The Paul Is Dead rumour started with a series of events in the 1960s that led fans of The Beatles to believe that Paul McCartney was actually dead and replaced with a look-alike in 1966.
The rumor began in earnest on October 12, 1969, when someone identifying himself as "Tom" (Zarski) called Russ Gibb, a radio DJ on WKNR-FM in Detroit, Michigan, and announced that McCartney was dead. Fred Labour, a junior at the University of Michigan, published a review of Abbey Road called "McCartney Dead; New Evidence Brought to Light," itemizing various "clues" of McCartney’s death on Beatles album covers, in the October 14, 1969 issue of the Michigan Daily. (Adding to the mystery, Terry Knight, a former Detroit DJ and then singer on Capitol Records released a cryptic, portentous song, "Saint Paul," shortly after his alleged meeting with McCartney in London.) Soon, national and international media picked up on the story and a new "Beatle craze" took off.
The rumour eventually became a full-fledged conspiracy theory as members of the media and Beatles fans searched album artwork and song lyrics for clues to the cover-up and McCartney’s supposed death. Believers eventually decided that McCartney had died in a car accident that happened at 5 a.m. on a Wednesday morning (the time and day, mentioned in the song "She’s Leaving Home"), and that "he hadn’t noticed that the lights had changed" ("A Day in the Life") because he was busy watching the pretty girl on the sidewalk ("Lovely Rita") after narrowly missing her (dressed in blue) jaywalking ("Blue Jay Way"). According to believers, McCartney had been replaced with the winner of a McCartney look-alike contest. The name of this look-alike has been recorded as both William Campbell and William Shears. Though it has been denied by all four members numerous times, many fans are convinced that the rumor was a hoax perpetrated deliberately by the Beatles as a joke. The rumour and its history have been exhaustively examined in the book Turn Me On, Dead Man: The Beatles and the "Paul-Is-Dead" Hoax by Andru J. Reeve, the latest edition published in October 2004.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Album
This is the album with the most alleged clues.
The Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band cover appears to be a group of mourners standing in front of a freshly dug grave. McCartney is the only person holding a wooden instrument, representing a coffin, and the instrument is the only one that is black, representing death. The instrument itself is a cor anglais, which is the only instrument shown on the cover which is not used in a marching band. Paul’s "true" instrument would have been the tuba, which is sitting unused at feet of the wax figure of Ringo. He is the only Beatle wearing a "cool" color (blue), while the other three Beatles are all wearing warm colors. It also appears like he’s being propped up by Ringo Starr and Harrison, as if he were stiff. McCartney is the only person with a hand over his head, a religious symbol for blessing the dead. The hand belongs to Stephen Crane, an American writer who died at the age of 28. Around the "grave", there are several symbols. A doll with a cracked head represents McCartney’s fatal injury, that same doll has printed on its shirt "Welcome the Rolling Stones" (The Beatles #1 competition at the time), a car on one knee and a bloody driving glove on the other. A TV that is not turned on represents the news blackout about his death. Over the letter L in Beatles, one can see McCartney’s rugby trophy. A small statue of the Hindu god Shiva can be seen in front of the "grave", who is allegedly pointing a finger at Paul. In the Hindu tradition, Shiva is the Destroyer.
Paul’s replacement’s name was William Campbell. "Bill" is a known nickname for "William" and "Billy" for "Bill." So on the first track, "Paul" introduces "Billy Shears," but if you move the beginning letter of "Shears" to the end of Billy, it is now pronounced that "Billys Hear" or "Billy’s Here," signifying that Paul is gone and Mr. William Campbell has taken his place.
The red flowers on the Sgt. Pepper’s cover almost look like the number 3, thus making the phrase "3 Beatles".
The inside cover of the Sgt. Pepper album has Paul wearing an emblem on his shirt sleeve whose initials are believed to be O.P.D. (for "officially pronounced dead"). However, it is the emblem of the O.P.P. (Ontario Provincial Police) not O.P.D. (However his supposed replacement was a policeman in Ontario).
