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A magazine reporting on the rumours concerning McCartney.
The magazine report that rebutted the rumours.

"Paul is dead" is an urban legend alleging that Paul McCartney of the band The Beatles died in 1966 and was replaced by a look-alike and sound-alike.

The legend dates from September 1969 when students published claims that ‘clues’ to McCartney's death, presumed to have been placed deliberately by The Beatles or others, could be found among the lyrics and artwork of The Beatles' recordings. The rumour was rebutted by a contemporary interview with McCartney published in November 1969[1] but continues to attract some interest.

A claim that a hoax was perpetrated by The Beatles themselves, either as a joke or to stimulate record sales, has been denied by the band members.[citation needed]



In February 1967, the Beatles Monthly magazine published a 'false rumour' report denying rumours that Paul had been in a fatal accident on the M1.[2] Paul's Mini Cooper had, in fact, been wrecked by a friend on that road but Paul was not in it at the time. [1][3] The first known printed article on the subject "Is Paul McCartney Dead?", was written by Tim Harper[4] in the Drake University paper, the Times-Delphic, on 17 September 1969. The rumours surrounding McCartney began in earnest on 12 October 1969, when someone telephoned Russ Gibb (a radio DJ on WKNR-FM in Dearborn, Michigan serving the Detroit market). Identifying himself as "Tom" (allegedly Tom Zarski[5] of Eastern Michigan University), the caller announced that McCartney was dead. He also asked Gibb to play "Revolution 9" backwards. Gibb thought he heard "Turn me on, dead man."[6] Gibb also produced (with John Small and Dan Carlisle) The Beatle Plot, an hour-long radio show on the rumour. The show aired on WKNR-FM on October 12, 1969 and has been repeated in the years since on Detroit radio.

Fred LaBour and John Gray, juniors at the University of Michigan, having heard the WKNR broadcast, published a review of Abbey Road called "McCartney Dead; New Evidence Brought to Light", itemising various "clues" of McCartney's death on Beatles album covers, in the October 14, 1969 issue of the Michigan Daily. LaBour and Gray invented many of the "clues", and were astonished when the story was picked up first by newspapers in Detroit, then Chicago, and by the weekend, both coasts. Beatleologist Andru J. Reeve, opines that LaBour's story was "the single most significant factor in the breadth of the rumor's spread." [7][8] Terry Knight, a former Detroit DJ and then singer on Capitol Records, had visited the Beatles in London for the August 1968 White Album session during which Ringo Starr walked out. Although Terry's song, "Saint Paul", was written about the impending breakup of The Beatles, it was picked up by radio stations in autumn 1969 as a tribute to "the late" Paul McCartney.[9] Of this, Richard Harrington commented in 1994: "[T]his very strange song actually came out in May 1969 - five months before the first article on the subject appeared in the campus paper at Iowa's Drake University. More mysteriously, 'Saint Paul' is the only Knight composition administered by Maclen Music — McCartney and [band-mate John] Lennon's exclusive publishing company!" [10]

The rumour gained momentum when Roby Yonge, an overnight disc jockey on the Top 40 station WABC in New York, discussed it "incoherently" on 21 October 1969. Yonge was immediately fired for making the broadcast.[11][12] WABC, a 50,000-watt clear-channel station, could be heard clearly in 38 states, and as far as Africa's Atlantic coast.[13] Soon, national and international media picked up on the story and a new "Beatle craze" took off.

Celebrity lawyer F. Lee Bailey hosted an hour-long RKO television special in which he both prosecuted and defended the claims, cross-examining various "experts", including LaBour, leaving it to the viewer to decide. LaBour told Bailey during a pre-show meeting that he had made the whole thing up. Bailey responded, "Well, we have an hour of television to do. You're going to have to go along with this." The program aired locally in New York City on November 30, 1969, and was never re-aired.[8]

McCartney's death was rebutted and the rumours declined when, in November 1969, Life magazine published an edition with cover story entitled "The case of the missing Beatle", "Paul is still with us" which included a contemporary interview with McCartney.[1]

The rumour is the subject of several books, including American journalist Andru J. Reeve's 1994 book Turn Me On, Dead Man (ISBN 1-4184-8294-3) and English author Benjamin Fitzpatrick's 1997 book, Rumours from John, George, Ringo and Me.

