What Was Andy Kaufman’s Net Worth?
Andy Kaufman was an American entertainer, actor, writer, producer, and performance artist who had a net worth equal to $3 million at the time of his death (after adjusting for inflation) in 1984. Andy Kaufman earned two Golden Globe nominations for his performance as Latka Gravas on the ABC/NBC sitcom “Taxi” (1978–1983). Andy performed parts of his act on “Saturday Night Live” between 1975 and 1982, and he was known for his Elvis Presley impersonation as well as characters such as Foreign Man and Tony Clifton. Kaufman appeared in the films “God Told Me To” (1976), “In God We Tru$t” (1980), “Heartbeeps” (1981), and “My Breakfast with Blassie” (1983) and on the television series “Van Dyke and Company” (1976), “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” (1976–1978), “The Midnight Special” (1978; 1981), and “Late Night with David Letterman” (1982–1983). He wrote, produced, and starred in the 1979 special “Andy’s Funhouse,” and he wrote and starred in the specials “Andy Kaufman Plays Carnegie Hall” (1980) and “The Andy Kaufman Show” (1983).
Andy was also involved in professional wrestling, and he famously feuded with Jerry “The King” Lawler, culminating in a fight on “Late Night with David Letterman” in 1982. More than a decade after Kaufman’s death, it was revealed that the feud and the fights were fake. Three books of Andy’s writings have been published since his death: “The Huey Williams Story” (1999), “God…and Other Plays” (2000), and “Poetry and Stories” (2000). Kaufman was portrayed by Jim Carrey in the 1999 film “Man on the Moon,” and Carrey won a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical for the role. Sadly, Andy died of lung cancer on May 16, 1984, at the age of 35. Over the years, there have been many rumors that Kaufman faked his own death.
Andy Kaufman was born Andrew Geoffrey Kaufman on January 17, 1949, in New York City. He grew up in a Jewish household in Great Neck, Long Island, with mother Janice (a homemaker/former model), father Stanley (a jewelry salesman), and younger siblings Carol and Michael. At the age of 9, Andy started performing at children’s parties, where he would show cartoons and play records. During his youth, Kaufman enjoyed writing stories and poetry, and when he 16, he finished writing a novel, “The Hollering Mangoo,” which was never published. Andy began playing the congas after Nigerian musician Babatunde Olatunji visited his school. Kaufman attended Great Neck North High School, graduating in 1967, and he later studied television production at Boston’s Grahm Junior College. As a college student, Andy had his own campus TV show called “Uncle Andy’s Fun House.” During the summer of 1969, he hitchhiked to Las Vegas, hoping to meet Elvis Presley, and hid in a service kitchen at the location of one of his concerts. When Elvis was leaving out of the back entrance, Andy approached Presley and gave him the manuscript of a book he’d written about him. Kaufman soon began developing his act and writing a one-man play entitled “Gosh” (which was later retitled “God”). He graduated from college in 1971, then he started performing comedy at small East Coast clubs.
Andy first gained major recognition for the character Foreign Man, which he performed at The Improv in New York City before playing the character on the premiere of “Saturday Night Live” in October 1975. In 1978, Kaufman joined the cast of “Taxi,” and his friend Bob Zmuda has said, “They basically were buying Andy’s Foreign Man character for the ‘Taxi’ character Latka.” “Taxi” aired 114 episodes over five seasons, and Kaufman earned Golden Globe nominations in 1979 and 1981. Another popular Kaufman character was lounge singer Tony Clifton, though the character was sometimes performed by Zmuda or Andy’s brother, Michael. Clifton first appeared as an opening act for Kaufman and eventually performed his own shows. In April 1979, Andy performed at Carnegie Hall, inviting his “grandmother” to watch from a chair at the side of the stage. At the end of the performance, she was revealed to be Robin Williams. Kaufman also got an elderly woman to fake a heart attack and pretend to die onstage, then he came out onstage wearing a Native American headdress and “revived” the woman by performing a dance over her. At the end of the show, Andy took the entire audience out for milk and cookies. Later that year, he starred in the TV special “Andy’s Funhouse,” which featured Foreign Man and his famous Elvis Presley impersonation. He did a similar show, “The Andy Kaufman Show,” for “Soundstage” on PBS in 1983.
