Thursday, December 13, 2018

Andy Kaufman: From Drugged Out Wild Child to Teetotaling Transcendentalist

If there's one performer most would be surprised to learn did NOT use drugs or alcohol during his career, it was the freewheeling Andy Kaufman.  But it wasn't always that way.
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Young hippie Kaufman

Kaufman rose to fame during the hedonistic '70s with comedic peers like Richard Pryor, Robin Williams & John Belushi, all of whom not only dabbled in drugs but stayed saturated in the deep end of the dope life.  And as maniacally funny as they all were, Kaufman had them beat in the weirdness department.  He could walk on stage dressed as a bum with an unshaven face & wild Jew 'fro pandering for change to the audience one day & then return the next week as a born again Christian with a new Gospel-singing fiance...all of which were, of course, carefully crafted performance pieces to bewilder his audience.  But he somehow never cracked a smile or let anyone in on the joke--not even his own family or friends.  Even as he lay dying of cancer in a hospital bed, few believed he was actually serious.  Even his closest loved ones.  To this day people hold onto the vague glimmer of hope that he might have pulled off the ultimate 'prank' & faked his death in 1984.

Andy & Christian "fiance" on sketch comedy show Fridays. Contains hilarious anti-drug sermon.

Andrew Geoffrey Kaufman grew up in Great Neck, Long Island as the son of two "nice, normal Jewish parents".  He showed signs of troubled behavior as a small child & was taken to various psychologists before eventually growing into an aimless teen in the turbulent '60s.  Along with his high school pals who referred to themselves as "F-Troop," Andy would drink himself silly, take LSD in Central Park at night (not exactly safe) & smoke tons of pot to pass the days.  His teenage dream was to have "frosted beer mugs & a keg for my own self when I get rich & famous!" according to Bill Zehme's Lost in the Funhouse.  By his own recollection, Andy also took "DET, LSD, Dexedrine, and all kindsa things" on a regular basis, though his friends say he was much more moderate.  He was particularly keen on Thunderbird & cigarettes.  One night he & a friend got stoned & rode their bikes through town naked on a dare. Typical teen stuff.   /s

Beneath the surface, Andy was an awkward & painfully shy dude who struggled with friends, much less women.  But he did occasionally make it with a few of the looser chicks in the group.  In the midst of his drugged out Halcyon days, Andy impregnated his girlfriend Gloria.  They decided to place the baby for adoption, though Andy did offer to marry her to his credit.  He'd later become notorious for his sex drive, often having marathon sex sessions at the Bunny Ranch & other brothels throughout Nevada.  His final girlfriend Lynne Margulies & close friend & writer Bob Zmuda also claim he was bisexual, though there's no proof whatsoever to back this up outside their book "Andy Kaufman: The Truth...Finally". 

However all this partying had to end sometime, and for Andy that time was around the period when he started getting serious about his career.  He replaced the drugs with Transcendental Meditation, a faddish New Age movement popular among stars like The Beatles in the '70s.  But to Andy it was his saving grace & the only path to career success.  He would often spend hours meditating & end up late for gigs, angering managers & fans. 

"The last time I took any drugs of any kind was November 20, 1968" he recalled proudly.  (That's because you have to have a clear mind before beginning TM, he said).  He credited TM not only with getting him clean & sober but with keeping him grounded & allowing him to maximize his self-confidence, overcoming his innate shyness to become (in)famous.

After years of devoted practice, Andy was kicked out of TM for his wrestling bit, which was considered too disruptive for the peaceful image of the cult--ahh, movement.  This sent him into a tailspin of depression, pushing him over the edge at a time when he needed comfort the most.  Taxi had been cancelled, his mom had a stroke, his Broadway show closed in a day & he'd been voted off Saturday Night Live shortly before. 
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Maharishi Mahesh Yogi: TM's Guru

But the worst was yet to come:  Despite his clean living health nut lifestyle, Andy was diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer in late 1983.  He died May 16th the following year.  Or, if you choose to believe Margulies, he died of AIDS acquired through gay sex in San Francisco.  Or, if you prefer Zmuda's version of events, he never died at all & has been faking his death for the last 30+ years waiting to come back & shock the world. 

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Andy's passport; issued 2 months before "death"

Whatever you believe came of Andy Kaufman, his legacy lives on in today's avant-garde performers & old reruns of Taxi & SNL.  It's not hard to see the influence drugs & the crazy 1960s had on shaping his worldview & performance ethos.

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Not so funny these days.  *Insert transgender joke*
   
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Receiving psychic surgery in the Philippines
  
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We wish.








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