On October 12th of 1969, Russ Gibbs was hosting his radio show on WKNR, taking calls. All was business as usual when an anonymous call came in and asked him to play the intro for “Number Nine, Number Nine” backwards while on the air. Unwittingly, Russ did so, and heard the words “Turn me on, dead man”. After that, clues kept coming in. Fans began to speculate, and came to a
conclusion. Without even meaning to, Russ Gibbs had started the infamous conspiracy theory that Paul Mccartney was actually dead.
The theory was simple. Paul Mccartney of the Beatles had died in a car crash. Because of his celebrity status, the other Beatles covered it up, and replaced him with an imposter named Billy Shears, who was the winner of a Paul Mccartney lookalike contest. Despite the fact that said imposter sang, talked, played guitar, wrote, looked, and behaved exactly like Paul, the fans were still convinced. They were quite certain that not only was he dead, but the other Beatles were giving clues to indicate the truth.
The first of the clues was at the end of “Strawberry Fields Forever”, where fans claimed to hear John Lennon say “I buried Paul”. While it was undeniable that John did yell something amongst
the chaotic ending, he clarified that he was saying “cranberry sauce”, rather than confessing to putting his friend to rest. The next clue was less clear. The fans explained that the cover of “Abbey Road” was symbolic of a funeral procession. John Lennon, dressed in white and leading the party, was the preacher. Ringo, in a black suit was the undertaker. George, clad in denim and bringing up the rear, was the gravedigger. As for Paul? Somehow, his lack of shoes and cigarette pointed to him being the star of the show, the dead man.
Even if the first two clues seem muddled, they are by far the most rational of the ones gathered by fans. Apparently the nonsense words “goo goo goo joob” were the last words of a character in Finnigan’s Wake, except they actually weren’t. The license plate on the car of “Abbey Road'', reading “28 IF” was how old he would have been if he were alive, except he would have been 27. Also the cigarette? Held in the wrong hand of course. Paul was actually left-handed, never mind if he held it in that hand it wouldn’t be visible from the angle of the picture.
The fans, with these delusions, began to bombard the Beatles. They would make calls, to which Paul himself would patiently answer. The Beatles had a great sense of humor throughout the testy ordeal, openly laughing at it and calling it “a great plug for Abbey Road”. However, Paul himself still had to refute the rumors. He was forced to give a press conference, in which he said that, “If the conclusion you reach is that I’m dead, then you’re wrong because I’m alive and living in Scotland.
Overall, while the whole thing seems silly, it is a great example of how extreme Beatlemania was in the sixties. Their fans were fiercely loyal, willing to go through any measures for their idols, even at their idols’ expense. However, it’s not as if it was the last time something like that would happen. To this day, people still form obsessive conspiracy theories about their favorite celebrities. It’s safe to say that the “Paul is dead” phenomenon, and Beatlemania in general was merely the beginning of an era; an era in which the relationships between celebrities and their fans would change forever.
Alexia Kapranos. “ “Paul is Really Dead” Says New Documentary” ”. DIY Mag.
Rob Sheffeld. “Paul is Dead: The Bizarre Story of Music’s Most Notorious Conspiracy Theory”. Rolling Stone. October 11, 2019.