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Is Andy Kaufman Still Alive?; House Democrats Comment On Obamacare Fix; What If JFK Had Lived?

Aired November 14, 2013 - 16:30   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Coming up, a $3 billion offer from Mark Zuckerberg isn't cool, you know what's cool? Turning down $3 billion from Mark Zuckerberg. Facebook tries and fails to buy the next big thing.

But first, he inspired countless imitators and not one, but two REM songs. Is Andy Kaufman sitting at home laughing himself silly that we all think he's gone? We'll ask his brother.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Now it's time for our Pop Culture Lead. Our lead today is the late great Andy Kaufman. Is Andy Kaufman, one of the greatest comedic minds of the last century, secretly still alive? Years ago the world lost him, and his experimental style, more performance art than comedy, really. He burst the on to the hipster scene in the early days of "Saturday Night Live." He was first known as the lovable Latka Gratas from the sitcom "Taxi."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give me the food and clothes and the car and the house with the pool. And the beautiful woman who have a nice body that make you foaming at the mouth.


TAPPER: Kaufman's legendary acts included wrestling women, getting into fights with other comedians on air and taking an entire audience out for milk and cookies after a show. These acts and his famous hoaxes were portrayed by Jim Carrey in 1999 film "Man on the Moon" named after the REM song about Kaufman.

Kaufman died in 1984 from lung cancer when he was just 35 years old. Ever since then, rumors have circulated that he has in fact faked his own death perhaps his greatest hoax of all time. Almost 30 years after his death, a brand new "Andy is alive" rumor is raging through the Internet. Just over the past 24 hours, it takes a little explanation.

Andy's father started an award show years ago to honor rising stars who could have the impact that his son did in the comedic world. This year's ceremony was on Monday, the first since Andy's father's death. He died over the summer. At the show, Andy's brother Michael took the stage and said that although he watched his brother die, he now has questions.

He talked about finding in his brother's writings plans to fake his own death, then to reappear in 1999 at a certain restaurant. Michael says he showed up to the restaurant back then and was handed a letter telling him Andy was happily married with two children and didn't want anyone else to know, especially their father. But now with the father gone, have things changed?


MICHAEL KAUFMAN, ANDY KAUFMAN'S BROTHER: I get a phone call from a young sounding woman who professes to be his daughter, and so I ask her prove to me that you are who you say you are, and she told me a lot of secrets that Andy and I had together, like our secret handshake, the way Andy made fun of me for being too nice of a guy.


TAPPER: He asked if she was in the audience that night and the 24-year-old woman supposedly took the stage and talked briefly about Kaufman, the man she claims is her father. She said he never told the family he was a famous comedian and she had to look him up on YouTube to learn more. So did Michael Kaufman reveal the greatest hoax or are we now just victims of another one?

Joining me now is Michael Kaufman, Andy's brother. Thank you so much for being here. We appreciate it. You've said from the beginning that this does not mean you actually believe he's alive. You are still skeptical but it raises questions. What's your take on what happened on Monday night?

KAUFMAN: I'm still trying to process it all. There were articles that came out today that have forwarded the action, but you know, regardless, I'm questioning things as much as you and everybody else is.

TAPPER: I'm sure you know there's a report from the "Smoking Gun" web site that this woman is an actress and they say that you recruited her to play this role, according to a source of theirs. Can you respond to that? Is that true?

KAUFMAN: That is not true.

TAPPER: So the "Smoking Gun" source is lying, you did not recruit this woman, you never saw her until that moment?


TAPPER: And you have no idea who she is?


TAPPER: Is there a chance that she is scamming you, someone hired her to do this, this is a hoax of some sort and you're now part of the hoax inadvertently? KAUFMAN: Now that it's Thursday, not Monday anymore, I believe I am part of the hoax. Whether she, you know, I don't believe that she's acting on her own, though. But you know, that's all I know.

TAPPER: Do you know how to reach her? Maybe she could have a DNA test, as I believe someone in the audience suggested.

KAUFMAN: Right. I did not know how to reach her but now that did you say "Smoking Gun," I'm sure there's a way of reaching her now.

TAPPER: So just to reiterate, you now don't think that it's true? You think that this is a hoax and you were a victim of the hoax?

KAUFMAN: Correct.

TAPPER: OK, is this an homage to your brother, because he was known for tricks? I heard a story that your late father told one time about his first trick, hiding in the back of a car as your parents went into New York City for a date and halfway across the bridge, he jumped out and said hello, and he loved to do tricks on people from that moment on. Is it possible that this is in that sentiment, in that vein, or is this cruel? Is this mean, if this were my brother who had died and somebody was pretending he was alive, it would bother me?

