Here we are already marking the 54th Anniversary of the death of Beatle Paul McCartney on November 9th, 1966. Wait a minute … let me restate that! Here we are on the 54th anniversary of the weirdest and probably most famous music HOAX and Conspiracy Theory ever. The death of Beatle Paul McCartney on November 9th 1966! The phenomenon has become a permanent part of Beatle lore.
Here is the (now famous) myth. Paul was alone and speeding down a long and winding road in England one November night in 1966. Because of icy road conditions he lost control of his vehicle and crashed into a pole killing Paul instantly. Before the press was able to get a hold of any information about the accident the remaining members of the band covered it up.
Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ manager, was so fearful that Paul’s death would totally sink The Beatles and cause a panic he secretly put together a search for a McCartney look alike. They amazingly found their double with a man named William Shears Campbell. However, eventually the surviving band members were supposedly so wracked with guilt about Paul’s death and the cover up that they began to hint about it. Before long Beatles fans began to claim they had found clues to Paul’s demise throughout their song lyrics and in artwork on Beatle albums.
Russ Gibb, a Detroit disc jockey on WKNR-FM, has been credited with unintentionally originating and unleashing the hoax. On October 12, 1969 one of his listeners requested he play backwards (on the air) a section of “Revolution #9” from the Beatles’ White Album. Gibbs thought he heard: “Turn me on, dead man.” To him it ostensibly referenced the death of Paul two years earlier and his replacement by a lookalike.
Later, on “Strawberry Fields Forever,” Lennon is supposedly heard saying “I buried Paul.” (He actually says “Cranberry Sauce.”) Rumors spread like wildfire and Beatles fans began searching their albums for even more clues.
A giveaway photo, which came with The White Album, has Paul with scars on the left side of his upper lip which evidently happened with a slight mishap during the plastic surgery on William Campbell to make him appear even more like Paul McCartney. (Actually the blemish is from a motorcycle accident Paul had in the spring of 1966. You can see Paul’s knackered lip in the Fab Four’s “Paperback Writer” video.)
Later, the Fab Four basically laughed off the conspiracy theory and acknowledged they probably should not have played along with the paranoia and other aspects of the hoax, but at the time they were just having fun with it and in their view more importantly “making fun of it.” The conspiracy theory had a much stronger foothold in America than in the U.K. The Brits, especially in London, saw Paul with the other Beatles around town making it difficult for the hoax to acquire a solid footing. When Time Magazine did a feature on conspiracy theories they listed the “Paul Is Dead” hoax in the Top-10 at #4.
Of course, the internet wasn’t launched until August 6th, 1991, well over two decades later, so “The Paul Is Dead” conspiracy theory had to rely on comparatively primitive methods to successfully spread the hoax. However, it’s certainly not difficult to visualize what would have happened if “social media” had existed in 1969. To this day it would more than likely still have its loyal fanatical believers with the conspiracy continuing to increase its dogmatic momentum by leaps and bounds. “Help!”