Today, few people doubt former Beatle Paul McCartney is alive and well. But if you were alive in the late 1960s, then you might’ve had a few questions.
Indeed, one of the most pervasive rumors in the late 60s was that the real Paul McCartney died and that the other Beatles decided it’d be best to cover up the sad news. The fascinating thing about this rumor was that it was 100 percent fueled by fans.
Nobody’s exactly sure how the “Paul is dead” story began, but most historians trace this conspiracy’s origin to 1969. It was in this year that WKNR’s Russ Gib reversed the song “Revolution 9” to discover the enigmatic phrase, “Turn me on, dead man.”
From that point onwards, fans around the world began re-listening to their favorite Fab Four tunes for clues. Within a matter of months, DJs like Gib started to spread the rumor that the real Paul McCartney died in a car accident in the mid-1960s. The performer who now “passed for Paul” was a big phony.
Suddenly everything the Beatles did was scrutinized through the lens of the “Paul is dead” rumor. Anyone who lived in the 1960s most likely looked for clues in lyrics and album covers.
There are far too many “clues” to list in just one post—heck, there are books written on this subject. One of the most popularly studied images, however, was the cover of Abbey Road. According to “Paul is dead” theorists, this image represented a mock funeral for Paul with John as the priest, Ringo as the mortician, and George as the gravedigger.
As people looked even deeper into the Abbey Road cover, they discovered even more “facts” confirming the new Paul was an imposter. For instance, why did this Paul McCartney have a cigarette in his right hand? Everyone knew Paul was left-handed. Also, why was this Paul walking out of step…and without shoes?
Interestingly, a significant reason the rumor swelled to epic proportions had a lot to do with bad timing. As the “clues” were cropping up, Paul McCartney was on a much needed holiday in Scotland with his wife Linda, first daughter Heather, and newborn Mary. Since Paul didn’t want to meet with the press at the time, this only fueled further speculation about Paul’s authenticity.
Eventually, Paul McCartney agreed to sit down with reporters from Life magazine to put an end to the rumor about his untimely demise. The only thing Paul said was “over” was the Beatles.
Although only fringe fanatics still believe the Paul McCartney is dead, the power of this conspiracy endures. Indeed, many of the latest conspiracies in music and beyond owe an allegiance to the “Paul is dead” rumor.
Now that conspiracy theories have become increasingly commonplace in the Internet era, looking back on the “Paul is dead” phenomenon might be an excellent opportunity for reflection. On the other hand, the “Paul is dead” conspiracy might have only signaled the start of our brave new world.