6 - “Paul is Dead:” The Greatest Urban Legend of All Time

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6 - “Paul is Dead:” The Greatest Urban Legend of All Time



While it is a given that Paul didn’t die in a car accident in late 1966 - that isn’t the point. The more relevant issue is what was this story actually about? What was behind it?


The “Paul is dead” (PID) proponents make a weak case; however the theory shouldn’t be just dismissed as a “wild, crazy conspiracy theory.”  An “alternative” view to the mainstream view is needed to determine what this great urban legend was about. 


There could have been a car accident, or he could have been killed by accident - or even on purpose - and they covered it up.  It could definitely have happened. People do die, suddenly, by accident. So it could be true that he died. The only problem is the part of the theory that says they replaced him with a stand-in.


What the PID advocates fail to do is show how it would be possible to replicate the musical genius of the old Paul.


To be replaced from Sgt. Peppers onwards, his stand-in must have had incredible songwriting, singing and arrangement capabilities, been a great musician and the only bassist in the world that composes songs using the bass.


It’s difficult to believe that the drugged-out Lennon put Sgt. Peppers together along with George Martin. Martin - being a very straight operator - would have quit before agreeing to go along in such a nefarious public deception.


However, it could have happened like this: In late 1966, something happened- there may have been an automobile accident or someone may have decided that he had a “good beating” coming to him due to any one of a number of his personality flaws. This would require that he have plastic surgery which would account for the slight changes in his facial features between 1966 and 1967.


This may have been the spark that led to the gigantic ruse.


As Lennon met Yoko in November of that year it could have been her idea - and she suggested it to Lennon who loved the scheme. With his authority he would be able to put these messages and clues everywhere. She probably chose the theme of death, although it sounds like something both of them would enjoy satirizing. He came up with the clues, and was in a position to make sure they were put into the songs and on the album covers.  


One thing is for sure: There is no way the clues are there by coincidence. They are there by design - not by coincidence.


Another possibility is that McCartney may not even have known these clues were on the album covers and songs, but, even if he did - and didn’t want to do it- there wouldn’t have been much he could have done about it. Or, it could be all of them knew about it, and went along - possibility because they believed it could be used for PR value one day if they weren’t selling as many records and needed something to put them back in the public’s eye. It is well documented that there was huge boom in record sales as the backwards playing wore them out and people replaced their older versions.


It could be that Lennon let McCartney in on the inside joke - which Paul would have loved.  McCartney would have wanted to back the public deception so he could appear just as devious in Lennon’s eyes.






The story was “leaked” just 12 days after Abbey Road was released


On 17 September 1969,  two weeks before the release of Abbey Road in the US,  Is Beatle Paul McCartney Dead? was published in the student newspaper of Drake University in Iowa. The article described a rumor that had been circulating on campus that Paul was dead. At that point the rumor included numerous clues from recent Beatles albums, including the "turn me on, dead man" message heard when Revolution 9 from the White Album is played backwards.


 In press reports published as early as October 11th, Beatles press officer Derek Taylor responded to the rumor saying "Recently we've been getting a flood of inquiries asking about reports that Paul is dead. We've been getting questions like that for years, of course, but in the past few weeks we've been getting them at the office and home night and day. I'm even getting calls at home.”


What a strange response! One would think as the chief spokesperson of the band, he would immediately try to dispel the rumors. Yet what does he do? Just the opposite. He makes the “claim” seem more serious and credible. Why?


On 12 October 1969 a caller to Detroit radio station WKNR told disc jockeyRuss Gibb about the rumor and its clues. Two days after the WKNR broadcast, The Michigan Daily published a satirical review of Abbey Road by University of Michigan student Fred LaBour under the headline "McCartney Dead; New Evidence Brought to Light.”


Interviewed years later about the incident, LaBour mysteriously claims he invented most of the clues and was astonished when the story was picked up by newspapers across the country. If so, why do it?



Pop culture’s greatest urban legend


In her essay, The Curious Case of the “Death” of Paul McCartney, Barbara Suczek writes:


“To account for the initial appearance of the rumor is, perhaps, the most perplexing aspect of the phenomenon. It seemed to emerge from out of nowhere, in response to nothing in particular and, as if at once to explain and justify its presence, the clues seemed similarly to emerge. But to realize the fact of the death depended upon recognizing the existence of the clues, and the clues were only recognizable if one were aware of the death. And so there is no external logic to guide a decision as to where the fundamental ambiguity lies - in the death or in the clues - since it is impossible to establish a priority between them.”


There is no way that there wasn’t an intentional leak of the story, as there is no other explanation for these separate events to have taken place. The caller to the radio station is unknown. Why, with a story like this, why would this person not want to be identified? And if so, why bring the story to a college newspaper rather than to a major media outlet such as The New York Times?


This was all happening as the Abbey Road album was being released. Is there a connection? If the Beatles put the clues on the album- it makes no sense that someone other than them would be the ones leaking it to the press.


It could be they knew they were breaking up, and thus, why keep it a secret any longer? They had to release/leak/expose it - so they could get the pleasure of their inside joke. It would go down as pop culture’s greatest urban legend.


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