The yellow flowers on the cover of Sgt. Pepper appear to spell out "PAUL?" McCartney’s bass with 3 sticks can also be thought as representing the 3 remaining members.
A demonstration of the flipped "LONELY HEARTS" text on the front of the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s.
An interesting trick is to take a shiny, polished butter knife (or a small mirror) and lay it horizontally across the words "LONELY HEARTS" on the drum on the cover of Sgt. Pepper. The top half of the words, combined with their mirror image, spells out "1 ONE I X HE ^ DIE", the 1 ONE 1 means 3 Beatles remain, and the X crosses out Paul. The ^ points up to Paul.
On the back cover of Sgt. Pepper McCartney is facing backwards, which is supposedly because he was dead and replaced with an imposter in the photograph.
Also on the back cover, George Harrison is pointing to the lyric "Wednesday morning at five o’clock as the day begins" from the song "She’s Leaving Home", a reference to the day and time when Paul crashed and was killed.
Some have come to believe that the song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" is in fact a list of directions to McCartney’s supposed turn.
The red flowers on the album cover spell out "BE AT LESO". Leso was the name of the Greek island that the Beatles bought with their songwriting royalties, and it is there that Paul’s funeral took place.
It was once suggested by a caller to a late-night radio show that, when the album was put up to a mirror, the red letters spelled out a phone number (231-7438). He further stated that he had called the number and been told to call back at a specific time on a specific day. When he did, a voice at the other end supposedly said, "Good. You’re following the clues."
Lyrics from the track "Good Morning, Good Morning" contain "nothing to do to save his life, call his wife".
Another track has the lyrics "life goes on within you and without you" (from Harrison’s "Within You Without You"). The song also ends with what could be interpreted as the sounds of people weeping.
Paul’s "Lovely Rita" supposedly documents his "final" moments with these lyrics: "…I took her home, I nearly made it…" The "Rita" in the title is believed to be the hitchhiker indirectly responsible for Paul’s "accident".
Paul’s "Fixing A Hole" contains lyrics that may refer to his "fatal head injury": "…I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in, and stops my mind from wandering", which may lead many believe that Paul’s "accident" happened during a rainstorm.
In "A Day in the Life", some contest that the line "Nobody was really sure if he was from the house of lords" is really "Nobody was really sure if he was from the house of Paul." Other lyrics suggest suspicion of Paul’s death in "A Day in the Life," such as, "He blew his mind out in a car, he didn’t notice that the lights had changed" (referring to how he died – driving erratically under the influence of hallucinogenic compounds). And "They’d seen his face before" (the Beatles were very popular, and most people knew what Paul looked like, at least before the disfiguring accident).
The gibberish at the end of the original UK version (and eventual CD edition) of the album (the so-called "Innergroove") when played in reverse could be interpreted as "Will Paul be back as Superman?"
The front cover of Abbey Road is a representation of Paul’s funeral procession. Lennon is the clergyman or priest (sometimes God) (dressed in white), Starr the funeral director or pall bearer (formally dressed), McCartney the corpse (bare feet and cigarette [ Sicilian symbol of death] and out of step with the others), and Harrison the grave digger (denim working clothes). Furthermore the licence plate of the white car says LMW 281F. Some said that LMW stood for "Linda McCartney Widow (or Weeps)", while others said that LMW stood for "Left Me Waiting" (or "Lost My Way") – in reference to a heated argument over which route through the city could be negotiated fastest, and the winner, arriving at the destination, wondered what was keeping Paul, this being the main reason for George Harrison’s song, Blue Jay Way. The last part of the licence plate, 28IF, suggests Paul would have been 28 if he had not died. (At the time of the album’s release, September 26, 1969, McCartney was in fact 27 – however, in many Eastern religions life begins at conception, so by that definition he would have been 28, and the Beatles’ interest in Buddhism and Hinduism is well known.) Also, the car visible on the road that The Beatles are crossing is pointed directly at Paul. Additionally, the cigarette in the picture is in McCartney’s right hand, even though he is left-handed.