"Paul is dead" analyst Joel Glazier hypothesised[14] in 1978 that Lennon's love of word play and studio editing may have been responsible for some clues in later albums, but that after cult-leader Charles Manson claimed The Beatles were hiding references to an upcoming racial war in their song "Helter Skelter", the band members chose not to reveal the joke.

The advent of the Internet gave "Paul is dead" rumours new life, but with the basis for the belief shifting from supposed deliberately placed clues, towards supposedly significant differences in McCartney's appearance after 1966.

In 2009, the Italian affiliate of Wired magazine published an article by Italians Francesco Gavazzeni (IT analyst) and Gabriella Carlesi (medico-legal) in which they compared McCartney’s facial attributes (including skull and jaw shape) in photographs allegedly taken before and after his alleged demise (but of undisclosed origin), and concluded that it was possible that the photographs were not of the same person. They noted however, that they had not had direct access to McCartney, and that they were less certain of their conclusion than might have been the case had they been dealing with a corpse, where a more rigorous analysis would have been possible. [15]

The ‘clues’

Hundreds of supposed clues have been reported by fans and followers of the legend; they include messages perceived when listening to a song being played backwards, and symbolic interpretations of both lyrics and album cover imagery. Oft-cited examples are the fact that McCartney is the only barefooted Beatle on the cover of the album Abbey Road, and the belief that the words spoken by Lennon in the final section of the song "Strawberry Fields Forever" are "I buried Paul". (Lennon and McCartney each later said that the words spoken are actually "Cranberry sauce".[16])

The story

A common story for the alleged death is that on Wednesday, 9 November 1966 at 5 am, McCartney, while working on the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, stormed out of a recording session after an argument with the other Beatles and rode off in his Austin-Healey which he subsequently crashed into a lamp post, and died.[11]

That story was pieced together from the lyrics of multiple Beatles songs:

  1. "He didn't notice that the lights had changed" ("A Day in the Life").
  2. He then crashed into a lamp-post (a car crash sound is heard in "Revolution 9" and "A Day in the Life").
  3. He was pronounced dead on a "Wednesday morning at 5 o'clock as the day begins" ("She's Leaving Home")
  4. Nobody found this out because the news was withheld: "Wednesday morning papers didn't come" ("Lady Madonna").
  5. A funeral procession was held days later, as was supposedly implied on the Abbey Road album cover by the Beatles' appearance. (John Lennon dressed all in white, supposedly like a clergyman. Ringo Starr wore a black suit, like an undertaker, Paul McCartney wore a blue suit without shoes, as, supposedly, a corpse would, and walked out of step with the other Beatles, and George Harrison dressed in blue jeans, supposedly symbolising a gravedigger).

According to the story, McCartney's place in The Beatles (as well as his private life) was then taken by ‘William Shears Campbell’, who, it is suggested, was the winner of a McCartney look-alike contest. Other suggested names for the replacement include Billy Shears (the name of the fictitious leader of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band), William Sheppard (based on the alleged inspiration for the song "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill"), or some combination of these names.[1]

References to the phenomenon


By members of the Beatles

  • In 1969, McCartney said of the rumour: "Anyway all of the things that have been, that have made these rumours, to my mind have very ordinary, logical explanations. To the people’s minds who prefer to think of them as rumours, then I am not going to interfere, I am not going to spoil that fantasy. You can think of it like that if you like. However, if the end result, the conclusion you reach is that I am dead, then you are wrong, because I am very much alive, I am alive and living in Scotland.”[17]
  • Lennon joked about the rumour in the years following its initial growth[citation needed] and referred to it in the song "How Do You Sleep?" on his 1971 solo album Imagine, commenting "Those freaks was right when they said you was dead."[18]
  • McCartney referred to the rumour with the cover of his 1993 live album Paul Is Live, sending up both the Abbey Road cover and its "hidden clues".[citation needed]
  • On a segment of Saturday Night Live in which Paul McCartney was a guest, Chris Farley asked him of the rumour: "That was a hoax, right?" McCartney assured him that he is not really dead.[19]

