Who Is Tony Clifton?
(?) September 9th, 1999

Andy Kaufman is one of the most beloved comedic talents in recent years.  At least that's what everyone says.  He had such a profound, explosive affect on our culture that we've seemed to have blocked him out of our social consciousness like a bad car accident. 

A quick survey of the members of my generation reveals the stunning fact that very few of my GenX compatriots even know who he was.  Recent pop-culture rejuvenations of the legend of Andy Kaufman, like R.E.M.'s Man on the Moon and the like-titled Milos Forman film Man on the Moon, have, to continue the metaphor, stirred memories that our cultural ubermind would rather not remember. 

On a personal note, I was rather lucky.  One of Andy's frequent foils was David Letterman's show, where the infamous Jerry Lawler debacle took place.  Throughout my childhood, Letterman inundated my sense of humor, thus engendering my sense of irony and annoying self-deprecation.  But, for some reason, Letterman fans and Kaufman fans overlap.  My parents are fans of both and (my father bought the family's first VCR just so he could record Late Night) thus, so am I. 

But, Andy was a genius, a trailblazer, a visionary, an uncategorizable maverick and he died before his time.  These are the prime contagion vectors for the age-old "I Bet He Faked His Death" syndrome.

Andy seems to have the most likelihood of being successful in his obfuscation.  Elvis has the infrastructure of the American government behind him, but he seemed to lack any real desire to live, and was way too recognizable to blend into society.  Jim Morrison was too much a drugged-out junkie to do anything as creative as faking his death, and James Dean wouldn't have had enough time to enjoy his success to want to cut it short.  But Andy's entire career was built on freaking people out and messing with their minds.  Also, Andy was a rather nondescript fellow and was a relatively low-ranking celebrity, making his disappearance into society more likely.  He was also frighteningly adept in making sure that he was the only person who knew what was going on.  To this day, nobody is sure whether or not the Jerry Lawler debacle was "real," and we still haven't gotten to the bottom of the whole Tony Clifton thing. 

It would be really, really cool to see Andy Kaufman show up at the opening of the movie about his life.  There are rumors that, while the end credits role, the "real" Andy Kaufman will be filmed showing Jim Carrey how to act like Andy Kaufman...though nobody has yet explained how this will be possible. 

Yep, it would be really cool.  But it's so incredibly unlikely that we fell silly even contemplating it.  Read the link at the bottom of this entry to take a look at the so-called "real story" of Andy Kaufman's death, and decide for yourself.  But, as conspiracies go, we sure do like this one...



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