Celebrity Then And Now
Posted by Ryan Neal
Celebrity Then And Now
Publication: RidiculouslyExtraordinary. Posted by Ryan Neal
Taxi, Pro Wrestling Career
Currently Known For:
January 17, 1949
Taxi, Pro Wrestling Career
Comedy is one of those things that can certainly be seen as an art form, but there are only a handful of people that have taken it to a whole other level. Perhaps the most unique comedian that the world has ever seen was Andy Kaufman, who wasn’t known for his one-liners or puns, but instead for putting on performances that would entertain generations to come. Though he’s no longer with us, Kaufman’s influence is still very much felt in comedy today.
Though he might have come off as eccentric and irreverent during his career, Kaufman actually came from a fairly normal family, having been born in New York City on January 17, 1949. Growing up, Kaufman excelled both in writing and music, but also developed a love for being in front of crowds. While in college, Kaufman had his own TV show that was produced on campus, only adding to his love for performance.
At the end of the 1960s, Kaufman developed what would be a one-man show that eventually incorporated some stand-up comedy. As his act became more finely tuned, Kaufman started to get a lot more attention for his craft. Kaufman had certain characters that audiences seemed to love, including celebrity impressions such as Elvis Presley that really earned him notice when he landed on television for the first time while in Chicago.
Kaufman soon found himself on major television networks during the middle part of the 1970s, including his debut on “The Dean Martin Comedy World”, and later several appearances on “Saturday Night Live”. He continued to make one-off appearances on many shows as a performer, and made his big screen acting debut as a police officer in the 1976 film “God Told Me To”.
The biggest break for Kaufman came when he was cast as Latka Gravas, a character that he had used several times before, on the sitcom “Taxi”. The show as a big hit with audiences as Kaufman was a main member of the cast through the show’s five season run. Twice Kaufman was nominated for a Golden Globe for his work on the show, and it led to roles in early 1980s films such as “In God We Tru$t”, “Heart Beeps” and “My Breakfast with Blassie”.
Continuing his love for performance art, Kaufman continued to break away from tradition when he entered the world of professional wrestling. This included matches against women after he said he couldn’t be pinned, and a famous feud with pro wrestling legend Jerry “The King” Lawler. Like much of professional wrestling, Kaufman’s feuds were staged and he did it for fun, not for the money or publicity. In fact, he never cashed the massive checks that he received from wrestling promoters that he worked with, showing his devotion to the art.
“There was never any real animosity between Andy and I,” Lawler said. “He was a huge wrestling fan, had great respect for the business...I think the wrestling probably influenced Andy’s career and his personality.” He added that Kaufman told him “He hated being called a comedian. He said, ‘I’ve never told a joke in my life.’ He said, ‘I’m a performance artist,’ and he liked just doing things that would get a reaction from a crowd and he actually enjoyed getting a negative reaction more so than a positive.” After all, Kaufman had once said “The more they hate you, the better you’re doing.”
Before he had even made his television debut, Kaufman had a child with his high school girlfriend, a daughter named Maria Bellu-Colonna. Kaufman and his girlfriend then put their daughter up for adoption, and she went for many years without knowing who her father was. It wasn’t until she petitioned to find her biological mother in the early 1990s that she found out the truth, and eventually reunited with her mother. Sadly, Maria never got to meet her father after she was put up for adoption as he had already passed away when she made the family discovery.
Kaufman ultimately passed away from a rare form of lung cancer that he developed in his mid 30s. It was after he developed a cough that wouldn’t go away that he got checked up and found the cancer, and it had unfortunately spread at that point. Despite undergoing treatment and eating a very healthy diet, cancer claimed Kaufman’s life at just 35 years old on May 16, 1984. Since then, there have been many tributes to Kaufman, including a biopic movie starring Jim Carrey called “Man on the Moon” that was released in 1999 which came seven years after the R.E.M. song of the same name based on the comedian.
Before passing away, Kaufman was able to reflect on his legacy. “I want the audience to have a wonderful happy feeling inside them and leave with big smiles on their faces,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind being compared to Charlie Chaplin or W.C. Fields. But I don’t find most comedy funny,” adding that “I’m just singing a song, and if people want to laugh, that’s their business...What’s real? What’s not? That’s what I do in my act, test how other people deal with reality.”