The idea that Andy Kaufman faked his death as his greatest hoax upon the world has remained a persistent part of the comedian’s mythology—a reminder to all his troll descendents that, if you keep this up, no one will even believe you when you die. And according to a report in The Comic’s Comic (as passed along by Defamer), this year’s 9th Annual Andy Kaufman Awards saw either the jaw-dropping confirmation that Kaufman did indeed pull off his greatest/cruelest prank, or just the latest in a long series of posthumous gotchas, devised with his closest confidantes as a means of keeping his mystique alive, at least.
It all went down during the closing ceremony, when Kaufman’s brother Michael took the stage and shared how years ago, he’d found an essay written by Andy detailing elaborate plans on how he would fake his own death, ending with the pronouncement that he would then reappear at his favorite restaurant on Christmas Eve, 1999—15 years after he died from lung cancer, as seen on his official death certificate. Michael Kaufman said he went to that restaurant at the appointed time, where he was met by a stranger bearing a letter, which Michael then proceeded to read to the crowd. It explained that Andy had decided to fake his death because he “just wanted to get away from being Andy Kaufman.” It further stated that he’d gone into hiding with a woman, with whom he’d raised a daughter—a daughter who had subsequently made contact with Michael a few months prior.
Then things got extra weird, as Kaufman brought his alleged niece on stage, whereupon she confirmed that her father was alive, that he is “always” watching the awards and their contestants—that he'd even considered attending this year—and that the “the passing of [their] father [Stanley Kaufman] this July made him want to reach out” to his brother. TMZ has the video.
The woman was never named, though the show’s producer and longtime Andy Kaufman friend Al Parinello told The Hollywood Reporter that she gave the surname “McCoy,” an alias Andy Kaufman often used. Visibly emotional, Michael Kaufman then asked the audience to “let her have her privacy,” but also indicated he has no idea what to believe. As one fan recapped on Facebook, “It was fucking fucked up.”
But was it real? As always with these sorts of things, yes and no. On Parinello’s part, he says, “I witnessed the entire thing and I can tell you without a doubt this was not a prank”—though of course, Parinello saying that could be part of the prank. Michael Kaufman has refused further comment, telling THR that the woman who claimed to be his niece is “impossible to reach, for reasons he would explain later.” Meanwhile, The Comic’s Comic says that some other attendees identified the girl as a theater student—though, again, no one was certain whether that meant she’s playing a part. The Smoking Gun, of course, believes she definitely is, identifying her as Alexandra Tatarsky, whose real father is a Manhattan psychologist. All anyone seems sure of is that Andy Kaufman has managed, with a little help from his friends, to stay alive in some fashion for nearly 30 years now, even if it’s just in stories like this one.