Andy Kaufman: Life in Reverse

“. . . You don’t have any brains. I’m from Hollywood and I have the brains.” —Andy Kaufman

“Andy thinks like I did about wrestling. I didn’t care if you loved me or hated me. What the hell’s the difference? As long as you intrigue your fans. Andy has balls.” —Buddy “Nature Boy” Rogers

“Everyone thinks he’s me. It’s really destroying his career.” —Andy Kaufman on Tony Clifton


Jim Carrey stars as Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon, a fairly entertaining film that barely scratches the surface of Andy’s life and work. Although Carrey is at times brilliant in his portrayal of the wild-eyed performance artist, the movie itself is little but a patched-together series of Kaufman’s best-known sketches that can already be viewed on Saturday Night Live reruns and videos such as I’m From Hollywood. Nobody ever really understood Andy and the movie doesn’t even attempt to address the motivations behind his warped sense of humor. In addition, the first few minutes of this one should have ended up on the cutting-room floor.


Lifelong chain-smoker “Buffalo Bob” Smith dies of cancer at his Flat Rock, North Carolina, home at the age of 80.


“A Comedy Salute to Andy Kaufman” is aired, featuring classic outtakes from Andy’s career and interviews with friends such as Robin Williams and Rodney Dangerfield. The show is marred by its choice of co-hosts: unfunny television actor Bob Saget and has-been former Taxi star Marilu Henner.


Wrestling legend Freddie Blassie is inducted into the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame along with Buddy “Nature Boy” Rogers, Gorilla Monsoon and Chief Jay Strongbow.

“Here’s a truck stop instead of St. Peter’s . . . “ – Reportedly dead for the past 10 years, Andy Kaufman is spotted bussing tables at Honey’s All-Nite Diner & Truck Stop outside of Memphis, Tennessee.


“Here’s a little agit for the never-believer . . .” – R.E.M. releases its album, Automatic for the People, which includes a tribute to Andy called “Man on the Moon.”


“Did you think I’d crumble? Did you think I’d lay down and die?” – On the one-year anniversary of Andy’s death, Tony Clifton appears live at The Comedy Store singing “I Will Survive.” Among the attendees at this historic event are Rodney Dangerfield, Eddie Murphy, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, Robin Williams, Dan Ackroyd and a then-unknown comic named Jim Carrey.


Andy Kaufman dies of lung cancer at the age of 35. He is buried in Beth David Cemetery in Elmont, New York. His tombstone reads: “Andy Kaufman/Beloved Son, Brother and Grandson/Jan. 17, 1949-May 16, 1984/We Love You Very Much”

Andy heads to the Philippines in a last-ditch, desperate attempt to find a miracle cure for his cancer through “psychic surgery.”

The National Enquirer publishes a photo of an emaciated Andy in a wheelchair with the headline, “Taxi Star Tells Pals: I’m Dying of Cancer.”


“What if I faked my own death?” – During a routine physical, Andy is diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer.

In the Rodney Dangerfield special, “I Can’t Take It No More,” Andy appears in a skit as “Dr. Vinnie Boombatz.”

Appearing on The David Letterman Show, Andy introduces Dave to his “children:” three black guys in their early 20s.

Taxi finally gets the ax; Andy is ecstatic to finally be free from the sitcom.

During an appearance on The David Letterman Show, Andy brings his parents on stage and tells them he is sorry for being such a difficult kid growing up and that he loves them.

The video I’m From Hollywood is released, chronicling Andy’s brief and bizarre foray into the world of professional wrestling.


Saturday Night Live conducts a phone poll that asks the audience whether or not Andy Kaufman should be banned from the show for life. Andy loses the vote 195,544 to 169,186.

Tony Clifton appears on The Fantastic Miss Piggy Show.

Jerry Lawler slaps Andy on the David Letterman Show. Andy retaliates by cussing Lawler out and throwing hot coffee on him as Dave sits there in a daze, mortified and nearly speechless.

Andy faces off against Jerry Lawler in a grudge match at the Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis, Tennessee. After only six minutes, Lawler pile-drives Andy twice, sending him to the hospital.

“Mr. Lawler, I have the brains, I’m from Hollywood and you’re just a hick.” – Andy makes a series of videotapes insulting Jerry “The King” Lawler and Memphis wrestling fans in general. In one tape, he even goes as far as to instruct the yahoos of Memphis on the proper use of toilet paper and soap.


“Mister Fred Blassie in a breakfast mess . . . “ – Andy meets legendary professional wrestler and manager Classy Freddie Blassie (“ya pencil-neck geek”) for breakfast at a Sambo’s restaurant. The result of this historic meeting, My Breakfast with Blassie, an irreverent spoof of the highbrow My Dinner with Andre, is released on video in 1984.

Elvis Presley is sighted working the graveyard shift at an E-Z Mart in La Vaca, Arkansas.

In one of the most entertaining episodes of Taxi in the entire history of the series, Latka suffers from a multiple personality disorder and does a dead-on impression of Alex (Judd Hirsch).

Heartbeeps, a futuristic comedy about two housecleaning robots who fall in love starring Andy Kaufman and Bernadette Peters, is released to dismal reviews and negative reactions from audiences across the country. Critic Leonard Maltin gives the film 1 1/2 stars for the makeup work. Andy’s halfhearted foray into films is all but over.

