Quick Andy Kaufman Facts:
- Andy Kaufman began performing at age 8, when he would do magic at birthday parties and broadcast an imaginary TV show from his bedroom.
- He started doing stand-up on the East Coast after graduating college in 1971.
- He joined the cast of Taxi in 1978, where he played Latka Gravas until 1983.
- Later in his career, he reinvented himself as a professional wrestler but would only wrestle women. He dubbed himself "Intergender Wrestling Champion of the World."
- A life-long health freak, Kaufman was diagnosed with a rare lung cancer in 1983. He died in 1984 at age 35.
Andy Kaufman Overview:
Young Andy Kaufman:
Moving to Television:
In 1975, America got its first real glimpse of Kaufman when he performed on the premiere episode of Saturday Night Live. He performed his famous "Mighty Mouse" routine, in which he played a record of the cartoon theme song and waited nervously to lip synch along with a single line: "Here I come to save the day!"
Over the next three years, Kaufman continued to perform stand-up at clubs across the country, including The Improv, The Bitter End and The Comedy Store. He also made regular television appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and became a cast member on the short-lived Van Dyke and Co.
Taxi and Tony Clifton:
Though he admittedly disliked sitcoms, Kaufman joined the cast of the sitcom Taxi in 1978, where he played mechanic Latka Gravas (a variation on his "foreign man" character he developed in his stand-up act) until it was canceled in 1983.
A regular feature started to appear in Kaufman's act around the same time: sets from sleazy nightclub singer Tony Clifton, who Kaufman played in disguise to actively annoy audiences. Kaufman actually insisted that Taxi producers hire "Clifton" for regular spots on the show, but he was fired after two episodes for being difficult. Kaufman couldn't have been happier with that result.
The Intergender Wrestling Champion:
In the '80s, he began a feud with wrestler Jerry "The King" Lawler. At a 1982 match in Tennessee, Lawler seriously injured Kaufman with a pile-driver. Both the feud and injury were later revealed to be a hoax.
Everybody Hates Andy Kaufman:
Andy Kaufman Says Goodbye:
In 1983, Kaufman -- a lifelong non-smoker, vegetarian and overall health nut -- was diagnosed with lung cancer. Though he tried a number of treatments -- including an all-natural diet, chemotherapy and even traveling to the Philippines for "psychic surgery" -- the cancer spread. Kaufman died in Los Angeles in May of 1984.
As though even his death was an elaborate hoax, one year later Tony Clifton made a public appearance at the Comedy Store. It was actually Kaufman's lifelong friend and co-conspirator Bob Zmuda in the Clifton costume.
Additional Andy Kaufman Facts
- After a 1979 concert at Carnegie Hall, Kaufman took the entire audience of 2,800 out for milk and cookies.
- While on Taxi, Kaufman also worked as a busboy at Jerry's Famous Deli in California.
- When audiences at comedy clubs grew familiar with his act and would demand specific routines, Kaufman would instead read them The Great Gatsby live.
- Kaufman made two wrestling-inspired films. The first, My Breakfast with Blassie, was an interview with wrestling legend (and one of Kaufman's heroes) Fred Blassie. The second, I'm From Hollywood, documented his wrestling career and feud with Jerry Lawler.
- Kaufman inspired the R.E.M. song "Man on the Moon" ("Andy, are you goofing on Elvis?"). In 1999, Jim Carrey played Kaufman in a Milos Forman-directed biopic of the same name.