Fifty years ago, a Detroit DJ accidentally started the biggest hoax in rock & roll history: the “Paul is dead” craze. It blew up on October 12, 1969, when Russ Gibb was hosting his show on WKNR. A mysterious caller told him to put on the Beatles White Album and spin the “number nine, number nine” intro from “Revolution 9” backwards. When Gibb tried it on the air, he heard the words “Turn me on, dead man.” The clues kept coming. At the end of “Strawberry Fields Forever,” John says, “I buried Paul.” What could it all mean?
It meant the Beatles were hiding a secret: Paul McCartney got killed in a car crash back in 1966, and the band replaced him with an imposter. The rumor spread like wildfire, as fans searched their Beatle albums for clues. Fifty years later, “Paul is dead” remains the weirdest and most famous of all music conspiracy theories. It became a permanent part of Beatles lore—a totally fan-generated phenomenon that the band could only watch with amusement or exasperation. As Paul told Rolling stone un 1974, “Someone from the office rang me up and said, ‘Look, Paul, you’re dead.’ And I said, ‘Oh, I don’t agree with that.’”
Here’s how the rumor went, as summed up by Nicholas Schaffner in The Beatles Forever: Paul died on November 9, 1966. He drove away from Abbey Road late the night before — a “stupid bloody Tuesday” — then blew his mind out in a car. He was Officially Pronounced Dead (“O.P.D.”) on Wednesday morning at 5 o’clock, which is why George points to that line on the Sgt. Pepper sleeve, while Paul wears an “O.P.D.” patch. But the other Beatles decided to hush up the news, so Wednesday-morning papers didn’t come. Somehow, they kept Paul’s death a secret, replaced him with a look-alike, then dropped sly hints about the cover-up scam. The imposter wrote “Hey Jude” and “Blackbird,” which means he’s the guy who probably should have had Paul’s job in the first place.
Fans began whispering about all the clues on the just-released Abbey Road Look at that cover — Paul’s barefoot, out of step with the others, holding a cigarette in his right hand. (The real Paul was a lefty.) The Volkswagen with the “28 IF” license plate — that’s how old Paul would have been if he were still alive. (He was 27.)
When the rumor blew up, he was in seclusion on his Scottish farm with Linda, Heather, and their six-week-old daughter Mary, known to the world as the infant cradled in his leather jacket in Linda’s most famous photo. With a newborn baby to care for (a first for Paul), he was in no mood to indulge the media frenzy. As he told Rolling Stone, “They said, ‘Look, what are you going to do about it? It’s a big thing breaking in America. You’re dead.’ And so I said, leave it, just let them say it. It’ll probably be the best publicity we’ve ever had, and I won’t have to do a thing except stay alive. So I managed to stay alive through it.”
The Life and Death of Paul McCartney 1942 – 1966: A very English Mystary by Nicholas Kollerstrom
Fortunately, Paul is still around to celebrate this anniversary — he’s always been bemused by the whole thing, even calling one album Paul is Alive It was more than just a rock-star rumor—it inspired ordinary fans to turn into detectives, and permanently changed the way people consume music.
Thank You !