Kaufman made his film debut in the 1976 sci-fi horror film “God Told Me To,” then he appeared in the TV movies “Stick Around” (1977) and “Stormy Justice” (1979). He co-starred with Marty Feldman, Peter Boyle, Louise Lasser, and Richard Pryor in 1980’s “In God We Tru$t” and with Bernadette Peters, Randy Quaid, and Christopher Guest in 1981’s “Heartbeeps.” Andy’s final film was 1983’s “My Breakfast with Blassie” in which he played himself alongside wrestler “Classy” Freddie Blassie. That year he also briefly co-starred with Deborah Harry in the Broadway play “Teaneck Tanzi: The Venus Flytrap,” which closed after two performances, and he appeared in “The Rodney Dangerfield Special: I Can’t Take It No More.”
In 1969, Andy and his high school girlfriend had a baby and gave her up for adoption. Their daughter, Maria Bellu-Colonna, discovered that she was Kaufman’s child in 1992, and her daughter, Brittany, had a small role in the 1999 film “Man on the Moon,” playing Andy’s sister as a child. In late 1969, Kaufman studied Transcendental Meditation while he was in college and used it “to build confidence and take his act to comedy clubs.” Until the end of his life, Andy spent three hours a day doing yoga and meditating, and in 1971, he went to Spain and trained to become a teacher in Transcendental Meditation. In 1982, Kaufman began a relationship with Lynne Margulies after meeting on the set of the film “My Breakfast with Blassie,” and they remained together until his death. Margulies directed 1989’s “I’m from Hollywood,” a Kaufman wrestling compilation, and she published a book of “hundreds of angry letters” that had been sent to him titled “Dear Andy Kaufman, I Hate Your Guts!” in 2009. Lynne also co-wrote the 2014 book “Andy Kaufman: The Truth, Finally” with Bob Zmuda.
During Thanksgiving dinner in 1983, several of Kaufman’s relatives expressed concern about his persistent coughing, but Andy reassured them that his doctor had told him that nothing was wrong. After returning to Los Angles from Long Island, Kaufman underwent tests at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and was informed that he had large-cell carcinoma of the lung. Andy received palliative radiotherapy, but the cancer spread to his brain, and he made his last public appearance at the “My Breakfast with Blassie” premiere in March 1984. The following day, Kaufman and Lynne Margulies traveled to the Philippines to receive psychic surgery, a pseudoscientific procedure that has since been recognized as medical fraud. Andy initially felt better, but after returning to L.A., he passed away on May 16, 1984, at Cedars-Sinai at the age of 35. Kaufman had spoken about faking his death, so rumors swirled that Andy wasn’t really dead. His character Tony Clifton appeared at comedy clubs after Kaufman’s death, but on the 1995 NBC special “A Comedy Salute to Andy Kaufman,” Jim Carrey revealed that Bob Zmuda had been playing Clifton. In 2013, an actress claimed to be Andy’s daughter and said that he was still alive, and the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office responded by re-releasing his death certificate, which confirmed he had been buried at Beth David Cemetery in Elmont, New York.
Awards and Nominations
Kaufman earned two Golden Globe nominations for “Taxi,” Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Television Series in 1979 and Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television in 1981. Posthumously, he received a Golden Prize Alien at the 2013 Independent Video Film Festival of Youtube Art Club Pavlos Paraschakis, and he earned TV Land Award nominations for Most Wonderful Wedding (shared with Carol Kane) for “Taxi” in 2006 and Favorite Elvis Impersonation for “Saturday Night Live” in 2007.