On the back cover, a strangely configured and placed "3" in front of the Beatles name indicates three "remaining" Beatles. Also, the name Beatles has a crack running through the letter S, making it imperfect. There is a chip in the letter "O" in "Road", as Paul was the only one in the group without an "O" in his name (unlike George, John and Ringo). Also, if you look at the girl in the blue dress, some people claim that it makes a profile of McCartney’s face.
Also on the back cover, the shadows on the wall just behind the girl with the blue dress form a skull.
If you play the chorus of Come Together backwards, it says "Heave ho…and now…Oh, thank the smoke." This could mean that they were lifting Paul’s crashed car to the tow truck, but they couldn’t breathe or see anything because the wreck was smoking.
"Come Together" contained several clues in the lyrics…"he got hair down to his knee" refers to the claim that hair and nails continue to grow after death…"he wear no shoeshine" refers to Paul being barefoot on the cover…"he got toe-jam football" refers to rugby, a sport Paul liked to play…"he got monkey finger" refers to the thin frail fingers of someone who’s been dead…"one and one and one is three" refers to there being only three "remaining" Beatles…"got to be good looking" refers to McCartney as the "cute" Beatle…"’cos he’s so hard to see" refers to the faded memory of someone who is now gone. "Come together right now over me" refers to the scene over McCartney’s grave as the mourners come together.
"She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" contains the lines "And so I quit the police department/and got myself a steady job". This is a reference to McCartney’s replacement William Campbell’s previous job as a policeman in Ontario.
Lennon joked about it in the years following the initial growth of the rumor. In his solo years, John refered to the rumor in his vengeful song to McCartney entitled "How Do You Sleep?" from the 1971 Imagine album, saying, "Those freaks was right when they said you was dead." McCartney himself also made fun of the rumor with the title of his 1993 live album and tour, Paul Is Live.
With the advent of the Internet, the "Paul is Dead" rumors have found new life. Several websites have sprung up claiming that photographic evidence proves that the Paul McCartney before and after late 1966 couldn’t possibly be the same man. A popular new take is that the alleged imposter’s name is William Sheppard (based off of the inspiration for the Beatle song "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill"), a former member of the Ontario Provincial Police. Some of these new theories postulate that Paul was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan or the illuminati.
Students of the bass guitar have noted a marked difference between the style and quality of Paul’s playing between earlier Beatles albums and later ones, his earlier playing being very simplistic while his later playing shows a great deal of skill and innovation. This can be linked to a change in recording technique; prior to 1966 he often recorded his bass live, but around that year he began to overdub the bass parts later, giving him more ability to form melodic bass lines.
Beatles fans critical of McCartney’s solo career often suggest that the hoax is true, pointing out that there is no way the Paul McCartney who was with the Beatles would write the music he is now producing. However, that said, very few fans of McCartney or the Beatles believe this rumor in earnest. In fact, it is usually a joke itself among Beatles fans.
When Paul played on Saturday Night Live in 1993, he took part in the "The Chris Farley Show" skit. The highlight of which was Farley (with his usual flair for being flustered and awkward) asking Paul, "Remember when you were in the Beatles and you were supposed to be dead, and there were all these clues and everything and everyone thought you were dead… That was a hoax, right?" to which Paul replied, "Yeah. I wasn’t really dead."
When McCartney guest-starred on The Simpsons in "Lisa the Vegetarian", he claimed there was a vegetarian backwards message in "Maybe I’m Amazed". Indeed, over the closing credits the song played and there was a backmasked lentil soup recipe. At the end, he says "Oh, and by the way, I’m alive."
As of 2005, the Beatles who have passed away are John Lennon (murdered outside the Dakota building in New York City in December 1980), George Harrison (died of lung cancer in November 2001), and Stuart Sutcliffe (died of a brain haemorrhage in April 1962).