Question: How did the "Paul is dead" rumor begin?
Answer: Several factors led to the development of a "Paul Is Dead" rumor that began in London, moved to Los Angeles, and then spread into the heartland of America and around the world:
- January 7, 1967: Paul McCartney's car crashes en route from London to Sussex, driven by one Mohammed Hadjij, a Moroccan student who'd been invited to Paul's home in London for a party (Hadjij was assistant to gallery owner and socialite Robert Fraser). McCartney, however, is in Mick Jagger's Mini Cooper, which Hadjij is following in Paul's own Mini; the convoy is leaving Paul's house to travel to Keith Richards' Sussex home in order to continue the party. Paul's Mini crashes when another car drives over a hanging seatbelt, causing Hadjij to crash into a pole. He survives with only minor injuries, but since Paul's car is custom-made and well-known to Londoners, bystanders at the scene assume it's Paul that's been hurt. Partiers around town begin to circulate (and elaborate on) McCartney's "crash," going to far as to speculate that he has died and been replaced with a double. (Paul was also involved in a moped crash on December 26, 1965, in which he broke a tooth, but this doesn't seem to have started the original rumor. However, PID theorists sometimes use the accident and its aftermath in embroidering the rumor.)
- August 23, 1968: Former Detroit DJ and current musician/producer Terry Knight, who has just signed with Capitol, is inivited to attend the Beatles recording sessions. Knight picks up on the tension within the band, which is due largely to disagreements over management in the wake of Brian Epstein's death. Knight, who sides with McCartney in his mind, goes home and writes his next single, "Saint Paul" (Capitol P-2506, May 1969). Lines such as "Sir Isaac Newton said it had to fall" -- actually about the death of the Apple dream -- further fuel the fire of "Paul is Dead" rumors. (Knight would go on to manage Grand Funk Railroad.)
- September 17, 1969: Tim Harper, student at Drake University in Des Moines, IA, pens an article titled "Is Beatle Paul McCartney Dead?" for the Drake Times-Delphic student paper. Harper, who does not believe in the rumor, nevertheless reports the latest West Coast college gossip -- that Paul McCartney has died in a car crash, perhaps as far back as 1966. Six days later, Barb Ulvilden recounts the rumor in Northern Illinois University's Northern Star.
- October 12, 1969: Tom Zarski, a student at Eastern Michigan University, calls WKNR in Detroit, MI, and informs DJ Russ Gibb of the rumor, on-air. Zarski tells Gibb that by playing a section of the band's "Revolution 9" backwards, a clue emerges: the phrase "Turn me on, dead man." Gibb proceeds to do just that. Listeners are stunned.
- October 14, 1969: Fred LaBour, entertainment reviewer for the University of Michigan student newspaper The Michigan Daily, turns his assigned review of the new Beatles album, Abbey Road, into a satirical piece headlined "McCartney Dead; New Evidence Brought to Light." In the article, LaBour repeats the musical "clue" and adds several of his own. He also invents the name "William Campbell" as Paul's "replacement." This finally causes the mainstream press to take note, and when contacted by other media outlets, LaBour furthers what he thinks is a joke by validating every rumor within the rumor.
- October 21, 1969: The London Times publishes its own report on the rumor. The very next day, both The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times cover the story.
- November 7, 1969: Having tracked down Paul and wife Linda at their farm in Glasgow, Scotland, to disprove the rumor, Paul is the featured cover story of this week's edition of Life magazine, which carries the headline "Paul Is Still With Us." In the interview, Paul debunks several "clues" and adds: "Perhaps the rumor started because I haven't been much in the press lately. I have done enough press for a lifetime, and I don't have anything to say these days. I am happy to be with my family and I will work when I work. I was switched on for ten years and I never switched off. Now I am switching off whenever I can. I would rather be a little less famous these days."