KAUFMAN: You know, even on Monday night at the Andy Kaufman Award Show, we showed my father who had addressed the audience in 2009 and he was talking about Andy being a hard child to raise and he said maybe the whole thing was a put-on. So even Andy being a bad child may have been a put-on, my father was conjecturing.

TAPPER: All right, so you don't think this is true. You think that this woman is not his daughter. Does it make you angry at all, or are you still just kind of stunned?

KAUFMAN: I'm still processing it. You know, as Andy's brother, you learn over the years, you know, to go with the flow, kind of, and so I have mixed emotions now. I never allowed myself to get too excited. I was always slightly skeptical. So I'm not coming down that far. And I think you had said there's something nice about this for Andy, you know, and as the brother, you know, I put my own feelings aside and you know --

TAPPER: Because we're now talking about Andy Kaufman years after his death so you're willing to be hurt even in the name of this kind of bizarre homage to your brother? Is that what you're trying to say?

KAUFMAN: Yes. I can't be hurt more than I was in 1984. Remember, I was there in 1984. I was at Andy's deathbed. When Andy told me, he told me on Christmas Eve 1983 that he had cancer and he told me not to tell anybody, not even the family, especially not my father because my mother was ill and he thought my father had enough on his hands, so Andy's famous for telling me to keep secrets.

But I saw Andy, I saw him emaciated, I saw him die and I even saw him in the casket. The casket is the least of all of them because my father passed away this summer and it didn't look anything like him. I think the wax museum does a better job than whatever those people are called who get people ready for a coffin.

TAPPER: Morticians. I don't want to be rude because obviously you just lost your father and your brother was a genius and you lost him as well. But I just, as a reporter, I find it very difficult to believe that you weren't part of this in some way because one of the things that was so convincing about this story is you being so convinced by it.

KAUFMAN: I'm convinced by it because of what happened 14 years ago and now I'm starting to even doubt that.

TAPPER: In 1999, the letter that you received when you showed up at that restaurant.


TAPPER: What exactly did that letter say?

KAUFMAN: It said that -- I actually have a copy of it with me. You want me to read it or paraphrase it?

TAPPER: If you could paraphrase it.

KAUFMAN: I'm sorry for all the pain I must have inflicted on, and he mentions family members. Hope you can understand my reason. Number two, he writes number two first, for the heck of it, and number one, to have a life. There was too much pressure to be Andy Kaufman. I just wanted to be Andy. I think that's why I got sick. I had to change completely and quickly. So you know, the letter goes on, but that's his reason and in the letter he tells me please don't tell anybody, especially dad, not a soul until after he dies.

TAPPER: Well, even if this was just a nice way to honor your brother, it was nice having you on the show. I suppose before you go, sir, what do you want people to remember about Andy Kaufman so many years after he's gone and with this renewed interest in him because of this young woman and this bizarre episode?

KAUFMAN: Remember that Andy, he was a genius, he was also a good guy, where most people think he was a problem, but he was actually a good guy, a pleasure to work with, and he's left behind a legacy of all the people who compete in the Andy Kaufman award. Kristen Shull and Reggie Watts are two winners, who attribute the award as giving them the impetus to go forward. Harry Trajeanian who just won did what Andy couldn't accomplish onstage. So it's beautiful, the legacy he's leaving behind is beautiful regardless of what is the truth with all this.

TAPPER: Whether or not I'm a victim of a hoax, Michael Kaufman, thank you for your time. Condolences on your father and I hope we honored your brother a little bit today.

KAUFMAN: Thank you, Jake. Coming up on THE LEAD, he's the CEO of a company that makes no money and Facebook just reportedly offering him $3 billion for the company. So why did the 23-year-old turn it down?

Plus, it's a moment in time that permanently changed this country. How would things be different if President Kennedy had not been assassinated?


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. House Democrats are emerging right now from a meeting with White House Chief Of Staff Dennis McDonough on Capitol Hill after President Obama announced his plan to fix health care insurance cancellations allowing them to be extended for another year. Let's take a listen.

REPRESENTATIVE XAVIER BECERRA (D), CALIFORNIA: -- a gentleman who was frustrated, spent some three hours trying to navigate the web site. And he was not pleased that he had to wait three hours. But after three hours he found that he ended up saving $6,000. So no one should have to wait three hours to find out if they are going to be able to qualify for quality affordable health care. Everybody wants to save $6,000. That's why we're here.

