Nearly 30 years after his reported death, Andy Kaufman is the biggest man in entertainment.
According to everyone from coroners to gravediggers, the entertainer/comedian passed away at 35 from lung cancer. But to fans of the button-pushing, envelope-breaking performer, the myth that he might have faked his death has only gathered steam with time.
Rumors reached the breaking point at the annual Andy Kaufman Awards when his brother "confirmed" Kaufman wasn't just alive, but had a 24-year-old daughter. The daughter has since turned out to be an acting student, and depending on reports, she was either pranking Andy's brother, or was in collusion with him. Regardless of the facts, which may never become clear, Kaufman continues to be relevant from beyond the grave (or from his hideout in the suburbs, depending on who you believe).
But for a younger generation who may not even know Kaufman from the Jim Carrey-starring biopic "Man on the Moon," which hit theaters 14 years ago, here's six reasons why people care about Kaufman, and how he still influences entertainment to this day:
"Here I Come To Save The Day"
Kaufman never considered himself a comedian, yet given his boundary-pushing routines, there was no other entertainment slot to stick him in. His first routine remains one of his most famous.
Pretending to be a heavily accented Foreign Man, he would do terrible non-impersonations of celebrities while playing the theme from "Mighty Mouse." Viewers were so uncomfortable, they had no choice but to laugh, and Kaufman's legend was born. Most famously he performed the routine on the first season of "Saturday Night Live," and the moment is still considered one of the most iconic in the show's long history.
Modern Day Equivalent: Zach Galifinakis
Back in the 1970s and early '80s, one of the biggest shows on TV was "Taxi," set (appropriately) in a taxi company. Kaufman translated his popular Foreign Man character to the screen for the character of Latka. Latka had multiple personality disorder, meaning Kaufman could, in any given episode, play an entirely different character.
Modern Day Equivalent: Sacha Baron Cohen
As if that wasn't enough of a range, Kaufman also created a boorish, overbearing character named Tony Clifton, who Kaufman insisted was an entirely separate person. And sometimes, he was: Clifton was often portrayed by Kaufman's co-conspirator Bob Zmuda and others. Clifton was even more of an anti-presence than Kaufman, leading to "Clifton" being banned from the set of "Taxi."
Modern Day Equivalent:Murray Hill
Milk and Cookies
Not to get too esoteric, but you can trace Kaufman's performance style directly to the "happenings" of the 1960s and 70s, surreal performance art pieces that engaged audiences in non-traditional ways. Kaufman's most famous was a Carnegie Hall concert where he loaded the entire audience onto tour buses, gave them milk and cookies, and then continued the "show" the next day on the Staten Island Ferry.
Modern Day Equivalent: Lady Gaga
In case you haven't guessed, Kaufman's big thing was pointing out how fake the idea of performance is. So it was a natural fit that he would get involved in wrestling, leading to an actual, injury inducing appearance on Letterman with wrestler Jerry "The King" Lawler.
Modern Day Equivalent: Jackass
Voted Off The Island
Andy Kaufman's last "Saturday Night Live" appearance in 1983 featured a phone vote to fans, asking whether he should appear on the show ever again. More people (195,544) voted to kick Kaufman off the show, and he never guest starred again.
Modern Day Equivalent: Nearly everything on Adult Swim
Andy Kaufman's biggest legacy? Actually dying, and nobody believing him. Though the comedian passed away of lung cancer, even his closest friends weren't sure he whether he was joking, as he had always said his greatest prank could be to fake his own death, then reappear decades later. And with the 30th anniversary of his death coming up, could he maybe... No, that would crazy, right?
Modern Day Equivalent: Nope, only Kaufman could pull something like this off.