Santa Ana lawyer Fernando Leone sent the Weekly a letter Dec. 8 on behalf of his client, Steve Rocco, the newly elected Orange Unified School District trustee. Leone's letter stated that "this law office has been engaged by [Rocco] with regard to whether any of the onslaught of media coverage concerning him may constitute actionable libel or slander."
According to Leone, the recent Weekly cover story "If You Believe They Chose a Man Who's a Loon" [Dec. 3] "states erroneously that Mr. Rocco hints at his real identity in his website, www.andykaufmanlives.com," and that Rocco "has absolutely nothing to do with the website."
While it is noteworthy that Leone's letter carefully fails to deny that Rocco is indeed the late performance artist Andy Kaufman, it does raise an important mystery: If Steve Rocco doesn't have anything to do with Steve Rocco's website, then who does?
The website, which maintains that the hilarious performance artist faked his death, claims to be operated by a Steve Rocco of Orangestad—which is Afrikaans for "Orange State," but could be a bizarre reference for Orange County or the city of Orange—although previously, the site said Rocco lived in Los Angeles. However, the website is actually registered to a Stephen Maddox of Greenfield, Indiana, who is alleged to be the general manager of a company called Puzzlementary Productions.
In an andykaufmanlives.com message forum run by a woman named Claire Channel (no relation to Clear Channel) and in correspondence with the Weekly—Maddox states he was approached by Rocco to buy the URL and to maintain the site, receiving instructions by fax. It should be noted that Ms. Channel could easily be Rocco himself, as anyone could easily set up the message forum under an assumed name. Meanwhile, in earlier correspondences cached online, Maddox attributes this story to someone named Enrique Presley.
That's not terribly concerning—aliases are commonplace on the Internet. However, Rocco makes a point of thanking "Enrique Presley of Puzzlementary Productions," which is physically impossible if he's the same person, and denying any connection to Claire Channel when recommending her message board. This may be true, except that—as pointed out by many posters on the forum—e-mails from both Channel and Maddox come from the same IP address.
It should also be noted that "Stephen Maddox" is the name of the character in the action film Running Man who is tracking down someone who faked his own death. And when pressed online about his identity, Maddox replied, "Yes, my legal name is Stephen Maddox, although it is not the name I grew up with."
It's unclear why Rocco established a website about Andy Kaufman. "Here in LA, I find there is roughly one talented person for every 50,000 untalented people," he says, utilizing the sort of logic that echoes Kaufman's "I'm from Hollywood" rationale for why he believed he could defeat wrestler Jerry Lawler in his long-lived wrestling hoax.
Other Internet postings only deepen the mystery. A June 14, 2004, press release sent over eMediaWire from Maddox originated at an Indianapolis address. It seeks Andy Kaufman look-alikes, or those resembling Nicolas Cage, Krist Novoselic (the other guy from Nirvana), Harry Houdini or Enrique Presley for an "upcoming reality project 'The Death of Celebrity, The Immortality of Legend.'"
More recently, "Puzzlementary filmmaker Steve Rocco" registered as a member of IndieWire.com, a popular website for independent filmmakers. The only information listed there for Rocco is a link to www.puzzlementary.com, which redirects you to AndyKaufmanlives.com.
So are Steve Rocco, Stephen Maddox, Claire Channel and Enrique Presley all the same person? And are all those individuals really Andy Kaufman? And is this all a PR stunt for an upcoming movie?
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Don't count on Rocco for the answer.
"I personally don't think Andy will ever truly return," Rocco says. "To me, the bad would overshadow the good: legal investigations, a public outcry concerning the way he treated his family, friends and all his fans. I think if he returns, it would have to be in a way even more mysterious than the way he disappeared. Leaving twice as many questions as we have now."
VISIT THE ROCCO FILES ONLINE ARCHIVE.