“Paul is dead.”
Those three words stopped the music world cold in the late 1960s. Could Paul McCartney, one fourth of the biggest band on the planet, truly be gone?
The fake death dates back to Nov. 9, 1966, or 50 years ago this week. Yet news of the Beatle’s “passing” didn’t hit until roughly four years later. By then, the Fab Four had called it quits.
A radio DJ named Russ Gibb claimed he received a call tipping him off about the death. That wasn’t McCartney we had been seeing since 1966 but a lookalike named William Campbell.
Fans took it from there, poring over every ounce of Beatles lore they could find.
They had plenty of time, after all. The group was no more, and Beatles loyalists were in a mourning phase. And the material itself offered enough wacky clues to keep the conspiracy spinning.
Social media didn’t exist at the time. Nor did the home computers we enjoy today. That didn’t prevent the rumors from spiking across the universe.
What about when John Lennon chanted “I buried Paul” on “Strawberry Fields Forever”? Or the fact that McCartney appeared to be dressed as a corpse ready for his casket on the cover of Abbey Road?
Every possible bit of Beatles minutiae got analyzed and, well, blown up well out of proportion. Others required some pretty creative means to discover:
The album [Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band contained John Lennon’s “A Day in the Life,” which had the lyrics “He blew his mind out in a car” and the recorded phrase “Paul is dead, miss him, miss him,” which becomes evident only when the song is played backward.
Lennon wasn’t amused by the rumor. He told an interviewer in no uncertain terms it wasn’t their idea.
“That’s bulls***. I don’t know where that started. It’s balmy … the whole thing was made up. We wouldn’t do anything like that.”
The oddest part? McCartney wasn’t necessarily eager to debunk it at first. He simply ignored the issue initially. That didn’t stop fans, who went so far as to pester Apple Records about the rumor.
McCartney is 74 today. He still tours regularly and produces new music. He’s as alive as a senior rocker could be.
For a time, though, some of his biggest fans feared the worst.