When Paul McCartney was recently fêted by President Obama at the White House and given a lifetime-achievement award by the Kennedy Center, no one mentioned that he may, in fact, have died years ago—and been replaced by a double. It’s all part of an elaborate conspiracy theory that some music buffs have kept alive since Paul’s alleged accidental death in 1966.
PAUL MCCARTNEY (1942-1966?)
In October of 1969, three weeks after the Beatles’ celebrated Abbey Road album was released, WKNR-FM’s Russ Gibb took a call from a man who identified himself only as “Tom.” The Detroit deejay listened as the caller carefully laid out clues hidden in Beatles’ songs and album art, which he said indicated Paul McCartney had died on November 9, 1966, in an automobile accident. Listeners began deluging New York City radio stations with “evidence” and soon the rumor spread around the world. Was this a Beatles’ publicity stunt, a fan feeding-frenzy fueled by clues left as an inside joke by John Lennon—or was Paul really dead?
HOW PAUL ALLEGEDLY DIED
Piecing together clues from songs, films and album covers, conspiracy buffs have come up with this scenario: During the early-morning hours of November 9, 1966, Paul argued with his bandmates in the studio while recording songs for their Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. He left in a huff just before 5 a.m. While driving to a friend’s house, Paul picked up a female hitchhiker who couldn’t control her excitement when she realized who was behind the wheel. She lunged to hug Paul, causing him to lose control of his Aston Martin. It smashed into a stone fence and burst into flames, killing them both. Paul was decapitated and burnt to a crisp, making a positive ID difficult. Despite no evidence to support either the story of the fatal crash or of a cover-up, the rumors persisted.
THE NEED FOR A COVER-UP
The theory of why a cover-up of Paul’s alleged death was necessary goes something like this: Because of all the money the Beatles contributed to England’s tax coffers, their continued success was vital to the financial health of the nation. So the British government, in cahoots with the surviving members of the Beatles, their producer George Martin, manager Brian Epstein (pictured above), recording engineer Geoff Emerick and road manager Mal Evans, conspired to cover-up Paul’s death. It was speculated that in return they were given a huge sum of money and guaranteed success in whatever future endeavors they engaged. They all denied any conspiracy.
WILL THE REAL PAUL PLEASE SHAKE YOUR HAIR?
In order for McCartney’s death to be kept under wraps, the Beatles would need a look-alike to sub for him. It’s said they found the perfect candidate in an actor named William Shears Campbell, the winner of a McCartney look-alike contest who resembled the singer so much that he was supposedly on the Beatles’ payroll as a stand-in to throw off fans and the press. The name may ring a bell from the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” lyric on the album of the same name: “So let me introduce to you / The one and only Billy Shears / And Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Pictured: Paul and his double—or Paul doubled?
THE PRESS COVERS THE DEATH RUMORS
The press was interested in the rumors of Paul’s untimely demise. A November 7, 1969, Life magazine cover story approached the issue in a light-hearted manner, rather than as an investigative piece. The article quoted Paul, who paraphrased Mark Twain: “Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” He then wryly added, “However, if I was dead, I’m sure I’d be the last to know.”
“PAUL” GOES SOLO
Around the time these rumors started, the Beatles were in the midst of breaking up and Paul—along with his wife, Linda Eastman, and their children—retreated to a farm on the isolated Scottish peninsula of Kintyre. There Paul recorded his first solo album, McCartney. Oddly, the cover of the album shows cherries scattered among a white rectangle (possibly representing a road) and a white bowl half filled with cherry juice (which could be blood). Once the rumor of Paul’s death started, it spread rapidly, thanks to other “clues” fans seemed to find in every picture and recording by the Beatles. The following are prime examples…
SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND CLUES
The cover of the groundbreaking album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, has multiple indications that Paul McCartney may not have survived. The Beatles, wearing their new hippy attire, stand in the middle of the cover overlooking what appears to be a flower-covered grave. To their right are wax mannequins—borrowed from Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum—of the younger Beatles sadly looking down toward the “grave.”
