(CNN) — Did Andy Kaufman get away with his greatest stunt?
The Internet erupted Thursday following reports that Kaufman’s younger brother, Michael, suggested the performance artist may have faked his 1984 death.
The reports further fueled long-held conspiracy theories that the comedian’s death from a rare form of cancer at age 35 was a hoax.
In a tale almost as outlandish as his brother’s skits, Michael Kaufman told an audience at a New York comedy club Monday night that he received a letter from his brother 15 years after his death. He then introduced a woman he said was his brother’s daughter born in 1989.
Michael Kaufman explained he was going through Andy’s writings many years ago and found a reference to him “talking about faking his death,” including the line, “I will reappear.” It said Andy’s reappearance would take place at a restaurant on Christmas Eve in 1999.
When Michael Kaufman went to the restaurant, he said, a parking attendant gave him a letter purportedly from his brother. Michael Kaufman read the letter to the audience at Monday’s annual Andy Kaufman Awards show. Video of the reading was obtained by CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper.”
“It was too much pressure to be Andy Kaufman. I just wanted to be Andy,” Michael Kaufman read. “I think that’s why I got sick. I had to change completely and quickly. I’m extremely very happily married with the most wonderful wife in the whole wide world and with the two greatest kids: a 10-year-old daughter and a son who is 8.”
Michael Kaufman said he was “obviously moved by this, but I’m also real skeptical.”
He then introduced a 24-year-old woman as Andy’s now-grown daughter.
Michael Kaufman told the audience the woman approached him about a month after his father, Stanley Kaufman, died this summer: “She told me a lot of secrets that Andy and I had together, like our secret handshake, the way Andy made fun of me for being too nice of a guy.”
On Thursday, The Smoking Gun reported that the woman is a young actress who posed as the comedian’s daughter and that she’s really the daughter of a 58-year-old psychologist. Earlier reports of Monday’s event surfaced on The Hollywood Reporter, which attributed the original reports to The Comic’s Comic and Defamer.
Kaufman was beloved for his portrayal on “Taxi” of Latka Gravas, the wildly entertaining foreigner who struggled with English and multiple personality disorder. Yet to the dismay of the entertainment world, Kaufman started wrestling women in night clubs around the country in the 1980s.
It was in Memphis, Tennessee, where his wrestling gig hit the stratosphere, challenging local legend Jerry “The King” Lawler in epic matches.
“I would like nothing better than to know that Andy was still alive and been with us all this time,” Lawler told CNN Thursday by phone. “But like anybody else, I really don’t know any more than what I’ve heard.
“It could be a great hoax in his honor, dreamed up by his friend Bob Zamuda and his brother, Michael. That would be something that would be in keeping with Andy’s tradition, but who’s to say. It could really be legit.”
If Kaufman were alive, Lawler said he would tell him: “You pulled off your dream stunt, your dream prank.”
Lawler also challenged Kaufman, if he really is alive, to get back in the ring with him. “There should be a WrestleMania rematch between Andy and The King,” Lawler said. “We could rekindle the feud with no problem.”
Kaufman’s manager George Shapiro was at the comedian’s side at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on May 16, 1984. “Andy’s very much alive in our hearts, but I don’t think his body is around,” Shapiro told CNN Thursday. “He died. I was in the hospital.”
Shapiro said Kaufman always talked about faking his death and coming back in five, 10, 15 years. In fact, when Shapiro notified the New York Times and Washington Post of Kaufman’s death, both newspapers were reluctant to report it.
“They figured it was a ruse, another Andy Kaufman ploy.”
Longtime friend Dennis Raimondi said Kaufman confided in him around 1980 about his desire to fake his death and how he planned to do it.
“It’s certainly something he gave a lot of thought to,” Raimondi told CNN Thursday. “One of his concerns at the time was the reaction of his parents. He cared about them.”
Raimondi said he couldn’t comment further on the latest reports.
CNN spoke to Kaufman’s father prior to his death this summer. Stanley Kaufman, then 90, said his son had driven him and his wife crazy from a young age — even more so when he entered the wrestling ring.
“My wife and I used to go bananas when we would see what he was doing. We thought: ‘Good God, he’s gonna get killed!'” he said. “But my son was a nut, what can I tell you? He knew what he wanted to do.”
He said he had no doubts of his son’s death and that he missed his boy greatly. “Andy scared the hell out of us,” he said. “In retrospect, of course, I’m so, so very proud of him. But at the time, it was scary. I used to be embarrassed by my son. But he knew everything that he did, everything was deliberate, everything was calculated.
“He did a good job with what he intended to do. I am proud of the kid.”
Still, his fans wonder: Could he have even fooled his father?
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