We want Americans to save money on health insurance. More importantly, we want the millions of Americans who could never say they could afford it to buy health insurance, let alone save money, have access to those doctors and those hospitals that are so important for their children and themselves. So we're here to say we will do everything we can to make our health security law work and work well.

When there is an opportunity to improve it, we will work with the president and with our colleagues in Congress to make that happen. On the other hand, we understand that Speaker Boehner today announced that the bill that the House Republican majority will put on the floor of the House tomorrow isn't for the purposes of improving the new health security law.

It isn't for the purpose of trying to help Americans who are trying to secure health insurance through the new marketplaces. It's for the purpose of moving towards once again repealing the Affordable Care Act. So this will be, what, the 46th time that Republicans have tried to repeal all or part of the health security law that Americans now can count on.

So they won't be discriminated against for pre-existing conditions, to make sure that their children if they're under 26 can stay on their health insurance policy, to make sure that seniors continue to watch as that doughnut hole for payment of their prescription drugs evaporates to zero so they don't have to pay so much out of pocket.

That's what we want to do. We want to continue to see health insurance coverage improve for Americans and that's why we're pleased we can join with the president to say that we're ready to improve on the Affordable Care Act. TAPPER: That was Xavier Becerra, a congressman from California, Democrat, part of the Democratic leadership, talking about the Affordable Care Act after speaking with White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough. We will take a quick break. When we come back, a little more of our remembrance of John F. Kennedy as we approach the 50th anniversary of his assassination. Be right back.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Now the Money Lead, what's the real sign that you hit it big? Getting a $3 billion offer for your company or being in position to turn that offer down? Facebook reportedly tried to buy the social media app Snapchat for $3 billion, but the 23-year-old founder replied thanks but no thanks, because he's holding out for a better deal.

Snapchat lets you share pictures and videos that permanently disappear within a matter of seconds. Unlike Facebook where you get inundated with friend requests, Snapchats core audience is teens and college students.

To borrow a line, there are sadly many dates in American history that will live in infamy. For an entire generation of Americans, one of those days is November 22nd, 1963, the day President John F. Kennedy was gunned down in Dallas.

Tonight, a new CNN film looks back on that infamous day almost 50 years ago, "The Assassination Of President Kennedy" premieres tonight at 9:00 p.m. on CNN. I had the chance to talk to one of the country's most celebrated historians, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and asked her about Kennedy's lasting influence.


TAPPER: So you wrote the book "The Fitzgeralds and The Kennedys."


TAPPER: Fifty years after his assassination, how does JFK still influence things?

GOODWIN: It's astonishing how those pictures, if we hadn't had a world of photography and film, I'm not sure that the memory would be as strong as it is right now because he did only have three years in the presidency. But popular people still remember what he looked like as a young man and the idea that he was cut short at that moment of glamour when America was feeling optimistic about the world, when we felt that private people could care about public lives and the peace corps and poverty, there was a sense of a mood of destiny in that generation and when it was cut short, I think there will always be a romantic feeling about it.

TAPPER: In fact, so romantic that at least two authors, Stephen King and Jeff Greenfield, have written books about what might have been had Kennedy survived. GOODWIN: Exactly. In fact, I talked to both when they were writing the books. It was fun to think about what if.

TAPPER: What do you think would have been?

GOODWIN: I think it would have been different. There's no question. On the one hand, I got to say for LBJ, the guy I knew when I was 24 years old and who I have enormous affection for, I'm not sure that JFK would have been able to get the civil rights bill through the Congress. Would he have been able to get voting rights bill, Medicare. I think LBJ had a brilliance with the congress that JFK wouldn't have.

But it's very possible that JFK was a more rational person than LBJ. It's possible when the war was spiraling out of control, he might have said enough and he might have cut it short earlier. That would have made such a difference in the country, but we don't know. He might not have.


TAPPER: Make sure to follow me on Twitter @jaketapper. Check out our show page at for videos, blogs and extras. We also have a page on Facebook. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Join us tomorrow at 4 p.m. Eastern for my interview with actor and activist, Matt Damon. I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer. He is right next door in a little place we like to call "THE SITUATION ROOM" -- Mr. Blitzer.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Jake, thanks very much. Happening now, the president opens up.


PRESIDENT OBAMA: I'm not a perfect man and I will not be a perfect president.


BLITZER: An apology and a proposed fix. Can it save Obamacare? I'll talk to an insurance industry insider who says the president's plan could destabilize the market and make matters even worse.

Plus, debating the Obamacare debacle, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann getting ready to square off against own political commentator, Paul Begala. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.