THE DRUMHEAD-REFLECTION CIPHER
The ornate drumhead in the center of the cover that says “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” may be the most deliberate clue of all. When you hold a straight-edge mirror perpendicular to the center of the drum, in the middle of the words “Lonely Hearts,” the reflection reads, I ONE IX HE ♦ DIE (“One one nine he die,” or November 9 he die). The diamond points to McCartney.
A mustachioed Paul (perhaps a double hiding plastic-surgery scars) has a patch on his left arm with the initials, “OPD,” which could be an acronym for Officially Pronounced Dead. In the November 7, 1969, Life interview meant to address the death rumors, Paul (or his double) explained, “It is all bloody stupid. I picked up that OPD badge in Canada. It was a police badge. Perhaps it means Ontario Police Department or something.” Hardcore conspiracy theorists maintain that the photo was retouched to make the imposter look more like McCartney.
BACK COVER CLUES
Magical Mystery Tour was conceived as a television movie and album. It features both visual and musical clues starting with the group in disguise—with Paul dressed as a walrus. Allegedly, in the Nordic-Viking culture, the walrus is a symbol of death.
THE FAB THREE?
In the Magical Mystery Tour film, as the group performs “I Am the Walrus,” Paul in stocking feet stands next to an empty pair of blood-spattered shoes and the drumhead reads “Love the 3 Beatles” (implying, perhaps, that there were only three surviving members of the group).
MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR MOVIE STILL
In an irrelevant scene from the film Magical Mystery Tour, Paul in a military uniform sits behind a mysterious psychedelic sign that reads: “I WAS.”
On the album, The Beatles, which has come to be known as the White Album thanks to its white-on-white cover, John sings a song he wrote called “Glass Onion,” an unambiguous line from which states: “And here’s another clue for you all: / The walrus was Paul.”
WHITE ALBUM BACKMASKING CLUES
John Lennon began experimenting with backmasking (adding backward voices and music) in earnest on the White Album. When played backward, one of the songs, “Revolution 9,” contains a voice that seems to say, “Turn me on, dead man” several times. And what sounds like “Paul is a dead man, miss him, miss him, miss him” is heard on the “I’m So Tired” track.
THE LET IT BE ALBUM COVER
Let It Be was the second-to-last Beatles album to be recorded, but the last to be released. On the cover, Paul is the only Beatle whose face is partially obscured (by a microphone). He is also the only one not photographed in profile and with a white background. Paul’s background is blood red.
DRESSED FOR DEATH
On the cover of the last album that the Beatles recorded, Abbey Road, the band is photographed crossing Abbey Road in London, outside of British music company EMI’s Abbey Road Recording Studios. Paul is out of step with the other Beatles, barefoot and with his eyes closed. In many countries, including England, bodies are buried shoeless. Also, the way that the Beatles are dressed on the cover is said to have this meaning:
Lennon in white – the preacher
Starr in black – the undertaker
“McCartney” in a suit and barefoot – the corpse
Harrison in blue jeans and work shirt – the grave digger
In the background on the Abbey Road cover is a Volkswagen with the possibly cryptic message, “28 IF,” on its license plate. Proponents of the Paul-is-dead school take this to mean that had Paul McCartney lived, he would have been 28 years old. Life magazine quoted Paul (the real one or the substitute?) as explaining, “On Abbey Road we were wearing our ordinary clothes. I was walking barefoot because it was a hot day. The Volkswagen just happened to be parked there.”
MAXWELL OF MI5
The theory continues: An officer—known only as “Maxwell” from British intelligence unit MI5—was assigned to keep an eye on the group to make sure that they kept their mouths shut about the tragedy. The song, “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” on the Abbey Road album, refers to Maxwell and his license to kill. This is one of many examples of a Beatles’ lyric being employed in the service of the conspiracy theory.
MAXWELL AND THE JOHN LENNON MURDER