouldn’t have reached out to you if he was publishing a book about Andy, whether for fact-checking, to ask for permission, or even just a heads up. He never contacted you?
Not at all, are you kidding? What’s disappointing to me with Zmuda is that he knows the truth about their relationship—Lynne and Andy—that Andy wanted to leave Lynne. So what bothers me is that Zmuda has chosen to align with Lynne and not the family.
According to the Post story, Lynne seemed to imply that Andy’s cause of death was not cancer and that he was bisexual. Did that have any ring of truth to it?
It has none. I just want to say, there’s nothing wrong with that—if that was the truth. But coming from them, coming from her, there’s something wrong with it. These are just questions that I have: Is there a difference between cancer and AIDS? And should a doctor worth anything be able to tell the difference? And if the answer is yes, are they trying to defame [the doctor] who made the diagnosis? Are they trying to say that Andy’s family, who saw him enough during his last five months, couldn’t tell that there was a body double [at the funeral]? Are they saying when I drove Andy to chemo treatment, are they saying that that was all a hoax? And how come Lynne didn’t get AIDS?
Is Bob part of the Kaufman Award in any way? Might he be there on Sunday night?
I was asked if I would be on the Ron & Fez Show with him and I declined, so that’s answering your question. We did have Bob host the 2009 Andy Kaufman Award as Tony Clifton. I wanted to bury the hatchet because his lack of respect for my parents, mainly my father, caused a rift. My father was responsible for getting him involved in the movie, but then he became such an opportunist and it really turned my father off. He had little feeling for how it must have been for a man to lose a child. And that went on for awhile, but I wanted to bury that and make things okay. I thought that was going to open the door to Bob being with the family. I had good times with he and Andy. But he was the dark side of Andy. He made Andy dark. And he actually, I believe, actually influenced Man on the Moon to be darker than it should’ve been. It was not great, how it turned out. I wish Zmuda was impacted by Andy’s character more than Andy was impacted by Zmuda’s influence.
When you’ve been asked in other interviews if you think Andy might still be alive, you’ve often said that you have a “glimmer of hope.” Is that still how you feel?
The part of me that say there’s a glimmer, I’m not sure if that’s coming from an obligation to Andy’s legacy. You understand what I’m saying? Like, how could I say “No, there’s no way”? Am I being untrue to Andy? So it’s possible that’s part of it. The other part of it, and maybe this is the better part of it, as far as Andy’s legacy: Andy loved to say, “You never know.” Even when we were talking about death and all that stuff, or just anything that seemed unbelievable, he would, “You never know.” So, there’s a possibility. But the real test would be, how much would I bet on him being alive, and what odds would I need to get? I wouldn’t bet anything much more than $1. But I almost think it’s my birthright that I have to say there’s a glimmer.