By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
By Charles Lam
On Nov. 2, Steve Rocco won a place on the Orange Unified School District board of trustees without mounting a campaign—or even showing his face.
Orange school officials—and campaign consultants everywhere—scratched their heads at the notion that a phantom candidate could win thousands of votes merely by calling himself an "educator/writer." News of Rocco's victory ran in the New York Post and Canada's Ottawa Citizen as well as on National Public Radio and NBC's Todayshow. A steady stream of journalists and television producers descended on his rustic Santa Ana home in an unsuccessful effort to get him to answer his front door. Neighbors and acquaintances talked of Rocco's habit of showing up at the Santa Ana swap meet to sell records stamped property of a local public library—and how he'd yell, "No bargains!" or, "Don't touch!" and, "I'm watching you!" to anybody who tried to purchase them.
And when it seemed Rocco would never leave his house to claim his seat on the Orange school board, a man identifying himself as Rocco called Pasadena-based public radio station KPCC-FM and promised—dramatically—to show up for the Orange Unified School District's Dec. 9 trustee swearing-in ceremony.
The bizarre no-show led to speculation Rocco doesn't exist. But informed sources say Rocco is not only real, but also arguably the most talented performance artist in the history of Orange County politics—perhaps the most talented artist in the history of performance art: Andy Kaufman.
Rocco hints at his real identity in his website, andykaufmanlives.com. There, he claims Andy Kaufman "faked his own death" in what was obviously the most masterful stunt in a masterful career and went on to live in relative obscurity.
"Welcome to AndyKaufmanlives.com; my name is Steve Rocco," the website declares. "As the URL suggests, this site is for the express purpose of sharing my opinion that Andy Kaufman faked his death in 1984. Although the name of the site implies that I believe Andy Kaufman is alive, that is not necessarily true. For all I know, Andy Kaufman got hit by a bus in 1985 and is no longer among us, but I do not believe Andy Kaufman died as reported in the papers."
After warning off people who may "be upset or angered by discussion of Andy Kaufman faking his death," Rocco explains that he "decided to set up this page [because] I do not see anyone discussing the concept that Andy Kaufman really faked his death."
A quick Google search of the words "Andy Kaufman faked death" returns 18,000 hits.
"On many occasions, someone will bring up the possibility that he faked his death, but always with a wink, wink, nudge, nudge attitude," he writes, displaying a sophisticated knowledge of Monty Python trivia. "The occasional message board comment will start out 'Do you think he could be alive?' Then after a few replies, someone throws out the death certificate or some other 'fact' and the discussion ends. I am taking this opportunity to say that I have always firmly believed and will always firmly believe that Andy Kaufman faked his death."
Immediately below that declaration of faith, Rocco provides readers with a fascinating Q&A—with himself. It's a technique Rocco employed in Hey, Man, the self-produced, self-distributed pamphlet of self-interviews in which Rocco grills himself about his resolution of the Kodak/Albertsons/SmokeCraft Sausage conspiracy that led to his 1980 conviction for shoplifting several rolls of film and a sausage from a Santa Ana grocery store.
Questions from Rocco to Rocco about Kaufman include: "How did he pull it off?" ("Beats me. I have theories, none of which are important."); "How could he hide for so long?" ("Who says he's hiding?"); and "What about the death certificate? Isn't that proof positive he didn't fake his death?" ("Don't you think 'faking your own death' would involve a death certificate?").
Following this lengthy interview, Rocco/Kaufman answers questions about Steve Rocco:
Q: Steve Rocco, do you have anything to do with the Andy-returns sites or press releases?
A: Absolutely not. I stand on the corner and stare at the sky. They walk up behind you and yell boo.
Q: So, Steve Rocco, if you believe that a fake death is as absolute as a real death and the artist formerly known as Andy Kaufman will not be returning, what's the point of the andykaufmanlives.com effort?
A: The gold buried beneath your feet has no value until someone hands you a map.
Q: Are people suckers for believing that Andy faked his death, or are they suckers for believing he died?
Q: Are you, Mr. Steve Rocco, Andy Kaufman?
A: No. I am someone who knows deep in my bones that the man known as Andy Kaufman, "star of Taxi," did not die as reported on May 16, 1984. I am also someone who knows that the character Andy Kaufman exists only in legend.
Despite Rocco's website, most people continue to believe that after years of entertaining people with his wacky antics—singing the Mighty Mouse theme song, reading endless passages from F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and wrestling fat chicks—Kaufman died of cancer in 1984.