By others

  • The Rutles, a parody of The Beatles, included a couple of "Paul is dead" parodies.
  • In the June 1970 comic book Batman # 222, Batman investigates a rumour that Saul Cartwright of the rock band The Oliver Twists is an impostor and that the real Saul had died a year ago; it turned out that Saul was real but the rest of the band were fakes.[20]
  • The 1972 National Lampoon album Radio Dinner featured several mock numbered clues, including a short backwards track saying, "I'm dead!" in a Liverpudlian accent.
  • The Simpsons television show has included many references to the story.[21]
  • The Onion's Our Dumb Century collection includes a fake headline from 21 January 1981, that reads, "Secret Album-Cover Clues Reveal John Lennon Is Dead."
  • In the film Sleepless in Seattle, Tom Hanks's character comes home to find his son listening to an album and declaring "Dad, this is amazing. If you play this backwards it says 'Paul is dead.'"[22]
  • In a 1987 edition of American Top 40, host Casey Kasem revisited the "Paul Is Dead" era as a related story to the Bananarama song "I Heard a Rumour". The following year, Dick Clark featured a similar story on Rock, Roll and Remember.
  • Many bands have referenced the rumour in their music, including:
    • Swell Maps' early repertoire included songs titled "Paul's Dead" and "Turn Me on Dead Man".
    • SR-71 released a song called "Paul McCartney" on their debut album Now You See Inside which references that Paul is dead.
    • The Union Underground wrote a song called "Turn Me On, Mr. Dead Man", a reference to the "Revolution 9" clue "Turn me on, dead man" (supposedly said by Lennon when played in reverse).
  • A post-credits skit in "Hero", an episode of the modern Battlestar Galactica, refers to the legend. In a Sgt. Pepper-style setting, producer Ronald D. Moore utters the term "backmasking", at which producer David Eick gives him a number 9 and says "Turn me on, dead man."[23]
  • John Safran's Music Jamboree contains a segment about the conspiracy with a mock George Harrison-is-dead conspiracy, following Harrison's death in 2001.
  • In early 2009 on The Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert made reference in a skit to a news article about an excess of caffeine causing delusions of ghosts. As part of his reaction, he said, "But how could I have been interviewing Paul McCartney, when he's dead?"
  • An episode of Celebrity Deathmatch called "The Missing Beatles Tape" featured a fight from around the time the Beatles filmed "Let It Be" (and the troubles among the band during it) and there were references to the rumor; one of which was John Lennon supposedly saying "I buried Paul" backwards after getting his arm broken by McCartney himself (where as he actully said, once that scene was played backwards, "I buried Paul. There I admit it. I'll even tell you where; out behind Abbey Road studios. It was great fun.") Also, the Beatles were dressed the same as on the "Abbey Road" album cover.


  1. ^ a b c d The Beatles Bible: Paul Is Dead - Retrieved: 16 October 2008
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ [2]
  4. ^ Tim Harper
  5. ^ In June, 2003, WKNR located and identified Zarski as the "Tom" who contacted Gibb. Zarski wrote his recollections of the contact, which recollections were published on WKNR's web site.
  6. ^ reverse speech on records - Retrieved: 5 August 2007
  7. ^ McCartney interview - barefoot: Jan 31, 1974 - Retrieved: 5 August 2007
  8. ^ a b Glenn, Allen, "Paul is dead (said Fred)", Michigan Today (November 11, 2009)
  9. ^ Tribute to "the late" Paul McCartney - Retrieved: 5 August 2007
  10. ^ Richard Harrington, "Gullible," The Jerusalem Post 22, May 6, 1994
  11. ^ a b Yonge pulled off the air Retrieved: 9 August 2007
  12. ^ Roby Yonge: Disc Jockey - Retrieved: 5 August 2007
  13. ^ Musicradio 77 WABC - Retrieved: 5 August 2007
  14. ^ Joel Glazier, "Paul Is Dead... Miss Him, Miss Him", Strawberry Fields Forever #31 (1978), pp. 21-22.
  15. ^ Wired Italia, "Chiedi chi era quel «Beatle»", July-August 2009
  16. ^ Dowlding, William J. (1989). Beatlesongs. Simon & Schuster Inc. ISBN 0-671-68229-6.
  17. ^ "1969 Year in Review: Eisenhower, Judy Garland Die". UPI. 
  18. ^ ten wackiest pranks: Mar 27, 2001 - Retrieved: 5 August 2007
  19. ^
  20. ^ Batman #222 at
  21. ^ The Simpsons & Beatles' references - Retrieved: 5 August 2007
  22. ^ Sleepless in Seattle script - Retrieved: 5 August 2007
  23. ^ R and D TV (Season 3)

See also


  • Reeve, Andru J. (1994, 2004). Turn Me On, Dead Man: The Beatles and the "Paul is Dead" Hoax. AuthorHouse Publishing. ISBN 1-4184-8294-3.

External links


Sites discussing or analyzing the legend


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