During the World Intergender Wrestling Championship at the Atlantic City Hotel and Casino, Andy pins Playboy Playmate Susan Smith to retain his coveted title. “Charity? Nobody said anything about charity. I want my money. I earned it. If you want charity, go get Jerry Lewis.”

Andy causes disruption on the live broadcast of Fridays, an unfunny Saturday Night Live rip-off, when he stops in the middle of a skit and refuses to say his lines. Michael Richards (who would go on to fame as “Cosmo Kramer” in Seinfeld) starts throwing cue cards at Andy, who in turn throws a glass of water at Richards. All hell breaks loose on the set and the producers quickly go to a commercial.

During his performance as an opening act for Rodney Dangerfield, Tony Clifton is assaulted by pissed-off audience members who throw bottles and other bits of debris at the lounge lizard.

Andy starts working as a busboy at Jerry’s Famous Deli in Studio City.


Bug-eyed British comedian Marty Feldman directs his first film, In God We Tru$t. Andy steals the show as televangelist, Armageddon T. Thunderbird, a cross between Jim Jones and Jimmy Swaggert. The film bombs both critically and commercially.


Andy meets pop artist Andy Warhol at a late-nite diner. The two discuss their affection for Howdy Doody.

Tony Clifton gets thrown off the Dinah Shore Show after insulting the host.

After the Golden Globe Awards ceremony, jealous Taxi costar Jeff Conaway punches Andy in the face.

“I never told a joke in my life.” – Andy plays Carnegie Hall and invites the entire audience of 2,800 for milk and cookies after the show.

Andy declares himself World Intergender Wrestling Champion; starts wrestling women during performances.


After a concert at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Andy personally shakes the hand of every member of the audience.

Tony Clifton shows up for a Taxi rehearsal with two prostitutes and starts insulting the entire cast. He is physically ejected from the Paramount lot by security guards.

“Hey baby, are you losing touch?” – Even though he’s bringing in $10,000 an episode playing Latka on Taxi, Andy starts work as a part-time busboy at Posh Bagel on Santa Monica Boulevard.

Andy reluctantly takes the role of “Latka” on the new TV comedy Taxi although he thinks sitcoms are beneath his unique form of performance art.

“No! No! I won! I answered all of the questions right!” – Andy appears as Bachelor No. 3 (calling himself “Baji Kimran”) and strikes out with a babe on “The Dating Game.”


A bloated, weary and prescription-drug addled Elvis tries to take a dump in an upstairs bathroom in his Graceland home. He is found dead the next morning, sprawled out on a red shag rug in the john. The King is dead.

“Tenk you veddy much!” – During an appearance on Johnny Carson, Andy does his usual Elvis impersonation and then takes off his costume to reveal an “I Love Grandma” sweatshirt.

Andy appears as “Foreign Man” for a week’s stint on “Hollywood Squares.” He is never invited back.


“Here I come to save the day!” – Andy appears on the debut episode of Saturday Night Live on October 11, lip-synching to one refrain from the theme from Mighty Mouse.


Andy starts his standup career at the Improv Comedy Club. During one of his acts, he curls up in a sleeping bag on stage and goes to sleep in front of the bewildered audience.


Andy hitchhikes to Las Vegas and meets his idol, Elvis Presley, after one of the King’s sellout performances at the Las Vegas Hilton.


After a couple years of hard partying, Andy drops acid for the last time and soon takes his first Transcendental Meditation course (starting a lifelong devotion to the tenets of TM).


Andy receives a 4-F from the draft board after scoring a zero on the psychology test. He will not have to go to Vietnam or serve any time in the Army.


Andy starts hanging out in Greenwich Village, dropping acid and smoking massive amounts of pot.


Andy discovers two influential novels that he will reread dozens of times over the years: Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and Hubert Selby Jr.’s Last Exit to Brooklyn.

Buddy “Nature Boy” Rogers lose his world title to Bruno Sammartino at Madison Square Garden. Andy and his brother watch this historic match, which takes a total of 48 seconds, from the “nosebleed” seats.


Andy’s Grandma Pearl takes him to see “Turko the Half Man” at a freak show in Times Square.


“The Howdy Doody Show” finally goes off the air after 13 seasons. “Buffalo Bob” Smith moves to Florida to get a tan.


Andy’s grandfather gives him the single “I Need Your Love Tonight” by Elvis Presley.


Andy starts his show-biz career as an entertainer at neighborhood children’s parties and soon learns how to play the congas.


Elvis Presley plays a Las Vegas gig for the first time in his career, billed with comedian Shecky Greene. The show is an unmitigated disaster and Elvis stays away from the Strip for the next 13 years.


“I really thought there was a camera in the wall . . .” – Andy starts daily “TV broadcasts” off his bedroom wall.


Andy is born in New York City on January 17, the first child of Janice and Stanley Kaufman.


“Say kids, what time is it?” – NBC debuts “The Howdy Doody Show,” costarring “Buffalo Bob” Smith.


Elvis Aron Presley is born in Tupelo, Mississippi. Jesse, his twin brother, is stillborn and buried in a cardboard box.

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